Six Moves the San Antonio Spurs Should Make
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The lockout is finally nearing an end, but the conclusion hasn’t come before 16 regular season games were lost. That’s shortened the 2011-12 season down to 66 games. As many have pointed out, the last time there was an abbreviated season due to a lockout was in 1998-99, when the San Antonio Spurs won the first of their four championships.
While the Spurs don’t enter this season as talented as they were back in 1998, it’s interesting to think how much different things would have been last year had the regular season only been 66 games long. At that point last year they were sitting pretty at 54-12, atop of the league’s standings. By the time the playoffs rolled around 16 games later, though, they were banged up and not playing at the same level that they did for the majority of the season. They were upset in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies, which has greatly tempered expectations for this season.
Within the next year the Spurs are going to be forced to determine what direction they are going to go in as the face of their franchise, Tim Duncan, enters what could be his final season. A new era is set to begin soon, but for now here’s a look at six moves the Spurs should make in the immediate future that also take the future into consideration.
Use the Amnesty Clause on Richard Jefferson
It’s beyond time for the brutal relationship between Jefferson and the Spurs to come to an end. When they first acquired him two years ago it seemed so promising, but it has actually turned out to be a horrible fit for both sides. Jefferson has experienced two of the worst years of his career as a Spur while the team has failed to get past the second round of the playoffs.
Ideally the two sides would have parted ways last summer, but Jefferson couldn’t find an offer more attractive than the Spurs’ and they were without better options. The amnesty clause will allow them to finally part ways and move on.
Cutting Jefferson now makes sense for the Spurs because it would get them under the luxury tax threshold and therefore give them the full mid-level exception to work with. It would also free up some time for rookie small forward Kawhi Leonard, who they thought highly enough of on draft night in July to trade combo guard George Hill for.
Those benefits outweigh waiting on cutting Jefferson and seeing if there’s any deal out there for him on the trade market. The chances of the Spurs getting anything of value in return that they would want to keep are slim anyway. Jefferson’s stock has never been lower after two painfully mediocre years. For all the talk about how being in the system for another year and spending all summer working with the coaching staff was going to help him revert back to his old self, Jefferson’s production dropped off in 2010-2011 from where it was 2009-2010 when he averaged just 12 points and four rebounds a game.
Convince Antonio McDyess to Come Back
After the Spurs’ disappointing loss to the Grizzlies McDyess made it clear that retirement was something he was strongly considering. That wasn’t McDyess getting caught up with the emotions of getting eliminated earlier than expected, either. McDyess is 37 years old now and has played 15 years in the league. To say that he’s had some injury troubles throughout that time would be an understatement. It would be hard to blame him if he never played another minute in the NBA.
However, the Spurs need him and there are roughly 5.2 million reasons why he should contemplate finishing out his contract. McDyess is beloved in the locker room. Everyone, from head coach Gregg Popovich to DeJuan Blair, thinks the world of him and respects him greatly. Plus, even at this late stage of his career he’s still a very effective player. He’s arguably the Spurs’ best defender man-to-man in the post along with Duncan and someone who can play both power forward and center.
There’s a chance, albeit slim, that the extended break that came as a result of the lockout could have helped push McDyess towards playing one more year. With how big of an asset he is both on and off the court, the Spurs have to let him know that he’s wanted.
Keep an eye on Andres Nocioni, Shane Battier, Wilson Chandler, Marcus Thornton and J.R. Smith
It’s impossible to project without knowing exactly what the salary cap is going to be in 2012-2013, but the Spurs could potentially have somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million in cap space to work with. That’s a very nice spot to be in with players like Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves (restricted) and plenty others set to be available.
If there’s anything that will help usher in the post-Duncan era smoothly, it’s the acquisition of an All-Star via the free agent market.
Preserving that cap space has to be a priority for Spurs’ management. There are a few free agents in this year’s class, though, who would warrant cutting into it slightly for. If the Spurs could nab Andres Nocioni, rumored to be amnestied by the Philadelphia 76ers, Shane Battier, Wilson Chandler (restricted – in China until March), Marcus Thornton (restricted), or J.R. Smith (also in China) at a reasonable price it would be worth giving them a long-term deal.
Sign a backup point guard
When the Spurs traded away Hill on draft night not only did they lose a favorite of Popovich’s, they lost their best backup point guard. They did draft lead guard Cory Joseph out of Texas with their first-round pick, but the chances o f him being ready to play major minutes as a rookie are not great. Joseph is quite young with a lot to learn. The adjustment from high school to college gave him problems, so the leap from college to the NBA will almost undoubtedly prove to be problematic as well.
This year’s crop of point guards that are within the Spurs’ price range and willing to take a short-term deal are not great. The Spurs should make an identical offer to T.J. Ford, Carlos Arroyo, Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair. Whoever accepts it first gets it. With Joseph and Parker already locked up long-term, all the Spurs need is someone to fill in spot duty for a year or so as Joseph learns the ropes.
Try to Find a Backup Power Forward/Center
The Spurs should approach the free agency period under the impression that McDyess will not be back, otherwise they’re just setting themselves up to be disappointed and shorthanded. The process of finding a backup big man should be the same as their search for a point guard: sign someone who is willing to play for cheap on a one/two year deal that won’t affect their cap space in the future.
With those restrictions there’s not going to be much to choose from. Still, though, the Spurs should be able to ink someone serviceable like Reggie Evans, Josh McRoberts, Craig Smith, Tony Battie or Jeff Foster.
Listen to offers for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
By no means is this saying that the Spurs need to move either one of their stars in the backcourt. The two of them remain amongst the best at their position and will ensure that the Spurs remain competitive if Duncan retires at season’s end. There’s no harm in keeping your ears open, though, and seeing what is out there.
The league is projected to have plenty of activity going on over the next few weeks to make up for lost time. There are a lot of teams willing to deal and some pretty good players that could be had in the right deal.
It would be foolish for the Spurs not to partake and gauge the market for Parker and Ginobili, the two most attractive trade assets they have. If one of them could net an All-Star or borderline All-Star and serviceable role player in return, it would certainly be worth considering.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat on Friday December 2nd at 11 am EST. You can get your questions in here.