Spurs exercise team options on Johnson, Vassell

The San Antonio Spurs today have exercised their fourth-year team option on forward Keldon Johnson, as well as their third-year option on guard Devin Vassell for the 2022-23 season, the team announced on Monday.

Johnson, 22, is entering his third year with the Spurs after appearing in 69 games last season and averaging 12.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 28.5 minutes. He is one of three Spurs in franchise history (Tim Duncan and David Robinson) to record multiple games with 25-plus points and 10-or-more rebounds in their first 50 career games. Johnson was a member of this summer’s Team USA Basketball squad that captured the gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Originally selected by San Antonio in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft (29th overall), Johnson has seen action in 86 regular season games, averaging 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 26.4 minutes.

The 21-year-old Vassell enters his second season with San Antonio following his rookie year when he averaged 5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds in 17.0 minutes over 62 games. He became just the seventh rookie in franchise history to record 50-plus three pointers in their first season. The former Florida State Seminole made his NBA debut at Memphis on Dec. 23, 2020, becoming the first rookie to play at least 20 minutes in a Spurs season-opener since James Anderson (27) on Oct. 27, 2010. Vassell became the first Spurs lottery pick since the 1997 season when the Silver and Black selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Keldon Johnson on role with Team USA: ‘I’m here to be the energy guy’

USA Basketball Men’s National Team got off to a rocky start during their series of exhibitions games in Las Vegas. Team USA lost their first two games to Nigeria and Australia but won its final two, including defeating a very good Spain team 83-76 on Sunday night.

Keldon Johnson, who was recently added to Team USA, was huge in this contest. The Spurs forward scored 10 of his 15 points in the third quarter, and Team USA, who trailed throughout the game until an 11-0 run helped the team take complete control in the third quarter.

“Just being active, being a spark,” said Johnson of his performance. “I’m here to be the energy guy and bring life to the team whenever we need it. In the third quarter when I came in, we needed a spark.”

Team USA and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich added: “Keldon Johnson just played a really He shot if he was open, he made cuts to the bucket. When he did go to the bucket, he was very physical. And he was solid in the half-court defense. So, he had a very, very good night.”

Damian Lillard scored 19 points, Johnson had 15, Kevin Durant added 14, and Zach LaVine tallied 13 points for the USA, which heads to Tokyo on Monday and will face France in its Olympic opener on July 25. The Americans have won the past three Olympic gold medals. Ricky Rubio led Spain with 23 points.

According to Popovich, after a slow start, Team USA is starting to come together.

“We just had our sixth practice the other day,” Popovich said. “And after these exhibition games, that’s what we look for — getting better at both ends of the court, learning how to play with each other, because these guys have never played together before. And I think we’re on the right track in that regard, so that’s what I feel good about.”

Team USA has played better in the last two games, and if they come together, talent-wise, there’s no better.

Photo: Team USA

Spurs’ Johnson: ‘I’m blessed and honored to be an Olympian’

The Summer of 2021 could be special times for Spurs F Keldon Johnson. On Friday, Johnson was named to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball roster.

Johnson, along with JaVale McGee, were named to the Team USA roster after Kevin Love decided to withdraw from the Olympics and Bradley Beal being unable to play due to health and safety protocols.

The 21-year-old Johnson is the third player in San Antonio franchise history to be named to the U.S. Olympic team after playing for the Spurs, joining David Robinson (1992, 1996) and Tim Duncan (2004). He also becomes the 32nd player in Spurs history to suit up for San Antonio and represent their country at the Olympics.

“I’m blessed and honored to be an Olympian,” Johnson said to reporters via a Zoom call on Friday. 

Originally named to the 2021 USA Basketball Select Team on July 1, Johnson participated in the national team’s training camp in Las Vegas and played in two exhibition games, averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds against Australia and Argentina.

Being around many great players will be very beneficial to Johnson, which he discussed on Friday.

“I’m definitely learning something new every day,” he said. “I feel like I’m around a lot of great players and some of the best players in the league, so just if I don’t understand something, asking questions. Just seeing things that they do different than what I would do. Just learning from it and putting my own spin on it. I think just being around these guys and being able to go and compete against them in practice and then play with them in a game really is teaching me a lot about basketball.”

In his second season with the Spurs, Johnson averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 28.5 minutes in being named to the 2021 NBA Rising Stars Roster. He became the first player in his first two seasons to average at least 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds since Duncan in 1998-99.

