The San Antonio Spurs signed Jeff Pendergraph, a scantly utilized 6-foot-9 power forward, at the behest of former Indiana Pacers assistant Jim Boylen. Pendergraph will net $3.58 million over the next two seasons, despite appearing in just 96 games through four seasons. (A torn right ACL undercut his entire 2010-11 season.)
Boylen worked closely with the bruising 26-year-old in Indiana, and he harped on Pendergraph's defensive versatility, understated passing acumen and polished mid-range game.
Roy Hibbert and David West soaked up almost every Pacers frontcourt minute last season, leaving Pendergraph to pick up the low-leverage scraps. Pendergraph will enter a similar situation in San Antonio, but he can't wait to join the Spurs' accredited basketball "program."
“Oh I can’t wait man, I’ve been dreaming about it, ever since [I] signed I’ve been so anxious to get out there and I want to start working,” Pendergraph said. “I’m nervous too. It’s not like you’re going to a team that needs help or doesn’t have expectations. You don’t have to be a starter for Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] to expect something from you.
“It’s a great program, and everyone is held accountable and everyone on the team makes sure they’re accountable. Coach doesn’t have to police it, everyone polices themselves and that’s a great atmosphere and that’s how you create championship basketball.”
Pendergraph's former team was also dangerously close to a NBA title last season, until LeBron James erased their chances with a masterful 32 point, eight rebound and four assist performance in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals. With his contract expiring in the offseason, it was very unlikely that Pendergraph would cling onto a contender of the same ilk. Except, with a bit of luck, he latched onto the Spurs, the only team that came closer to a championship than the Pacers.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, there’s only two other teams that I could’ve tried to get on that were better than where I was at [Pacers], it was either the Heat or the Spurs,’ and I was blessed to be on the Spurs,” Pendergraph said.
“I’m so getting butterflies. I talk to my wife about it every day. We’re both kinda nervous but excited, especially with a newborn baby, but we’re glad to be back in the West.”
Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter will command the majority of minutes next season. Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner will fill in the gaps, depending on the matchups. Even Aron Baynes, who spent most of his time last season riding the pine, will have a higher chance for a pronounced role. That leaves Pendergraph in a precarious position, but it's one he can change during the offseason. He just needs to bust his ass a bit.
“I’m out here trying to work, trying to get better,” Pendergraph said. “I gotta wait to see, when we get there, how working my [tail] off is gonna pay off, but that’s definitely one of the best places to go.
“If you work hard, Coach is gonna repay you. He doesn’t just let you sit there and work your [tail] off and not repay you. If you’re out there putting in the time, their tools they’re gonna have can help you become an even better player.”
Pendergraph was a teenager during Duncan's athletic prime — so it wasn't exactly easy acclimating himself to the prospect of guarding the first ballot Hall of Famer.
“I was so caught up in it that I got scored on easy because I was in a fan mode,” Pendergraph said. “But being around and seeing these guys work and seeing him still do it, it’s gonna be an honor to be there and learn as much as I can from him.”