Just a year ago, an unknown guard out of Towson joined the San Antonio Spurs summer league squad in Vegas and earned a multi-year deal, eventually becoming a household name in San Antonio and getting national attention when he was chosen to play in the Rookie Challenge during Alll-Star Weekend.
If you thought Neal had nothing else to prove now that he has a firm spot as a role player with the Spurs once the season resumes, you thought wrong.
Neal is working just as hard if not harder this summer, and although he's nowhere near Vegas, he's still playing summer league ball in Washington D.C.'s famed Goodman League.
According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, Neal said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford told Neal not to rest on his laurels and that he should expect some time backing up Tony Parker at point guard next season with the trade of George Hill to Indiana.
Before he left San Antonio for the summer, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford told him he had to keep working on his game and not be satisfied. Now that George Hill has been traded to Indiana, Neal says he was told to expect some minutes next season backing up Tony Parker at point guard. The Goodman may be the only chance for him to try that new position before the Spurs get together again for training camp. He can't do any work with Popovich, who was hands-on last summer with Richard Jefferson. The only hands on Neal these days are his Goodman opponents.
But aside from continuing to work on his game and learning to play a different position, Neal has to work just as hard in a league filled with current NBA and college players, including Thunder forward Kevin Durant among others.
"You're a marked man," Neal said. "You're in the NBA. A lot of guys out here are striving to get to the NBA. That's their dream. You definitely have a target on your back when you step out here. You have to bring it every day. It's just like an NBA game as far as competitiveness, because you set the bar so high and the mark's on your back. If a guy has a great game against you, he's gonna go back to his neighborhood and tell 'em."
If that wasn't enough, as Paul Garcia wrote yesterday, Neal will be representing the Goodman League later this summer in a showdown with the Drew League from Los Angeles that boasts players like Ron Artest, James Harden and Tyreke Evans.
While Neal may not have the luxury of a Spurs training and coaching staff or the facilities and equipment in the practice facility, Neal isn't letting that get in the way of another productive summer. Neal earned a contract and a spot in the rotation due to his work ethic last summer.
This year, that work ethic is on display again, albeit on the East coast and at a pro-am league this summer.