Team USA, coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, will compete in the Summer Olympic Games from July 23 through Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan.

Listen below as Johnson reacts to joining Team USA:

 

Johnson, McGee added to Team USA, Love withdraws

USA Basketball announced on Friday the addition of USA Select Team guard Keldon Johnson (San Antonio Spurs) and NBA veteran center JaVale McGee (Denver Nuggets) to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball roster. Johnson and McGee fill openings created after Bradley Beal went into health and safety protocol and following Kevin Love’s announcement Friday morning that he was withdrawing from the team due to his ongoing calf recovery.

The pair join previously announced U.S. Olympic Team 2020 members: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jerami Grant (Detroit Pistons), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) and Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics).

Because of their current involvement in the 2021 NBA Finals, Booker, Holiday, and Middleton will join the USA squad after completion of the Finals.

The USA coaching staff is led by head coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) with assistant coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Lloyd Pierce, and Jay Wright (Villanova University).

Johnson, a 6-foot-5 guard, attended the national team’s Las Vegas training camp as a member of the USA Select Team and was added to the USA roster for the team’s exhibition games. He has seen action in two of the USA’s three exhibition games in Las Vegas, averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Having completed his second season with the Spurs in 2020-21, he started 67 of the 69 games he played in and averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

A 7-foot center, McGee completed in 2020-21 his 13th NBA regular season. Playing 33 games in 2020-21 for the Cleveland Cavaliers and 13 games for the Denver Nuggets, McGee averaged 7.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocked shots per game.

The rescheduled Summer Olympic Games are being held July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan. Twelve nations will compete in the Olympic men’s basketball competition that will be held at the Saitama Super Arena. In addition, to host Japan, nations qualified for the Tokyo Olympics men’s basketball competition include Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Nigeria, Slovenia, Spain, and the United States. 

The American men will open the Olympic preliminary round play on July 25 against France (8 a.m. EDT), then will play Iran on July 28 (12:40 a.m. EDT) and will close out preliminary play on July 31 (8:00 a.m. EDT) versus the Czech Republic.

Garland, Bey, Johnson, four others added to USA National Team for exhibition games

With three U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team members involved in the NBA Finals and unavailable, USA Basketball today announced that seven members of the 2021 USA Select Team would remain with the national team for five exhibition games from July 10-18 in Las Vegas.

Added to the USA National Team roster for the domestic exhibitions were: Saddiq Bey (Detroit Pistons); Darius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers); John Jenkins (Bilbao Basket, Italy); Keldon Johnson (San Antonio Spurs); Josh Magette (Darüşşafaka Tekfen, Turkey); Dakota Mathias (Philadelphia 76ers) and Cam Reynolds (Houston Rockets).

The seven players join U.S. Olympic Team 2020 members: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jerami Grant (Detroit Pistons), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors),  Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics).

Because of their involvement in the 2021 NBA Finals, Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks) and Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) are unable to join the USA squad during the upcoming exhibition games.

The USA coaching staff is led by head coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) with assistant coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Lloyd Pierce and Jay Wright (Villanova University) and Jerry Colangelo serving as the USA Men’s National Team managing director.

Completing Friday its Las Vegas training camp that was held July 6-9, the USA will continue its preparations for Tokyo with a five-game exhibition series that includes matchups against Nigeria on July 10 (5 p.m. PDT); Australia on July 12 (5 p.m. PDT); Argentina on July 13 (3 p.m. PDT); Australia for a second time on July 16 (3 p.m. PDT); and Spain on July 18 (6 p.m. PDT). All of the exhibition games will be played at the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay.

Jenkins, Magette, Mathias and Reynolds all bring recent USA Basketball experience as members of either the USA World Cup Qualifying or USA AmeriCup Qualifying teams.  Jenkins played in the November 2019 World Cup Qualifying window and the November 2020 AmeriCup Qualifying window and helped the USA to a combined 4-0 record. Reynolds was a member of the USA World Cup Qualifying team for the November 2018 and February 2019 teams and helped the Americans to a 4-0 record. Magette played for the USA in the AmeriCup Qualifying in the February 2020 and November 2020 windows, while Mathias was a member of the February 2021 USA AmeriCup Qualifying Team that finished 2-0in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Garland and Johnson were members of the USA Junior National Select Team that participated in the 2018 Nike Hoop Summit and were a part of USA Basketball’s Junior National Team program.  Additionally, Jenkins was a member of the 2011 USA World University Games Team.

