Playing alongside Kawhi Leonard was also part of the appeal for Gay when he decided to come to San Antonio. But that opportunity hasn’t yet been afforded to Gay, who has served as part of the hole-filling spackle to help the franchise function in the absence of its franchise player. The ways in which Gay can contribute to a team beyond scoring are being recognized and appreciated like they never would have in previous stops, where losing made them easier to ignore. “It’s a situation where, you have to pay a lot of attention to detail and it’s a winning mentality. That’s something I was away from, for so long, you kind of create bad habits. I’ve had to re-teach myself. And I’ve had to continue to do it every day,” Gay told Yahoo Sports. “It’s great. Everybody helps each other. Everybody is held accountable. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has one thing in mind, and that’s win. I wanted to be a part of that.”
That is what the Spurs are and have been for some time. The culture Popovich has established is why veterans like David West in 2015 and now Gay left significant money on the table to join the fold, why Duncan held on until he was 40, Ginobili has done the same and Parker is begging to follow. Players and coaches speak of “The System” when it’s actually a long-preached philosophy that involves sacrificing for the good of the team, trust and instilling confidence. Believing in what you have allows role players to take the occasional star turns and the really talented players like Leonard to ascend to unexpected heights among the league’s best. “First of all, guys understand the system of what we’re trying to do here, and executing their role. Guys are not trying to do too much, or too little,” Patty Mills told Yahoo Sports. “We’re getting good wins, and even when we do lose, they tend to be mistakes that we can fix. When [Leonard] comes back, we’re obviously going to have to adjust, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. But so far this season, it’s been a team effort. Obviously, [Aldridge] has been carrying a huge part of the weight, but everybody else complements and understands what they need to do, so it’s a good way to feel for sure.”