Thursday, July 25, 2024

Spurs’ Chris Paul ‘didn’t need a sales pitch’ to join up with Victor Wembanyama and Gregg Popovich

Chris Paul “didn’t need a sales pitch,” the future Hall of Famer told reporters during his introductory press conference on Tuesday. When he talked to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich about the possibility of signing with the team in free agency, the two “more than anything had a conversation,” Paul said. The 39-year-old guard said he had admired Popovich for years, and they’d chat a little bit when their teams competed against each other.

“There’s so much respect there,” Paul said. “Not only for his basketball IQ, but just for who he is as a person, as a competitor in all of this.”

Paul said playing for the Spurs and learning from Popovich would be an honor and a privilege. What he appreciated most about the phone call was that Popovich told him, “I want you to come be you.” He also noted that Pop “sounded excited” about the partnership, “so that got me excited.”

It “helped, too, obviously,” Paul said, that San Antonio presented him the opportunity to play with a 20-year-old budding star. Simply “getting a chance to watch” Victor Wembanyama was a draw, he said.

“I played against him this season, and, I tell you, there’s probably no player in the league that everybody in the league talks about after the game like him,” Paul said. “‘Cause everybody has to adjust stuff. Me and Harrison [Barnes] was on our flight yesterday just talking about how cool it’s going to be at this point in our careers to get a chance to appreciate him day in and day out. So that definitely helped.”

The Spurs went 22-60 last season, but by the end of the year, they were much better than their record suggests, particularly when Wembanyama and wing Devin Vassell were on the court together. Next season, they will not wait months to make Wembanyama a full-time center and stop playing Jeremy Sochan at point guard. Paul didn’t make any grand declarations about how many games they’ll win but made it clear that he’s “not a coach” and will compete. 

“I only have one goal every time and that’s to win,” Paul said. “Every game. I don’t care if it’s practice, I don’t care if it’s a shooting contest, I don’t think you should play anything if you’re just doing it for shits and giggles.”

After he agreed to come to San Antonio, Paul received texts from franchise legends Tony Parker (whom he described as “a big brother to me when I came into the NBA”), Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. A photo of a young Paul smiling in the presence of Duncan circulated on social media; Paul explained that they were together at the time because of a family connection.

“Me and Tim’s nephew Shane played on the same AAU basketball team, right?” Paul said. “So we were teammates like 11 to 14, and Tim in that picture, he had just got drafted. And we were in Utah at the AAU nationals and Tim came to watch us. So I was telling somebody earlier I was in like middle school or high school and used to go to the local YMCA and watch Tim hoop.”

If Paul’s memory is more accurate than the social media post below, the photo was taken in 1997, when he was 12 years old. Like Duncan, Paul would go on to star at Wake Forest.

Paul’s family will continue to live in Los Angeles, he said, but he stressed that he’s happy to be in Texas, on this particular team, and to have a chance to play a meaningful role.

“I could be close to home, but if I’m not playing, I’m not happy,” he said. “Seriously. And I love my family to death. And so when we saw this opportunity, even though it’ll put me away from my family, my family knows me better than anybody. And they know that I just want to play. I want to play more than anything.”

Barnes, acquired from the Sacramento Kings in a trade, said at his own introductory press conference that he expects Paul to complement Wembanyama.

“I think that his ability, his knowledge of the game will just make it so much easier for Vic,” Barnes said, “because he can literally put him in positions, give him easier looks, have a consistent flow for Vic where he doesn’t have to necessarily go out and hunt shots or have to isolate just to get baskets, you know what I mean? You just look at Chris’ career, the guys that he’s assisted in their scoring efforts, so I think for all the ways that Vic can score, having a guy like Chris there to help will just make his life easier.”

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