Nets guard Patty Mills puts up a shot against the...

Nets guard Patty Mills puts up a shot against the Pelicans in the second half of an NBA game at Barclays Center on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SAN ANTONIO – It was during the Tokyo Olympics last summer when Patty Mills led the Australian national basketball team to its first-ever Olympic medal with 42 points in the bronze-medal game that he also had to make the wrenching decision to leave San Antonio after a decade with the Spurs to join the Nets in free agency.

Before his return to face the Spurs for the first time since that decision Friday night in San Antonio, Mills discussed his move. "At the end of the day, it was very emotional," he said. "It was a career-changing decision. I'm just very glad of the opportunities that I had here in San Antonio…being able to do a lot of growing up here and a lot of adulting, I guess. And all the values that I learned from being here off the court, I really appreciate it."

Mills said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich fully supported his decision. His most memorable moment came after winning the bronze when Popovich, who coached the U.S. to the gold medal, embraced him after the game.

Mills said Kevin Durant recruited him to join the Nets along with Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Popovich said that losing both Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge to the Nets was a win-win situation for the rebuilding Spurs.

"We’re in a rebuilding mode, and that doesn’t help [Mills] very much," Popovich said. "He’s very important to Brooklyn. It’s a different group when you’ve got Harden and Irving and Durant. He’s a complement to them. We kind of knew this was going to happen. We just wanted to try to make sure he got to a place where it was going to be a successful program.

"It was the same thing with LA. [Aldridge] did all the community things that Patty did. He wasn’t here as long as Patty, but he did a lot of things quietly. He worked and gave in a lot of schools in town. It was never in the press, nobody ever knew about it, but we knew about it here. He was a great teammate with everybody, heck of a player, obviously, and doing a great job in Brooklyn. But it was the same thing. He needed to be a complement to other guys."

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