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New Season – Same Goals

Patrick Mills will put NBA championship dreams ahead of his individual contract ambitions as he prepares for one of the biggest seasons in his eight-year career in the world’s best league.

The Canberra basketballer will join the San Antonio Spurs on the road for their season-opener against the all-star Golden State Warriors on Wednesday afternoon (AEDT).

It’s the start of a huge campaign for Mills as the three-time Olympian readies himself for free agency at the end of the year and the Spurs play for the first time in 19 years without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

Challenges don’t come much bigger than taking on the Warriors at their home fortress in Oakland with Kevin Durant teaming up with Steph Curry for the first time as an NBA power couple.

But Mills has narrowed his focus to becoming a leader for San Antonio, declaring “I will play my heart out for the Spurs” this year as he chases a second NBA title.

“I want to accomplish more and achieve more,” Mills told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

“Playing against the Warriors is not a bad way to kick things off … it’s pretty exciting to think that the season is already here.

“We haven’t looked too much at anyone else in the league at the moment because we’ve got our own growing plans for us to develop. It’s come around so quickly and playing against [Curry and Durant] is a good way to test ourselves.”

Mills will spearhead an impressive cast of Australians in the NBA this year, with No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons set to make an impact, Dante Exum coming back from injury, Andrew Bogut testing himself at a new team and Matthew Dellavedova starting a $US30 million contract in Milwaukee.

Mills has established himself as a significant role player on the Spurs roster but is still keen to leave a bigger mark on the league as he works with Tony Parker in the point guard job.

The former Canberra Marist College student has a burning ambition to become a starting point guard in the world’s toughest competition and a strong season will increase his bargaining power next year.

Mills is nearing the end of his $12 million, three-year deal with the Spurs, but he says he will bury contract speculation at the back of his mind to concentrate on a title bid.

“I can’t control anything about next year or beyond that at all, so for me it’s about focusing on this season,” Mills said.

“I’ll go about this year the same way I would for any other year and cross the bridge of all of the contract stuff when it’s all over.

“It’s not something that will affect me on or off the court. It’s just another year and another opportunity to get back to the finals, it’s not different on my end.”

Mills made his NBA debut in 2009 and has played 361 games with the Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers.

He has also been the Australian Boomers inspirational leader, taking charge of their Rio Olympic Games campaign earlier this year before suffering personal and team heartbreak in the dying seconds of a bronze-medal match.

Mills was intent on guiding the Boomers to their first medal at an Olympics and was on track against Spain when the referees controversially called a foul against him with 5.4 seconds left in the game.

Spain iced the free throws and won the match by one point. But Mills’ classy reaction spoke volumes for his character and now he wants to transfer the Olympic passion into the Spurs’ season.

Mills sees one of his major roles as stepping up as a leader to carry on the Spurs legacy after the retirement of five-time champion Duncan.

“The Olympics still stings and burns and I think it will linger for a while, but at the same time it adds a bit more fuel to the fire,” Mills said.

“What happened at the Olympics will hurt for a long while, but I’ve learnt you’ve got to use those experiences to motivate you to get better. In the long run I truly believe it will pay off if you handle it the right way.

“I’m going into my sixth season with the Spurs and the way I feel about playing for them and for the city, I’ve become to understand what it means to be a Spur.

“It’s very similar to the passion and pride I have for playing for Australia. That’s the growth I’ve had being in San Antonio, that contributes to the fun and the passion. I want to play my heart out for the Spurs.

“I want to establish myself more as a leader in this Spurs culture to get everyone to buy in. A championship goal goes without saying, it has to be our goal.”

Article: by Chris Dutton – Canberra Times (Australia)

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