When it comes to turning lumps of coal into shiny diamonds, or even finding said diamonds in the rough, nobody in the NBA does a better job than Gregg Popovich.
He's fashioned the San Antonio Spurs into a sustainable "dynastender" over the better part of two decades, with heaping helpings of Tim Duncan and David Robinson and no shortage of assistance on the fringes.
He's hit it big with international odds and ends in the NBA draft (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker), discovered Americans abroad to boost his team's cause (Bruce Bowen and Gary Neal), and turned a slew of spare parts (Devin Brown, Roger Mason, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, etc.) into valuable role players on contending teams.
Next up for Pop? Drawing blood from a stone that, once upon a time, was one of the most promising gems in the league.
I'm referring, of course, to Eddy Curry.
You remember Eddy Curry, don't you? The Chicago Bulls snatched him up with the fourth pick in the 2001 NBA draft, hoping to pair him with fellow prep-to-pros phenom Tyson Chandler in a Twin Towers alignment not unlike what Pop had at his disposal in the River City.
Curry's career didn't take off quite like the Bulls had hoped, for a number of reasons. So, Chicago opted to give him a fresh start...by shipping him off to New York to play for Isiah Thomas and the Knicks.
Surprisingly enough, Curry thrived during his second season in the Big Apple, posting career-highs nearly across the board in 81 starts. Then, in another stroke of pure...ummm...something, Zeke acquired Zach Randolph to form a defensively deficient, ill-conceived frontcourt combo.
Further changes in regime and on-court personnel thereafter—along with his own injuries, poor conditioning and off-court issues—sent Curry's career asunder. He played in all of 10 games between 2008 and 2010 and fell out of the league entirely by the time the 2010-11 season rolled around.
The Miami Heat brought him back to fill out the end of their bench last season. For his efforts—14 appearances, one start, 30 total points, 12 total rebounds and 17 fouls in 83 minutes—Curry was awarded a championship ring.
And he was summarily sent packing again.
Which brings us back to San Antonio, where Curry, nearing his 30th birthday, currently finds himself. In four preseason games with the Spurs (including one start), Curry's averaging 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 17.3 minutes.
Solid, nothing spectacular, but a step in the right direction. Curry says he's in shape again. The Spurs are thin along the front line.
This might happen. This could work. It'll be up to Pop to lead the way, and for Eddy to follow instructions to a tee.
First up, Curry must continue to show that he can contribute, that he can play to his strengths in a way that benefits the team dynamic in San Antonio. As he told Mike Monroe of The San Antonio Express-News:
I feel I’m in a good situation. I worked hard this summer. Every game it’s just about showing everybody what I can do. I’m trying to focus on defense and rebounding, trying to play in the system and soak up as much as I can.
Once he's done that, he'll have to prove he's capable of succeeding outside of his comfort zone by playing in the pick-and-roll. Curry's long been more of a traditional, post-up big man, but as he relayed to Monroe, his stay in South Beach served to expose him to the beauty of the two-man game:
Miami did a lot of pick and roll, too. I didn’t play a lot in Miami, but I practiced every single day, whether it was two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four or whatever. I practiced a lot and the majority of practice was pick and roll.
Assuming Curry is capable of fulfilling those duties—a dicey assumption, in the eyes of many—he could be a (more-than-)passable role player in San Antonio. He's still 7'0" tall, with a strong, 295-pound frame. He's still relatively young, or at least young enough to move around.
Most importantly, he's playing for Pop, who's played Henry Higgins to many an Eliza Doolittle in his time.
Of course, this one is different. This one comes saddled with enough baggage to make Stephen Jackson look like a Good Samaritan, but also enough talent (formerly, anyway) to pilfer significant playing time from Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter up front.
He still has a long way to go before he can claim a spot on San Antonio's regular-season roster, much less work his way into the regular rotation. But if Eddy Curry truly has his act together, if he's focused and ready to play, he has the potential to be Pop's most impressive reclamation project yet.