He sat the bench, frustration boiling, watching his team underachieve while players he once would have run circles around played his minutes. Michael Finley still felt he could contribute to his team’s cause, but Gregg Popovich apparently felt otherwise.
Still, Finley never complained. He merely voiced his opinions to teammates, his friends, discussing with them the possibility that he might ask to be waived in order to receive a better chance to play elsewhere. Finley was disgruntled in San Antonio, but never let it affect his mood in the locker room. Finley’s coach Gregg Popovich never realized Finley was thinking about leaving, probably because Finley came to work with the same good attitude he has had for his entire career. Finley, you see, is as good a teammate as they come.
Teammates as highly respected as Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan call Finley one of the best teammates they’ve ever had. For two Golden St. Warriors to say that about someone, it’s special. But for two Spurs to say that means even more. Those two stars have played for one of the most team-oriented franchises in NBA history for a combined 21 years, yet still consider Finley to have set himself apart from other teammates with his work ethic and selfless demeanor.
“Losing Fin is hard,” Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News. “He was such an unbelievable teammate.”
Ginobili continued to describe his feelings about Finley on Twitter: “Wishing good luck to [one] of the best teammates I’ve ever had. We’ll miss him.”
Even though Ginobili said it was tough to lose Finley, he understands why the 15-year vet would want to join a new team.
“We know how this works. He wasn’t playing, and a player wants to play. He still thinks he can contribute, and we all understand that, so no problems.”
Tim Duncan echoed Ginobili’s sentiments.
“He’ll be missed, but trying to be a player and be on the court and get out there, he just wasn’t getting the time here. I wish him well, and I hope that he finds what he wants and everything works out great for him, because he’s the best. He’s awesome.”
It must have been tough for Finley to leave San Antonio. Players want to play, sure, but the Spurs were the team that helped Finley win a championship. Ginobili, Duncan, and coach Gregg Popovich helped put a ring on Finley’s finger. Ginobili said that ring was all about Finley, and not so much about the Spurs, who had already won three previous titles.
“That 2007 run was more for him than for us,” he said. “Of course, I will remember the kind of teammate he was, always under control and always having a good word to say.
The great memories will remain, but Finley will now try to create new ones in Boston. Meanwhile, his old coach doesn’t want any of Finley’s San Antonio memories to be tarnished. In perhaps the greatest testament I’ve read regarding Finley’s character, the coach he just shocked by asking for a buyout still wanted nothing to damage his former player’s reputation.
“We didn’t let him go,” Popovich said. “He requested a buyout so he could leave, and we granted that. That’s different from saying we let him go, or it could be to people that read the paper. I want to make sure that distinction is made.”
Leaving behind a family of dedicated friends to join the Celtics, Finley will now have new coaches to please and new teammates to endear himself to.
Something tells me he won’t have any problems with that.