Always ready: DeJuan Blair
AT&T CENTER–The minutes come sparingly now, more so than at any other point in DeJuan Blair’s brief NBA career. The muscle memory and instincts, however, remain second nature.
With the final seconds of the first quarter quickly winding down and teammate Manu Ginobili streaking across the lane, Blair found and settled into the opening passing lane as he has so many times before, making himself available for a last second layup.
The timing and choreography of the play were impeccably in sync, no small miracle given how little Blair and Ginobili have seen the court this season–Ginobili due to injuries, and Blair due to a freefall in the Spurs increasingly deep rotation.
With 14 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists in his first significant playing time of the season the message was clear, DeJuan Blair remains ready.
“DeJuan’s been very professional,” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “I haven’t played him very much at all and he’s stayed in shape, he’s ready to go, he’s part of the team.”
How long Blair remains part of the team remains a mystery, given his upcoming free agency and place in the rotation. A contract year for Blair, he showed up in training camp in the best shape of his life only to face the fewest minutes.
The San Antonio Spurs roster goes 12 legitimate NBA rotation-quality players deep. Their 13th player is a French import with big game experience in Europe.
As Blair walked off the court in the first quarter he was flanked by an Argentinean basketball God turned sixth man and a veteran NBA gunslinger on his second tour of duty with the Spurs–both of whom are sacrificing shots and minutes to fit into Popovich’s grand design.
The first person to greet them, enthusiastically as always, was Patty Mills; an Olympic basketball hero in his native Australia whose developing talents remain restrained to mop up duty and the occasional emergency fill-in.
“With Manu and Stephen Jackson coming off the bench, those guys could be starting on any team in the NBA,” backup point guard Gary Neal said. “It’s unique here because you might play five minutes one night and 20 the next, so you have to be professional about your job and always prepared because you never know when coach Pop is going to call on you.”
Against the Pacers, Blair, Neal, and Jackson each scored in double digits as the Spurs’ bench outscored the Pacers’ bench 57-35.
Many teams would love to boast the type of depth the Spurs exhibit on a nightly basis, few could successfully handle it.
Despite his limitations, Blair is a proven talent in the NBA. The 14 points and 11 rebounds are hardly an outlier, and it’s not a stretch to imagine him earning a nice living putting up similar numbers on another team.
Given Blair’s talents, contract status, and place in the rotation, the obvious post game interviews sought to praise Blair’s preparedness and question any possible frustrations.
After all, this is the league in which superstar players on max deals with unlimited playing time and touches feel justified in rising up against their franchise.
Yet, when asked if they were surprised by Blair’s response, each member of the Spurs organization looked perplexed. Of course Blair was ready, they would say, it’s his job. So while Blair’s future might be uncertain, expectations never are. He will remain professional, and both parties will be better off for it .