SAN ANTONIO – Timberwolves guard Gary Neal left San Antonio two summers ago and missed out on the Spurs winning an NBA title that had painfully eluded them in 2013.
He did so to follow the money — a two-year, $6.5 million contract offer from Milwaukee — and said before Sunday's game that he doesn't regret it.
A late lineup scratch Sunday when the Wolves went without seven players, Neal has been traded twice, at consecutive trade deadlines no less, since he bypassed a $1 million qualifying offer from the Spurs to sign for millions elsewhere, with only a fraction as much team success.
"At the end of the day, unless you're Tim Duncan or LeBron James or Kevin Garnett, you're not really going to have a legacy," Neal said. "I'm not going to be a Hall of Fame player or anything like that. So my job as a man is to put my family in a situation where they can be as comfortable as possible. That's a decision I made, and to this day, I don't regret it. I'd make that decision 100 times over."
He'd seen teammate DeJuan Blair go from being the next big thing to falling out of the Spurs lineup and took notice of how quickly a player's fortune can turn in the league.
"Me being an older guy getting a late start, that was on my mind," said Neal, 30.
Saturday's arrival in San Antonio was the first time he has seen his wife and two children since the Wolves acquired him in February from Charlotte in the Mo Williams deal. His family still lives in San Antonio, where he played three seasons after the Spurs discovered him years out of college playing professionally in Italy and invited him to summer league.
His son is 3 years old.
"He said he's cheering for Daddy but he wants San Antonio to win," Neal said. "I was like, what? We have to re-evaluate that."
Seven men out
Neal did not play Sunday because of an injured ankle. Starting center Nikola Pekovic and starting point guard Ricky Rubio didn't play either — also because of ankle injuries — and Garnett missed his fourth consecutive game.
Forwards Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and Robbie Hummel remained out as well. That's seven players. The Wolves started Zach LaVine for Rubio, Gorgui Dieng for Pekovic and Justin Hamilton for Garnett/Adreian Payne (who came off the bench instead) alongside Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins.
"I'm just saying everybody's a game-time decision," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. "That makes it easy."
Another look at KG's knee
Garnett will get a second opinion this week on a knee he banged before All-Star break that's still hurting him, Saunders said before Sunday's game. Garnett was in uniform and on the team's bench for Sunday's game.
Sunday's game was the Spurs' first since Cleveland's Kyrie Irving scored 57 points again them in Thursday's 128-125 overtime home loss on TNT that was one of the most memorable regular-season games in years.
"That's about as good as I've seen," Saunders said. "People say, 'Just stop him,' or do this. Hey, San Antonio is known for being one of the best defensive teams, Pop [Gregg Popovich] is one of the best coaches. This is a league where great players get on great rolls. It doesn't matter who you got out there, don't matter what you try to do as a coach. They can be better than anything you try to design."