Closing One Window, Cracking Open Another

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Last week we ran a series of features exploring three options for the Spurs: Make no move; make a minor roster move; and make a major roster move. There was supposed to be one more- a post arguing that we should make moves focused on future seasons- that for various reasons was never published. After last night’s game, I felt it was appropriate to finally address the idea.

From where I stand, the situation is clear. It may be hard to stomach, but that does not affect its veracity.

The Spurs are not going to win a title as currently constituted. To some this may seem obvious, to others overly pessimistic. Either way it is clear to me that not a single member of the Spurs is playing at the level necessary to win a title. It takes not one or two, but several very talented players executing at a high level to hoist banners, and there is nothing that currently suggests that critical mass of execution is achievable.

There is not a trade that the Spurs can make that lifts them into contention this season. The problems this team is facing are very deeply entrenched and one, even two significant roster shakeups would not have the dramatic impact necessary to thrust the team back into the league’s top tier. Even if we somehow made a move that undeniably improved the level of talent on our roster, I agree with Gregg Popovich: “We’ve never had a group like this that didn’t gel, as far as being consistent night after night. I think if we change this person for that person, we’d still have the same problem.”

That being said, the Spurs may still be able to win a title during the Tim Duncan era, and can certainly win one in the next five years. But in order for that to happen, they must start making moves that are focused on the future. And not the near future. Their intention needs to be to contend two or three years down the line, not this season or even next.

In other words, I think it is time to start rebuilding.

There are three players that I am unwilling to trade: Tim Duncan, George Hill, and DeJuan Blair. In my opinion everyone else, to differing degrees, is on the table.

Tim Duncan is not on the table because he is the entire franchise and the greatest power forward of all time.

George Hill and DeJuan Blair are not on the table because they are young, cheap, and the only players on the roster that I can confidently say are going to play better next season than this season. A key element of rebuilding is adding young talent, not shipping it off.

Beyond that, anyone is up for discussion. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. Definitely Richard Jefferson.

Given the scale of what I am proposing, the trade possibilities are practically endless. So here are some rough guidelines I’d be interested in seeing the front office follow.

I think the goal should be acquiring young, developing players. Players who it is safe to assume have their best seasons still ahead of them. Certainly not anyone who will be thirty or over in two years. If we have to get a slightly older player in order to get a young prospect (For instance, Richard Jefferson for Corey Maggette and Anthony Randolph) that is acceptable, but the focus needs to be on young talent.

We need to commit ourselves to this strategy; any concerns that our team might get worse in the short term need to be thrown out the window. Getting worse now is not the goal- as I’ll explain in a moment I don’t think we should tank purposefully -but if it is a byproduct of a long term move, so be it.

This may sound strange, but the season has gone too well so far to tank. Fifty games into the season the Spurs are eight games over .500. I don’t think there are enough wounds the team could self-inflict that would move us far enough down the ladder to get a meaningful draft pick. If we miss the playoffs and get a lottery pick in the mid-first round, great. If we have a tidy little first round exit at the hands of the Lakers or Mavericks, well, that’s fine too. A brief trip to the postseason this year won’t dramatically affect our ability to rebuild.

We need to reconsider our approach to the draft. We need to stop trading away our draft picks, or at the very least not trade them away lightly. We need to stop drafting and stashing; we need to continue to make picks in the mold of George Hill and DeJuan Blair, picks whose value is clear within the first season or two.

And lastly, we need to be honest about the trade value of the various players on the team.

Richard Jefferson’s trade value is very low, but if it is possible to move him, the Spurs should pull the trigger. As we all know, it may not be possible to move him, at least not without getting bloodied in the process. And we shouldn’t be so anxious to move him that we load ourselves down with an undesirable, long term contract. Jefferson’s contract expires after next season. Worst case scenario: We just let it expire.

I know a few of you will be waiting out back for me with pitchforks when you read this, but here it goes: We need to trade Manu Ginobili. He has not played well enough this year to merit a new contract, and given his trajectory over the last three seasons, there is no reason to believe he will be able to play with any consistency over the coming years. Manu Ginobili has a $10.7 million expiring contract. We need to use that aggressively.

Along with Ginobili, we need to be willing to ship out Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, Keith Bogans, Theo Ratliff, and Ian Mahinmi in whatever combination brings back the most young talent. If we can attach a few of those to Richard Jefferson in order to make him palatable to other teams, so be it.

