San Antonio needed LaMarcus Aldridge, but it will miss Tiago Splitter.
Splitter was traded from the Spurs to the Hawks this summer to create salary-cap space that enabled them to, among other things, keep Danny Green and add Aldridge.
“It was very difficult,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday morning about trading Splitter. “When someone is with you for a while you get close to the family. That’s the business side of the situation that shows its ugly head once in a while. If we wanted to add the talent that we added, you had to do something. You can’t pay everybody. Tiago being here in Atlanta is a perfect fit for both parties.”
The Spurs lured Aldridge from the Trail Blazers with a four-year, $80 million maximum contract. The Hawks have Splitter for two seasons at a total of $16.75 million.
The Hawks hosted the Spurs on Wednesday night in an exhibition game, giving Splitter and his former teammates a chance to reconnect.
Splitter, a 6-foot-11 center, spent his previous five NBA seasons with the Spurs, winning a championship in 2014. He got together with several of his old teammates for dinner Tuesday night. A picture of him with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw made its way around social media.
Splitter said recently that playing his former teammates in the preseason will take some of the edge off a first meeting between them.
“It will be (strange),” Splitter said. “Always when you play against a former team, a least the first couple (of games) it’s strange to play against them. It will be good to see them in a different environment. It’s the preseason so everybody can joke a little bit more and play.”
Popovich said the Hawks are getting a perfect teammate in Splitter, one willing to do the dirty work required to win games. You just may not see him on a televised highlight any time soon.
“Tiago, you won’t find him on an ESPN clip for sure,” Popovich said. “But you’ll find him on the winning side of the ledger doing things that coaches and fans appreciate. He’ll do all the dirty work. He’ll be unselfish. He’ll be a factor in winning games.
“Tiago is a tremendous teammate. A really smart player. All he cares about is winning and enjoying basketball and his teammates. He’s a wonderful guy on and off the court. He fits in perfectly with the rest of the character that the Hawks have right now.”
Splitter appeared in 52 games, including 35 starts, with the Spurs last season as he battled a calf injury. He averaged 8.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 19.8 minutes. He scored a season-high 23 points against the Hawks in a March game.
Note: Popovich was asked whether a Spurs-Hawks exhibition game would get a yearly occurrence. “I don’t see why not,” he said.