The 2002 San Antonio Spurs offseason resulted in one of the most ingenious for the franchise, but the real haul had occurred three years prior.
The San Antonio Spurs earned the 2nd-seed in the Western Conference, and faced the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led-Lakers in the second round of the 2002 NBA playoffs. The Spurs lost the series in five games, although they led in each game entering the fourth quarter. If only they had one key player…
Manu Ginobili lurked in the distance, making easy work of the Italian Professional Basketball League (Lega Basket Serie A or LBA) while no one paid attention except the Spurs.
2002 NBA Draft
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The Spurs owned three picks during the 2002 NBA Draft, but two of them departed as quickly as they arrived.
The Spurs selected Argentinian Luis Scola with the 56th pick, hoping that one day he would be paired up with his fellow compatriot. Those hopes dwindled later on when the Spurs were unable to reach a buyout for Scola from his Spanish ball club and was shipped off to Houston in 2007.
Thinking back to the Scola possibilities, it appears that he would have been an excellent fit for the team, and perfect backup to Tim Duncan. During this period, the Spurs had a clear advantage over other teams in the league for scouting foreign talent, and Scola, like Ginobili before him, was a plain steal in the draft.
Although loaded with draft picks, this was an uneventful draft for the Spurs as none of the picks ever donned the silver and black, which in retrospect was the best outcome for the team.
John Salmons developed into a decent player, but he never secured an All-Star selection, and averaged 9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 43.1% from the field during his 13-year career.
Randy Holcomb appeared in four NBA games, and made the only shot he attempted in those contests. He ended his career with as many points as he had personal fouls.
Speedy Claxton wasn’t a Spur for too long. He backed up Tony Parker for that year, and signed a deal with Golden State during the offseason.
Next: Enter Manu Ginobili
The Spurs were finally able to bring Manu Ginobili to the NBA three years after he was drafted with the 57th pick of the 1999 NBA Draft. Not many people in the league had heard about Manu Ginobili, and had even less of an idea about his basketball prowess.
Coach Popovich knew, however, and famously told Tim Duncan to watch out for the new guy as no one in the league knew how good he was. Timmy wasn’t moved, as he had apparently heard Pop make similar claims before.
Pop utilized Ginobili rather conservatively during the 2002-2003 NBA regular season, only to expand his role during the playoffs. Manu averaged 20.7 minutes, 7.6 points, 2.0 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game during the regular season. Those numbers improved to 27.5 minutes, 9.4 points, 2.9 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game during the postseason while helping the Spurs capture their second championship in franchise history.
That was just the beginning to what became a hall of fame career. Manu grew into an essential element to the subsequent titles in 2005 (where he averaged 33.6 minutes, 20.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game during the postseason), 2007, and 2014.
Manu took the NBA by storm, quickly establishing himself as a fan favorite to the most unlikely fan in Charles Barkley who famously coined the shout “GINOBILI!”
The Spurs’ ingenuity in drafting a future hall of fame unknown player paid off tremendously the moment they were able to deploy him to the basketball court.
Next: Ping Pong with Steve Kerr
Traded for Kerr. Traded Kerr. Traded for Kerr again.
Steve Kerr played for a few teams during his 15 seasons in the NBA. However, he’s mainly remembered for being part of the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat, which he personally extended to four by winning another title with the Spurs in 1999 after being traded from Chicago to San Antonio in exchange for Chuck Person and a 1st round pick.
Kerr spent only one year with the Blazers before being sent right back to San Antonio the following year in exchange for – you guessed it, Antonio Daniels and those two other players we failed to mention on the sentence above.
The trade was not significant by any means, but it offers a fun revisiting memory. Kerr was a renown deadeye shooter, who still holds the record for highest career three-point field goal percentage in NBA history. He helped the Spurs by providing some point production from the bench, and a deep ball threat that allowed Tim Duncan more room to operate.
The current head coach of the Golden State Warriors finished the 2002-2003 NBA season averaging 4.0 points per game, and retired later that year after winning the NBA championship for the fifth time in his career.