Photo: Team USA

Spurs’ Vassell: ‘We got all the making of a winning culture’

The San Antonio Spurs season ended where it began on Wednesday night as the Spurs fell to the Grizzlies 100-96 at FedExForum in the Play-In Tournament.

With the win, the ninth-seeded Grizzlies will head on the road to battle the Warriors on Friday night. The winner of that game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs defeated the Grizzlies in Memphis in their season-opener, but it was a different story on Wednesday night.

Grizzlies led by as many as 21 points in the first quarter and had a 38-19 lead at the end of one. However, San Antonio would close the gap in the second quarter and would trail 56-49 at halftime. San Antonio entered the fourth quarter trailing by seven but would take their first lead since the first quarter when DeMar DeRozan made a jump shot to take an 80-79 with over seven minutes to go. However, the Grizzlies would go on a 15-7 run to take control from there.

San Antonio missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season, which is the first time that happened in team history.

Even though San Antonio lost on Wednesday night, Gregg Popovich was happy with the team’s effort. 

“No matter what the mistakes, no matter what the circumstances are, they really fight,” Popovich said. “That’s a good base. So, I’m really proud of the way they conducted themselves and played to win.”

The Spurs have some decent young players in Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, and according to rookie Devin Vassell, San Antonio has the talent to make noise for years to come.

“I think the sky’s the limit, honestly,” Vassell said after the game. “The young crew, the young core that we have; I mean we got talent, we got grit, we got hustle. We got all the making of a winning culture, and we’re all going to bond together; we’re going to stick together this summer. We’re going to push each other to get better each day. We’re going to come back with a vengeance next year.”

The Spurs are stuck in the middle right now. Too good to get a very good pick and not good enough to make the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan, 31, the team’s best player and closer, will be a free agent, so it will be interesting to see what happens there. This team is still looking for a star, and maybe one of the young guys can be that. 

Also, Gregg Popovich is 72, so it should be interesting to see how many years he has left. The future is not bleak for the Spurs, and the team does have plenty of cap space(over $50 million), but San Antonio is not a major free agent destination, which could make things tricky.

San Antonio still has more work to do if they want to get back to the playoffs and be contenders in the Western Conference.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson selected to 2021 Rising Stars roster

The NBA today announced that San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson has been selected to the 2021 Rising Stars Roster. Johnson is the first Spurs player to be selected for the Rising Stars Challenge since Jonathon Simmons in 2017 and the first player to be selected in his second season after appearing in less than 20 games as a rookie since Clint Capela in 2016.

In his sophomore campaign this season, Johnson is averaging career highs of 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 29.4 minutes over 28 games. He is on track to become the first Spur in his second season to average at least 14.0 points and 6.0 rebounds since Tim Duncan in 1998-99.

Johnson, 21, is one of three Spurs in history (Duncan and David Robinson) to record multiple games with 25-plus points and 10-or-more rebounds in their first 50 career games. The former Kentucky Wildcat has posted five double-doubles on the season and has scored double figures in 21 games, including five games with 20-or-more. Among rookies and sophomores in the NBA this season, Johnson joins Zion Williamson and Michael Porter Jr. as the only three players averaging better than 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Johnson becomes the ninth player in San Antonio franchise history to be selected to the Rising Stars since the event’s inception in 1994.

Spurs’ Popovich on Grizzlies: ‘They kicked our butts’

The San Antonio(11-10) had an unforgettable two-game set against the Memphis Grizzlies(9-6) at AT&T Center, including Monday night’s 133-102 beatdown by the Grizzlies. 

Before the two-game set with Memphis, San Antonio was on a three-game winning streak and playing terrific basketball, including wins over Boston and Denver. However, against Memphis, it was a different story. In the two games with the Grizzlies, San Antonio was outscored by 48 points. 

The two games against Memphis was a disappointment for the Spurs, but it’s a long season. According to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, Memphis was just the better team in these two games against San Antonio. 

“Give a lot of credit to Memphis,” Popovich said after the game. “They played great, both games. They were just tougher in so many ways than we were, their physicality on defense, their execution on offense. We were really behind. In a 48-minute game, I say, probably, in the third quarter, we looked like we’ve looked lately for about six minutes, but other than that, they sliced us and diced us and deserved the wins for sure. 

“It had nothing to do with we didn’t shoot well or we did this or we did that. They kicked our butts, and we did not play the basketball we’ve been playing for whatever reason, so we’ll stick together; we’ll go back to work, but those were two very tough losses by a team who really executed well, and I give them full credit.”

