San Antonio recently crushed the Minnesota Timberwolves in the AT&T Center. That’s not a particularly interesting enterprise. Minnesota was without Kevin Garnett, and San Antonio held their starting five to an average of 21.4 minutes. We even saw Jeff Ayers log minutes, productive ones too. No, a win against the Wolves doesn’t move the needle in terms of Spurs-fan excitement.
The byproduct of the Timberwolves coming to town was the return of Gary Neal to the River City. Neal played for San Antonio from 2010-2013, and in those three seasons he shot 43% from the field and nearly 40% from three-point-range. Neal was on that 2013 Western Conference Championship team. I mention all of this to say that Gary Neal was a productive member on a team who annually was competing for a NBA title.
Mar 2, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Gary Neal (12) shoots the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Los Angeles Clippers win 110-105. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Now, Neal is playing for his fourth NBA team, and his second this year. He was traded from the Charlotte Hornets just weeks ago. He’s not playing much, although when he does he still shoots the ball well. This year he is scoring 10 points per game, and adds nearly two assists and two rebounds. He didn’t play against San Antonio on Sunday night due to injury.
This was a homecoming of sorts for Neal. His most productive years were spent in San Antonio, and he remains well regarded by former teammates and coaches alike. What I appreciate about Neal is his honest commentary on the status of the role-player, the NBA C-listers.
The NBA is a star league, and when you’re not a star you’re told to act like one. Look no further than the Lakers’ Nick Young. This young player, self-dubbed “Swaggy-P” is a talented player, but no more talented that Gary Neal. No more explosive than Indiana’s George Hill. Yet, on a team without Kobe, Young acts like he is the team’s hall of famer. He’s not. He is a 12.3 PPG player, who is only scoring 13.4 points per contest this year on a team without the ultimate ball-stopper in Kobe. Why should he be rewarded with pseudo-star status?
Neal has been slugging it out as an NBA journeyman, showing value in each stop along his path. In an interview Sunday Neal described his NBA reality. When asked how tough it was to adjust to playing for multiple teams in just a short window since leaving San Antonio, Neal said that it has been more difficult for his family than on him. His family has moved with him, which of course causes some unrest and uncertainty. At the time of the interview he hadn’t seen his kids in a month. Of course, the NBA elite don’t have this issue.
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Tim Duncan has never moved. He has never felt the uncertainty or pressure of finding work in the Association. Neal states, “To be honest, if you’re not a franchise guy…you look at everybody who’s been in the league for an extended period of time, they’ve played for four, five, six teams. That’s the way the NBA is. Everybody’s not blessed enough to be Tim, Manu and Tony. You’ve got to go where the checks are.”
And isn’t that the truth? In an NBA where stars are rewarded sometimes for style over substance, Neal is a breath of fresh, honest, air. His self-reflection and self-awareness speaks volumes of the growth of Neal. If you recall, at one time he was accused of rape. He was later acquitted of any crime. He joined the Spurs after a well-traveled path to the NBA that sent him to Turkey, then Spain, then Italy.
Take notice of this non-star. Gary Neal is a humble talent. His skill on the court isn’t exactly rare, but teams can always use timely shooting. To that end I say good luck to Neal as he continues his voyage through the NBA.