Solving Problems: Spurs Need Size
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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As the NBA owners and players continue to work towards finding a middle ground on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the San Antonio Spurs are patiently waiting for their opportunity to make improvements. After going down in embarrassing fashion in the first round of last year’s playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs know that they need to make some moves if they’re going to get back into the championship mix like they desire to.
They were active on draft night as they completed a trade with the Indiana Pacers for San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans and Erazam Lorbek in exchange for combo guard George Hill, a favorite of head coach Gregg Popovich’s.
The Spurs explored several other trades that would have included shipping off former All-Star point guard Tony Parker and the struggling Richard Jefferson. However, they were unable to find any takers for Jefferson’s contract, which has three years and $30 million left on it, and teams were unwilling to take on Parker without sending back equal contracts as the Spurs desired.
As nice of a pickup as Leonard is, where the Spurs are currently lacking is in the low post at the power forward and center positions. They were absolutely manhandled inside by Grizzlies big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol during the playoffs. Strong play inside the paint is going to continue to be a necessity in order to win in the Western Conference, so once the lockout ends the Spurs need to see what kind of help they can find inside for the aging Tim Duncan.
Developing From Within
Internal improvements have always been one of the trademarks of the Spurs. They do as good of a job as any team in the league at finding players who fit their culture and system. They do so with the hope that they’ll make significant strides upon coming to San Antonio.
In young big men Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair the Spurs have two players who have a long way to go in terms of development. They’ve already contributed at times, but they still have plenty of upside.
Both of them have to enter the 2011-2012 season feeling like their futures as Spurs are on the line if they don’t step up and answer the call.
Blair was quite solid for the Spurs throughout the first half of the regular season. He wasn’t able to maintain throughout the course of the season, though, and eventually was replaced in the starting lineup by Antonio McDyess, who retired at the end of last season. Against the Grizzlies Blair played a total of 51 minutes in six games, receiving DNP-CDs for the final two.
Splitter was the opposite. Spurs nation was clamoring for his arrival for years, only to be disappointed by what he was able to provide immediately. Set back with an injury in training camp, Splitter missed out on some valuable experience that prevented him from cracking Popovich’s regular rotation. As Popovich was searching for answers against Memphis, though, he decided to give Splitter a chance and he faired quite well. That creates some optimism over what he can bring this upcoming season.
Blair has opted to sign with Russia’s Krasnye Krylya Samara for the lockout, which is probably the best decision for him. Going into what will probably be a shortened training camp in game shape will make Popovich happy. Plus, he’ll have the opportunity to work expanding his offensive game some.
The Trade Market
It’s safe to say at this point that everyone on the team not named Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili, to a lesser extent, could be had for the right price. Parker was very close to being dealt this summer and Jefferson would have been gone already if there was a team willing to gamble on him earning every dollar that’s owed to him.
The Spurs are a very tough team to deal with, though. They won’t be strong armed into any deals. If they don’t feel like they’re getting good enough value they’ll simply stand pat. That’s never going to change, despite the fact that their championship window may only have the slightest of openings in it.
They’ve got some nice young players, like sophomore guards Gary Neal and James Anderson who could sweeten the pot if paired up with the aforementioned Parker or Jefferson. They also have sharpshooting forward Matt Bonner, who is reasonably priced at just under $4 million annually. If needed, Blair and/or Splitter could be included in any deal as well.
When looking at options on the trading market it’s really important to be realistic. The Portland Trail Blazers aren’t going to be giving up All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge anytime soon.
Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman, on the other hand, has been rumored to be on the trading block for awhile now. He’s certainly worth making a phone call about, as are Utah Jazz forwards Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
The Jazz have two young big men that they really like in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. They’re eventually going to have to make room for them, which means Millsap or Jefferson will have to go. Whether or not that’s this year, though, is the question.
The Free Agent Market
Even with there being so much unknown about the next CBA, it’s safe to say that the Spurs aren’t going to have any cap room to work with during the offseason. They’ve got $73 million on the books for the upcoming season, so at best they’ll have an exception or two that they can sign players with.
That takes them completely out of the running for the top-ranked guys like David West, Nene, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler.
They’ll have to set their sights a little lower. Carl Landy, Kenyon Martin and Glen Davis are much more viable options at power forward, while centers Kyrylo Fesenko, Kurt Thomas, Aaron Gray, Alexis Ajinca and Eddy Curry could be attainable.
With Duncan’s $21 million contract coming off of the books next summer, the Spurs are positioned to have some cap room in the future. Because of that they’ll be very particular with the kind of deals they offer. Unless it’s someone they really like, they won’t have any interest in doing anything long-term.
Quiet Before The Storm?
Just based off of their history, it’s hard to imagine the Spurs’ roster looking completely different at the start of the regular season, whenever that may be, than it does right now. They’re an organization that really likes to take their time, think things through and make sure that they’re making the best decision for both the present and the future.
All signs point to next offseason being the one where the major shake ups occur. Duncan will either be retiring or signing on at a far reduced rate, which will give them a lot of flexibility under the cap. At that point the Spurs will decide what direction they’re going to go in for the foreseeable future. They’ll know exactly what their options are under the new CBA and what they can and can’t do.
Unless any ideal deals come along, odds are it’ll be up to Blair, Splitter and maybe a veteran on a one-year deal to help Duncan in shoring up the Spurs’ inside woes this year. But come 2012-2013 we could see a completely different looking Spurs team that has completely moved on from the big three of Parker, Duncan, Ginobili and into a new era.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat this Friday (9/9/11) at 11 am EST. You can get your questions into him here.