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson, who had a team-high 25 points for San Antonio, added: “We know we have a lot of work to be a good team. These are games we definitely wish we could get, and we need it, but it’s gone now. We just gotta look forward, put our big boy pants on and go out there and get it down the next time.”

When you consider Memphis is on a seven-game winning streak, losing two straight games to the Grizzlies could be understandable but not acceptable. San Antonio should have least gotten a split against Memphis. 

However, the Spurs are a young team, so these types of performances are not surprising. San Antonio finishes their five-game homestand on Wednesday night against the Timberwolves.

DeRozan on Spurs playing the top teams in NBA: ‘We take on the challenge’

The San Antonio Spurs(10-8) have gotten some excellent wins against some superb team this season, including wins over the Lakers and Clippers. Those victories were on the road. On Wednesday night, San Antonio got their biggest home win of the season.

DeMar DeRozan led the way for the Spurs with 21 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 20 points as the Spurs defeated the Celtics(10-7) 110-106 at AT&T Center. San Antonio(4-5 at home) has struggled at home this season, but they were up for the task against Boston. 

The Spurs trailed Boston by five after one quarter but had a strong second quarter, led by Lonnie Walker IV, who scored 12 points in that second quarter and helped San Antonio take a 14-point lead at halftime. However, the Celtics came on strong in the third quarter. They outscored San Antonio by 16 points and grabbed a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was happy not with the team’s play in the third quarter but was delighted with how they responded in the fourth.

“We kind of let up and coasted a little bit in the third quarter,” Popovich said. “They played very physically, and we didn’t respond. Turned it over, stopped moving. In the fourth quarter, we played solid D, and we attacked the rim pretty good for ourselves and teammates.”

One big defensive play was made by Spurs PG Dejounte Murray, who stripped Kemba Walker late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs holding a two-point lead. Murray finished with a dunk to put San Antonio up four.

Keldon Johnson, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds against Boston, talked about Murray’s steal and finish.

“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Johnson said. “Like DeMar(DeRozan) hit a clutch shot, D.J.(Murray) made a clutch play. He came down and got a steal, and he went and dunked it.”

The Spurs have now beaten the Lakers, Clippers, and Celtics this season, three teams that are championship contenders. According to DeRozan, San Antonio is excited to take on the challenge of beating the better teams in the league.

“We go out there, especially against these big teams, and compete to the best of our abilities,” DeRozan said. “It’s fun for us. We take on the challenge. We go out there and put it out there on the line.”

Great win for the Spurs. As the season goes on, the Spurs appear to be getting more comfortable with each other. With the possibility of Derrick White(toe) returning this weekend, things could get only better in San Antonio.

Spurs’ Popovich on Rockets: ‘We had four or five guys who were out to lunch’

The Houston Rockets were a depleted team on Thursday night. Due to the James Harden trade and injuries to John Wall and Eric Gordon, Houston had nine players against the Spurs, but those nine players came up huge, especially Christian Wood, who had a team-high 27 points and 15 rebounds, as the Rockets defeated San Antonio on the road 109-105.

This was a very disappointing loss for the Spurs, who were led by Keldon Johnson’s career-high 29 points, and after the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich felt some of his players were not ready to play against the Rockets.

“This has nothing to do with defense, offense,” Popovich said. “This has to do with between the ears. Being ready to play. We had four or five guys who were out to lunch.”

When asked if he was surprised by his team’s effort against Houston, Popovich has this to say:

“It doesn’t matter if it surprises me or not. We did what we did.” 

According to Spurs G Lonnie Walker IV, who scored 16 points on Thursday night, the Rockets played harder than San Antonio.

“They just played harder,” Walker said. “They played from the first quarter to the fourth, they played harder. It’s just that simple.”

Walker also felt the undermanned Rockets played like they had something to prove.

“They had something to prove,” he said. “They felt disrespected, so that energy and animosity built up inside of them. They were definitely ready to play this game. You could tell on the court just by their effort defensively, second-chance points, grabbing rebounds, and all those types of things.”

In an 82-game season(72 this year), losses like this happen, especially with a young team like San Antonio. Fortunately for the Spurs, they have a chance to get revenge on Saturday night against Houston. Based on Pop’s reaction after this loss, expect a much better effort from this team on Saturday night.

Notes:

DeMar DeRozan made his return on Thursday night after missing two games due to traveling to California to be with his ill father. In his return, DeRozan struggled early, but scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Watch an angry Pop below: