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News » Spurs get additional spring in their step

Spurs get additional spring in their step

Spurs get additional spring in their step There was a time, not long ago, when Spurs forward Michael Finley would have gladly taken on all comers in a team-wide slam-dunk contest.

Sure, he is more than a decade removed from his lone appearance in the NBA's slam dunk extravaganza. And yes, age had robbed his vertical leap of an inch or two. But the Spurs , by rule, were an earthbound lot, a team that naturally played the game below the rim.

"When I first got here, I was probably one of the two most athletic guys on the team," Finley said.

An offseason roster retooling that included a hefty injection of youth and athleticism has left the 36-year-old Finley feeling closer to 66.

"I went from No. 2 to 13," Finley said. "Thank God Tim Duncan is still on the team."

Duncan, it seems, has a way of making even the most under-athletic teammate resemble Usain Bolt. Not that many of his newest ones need the boost.

New small forward Richard Jefferson was once Jason Kidd's favorite alley-oop partner in New Jersey. Marcus Haislip, a 6-foot-10 dunk machine, has appeared on YouTube so often, he might as well be a baby dancing to Beyonc?.

Theo Ratliff, spry for 36, still possesses a fraction of the pogo-stick jumping ability that once made him a three-time shot-blocking champ. Second-year point guard George Hill is athletic enough that the Spurs have drawn up lob plays for him.

Further down the bench, swingman Malik Hairston and big man Ian Mahinmi afford the Spurs a touch of athleticism they did not have at those spots before.

The Spurs won't be confused with a Cirque du Soleil acrobat troupe. But neither will they be as grounded as they were last season, when Pops Mensah-Bonsu was among the team leaders in dunks despite playing three games.

"Usually I'm one of the more athletic guys, and that doesn't say much for the team," Duncan said. "We changed it up a little bit, brought some athletes in, some guys who can really fly."

The Spurs' new collection of speedsters and leapers will be on display tonight, when they face Oklahoma City in Austin in what amounts to a college homecoming game for the Thunder's Kevin Durant.

Led by Durant, the former University of Texas All-American, the Thunder are the dictionary definition of young and athletic. Even en route to a last-place finish in the Northwest Division last season, they gave the Spurs all they could handle in four regular season meetings.

Oklahoma City won two of those, took a third to overtime, and generally caused the Spurs to live up to the "older than dirt" label coach Gregg Popovich had saddled on them.

Though Oklahoma City shouldn't be given too much credit for sparking the Spurs' push toward younger and more athletic, the series wasn't exactly an advertisement for the status quo.

"Even we coaches of half-brain composition could tell we had to change some things," Popovich said.

The most apparent change in the Spurs' athletic department comes in the form of Jefferson, the most explosive player to man the Spurs' three position in a while.

A moment from last week showed as much. In the first half of a loss to the Clippers, Jefferson collected a pass in the corner, blew past his defender and capped the drive with a spectacular windmill finish.

"He adds another element to our team, offensively," Popovich said.

There was a time when Finley could finish like that, too. These days, he earns his paycheck as a jump shooter.

When it comes to the art of the dunk, Finley - the Spurs' self-proclaimed 13th-most athletic player - will just have to be content to watch.

"That was an emphasis, not only for this team but other teams around the league, to get more athletic," Finley said. "We have some guys out here who can do some tremendous things on the court."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 22, 2009


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