SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The San Antonio Spurs knew they needed changes, and they used the NBA draft to start making some.
The Spurs kicked off an unusually busy draft for coach Gregg Popovich by trading backup point guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for their first-round pick, 6-foot-7 forward Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State. San Antonio then picked Texas guard Cory Joseph at No. 29 overall.
Although Hill has always played backup to Tony Parker during his three NBA seasons, Popovich has long lauded Hill as his “favorite player” and predicted he would eventually transition from a role player into a star for the Spurs.
But San Antonio’s outlook changed after a 61-win season came to a crashing halt in the first round.
Leonard averaged 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Aztecs last season. The Spurs will likely hope that Leonard can provide the athleticism the Spurs so sorely missed against the youthful Memphis Grizzlies, who manhandled the aging Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess in the frontcourt.
The Spurs are among the NBA’s best at uncovering jewels deep in the draft. Hill was the 26th pick in 2008, and center DeJuan Blair became the steal of the 2009 draft after being picked at 37th. More famously, the Spurs picked up Parker at 28th and Manu Ginobili at 57th.
The Spurs also had the 59th overall pick Thursday night.
Hill, who went home to his native Indiana, tweeted: “Very emotional moment right now!!! But just want to Thank Everyone for all the Support. SA has been great to me and will never forget it!!”
The Spurs now get bigger and younger _ all the while preserving their Big 3.
Parker is 29 and arguably has the most trade value for the Spurs. He is beginning a four-year, $50 million extension but voiced candid doubts about San Antonio’s future following a disappointing first-round ouster in the playoffs.
Parker told French journalists last month that the Spurs can likely no longer contend for another championship with their aging core. He backed off those comments upon returning to San Antonio and insisted he was committed to the Spurs.
That swift playoff exit let loose the most assured proclamations yet that the four-time champions were finally finished as an NBA dynasty. Popovich has dismissed that perception and called talk of rebuilding a “preposterous” attitude.
Hill was San Antonio’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 11.6 points.
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