AUS/USA - Mills, Baynes cherish NBA title chase with Spurs
San Antonio (NBA/FIBA Oceania Championship) - The San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the NBA's Western Conference and, much as they have been for more than a decade, they continue to be perennial contenders to be crowned champions in June.
The Texan team though is aware that their 'Big Three' have a lot of miles on the counter and therefore have surrounded them with one of the best supporting casts in the NBA.
With no less than 11 international players - past and present - from seven different countries, the Spurs are the most cosmopolitan team in the league.
Baynes was signed by the Spurs in January after spending three years playing in Europe. He hasn't spent too much time on the court just yet but has a long-term view in mind.
"I've made a lot of sacrifices to be where I am right now. I know that I haven't been playing a lot since coming here, but I keep working hard, waiting for more opportunities to play," he told FIBA.com.
For Mills, the situation is slightly different. In his second year in the Alamo City, the former St Mary’s player has averaged 10 minutes per game this season and shot 39 percent from three-point range.
"I feel great about being part of this team. I'm giving my best whether I spend one or 30 minutes on the court. It's been a wonderful experience playing for this franchise so far," said Mills.
The 24-year-old guard was the top scorer at last summer's Olympics, averaging 21.2 points per game.
Among his highlights in London were a 39-point performance in a come-from-behind win over hosts Great Britain, hitting a buzzer-beating three to beat Russia and a 26-point effort in Australia's Quarter-Final defeat to eventual gold medalists USA.
As a rookie, Baynes still has much to learn about playing in the NBA, but the presence of his compatriot has been very helpful so far.
"Playing with someone like Patty is very important for me. We've known each other for years now and he helps me a lot in my adaptation to the NBA. We support each other and spend a lot of time together. It's perfect," Baynes explained.
Undrafted in 2009 after spending four years at Washington State College, the 2.08m big man decided to take his game to Europe to become a more mature player.
"The years I spent overseas helped me a lot to become a better player. Playing against some of the top players was very interesting, especially with Olimpija Ljubjana where I had the opportunity to compete in the Euroleague," he recalled.
"Slovenia was probably the turning point. Playing well there attracted the attention of the San Antonio Spurs, which led to the opportunity to realise my dream of playing in the NBA."
By being part of one of the best teams in the league, the Australian duo has real possibilities of winning titles.
San Antonio - NBA champions in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 - want to write a new page in their history.
"Many teams can reach the NBA Finals and we are one of them," said Mills.
"Our roster is one of the deepest and talented in the league and we fear nobody. We know that we can win the ring. We’ll give everything we can to reach the top."
Baynes backs that up his team-mate's talk.
"We can definitely fight for the title. This team is incredibly competitive and everyone wants to win the championship," he said.
In addition to their NBA aspirations, the two are also proud flag-bearers of Australian basketball.
After reaching the last eight in London last summer, Baynes and Mills are confident that great things lie ahead for Australia.
"We've been improving a lot in the last few years and our future is bright. We have a lot of great players and the next step is to qualify for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup," Mills pointed out.
That will begin this summer, when Australia take on New Zealand in the FIBA Oceania Championship with the winners booking a place for next year's tournament in Spain.
The Boomers though will begin a new era following Brett Brown's decision to step down as coach of the national team.
"Coach Brett Brown has been very important for our progression, and we are all very grateful for the work he has done for the Australian national team," Baynes said.
"But life goes on. We're on the way to be one of the best team in the world."