By Jeff Dengate
LYON, FRANCE, Oct. 2, 2006 -- No news is good news -- at least it is when an NBA team's training camp is only a day and a half old.
Any real developments this early in the process can mean only one thing: injury. With that concern a non-issue through three practices, the focus remained clearly turned toward player shape as the Spurs continued their conditioning and acclimation sessions at Halle Vivier Merle Lyon.
Francisco Elson could be in the starting lineup alongside Tim Duncan come November.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty Images
"It's just really about conditioning and starting to think basketball again," Brent Barry said Monday. "It's just fundamental things so that when we do get started, for both of the preseason games over here, we can carry over what we're doing on the practice floor to the games here and then when, obviously, we get back to playing NBA teams back home."
While the two-hour sessions are open only to team personnel, media is granted access to observe the final 30 minutes. Sitting in the lobby of the practice hall, however, it's easy to get a mental picture of what's happening on the other side of the blue barriers obstructing the view through the building's large glass front windows. Such a non-stop cacophony of squeaks like that can only be produced by 20 players getting a thorough workout.
The players are still running full tilt, black and grey squads working the full 94-by-50, when the media is allowed in the closing minutes of the morning sessions. These scrimmages are spirited affairs, with the players really giving a solid effort and hustling at both ends of the floor.
Based on yesterday's session, I was telling you to remember the name Francisco Elson. Today, the willowy seven-footer created one of the more memorable exchanges the media members in attendance are sure to recall.
Tangled up with frontcourt mate Tim Duncan under the near basket, Elson elevated for an offensive board, sending the eight-time All-Star backward and onto his rear end out of bounds. But Elson wasn't done there, despite play stopping and training staff personnel rushing to assist Duncan up off the floor. Elson rose up and threw down a powerful one-hander that rattled the whole hanging basket support.
Elson was kind enough to stick out a hand and help Duncan up only seconds later.
So, while the early days of practice are, for the most part, to get the players game-ready and to provide the newbies time to learn the ropes, they're also about establishing position and seeing who makes the team and who falls where on the depth chart.
From the depth-chart perspectice, Elson, in the early going, is looking to be the team's starting center, as many figured him to be when the Spurs inked him to a deal two months ago. But it's still early and Jackie Butler, who spent the last two seasons in New York, could challenge him for serious playing time.
The two players were on separate courts walking through set plays at the end of practice -- Elson on the center rectangle with Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Brent Barry, Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley, while Butler was paired up on the near court with Eric Williams, Jacque Vaughn, Matt Bonner and Melvin Sanders, a 6-5 guard from Oklahoma State who played 16 games in a Spurs uniform last season as a D-League Gatorade Call Up.
The far court represented the long-shots, guys who have had cups of coffee with NBA squads, gained international playing experience or came from smaller college programs and worked their way here via the D-League. Big man Jared Reiner boasts the most experience of the group, having played 19 games for the Chicago Bulls in the 2004-05 season. Rookie Charles Lee was named the 2006 Patriot League Player of the Year and helped lead Bucknell to the second round of the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. Rookies Olu Famutimi, Rich Melzer and Jamar Smith all spent time in the NBA Development League last season.
For now, however, there are no groups that can be as easily divided as that. All 20 players are here in France with many of the same objectives: get in shape, learn the system and get comfortable playing with new teammates.
And that's today's "no news."
The floor inside the Halle Vivier Merle Lyon has an elaborate grid and line pattern painted across all three courts. At first glance, it doesn't seem to cause much confusion for the players sprinting up and down the center court that runs perpendicular and through the middle of the three lengthwise courts. But on one in-bounds drill, Matt Bonner spotted up in the right corner and received the pass. As he looked down at his feet to square up for the triple, he realized he was over the NBA-range three-point line. A quick shuffle of the feet and he was in position, but the only problem is assistant coach Mike Budenholzer already called travelling on the play.
MEET THE MAYOR
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had a special visitor at the end of practice, Jean Paul Bret, Mayor of Villeurbanne.
"He's probably a pretty busy guy, but it was nice to meet him," Popovich said. "He's going to come to the match on Thursday. We're probably having more fun than he is because this is all different for us and it's great to look around and walk around and see the different parts of the city."
Wait, did Pop just call the game a match?
"We're in Europe," he replied. "It's not a game, it's a match."
Fair enough. Thursday's match time is 9 p.m. local, 3 p.m. ET, at the Astroballe Arena in Lyon-Villeurbanne, France.
Not going to be in France Thursday? Be sure to watch the exclusive live webcast of the game right here on NBA.com.