SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio Spurs CEO R.C. Buford spent more than 30 minutes Thursday on a video conference with local media, and made it clear the organization is on board with returning to play as soon as the NBA deems it safe enough.
“Our position all along has been we want to do what’s right for the league and for the fans,” Buford said. “I just got off a team presidents’ call before I jumped on with you guys, and every intention is to return to play, and to try to create the best environment we can for the league, and for the fans. We’re all on board for that.”
Buford’s video call marked the first time a team official had addressed the media since the NBA suspended the regular season a day after San Antonio’s March 10 win over the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.
Buford also addressed a variety of other subjects, ranging from the team’s preparation for the NBA Draft and virtual workouts and rehabilitation sessions with its current players, not to mention the technological proficiency of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:
Q:You’re sort of coming up on the end of your first year on the job as CEO. Are you still involved on the prospect evaluation side the way you were as this team’s general manager?
A: I think we’re all focused on a multitude of issues. First of all, the return to play opportunities for this season, and then supporting the front office and the coaches as I can as we prepare for the Draft, as we prepare for free agency. So, yeah, they’re stuck with me getting in the way I’m sure [in] way too many places.
When the league opens back up, are you anticipating fans will be able to attend?
We’re having those discussions with the league, and most of those discussions will be league-wide determinations on how we present our games at the point and time when we do present our games. There are committees going on both from the sporting side, from the media side, from the arena operations side, from the ownership side, from team presidents. There’s so much conversation right now about how we can best engage our games and our fans. No decisions have been made.
What would be your message to the fans right now sitting in a holding pattern waiting on the NBA to return?
I think our message for the fans is the same message that we have for our community and our nation: We miss everybody. I think we’re all probably in that space. This is unchartered territory. We would love to be able to interact with our community in a safe environment. I think the league’s mission is to do that once we have all the information that we need to be able to accomplish that in a way that protects our fans, our players, our staffs, our media, the whole operations that go into how we present our game, how we compete.
As the league looks at a potential return, is it too early to tell whether the NBA picks up the season from where it left off or would the end of the regular season be condensed in some form?
Until we are clear on the timing for a safe environment, it’s impossible to designate the individual scenarios that might happen. But we’re modeling multiple scenarios that have not only our teams, our league, our players, our media partners, there are multiple people at those tables having those decisions, and we hope we’ll do what’s best for our fans. I think we all know, not only in our community and our region, but around the country and around the world, people are missing sports and we’re missing playing. I think that’s the problem we’re trying to solve.
How has the team been able to keep up with the players to keep them prepared to play when the season resumes?
Our coaching staff and our performance team were really creative and really proactive early on in this process. The front office, the performance team, and the coaches got together and really systematically set up opportunities that we could get with our guys and help them during this time. We had no idea what we were going into. There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered around that before there’s a safe environment for our players to get back together. But there have been virtual workouts. [Athletic performance coordinator] Anthony Falsone has been in 15 different garages over the iPads helping guys workout together. We’ve had players in different locations working out together. We’ve had team virtual calls and communications. Getting [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] on a virtual call was the biggest challenge we’ve faced during the hiatus. But I think our group’s been really creative in keeping the team as connected as we can be, at the same time maintaining safe environments and sheltering from home.
Where are the players for the most part, and how do you monitor them health wise during this time?
We’re having systematically timed calls with everybody or virtual meetings with everybody. Most of our group is in market. I think we’ve been really fortunate that a big percentage of our group has been in market. We’ve had virtual workouts. We’ve had virtual rehabilitation sessions. So, guys who are fighting through injuries are doing virtual rehabilitation. We’ve had coaching and video sessions. When we’re not all together, I think they’ve done a good job of staying connected.
Do you have plans to open the practice facilities once the league actually clears it?
We’re gonna make that decision as we get more information, as we have more data around our own local environment as well as the national environment in doing what we can to create a safe place for the team to come back together. We’re not putting any dates on it. It’s gonna be more how we get the information that we need to be comfortable to provide the right atmosphere for our players.
It was interesting to watch the NFL Draft and to share some of the learnings that we found observing there ...
What’s been the mindset of the front office as it pertains to preparing for the Draft and free agency?
Scenario planning has been really important, and our front office has continued to prepare for the Draft, for free agency, for team building as we normally would be during this time. But there are no target dates, they’re more target responsibilities. We just got the early-entrant candidates list in the last couple of days. That at least gives some kind of clarity on who the draft pool will be. But from there, we don’t have clarity on a Chicago pre-Draft, or medicals or all the things that go along with Draft preparation. It was interesting to watch the NFL Draft and to share some of the learnings that we found observing there depending on where we might find ourselves at a later time. They at least had the opportunity to have their combine before the hiatus started. So, we’re working through the places that we need to fill gaps right now.
