Where Should The Spurs Go From Here?
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Most franchises would be more than pleased with finishing 50-16 in the regular season, tied for the best record in the league, and coming just two wins shy of the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs aren’t most franchises, though. Championships define success for them, so this past season won’t go down as one to remember despite how well they did.
What they will take away from this season more than anything is that they were very close, perhaps closer than they expected to be, to winning it all. That impacts their approach to this offseason dramatically. Had they gone out early again, wholesale changes may have been in store. Now they can go into the offseason much more patient as their needs are not that great.
As we’ve done with every team who has been eliminated up to this point, we take a look at where the Spurs should go from here.
Management and Coaching
In head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford the Spurs have stability on the sidelines and in the front office that most teams in the league are envious of. They are two of the best at what they do and they continuously prove that year in and year out. Popovich won the Coach of the Year award this year and Buford has them positioned perfectly with the salary cap.
Assistant coach Mike Budenholzer is being groomed to be Pop’s successor when he decides to retire as a head coach and move into the Spurs’ front office. So, they’re set in both departments for well beyond the foreseeable future.
The Golden State Warriors have the Spurs’ first round pick this year, so their only selection is at 59. That may not sound like much, but it was with the 58th pick in the 1999 draft that the Spurs landed Manu Ginobili.
It’s hard to strike magic like that in that position twice. If any team can do it, though, it’s definitely the Spurs, who have set the blueprint for scouting both domestically and internationally.
Their draft history creates the belief that they’ll probably go with an international player at 59 who is content to stay overseas for at least a couple of years before coming stateside. At 59 a few quality big men like Alen Omic, Maik Zirbes, Tomislav Zubcic and Joffrey Lauvergne should be available. Greek point guard Kostas Sloukas could also be an intriguing option.
Don’t rule out the possibility of the Spurs doing just as they did last year and trading into the first round. If they see someone they want is obtainable they will make the move, likely using DeJuan Blair and future picks as the resources to do so. It would have to be for a ready-to-contribute rookie like Kawhi Leonard, though.
At a time where teams are often handcuffed by and terrified of their star player becoming a free agent, the Spurs have no worries whatsoever about Tim Duncan’s impending free agency. Duncan isn’t going to entertain offers from any other teams, nor is he going to ask for a deal that is unwarranted at this stage of his career.
Negotiations between the two parties should be as smooth and easy as any in the league’s history. What it is all going to come down to is how much longer Duncan wants to commit to. That’s on him to decide, and when he does, the Spurs will make sure to compensate him properly financially.
Obviously, Duncan is going to have to accept a serious pay cut. He just completed the final season of a two-year $40 million deal. Even though he seemed to locate the fountain of youth this year, he’s still not at the level where the Spurs can justifiably pay him that kind of money.
The $10 million range seems to be the sweet spot for Duncan and the Spurs. It’s in line with Duncan’s production and it allows the Spurs to also spend their mid-level exception fully without flirting with the luxury tax threshold.
Boris Diaw played well enough during his short stint with the team to be the leading candidate to receive the MLE. Negotiations won’t be as simple as Duncan’s, though. The Spurs may have some hesitancy to give Diaw all of it. Contract length could be an issue as well. Popovich was very frank on Diaw’s conditioning before he was signed. He didn’t feel like he’s ever been in shape.
However, given Diaw’s role in the rotation, it looks like he won Pop over. There will be the standard haggling from both sides, but in the end expect Diaw to stick around. There’s not going to be a huge demand for him on the free agent market. While some teams may be willing to offer more money, the entire package that the Spurs’ present will be hard to beat. Not only are they a first class organization that always remains competitive, but they also have his longtime friend in Tony Parker recruiting him to stay.
That lowers the chances of Danny Green coming back. Green, one of the most improved players in the league and a starter for most of the year, has a qualifying offer worth $3.5 million that the Spurs should make in hopes of keeping him on the one-year deal. If another team gives him an offer sheet the Spurs are going to have to choose between him or Diaw. With Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili Green is definitely the more expendable of the two. It would be nice if they could find a way to keep Green, but he is definitely replaceable.
Recent reports indicate that Patrick Mills plans to opt out of his current deal and become a free agent. Mills played terrifically in the final stretch of the regular season, but didn’t get much of an opportunity during the playoffs. If he’s not brought back the Spurs have a long list of veteran options they can consider to replace him, or they could give the opportunity to sophomore guard Cory Joseph.
French guard Nando De Colo, a 2009 second round pick of the Spurs, is reportedly looking to join the team. If that is indeed the case and he’s not just using them for leverage for a bigger deal overseas, that’s a cheap option that could potentially provide help at both guard positions. The backup shooting guard spot is currently vacant with James Anderson and Gary Neal becoming free agents. Anderson is likely gone since he never stood out or won over the coaching staff. Neal has increased his value, but he should still be in the Spurs’ price range considering they have his early bird rights.
Power forward/center Erazem Lorbek, a 2005 second round selection of the Indiana Pacers whose rights the Spurs acquired on draft night last year, is also rumored to be interested in joining the club. Like De Colo, it’s too early to tell if that interest is genuine or just a negotiation ploy. Given their limited assets and the demand for De Colo and Lorbek overseas, signing both of them may be unrealistic. The only way that could happen is if Diaw and Green sign elsewhere, but you’d have to imagine the Spurs prioritize re-signing them first and look at Lorbek and De Colo as fallback options. In the most likely scenario, the Spurs may get one of them with their bi-annual exception.
The Amnesty Clause
After trading Richard Jefferson to the Golden State Warriors at the March trading deadline the Spurs do not have any players who are in danger of getting amnestied. The likelihood of it being used anytime in the next few years is highly unlikely since they’re set to be way below the salary cap after next season anyway.
Tony Parker ($12.5 million) and Matt Bonner ($3.9 million) are the only ones with guaranteed money on the books in 2013-2014. That’s great value for a player of Parker’s caliber and while Bonner is the subject of frequent criticism, using the amnesty clause on him would be wasteful and unnecessary.
This year’s success gives the Spurs the confidence they needed to keep things intact for another season. Expect the Spurs to come back looking fairly similar in 2012-2013 as they did in 2011-2012. There will be some minor tweaks and improvements, but the major changes won’t come until the 2013 offseason when they could have over $30 million to spend in free agency. That’s when they’ll truly make their transition into the next era.