Spurs sign 2007 top pick Splitter

SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs didn't shop the blockbuster free-agent market for their big summer addition.

Instead, they finally cashed in on their 2007 draft.

The Spurs signed Spain center Tiago Splitter on Monday, three years after San Antonio picked the heralded 6-foot-11 Brazilian star whose expectations will likely be as high as any Spurs newcomer in recent years.

"We're very fortunate to be adding one of the best players not playing in the NBA," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said before introducing Splitter.

But Buford also sought to make Splitter's impact realistic.

The 25-year-old was MVP of both the Spanish League regular season and finals while leading Caja Laboral Vitoria to a second championship, averaging 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. He has widely been regarded as one of Europe's best big men.

But the 235-pound Splitter still has room to grow physically. And in a franchise built by David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the bar for big men in San Antonio is high as anywhere in the NBA.

"We've been fortunate to have two pretty good bigs through here the last 20 years," Buford said. "I'm hoping that people will let him become his own player as opposed to have the expectations of our previous centers."

The Spurs, though, are counting on Splitter to contribute right away. San Antonio let go one disappointing big man this summer in Ian Mahinmi, the 6-11 center from France who struggled to develop after the Spurs made him a late first-round pick in 2005.

Splitter, the 28th overall pick in 2007, idolized Duncan growing up. He said he wasn't ready to play in the NBA until now.

Splitter -- who wore No. 21 in Europe because of Duncan -- characterized his game as running the floor quickly for a player of his size. He also said he likes to play the pick-and-roll offense run by the Spurs.

"I really decided that I wanted to come here," Splitter said. "I stayed more time in Europe to improve my game a lot. It was the right time at the right moment."

Finally bringing Splitter aboard was an offseason target for the Spurs after being swept by Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals. San Antonio hasn't drastically changed its roster since, apart from swingman Richard Jefferson opting out of his deal for free agency.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Splitter didn't appear lured by an immediate NBA payday. The most the Spurs could offer Splitter this season was their midlevel exception, around $5.8 million, whereas his Spanish club could have offered him more.

"If I stayed in Spain I could have made more money," Splitter said. "But this is my moment."