SAN ANTONIO – Spurs rising star point guard Dejounte Murray dropped his eighth triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists) Wednesday, followed by a request of the home crowd in advance of Patty Mills’ return Friday to the AT&T Center.
“It better be loud,” Murray said. “San Antonio better come out, show out and show their appreciation for him.”
Mills returns to the AT&T Center on Friday for the first time wearing the uniform of the opposition when San Antonio hosts the Brooklyn Nets (8:30 ET, NBA League Pass), along with former Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Mills, 33, played 10 seasons and 85 of his 90 career playoff games with the Spurs as a key backup and veteran torch bearer of the franchise’s vaunted culture in the wake of the retirements of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Mills helped San Antonio capture its last championship in 2014 and ranks second in all-time made 3-pointers in franchise history (1,220) behind Ginobili (1,495).
“He was here a long time. He’s won here,” Murray said. “He loves this city a lot. He loves the fans. He always was engaging the fans in everything he did whether it was playing, him in the community, or giving us the history of his life. So, I would want everybody to show that appreciation for him.”
Murray called Mills his “favorite teammate,” due to “his energy off the floor,” adding that “even his energy through texts you can feel Patty Mills.”
That’s apparent in a phone call, too.
As Brooklyn convened to board a flight Thursday afternoon headed to San Antonio, Mills — who led the Australian national team to its first Olympic medal back in August — spent a few minutes with NBA.com discussing the angst and chaos of his Spurs departure, informing coach Gregg Popovich of the decision via text message, his new team and his pending return to the AT&T Center in this Q&A.
Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.
NBA.com: You’re about to take this flight to San Antonio, man, and you know the tribute video is coming when you hit the floor Friday at the AT&T Center. What emotions do you think you’ll feel in that moment?
Mills: I don’t know, mate. There’s obviously a little emotion there from a decade worth of experiences. I think that being in Brooklyn now, I’ve been so immersed in this new team and obviously playing my role and doing what I need to do here. But I think I’m just gonna try to be in the moment, stay in the experience, kind of soak it all up at the same time.
What was your mindset last summer when you were headed into free agency knowing you could be leaving San Antonio?
I like to say that it was extraordinary circumstances knowing that free agency was going to fall at the same time as the Olympic games. Although you knew that going out, there was really no perfect way that you could prepare for something like that. I did what I thought I had to do from doing my own research and trying to have as much information as I could because I knew that going into these training camps my head was gonna be down and I guess in the trenches as we were trying to achieve our first Olympic medal. So, knowing that free agency was gonna hit right in the middle of it, it was definitely extraordinary circumstances. I look back at it and I guess in a perfect world I would’ve had all the conversations necessary that I would have liked to have before making my decision. But in reality, it just wasn’t [possible]. The decision was made after the quarterfinal game against Argentina going into the semifinal against the US. So, I think extraordinary circumstances definitely sum up my free agency.
Was it difficult to leave?
Oh yeah. I think that’s what made it even more heightened emotions I guess over the extraordinary circumstances because I made a career-changing decision that was very difficult and very hard. I think why it was hard was because I was leaving a place, and more importantly, people, that have helped me grow up in a way. There were many emotions that made it difficult to leave, but [also] knowing at the same time this was the right decision for myself, for my wife, and my family.
Coach Pop is the type of guy that always seems to say exactly what you need to hear to make you feel better about making a tough decision like that. How did your conversations go with him during that time?
[Laughs]. Well, I talk about all the conversations [I needed to have]. In an ideal world, going through a free agency, I would have had all of the conversations that I would’ve [wanted] to have. But he was the first person that I obviously needed to tell before anyone else. In an ideal world, I would’ve loved to have conversations with Timmy and Manu — although I had conversations with him leading up — and other people within the organization, people that had an impact over my time there in San Antonio. But I remember coming back from the Argentinian quarterfinal game to the Olympic village in Tokyo. We’d just finished the quarterfinal. Big win.
It was pretty late at night, right?
It’s probably about 1 a.m. by the time I have dinner at the Olympic village, and here I am about to come meet the fork in the road on making this decision. So, it was very late at night. By the time I made my decision, it was past 3 a.m. I think it was almost 4 a.m. So, it was obviously too late to be able to make a phone call and say, ‘This is my decision. This is what I want to do.’ So, before getting out there, the U.S. time zone was about to wake up. So, the news was gonna come out. But I just sent (Popovich) a text and let him know about what I was feeling and how I thought it was strange timing and very hard timing. But I just wanted to let him know what I wanted to do, assuming that I wasn’t going to (be able to catch up with him in the next day or so in person).
To my surprise, he responded within, I think it was like three minutes or something that I got a text back. It was one of those things where you send the text, have mixed feelings about sending the text in the first place, then, you put your phone on the bedside table. All of the sudden, before you can fall asleep, the phone vibrates and you’ve got a text back from him. So, I think finally we got to catch up. We played them in the semifinal game, and we got to catch up after the game, and then again after the medal games. I guess it was him having the words to describe this is what I remember him saying, and how it feels. But [he told me] that he loves me and he understands.
How did that feel?
I think that was the biggest type of thing for me to be able to, I guess, close the chapter with confidence, knowing that I have him [in my corner]. Obviously, all the love is still there, and he understands. We became close over that time [in San Antonio]. Hearing that from him [made the decision feel better]. It’s one of the hardest things about the NBA. When you grow to become close to people, it makes it hard to leave.
What’s it like now playing with this new team? You’ve played with a team full of stars before in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. But this just seems different with guys like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Yeah, it is different. There are new challenges, and I think that it’s taken a lot of commitment and immersing myself into this new team and this new culture to be able to find my role and [I’m] giving it my all to be honest. I’m enjoying it, mate. I really am. It’s a part of my growth, my development and staying true to who I am at the end of the day. I think my leadership values of what I’ve learned in San Antonio have really strengthened my leadership to be able to have that still be a part of my core values on this Nets team.
You’re very immersed in the community in San Antonio, and knowing you, you’re trying to do the same thing in Brooklyn. How has that been for you?
It’s awesome, mate. Me and the wife have really enjoyed the off-the-court things in Brooklyn and what the borough has to offer. And yes, we’re slowly getting the most of the community and being a member of the Brooklyn community in different ways. Having a dog helps us to get out and about and meet new people just to have a better understanding of how the borough operates. The people there have been perfect and [we’ve] felt very welcomed. It is a melting pot. There are many people of many different cultures around Brooklyn, and I think everyone has taking a liking to my culture, which has made me feel very welcomed. I definitely appreciate that.
What’s it like to be playing with LaMarcus Aldridge again? You’ve been a teammate of his in Portland, San Antonio and now Brooklyn. It’s like you can’t get rid of him.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s true. I think we have a unique situation for both of us. It’s probably quite rare to be able to play [together] in Portland, in San Antonio, and now Brooklyn. We’ve both been there and understand each other’s ups and downs I guess throughout our careers, and how we can both help each other help a team that’s contending for an NBA championship. I’ve really enjoyed being with him here in Brooklyn. Again, it has its challenges. But they’re all challenges that you welcome as a competitor trying to develop your game and, again, compete for championships.
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