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Gaze tips Mills to blossom at San Antonio

CHRIS DUTTON

Last updated 15:05 19/03/2012

San Antonio Spurs can provide the perfect opportunity for Patrick Mills to relaunch his NBA career and set him up for a successful Olympic campaign later this year, basketball legend Andrew Gaze says.

Mills secured his future in the world's best competition yesterday when he finalised a deal to join the Spurs on a two-year contract.

Mills's United States management confirmed to The Canberra Times Portland had renounced the rights to his contract and he was free to immediately link with the Spurs for the remainder of the season.

The Spurs are second in the western conference and will make the playoffs when the regular season ends on April 26. Mills could play his first game for the club when the Spurs play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.

The move ends a frustrating three months of waiting for his chance to play again and his Olympic plans will also be boosted when he joins Australian Boomers coach and Spurs assistant mentor Brett Brown in San Antonio.

Gaze was on the Spurs roster for two seasons, including their championship in 1999, and believes the franchise can help get Mills back on track.

''It's great not just from an NBA standpoint, but he can get back in a team environment and that's going to be huge for preparations for London,'' Gaze said.

''I'm sure he has been keeping fit and he has been working out, but that's no substitute for playing. Especially in the NBA.

''Realistically it's going to take him time to find his feet and it's going to be a battle for him to get some quality playing time because he's in there behind Tony Parker, who is arguably the best point guard in the competition.

''There's a window of opportunity for him that if he can come on and show what he can do, he can get some legitimate minutes.''

Mills has been in limbo since his deal with Chinese club Xinjiang Flying Tigers went sour after they accused him of faking a hamstring injury.

He returned to the US in January but needed a FIBA clearance from the Tigers before he could play in the NBA again.

He got that clearance two weeks ago, but Portland had a full 15-man roster and still held the rights to his contract.

They didn't trade him before the March 15 deadline, but agreed to release him yesterday to join the Spurs.

The Spurs boast an extremely talented roster, including Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Mills has a chance to cement a spot as the back-up point guard to Parker after TJ Ford was forced into premature retirement because of recurring back injuries.

''Learning the system with the Spurs and with Brett, it can help get Patty right for the Boomers as well, it's a fantastic opportunity,'' Gaze said. ''It's one of the best organisations in the NBA and it's a good place to be.''

Mills has been on a whirlwind journey since leaving the Australian Institute of Sport five years ago.

He impressed at college playing for St Mary's before bursting on to the international stage at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

His performances were good enough to win him an NBA contract with the Trail Blazers, but injuries and form have hindered his rise.

Mills will play at his second Olympics later this year in London. He told The Canberra Times earlier this month he hoped it could kick start the next phase of his career.

''It's kind of gone full circle, London is the big picture and the main goal for me,'' Mills said.

''It's almost like deja vu ... I think London can help me relaunch everything. You don't want to put too much pressure on it, but London is definitely an important time for me again.''

- The Canberra Times

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