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Why Patty Mills wants to bring 'Boomers Patty' to San Antonio

Patty Mills' intent was as clear as ever when he leaned forward and stared down the lens of the camera.

Even on a Zoom call, the threat to bring 'Boomers Patty' to the NBA was visceral. For his entire career, Mills had accepted -- and embraced -- being a role player for the San Antonio Spurs, all while dominating as a starting point guard whenever he'd put the Australian national team's famous green and gold jersey on.

Well, that's about to change. Mills has decided, unapologetically, that it's time the player we've seen take over entire tournaments for the Australian Boomers introduce himself to the NBA.

"Why now?" Mills asked, in a conversation with ESPN; his eyes piercing.

"Because not making the playoffs for the first time in my career pissed me off, and there's also a gold medal to be won. It's as simple as that."

The contrast between the two different versions of Mills has always been as clear as it is confusing. Sure, it's important to acknowledge how the FIBA style of play differs from the NBA, along with the difference in the overall level of basketball, but one question seems to consistently permeate throughout any international tournament Mills is involved in: why haven't we been given the chance to see this Patty Mills in the NBA?

In a Spurs jersey, Mills has played a role to perfection; coming off the bench for a team that was seemingly always destined for the postseason, giving up potential personal production and accolades for the betterment of a team and culture.

When he put on the green and gold of the Boomers, though, things changed. Mills would suddenly turn into a scoring savant, piling on points in every which way. On-balls, pin downs, pull-ups in transition, back-cuts, you name it; Mills' bag is immense, and he's usually the best player on any floor he's on.

"I'm well aware of the different players [I am]," Mills said.

"How I play for the Boomers: that's my identity, that's who I am, that's when I'm at my best.

"But the fact is, coming here to San Antonio, I accepted a role within a tight family, in an environment that was iconic to a winning franchise, and was actually about to make a massive impact in doing so. We all make sacrifices along the way to achieve something. Me passing up opportunities on my dream of being a starting point guard was one of them.

"Do I regret that? No. But, my decisions have always been based on the bigger, more broader picture of my development as a player, that also stretch way beyond basketball."

As much as watching Mills shoot 25 shots a game on an NBA team would've been beyond enjoyable, and there's an alternate reality where that could've been a distinct possibility, the reason behind resigning himself to a bench role has been relatively obvious: it comes with the territory of being a Spurs player of the last two decades.

From Manu Ginobili, to Boris Diaw, and even Tim Duncan, there's always been a culture of sacrificing ego for success under Gregg Popovich, and Mills is just one of many players to buy into that system. It's usually worth it; there's a reason why the Spurs have earned their place as one of the NBA's model franchises, and the Australian point guard has a championship to show for it.

"It's back to the sacrifice," Mills said.

"What probably helped me the most was having a teammate so close to me, and essentially someone to look up to, in Manu Ginobili, and see how he approached his role and accepting that role. That was something I followed as well, being close with him.

"And it helped me along the way; there's no doubt about it. I always had this itch, that still wanting to be who I am, and not forgetting who I am, and who I am as a player. That's come out a few times, but not at its full strength. I've obviously known the capabilities of myself and what I can do. Like I said, the decisions have always been based on things that go beyond me as just a player; beyond basketball as well. I'll never regret it."

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There's a level of growth, and humility, and appreciation one can get from a full-throated and enthusiastic acceptance of a role that's below you, and Mills has been sympathetic to the Spurs' needs because of that.

But, after the franchise's first season under .500 in more than 20 years, and with the most important Olympic Games of his career looming, Mills' mentality shifted going into his 2020-21 campaign.

"This didn't happen overnight necessarily," Mills said. "For me, this is an attitude born out of self-awareness, of all the genuine hard work that I've put in, to prepare for this moment and the upcoming eight months."

"The way that I look at it, is, again, how much knowledge and experience that I have gained and learned over time and put in the vault to be able to let it unleash in times like these. I'm a much better player and person, and understand the game much better than I did before."

Mills is coming off his most productive NBA season to date -- averaging a career-high 11.6 points per game -- but he's not ignorant to how his Spurs need to operate. The 32-year-old knows a franchise has to, to an extent, put its faith in its young players, so playing behind Dejounte Murray and Derrick White is the reality for him when the Spurs' roster is healthy.

And that self-awareness Mills talks about isn't exclusive to just better understanding his role on the current iteration of the Spurs. He's part of a franchise that has a storied history, under a head coach who's largely excelled thanks to players that look and play nothing like the 6'1 point guard.

"I think for fans and other people out there, (they) don't necessarily realise how far away I am from Pop's ideal player, in many aspects probably, but physically for sure," Mills said. "I'm small, have short arms, can't jump high, and shoot a bunch of threes.

"I think about the players he's had in the past, and their size and athleticism, and even the style of play. David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen. Right? You can see the length and the size and athleticism. I'm probably the exact opposite of his ideal player."

Still, there's a reason why Mills has stuck around with the Spurs for the past 10 seasons, and is the only player on its roster who was part of the franchise's 2014 title run. Mills has earned the respect of Popovich -- as a player and person -- and the guard's intent is the reason why.

Mills knows there's no reality where he's allowed to just step in and immediately become the No. 1 option for the Spurs - "it's not like (Pop's) gonna hand over the keys to me and say, 'go ahead, mate'," Mills said, but he's adamant that the Boomers iteration of himself is here, and his experience with the team means he understands exactly where to strike.

"I think the point is, is I've had to fight and scratch and claw to earn my keep here in San Antonio, and it's no question that that aspect has played a key part in my development of my character as a player," Mills said.

"My approach is always gonna be about what I can control, and I guess the difference now is I just have a greater understanding and focus on those specific times where I can really lock in and absolutely seize the moment when those opportunities do come up.

"As for -- I don't know what you wanna call it -- a chip on your shoulder, or vengeance, or any type of motivation, wherever you get it from. It doesn't matter who or what you get your vengeance from; as long as you carry that chip on your shoulder, and you bring some nasty, and you show some heart, Pop will always be receptive to that, as well as the organization. Obviously, the city of San Antonio is very receptive to that type of behavior."

It was eight years ago when Popovich was famously captured in a timeout, telling his players, "I want some nasty!"

Well, 'Boomers Patty' is planning to bring that nasty. If all goes to plan, the Australian national team will get a dose of it in Tokyo, too.