Exclusive: Patty Mills speaks to NBA Australia
Exclusive: Patty Mills speaks to NBA Australia
Patty Mills could easily be forgiven for feeling fatigued. In the past two months alone, he has jousted with the league's best in a dominant five-game NBA Finals win, and dealt with a crippling shoulder injury (torn rotator cuff), renewed contract talks, returning to Australia, and everything in between.
For perhaps the first time in his burgeoning career, Mills landed on the open market with his stock soaring through the roof, following a breakout 23-game playoff run with San Antonio in which he shot 40.5% from beyond the arc.
Despite managing a cumbersome shoulder sling and facing a stint on the sidelines of upwards of six months, the 25-year-old's bubbly disposition hasn't wavered. He, along with teammate and close friend Aron Baynes, has undertaken a whirlwind journey around the country, stopping briefly in six different locations in just six days.
The homecoming celebration, officially branded as the "Spurs Trophy Tour," has offered an unprecedented opportunity for the Australian pair to share their accomplishment and celebrations with those who watched from afar.
"We’ve been playing together for over ten years now and it’s great to have both of us on the same team and go through this experience," Mills explained.
Asked if the trip has strengthened their friendship, he confessed, "I think even tighter than what we already were, mate."
"To be here together and to share in this experience, and to have the chance to do that with friends and family and the rest of the Australian public--who showed enormous support throughout the season--it’s great to do."
As rewarding as this landmark occasion has been for Mills, there were no guarantees that he would be donning the Spurs' silver and black beyond this past season.
With every passing game--including his 17 points and five three-pointers in the series' closing Game 5--swirling winds of interest from rival organisations picked up momentum, and the outlook in San Antonio changed.
Mills hasn't hidden the fact that he was graced with appealing alternatives, either.
"I thought it was important to weigh up every option, whether it was good, bad, or somewhere in between there. I would like to say that I’ve earned the right to at least do that part, and it’s the smart thing to do," he said.
"I think obviously my goal is to be a starting point guard in this league, and I’ve said that from the first day that I got drafted."
News of the extent of his shoulder ailment threw a spanner into the works, significantly altering his timeline, but it was Mills' humility and self-awareness that led him to the eventual outcome.
"I think where I’m at in my career at the moment, I’m learning a lot, I’m still developing, and there’s no better way to do that than being in San Antonio with such great people, teammates, coaching staff and, for me, Tony Parker, really taking me under his wing," he said.
Even amongst all the chatter of a championship and his own sprawling stardom, it was impossible to ignore the palpable honesty and genuineness flowing through his voice, particularly as he spoke of his San Antonio environment.
He praised the unity of the playing roster, insisting, "We done it together, we’ve done stuff off the court together and we accomplished something on the court together. We’re more than a team, I think, we’re a family, and that’s the reason for the way that we played."
According to Mills, the Spurs' championship core re-upping en masse was anything but pre-planned, though that hasn't affected his enthusiasm.
"To hear that all of us [free agents] are coming back and we’ll be together for another year is very exciting. I haven’t talked to any of the boys about next season, rightfully so; we’re still trying to understand what we accomplished,"
"I think going into next year it’ll be about trying to do it again. I think we’ve got a good chance to put ourselves in a good situation."
Patty Mills won't be a part of the opening months of the Spurs' title defence, at least not on the hardwood floors, as he continues to rehabilitate his damaged right shoulder.
He has thus far cautioned against setting a return date, some two weeks removed from the operating table, and lost in the infant stages of his lengthy recovery.
"This is a season on its own, with this shoulder," he admitted.
"I think (more importantly) that I’ve gotta take my time coming back and making sure that the shoulder has no problems at all, fitness wise, back to how I was at the beginning of last season."
That process has also dashed his hopes of leading an inexperienced Australian squad to the FIBA World Cup in Spain, in September, leaving him to hand over the caretaker duties to the likes of recent lottery pick Danté Exum.
Mills didn't gloss over his disappointment at missing the tournament, but also shared that he has contacted the younger guard from the national team landscape to congratulate them on their successes.
"It’s gonna suck for me to be out and just knowing that I won’t be a part of the stuff on the court with the boys."
"I couldn’t be more happy for both Danté [Exum] and Cam Bairstow for getting drafted, and obviously Brock [Motum] and Chris Goulding, who were playing in the Summer League," he told NBA Australia.
"It’s just a great experience for all of those guys to get, to go through their basketball career, and make strides. I wish them all the very best."
Patty Mills spoke to NBA Australia from Cairns, where the craziness and unfiltered joy of the Spurs Trophy Tour is nearing its end, approaching tomorrow's fitting finale in Mills' ancestral home of Thursday Island.
It has been 33 days since he first cradled the Larry O'Brien Trophy, though for Mills, the best is seemingly yet to come.
A trek to the Torres Strait Islands will preface the next stage of his career, and for now at least, familiarity is a dear friend.
"I couldn’t be more excited about going back to San Antonio for another three years and I just feel like I’m going to get even better and keep improving."