Spurs’ Keita Bates-Diop hopes his best NBA season leads to another one

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The Spurs’ Keita Bates-Diop was averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds this month entering Tuesday’s game, a surge in production from the veteran forward.

The Spurs’ Keita Bates-Diop was averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds this month entering Tuesday’s game, a surge in production from the veteran forward.

Brian Westerholt, FRE / Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Each Spurs game day begins with the same routine for forward Keita Bates-Diop.

He checks the team’s daily injury report and then tries to determine what it might mean for his night.

If the Spurs’ injured list runs longer than a CVS receipt, Bates-Diop figures he better tighten up his shoelaces.

“The more guys out, I’m sure I’ll start or at least play more,” Bates-Diop said.

With the Spurs roster pockmarked by injury lately, Bates-Diop has emerged as coach Gregg Popovich’s go-to fill-in starter.

Heading into Tuesday’s rodeo trip finale at Utah, Bates-Diop had started 12 of the previous 13 games in various lineup incarnations.

“It does not matter to me,” Bates-Diop said. “No matter who is in or out, I’m ready for whatever.”

A journeyman role player, Bates-Diop is enjoying the best season of his five-year NBA career.

He has set new highs in games started (25 entering Tuesday), minutes (20.6 per game) and scoring (8.3 points per game).

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“He’s progressing very well,” Popovich said.

Bates-Diop can only hope that means there is a job for him next season.

Bates-Diop’s contract is set to expire this summer. At age 27, Bates-Diop might not be a part of the rebuilding Spurs’ long-term plans.

Yet the former Big Ten Player of the Year at Ohio State has proven to be a nice veteran to have around during the team’s ongoing youth movement.

Bates-Diop joined the Spurs before the 2020-21 season after stops in Minnesota in Denver.

In that time, Popovich has tried to coax the perpetually calm Bates-Diop into becoming a bit meaner.

“More than anything, it’s been a matter of becoming a little nastier, a little more aggressive, understanding people want to take his job away,” Popovich said. “He’s trying to carve out an NBA career. We’ve tried to approach him in that tone.”

The message appears to be hitting home.

Entering Tuesday, Bates-Diop was averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 10 February games.

“He’s made significant progress in understanding how you have to be to stay in the NBA,” Popovich said. “That’s really been an area he had to work in.”

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Whether a strong close to the season will be enough to earn Bates-Diop and new contract — from the Spurs or another team — remains to be seen.

His personal preference is clear.

“I want to have a long career,” Bates-Diop said. “Individually, it’s been the best season of my five years. I hope I get a chance to build on that.”

Pop keeping up with Team USA

Popovich has been out of the USA Basketball business since August of 2021, when he guided the national team to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 74-year-old Spurs coach, however, is still emotionally invested in Team USA.

After the Spurs lost to Utah on Tuesday, Popovich went out of his way to congratulate coach Jim Boylen on guiding the U.S. to a berth in this summer’s FIBA World Cup.

“He and his staff and all those players deserve a lot of credit,” Popovich said.

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Steve Kerr is set to succeed Popovich at the helm of Team USA, and will coach the squad at the World Cup.

Since qualifying tournaments occur during the NBA season, USA Basketball uses a rotating roster of G Leaguers and former fringe NBA players, led by a substitute coach, to play those games.

What Jeff Van Gundy did for Popovich, Boylen did for Kerr.

The U.S. qualified for the World Cup with a 9-2 record under Boylen, a Spurs assistant under Popovich from 2013 to 2015.

“He coached 50 or 60 guys over the past year in three or four different situations,” Popovich said. “They got the USA team qualified, which is a huge deal.”

Hardy plans for another HOF

Jazz coach Will Hardy experienced what he called a “pinch me” moment when the finalists for the next Naismith Hall of Fame class was released earlier in February.

The list was peppered with names from his time on the Spurs’ staff — Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Becky Hammon and Pau Gasol.

“It’s just another very blatant reminder of how spoiled and lucky I have been in my basketball life,” Hardy said.

Hardy, 35, was a member of the Spurs staff from 2010 until 2021, when he left for a one-year stint as the lead assistant in for the Boston Celtics.

His time in San Antonio overlapped with a pair of Spurs already in the Hall of Fame, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Hardy was on hand in Springfield, Mass., for Ginobili’s induction ceremony last September. He has plans to return in August for a 2023 iteration that promises to be Spurs-centric.

“These are legends of our game, and these are people I call friends and mentors,” Hardy said. “It really makes no sense. Those people deserve those honors. It’s fun for me to have been like a blip on the radar.”


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN