Saturday evening was a normally scheduled game for the San Antonio Spurs, as they would face and defeat the Indiana Pacers.
But before the game, there was an underlying story apart from the game itself.
In what was one of the most difficult moves in franchise history, the Spurs traded guard George Hill to his home state of Indiana for the rights to rookie Kawhi Leonard and euro-big man Erazem Lorbek last summer on draft night.
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford even said it was one of the toughest decisions the team had ever made. For Hill, his return to San Antonio came on Saturday, but it was his former coach who had the biggest praise for Hill.
“He’s very even keel,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before the game, “he comes to do his job, and goes home.”
When told by an Indiana reporter that Hill said Pop was like a father to him, Pop got rolling with the comedy.
“Are you trying to make me feel bad?” joked Pop, “Like I kicked him out of the house?”
And then, Pop began telling stories of his first impressions of Hill.
“I said it publicly a lot, he was my favorite player for a whole lot of reasons.” Said Popovich, “He came along way. When he got here, he couldn’t run the pick-and-roll.”
“When we first saw him in the summer, we thought, ‘oh my God’, what are we going to do with this guy?”
“He worked so hard before practice, after practice, everyday,” continued Popovich, “and became a team favorite. (He) wouldn’t say a word in the beginning, (but) by the time he was traded, he was holding court on the bus and telling jokes,” Pop explained, “and talking and really blossoming as an individual. It was fun to see that growth in him.”
Pop would then state some unknown qualities about Hill that were never seen on camera or written in stories.
“But at the same time, he’s an unbelievable person,” said Popovich. “He’d be flying people out here from Indianapolis, out here to San Antonio, to do things, to go to Sea World.”
“Nobody would know it, it wasn’t for the cameras or any of that kind of stuff,” said Pop, “he’s just an incredible human being so I just fell in love with him overall.”
And as it began to sound like the most sentimental moment ever, Pop had to interject with a “Pop” response.
“But I traded his ass,” Pop joked, “because I’m a prick.”
Pop then said that trading Hill to his home state of Indiana made the deal easier to accept.
“That was like my excuse or it made me be able to sleep at night for a while,” said Pop, “my wife was mad at me, the team was in shock when I did it, but it was good both ways.”
“He’ll really help Indiana and I think Kawhi Leonard and our big kid in Europe (Lorbek) will help us.”
“So for basketball reasons, we did it.”
“But it was very, very difficult.”