As the youngest member of the big three, Tony Parker is the most likely to be a force in the coming seasons, but that does not mean his name should be off the table entirely. Parker is arguably the oldest 27-year-old in the league, having played professional basketball in France before arriving in the NBA and having made several deep playoff runs during his career. If a team is willing to move a young all-star caliber player (Chris Paul, Devin Harris, Danny Granger), I am willing to discuss the idea of using Tony Parker as the centerpiece of such a trade.

For the time being Antonio McDyess is unlikely to be moved, as he has both underachieved this season and his contract does not effectively expire until the end of next season (his contract extends through 2011-12, but the third year is not guaranteed).

Does this mean Tim Duncan will retire with only four rings? I think no matter what we do, that is likely. But for those who say we owe it to Duncan to try to win another title, I think this gives the Spurs the best chance of doing so. Duncan is still an all-star caliber player, one of the best big men in the league. But he used to move mountains; now he is just very good at basketball. I think he can still be the centerpiece of a championship caliber team, but once upon a time he was Atlas- he could carry the world on his shoulders. Those days are no more. If we want to win another title, we will need to surround Duncan with more talent than ever before. The Spurs as currently constructed are not going to get it done.

There is no dignity in dying a slow painful death as a member of the pack. If we aren’t getting better, we are getting worse. It’s time to make some radical changes. The window has closed on this incarnation of the Spurs, but Tim Duncan and the rest of the franchise are in a position to rebound from this disappointing season.

  • gustavo

    don’t trade manu; let him play 35 minutes ten straight games.
    If you want to win a championship during Tim’s era, let him play 40 minutes ten straights games.

  • Hollywood

    I agree with the plan. Draft picks would be ideal as well. However to add another thing, with this approach, having Pop as coach seems to be counter intuitive as he can’t develop young players. He should move into the FO so he can focus on being in Europe and Avery takes over the team. We all know he’s the chosen successor. Might as well keep going forward. No reason to go half way.

  • Alexander

    Where is TIAGO SPLITTER in this discussion????? Is he not a young up and coming as well?

  • Tyler

    Since when does Pop not develop young players? George Hill, Dejaun Blair, Tony Parker….these are all guys that have flourished under Pop.

    Maybe the problem isn’t Pop or the staff. As someone else touhed on, maybe the young guys don’t get burn b/c they aren’t good enough? I trust that the staff, after having seen them in practice more than any of us, know which young guys it can trust putting on the court. For as much as we all want Ian to succeed, with the exception of one decent game (against what could go down as the worst team of all time), he really hasn’t shown much besides athleticism, a few blocks, and a propensity to foul at a high rate.

    I root for Ian as much as anyone, but he needs to show a lot more before he can be counted on.

  • likster

    been a spurs fan all my life, im 22, and this year has been the hardest to watch. ive come to a simple conclusion. we dont have a “franchise” player anymore. Duncan’s decreasing lateral movement and stamina combined with the ginobili’s decreasing speed and accuracy has robbed us of the two players that could dominate 4th quarters. We’ve become the mediocre 1997 spurs team, the year before they drafted Tim.

    Do i think we can still get duncan one last ring? yes, but we cant depend on missing the playoffs and getting lucky in the lottery and correctly drafting an nba ready franchise player.

    Sorry, we have to make a ground shattering trade, where we give up a lot to get a true franchise player (Chris Bosh) to partner up with TD inside. Then we may have a opportunity in TD’s last year to get anywhere. Then even if we fail, we atleast have someone to carry the franchise for another 6 years.

  • likster

    First of all, id like to say im tired of anyone saying that we cant trade blair or hill. From where im standing, the best they will ever be is great role-players. I would trade 3 great role players to get a franchise player in return. Their is no point in role players if they dont have dominate player to compliment, and due to age, the spurs dont have a “franchise” player that will lead them into the next decade.
    This is painful to admit cause i love Blair, but he is too short to be a good defender in this league. Even when he helped in time as the weakside defender, he was too small to change Odom, or Gasol’s shot against the lakers. Im sure the result would be the same with Bynum. He will always be a liability inside against elite teams.
    On the other hand, George Hill has a suspect shot and doesnt create for others enough. I also believe he’s turning into a volume shooter, which i dont think benefits the team’s field goal percentage.