Isn’t this the time of year the team is doing its usual offseason planning?
That planning goes on all the time. But in particular [you’d] just [be getting] through March Madness, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is normally in April. You’ve got the Nike Hoops Summit that would be this time [of year], and then early May is when the Draft combine is. So, there’s quite a bit of that that’s gone on during this time of the year.
Before this all started, there had been owners discussing changes to the NBA calendar long term. Any chance that could be considered moving forward, that the whole NBA calendar could be permanently changed?
Those are decisions that will be made at a league level. There are all kinds of discussions going on now. But we recognize whatever decisions we make currently are going to have an impact on more than just the current season. They’re modeling significant scenarios. There are media partners that have an influence in those decisions as well as teams and league personnel. The Players Association would have opinions around that. So those scenarios are being modeled. The decisions will be made ultimately by the Board of Governors. The one thing I would say though: From now on, I’m doing our Draft on [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry [Jones’] boat.
Jerry Jones’ draft room is on his $250 million super-yacht. Now that’s a super-flex. pic.twitter.com/ZJwgrUcehX— Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) April 24, 2020
Do you have a boat?
Not like that. I’ve got a little boat that you float in your bathtub.
You mentioned earlier that the Spurs would like to return to play when it’s safe, but what’s the concern level from players in terms of how long it would take for them to ramp up to getting back into full competitive mode after being off so long?
You’re asking about issues that we’ve been ideating about for a month. I’ve been included on a competition advisory group, and that’s a big point of emphasis for that group: How can we create an environment that is safe for our players to return to play in? And that’s not just COVID- related. Even in past times where there might have been a lockout, players were able to get together and practice. Where we sit right now, this is uncharted territory. I would guess that there are many of these guys that have never gone two months without being able to get into a gym. That’s the feedback that we’ve gotten, not only within our team, but across the league in the conversations. Can you imagine Manu [Ginobili] not playing for two months? I just use him as an example, but I know [in] conversations with Dejounte [Murray], Lonnie [Walker IV], Derrick [White] and the whole crew [that] everybody’s dying to get in and dribble a ball. But I do think that we can’t just blow a whistle and 10 days later think that we’re gonna put our players in an environment that is safe to return from the time that they’ve had away.
Early in this shutdown, the ownership group announced plans to continue paying the hourly employees through the end of the season. Does that continue into May or is it something the organization is still weighing?
We took care of the staff through the end of the season.
Has the organization had to put employees on furloughs, reduced pay or have there been any reductions in work force? If not, how has the organization avoided that?
I’m not an accountant, so I can’t tell you how we’ve avoided it. But we have not made any staffing changes at this time. We think we’ll continue to review the realities of the situation as we go forward.
How have you approached the process so far with prospects since you can’t actually meet with them the way the team did in years past?
We’ve been active participants in the strategic conversations with the league on how this can happen, when it happens best. There is a large group of players, the early-entry candidates, that we’re not allowed to have any contact with until the announcement of the candidates, which just happened this week. There are the senior candidates that are already eligible for the Draft that were available for virtual interviews. So, it’s really probably gonna be a staged process. We still don’t have a solution around medicals and in-person activation at all. But it’s not just our industry, it’s the world.
How do virtual workouts work? Is the entire team on the same Zoom call?
Maybe not the whole team. I don’t know if we can get a dozen guys, but we’re bringing groups together, a lot of them in their garages or their living rooms that have turned into a gym now. It’s really just a virtual conversation with Anthony Falsone going crazy.
How much has Pop’s technological literacy improved during the last month or so?
I know he knows how to use a cell phone still. I’m not sure outside of that. But he has gotten on to a virtual call, or multiple virtual calls. I’ll let you ask him that when we get him back in the gym.
What’s been the most enjoyable thing the team has done as a group through all this? Would you say the morale is still good through all of this?
This is something that has just a tendency to bring people together. I don’t know that we could’ve asked for a group that has stayed committed to each other like this group has. I think the influences of our coaches, our performance team in being proactive and getting ahead of the activities that we needed to take care of to put these guys in the best position, and then their love of the game and their love of the fans, I think, it’s been fun to see them engage with our community in their own way virtually. I would bet it also has created internal drive to be able to get together as a team. When you play a game one night, and the next night you’re all sent home, that really has a way of wanting to bring you back together.
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