By Frank McLean
Coaches and General Managers in sports are just like your father. They sometimes have to make the tough decision like with a child they’ve loved and watched develop, or in the case of San Antonio Spurs a player, to let them go when they grow up. Such is the case of Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph who was acquired as free agent by the club during the off season.
Joseph had spent the first four years of his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs under the guidance of the Gregg Popovich tough love program. During that time he even picked up an NBA Championship ring.
The Spurs had to make a tough decision over the summer. They picked up free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge off the Portland Trail Blazers roster, but to do that and keep under the salary cap they had to let someone go. That person was Cory Joseph.
Popovich talking to the media about Joseph before Wednesday night’s game in Toronto said they didn’t want to let Joseph go.
“He’d still be with us if we could have paid him, but you can’t pay everybody,” Popovich said.
Such is the life teams have to deal with when you are in a league with a salary cap.
The one thing about Joseph that impressed Popovich from day one was his work ethic and the will to make himself a better player.
“He’s always been that way, you don’t make somebody that way,” Popovich was saying.
“Just like you can’t make somebody non-competitive, sometimes it’s hard to make them competitive, he already was, we didn’t teach him that. From day one he was somebody who wanted to just keep improving. He spent time in the D-League, worked through it the hard way, earned his way onto the team and became a very important factor for us.”
The Spurs didn’t get a chance to ask Joseph to go to the NBA D-League, Joseph asked them to send him down.
“It’s pretty unique, he came to me and asked to go down to the D-League so that he could play and get more minutes and get more experience, so that takes a special character and somebody that really cares a lot, he’s a unique young man.”
When you listen to Popovich it’s almost like you are listening to a proud dad whose kid has grown up and moved out of the house.
Teams over the last couple of years have been trying to pry Joseph away from the Spurs by way of a trade, but they turned all offers down because they really wanted to keep him.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey knows the Raptors got a NBA ready player and credits his time with Spurs for his development.
“He learned a lot from (Tony) Parker, how he plays, (Manu) Ginobili, the penetration, getting into the paint, the moves under the basket with either hand, I think that’s something that’s rubbed off,” Casey said before Wednesday’s game.
“I think his DNA from back in high school, how hard he plays and how consistent he is with his hard play is who he is. But again, you can’t go through a program like that, I don’t care what program you are with in college or the pros, if you you’re from a successful program some of those habits come away with you. That’s why bringing in a guy like that from a winning program, that’s won a championship, knows what it takes to win. Those qualities have rubbed off on him.”
If they could, the San Antonio Spurs would have kept Cory Joseph. The Spurs loss is the Raptors gain and his 26 minutes a game average is proof of that.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.