  • beverly

    It’s time for Popovich and Buford to admit that the Richard Jefferson trade was a mistake. But who is going to want his contract, as big as it is? Jefferson needs to be sat to see if that sparks a fire in his butt. And fans should be realistic. Yes, I believe they can get into the playoffs. Do I think they can take the title this year? Not unless some serious “gel”ing happens and soon. Do I think they can beat the Nuggets on Thursday? No. They don’t have the mettle at this point. There are still 32 games left in the season, and with that much time (that seem so little) Popovich needs to seriously reconsider some of the strategies he has used (the many different starting lineups, going small, etc.). He also needs to admit his mistake in trusting Jefferson, and bench him, starting DeJuan Blair instead. He’s already proven his worth in my mind. The season is not a total wash. Not yet. The next 10 to 15 games should tell. I think they are title contenders. Still. Just call me die hard, but I still think 2010 is the year of the Spurs. GO SPURS GO!!!!!!

  • rj

    yep. this season is in the crapper. if things continue to look considerably worse as the weeks go on, a trade is in order.

    i don’t think we should include ianny in a trade. his contract expires this season and if this one clearly goes to the dogs, we should deactivate ratliff or trade some pieces to give him a roster spot. he may be able to overcome his foul woes if he was given some minutes to gain experience. chuck was calling for an athletic big to help timmy. we may have one in a suit that has been in the spurs system for a few years now that has never seen extended time.

    this would also be a good chance to get a look at malik hairston. he has been blowing up the d-league for two season, which at least means he can be a serviceable player in the nba. he may help our slow-legged, unathletic back cour to some degree.

    manu is the most ideal trade option, but tony’s future looks disapointing. he will continually play overseas ball for the rest of his career and we are going to have to endure sprain after sprain as long as he is a spur. maybe the nba will start moving away from signing foreign superstars for this matter.

    if we could dump bonner, mason, finley, and ratliff, we will at least get a look at some of the prospects that we currently have. i would rather see malik and ian get some minutes than watching our old, slow, underperforming players continue to be disapointing. at least we will know that we are rebuilding

    blog, spur fan, blog, even though your heart is breaking

  • likster

    WE NEED TO TRADE FOR CHRIS BOSH! no matter how much we give up. why? because we need a franchise player, we need a dominate weak side defender and rebounder to compliment Duncan (which will help us regain our defensive mentality)and because we dont have a future at the moment. But here’s the best realistic scenerio i can think of only based on the hope Toronto will trade him due to their inability to resign him.
    First of all i considered trading Tony Parker, but the reality is they wouldnt want him. They would have too much money stuck at the PG position with Calderon making 8 million and rising for 4 years. And there is no way the Spurs eat that contract in order to sweeten that trade.
    Second, if we get Chris Bosh, we must give them a 4 or a 5 with real potential.
    NOTE: We will lose on the short run on this trade but we will have a greater shot at a successful future. (heck we are already losing in the short run so who cares.)
    Now the trade: Chris Bosh, Antoine Wright for George Hill, Dejuan Blair, Richard Jefferson and the draft rights to Tiago Splitter.
    Toronto gets the promise of a bright future with Tiago as the defensive and rebounding ace. Bargnani at the 4. They have Hedo at the 3 for five years. Derozan will be at the 2 and Hill at the running the point. Not only that but they will get financial relief when Jefferson’s contract ends next year.
    The Spurs on the other hand will have a dominant small (tony) and a dominant big (Bosh) for the next 6 years. As far a getting Tim one last ring. Hoping that the Spurs resign Ginobili at 7 million per for 3 years, will have a starting lineup with TP, Ginobili, Duncan and Chris Bosh. I trust the FO can rebuild around them with draft picks and trades for the next decade.

  • Mo

    “blog, spur fan, blog, even though your heart is breaking” rj

    Where do I start… what going on its clearly a mess. though I will like to think that next season will better without any changes but its just a fantasy. R.C. and Pop probably just wake up from their day dreaming and next thing we know it too late.

    I am confuse and torn, hate to see separation of the Big 3.

  • The Beat Counselor

    @ Rye

    http://www.48minutesofhell.com/2009/09/28/the-return-of-spurs-basketball/

    Ummmmm…I told you so?

    I was writing about this stuff on September 29, 2009.

    Sad…

    I like the Iggy/Dalembert trade idea.

  • duaneofly

    About Blair’s height, I’d just like every one to remember that teams thought Ben Wallace was too short to be an effective pf/c. I remember Wallace saying that the Wizards saw him as a tall shooting guard, or some such thing. Blair is only 2 inches shorter than Wallace.
    Lets not forget Charles Barkley was a short guy and yet he could defend, he was also great at getting rebounds.
    I’m just saying, being 6’7 isn’t too short to defend, especially when you have a wing span like Blair does, which I recall either Tim or Graydon pointing out when we drafted him.

  • http://sseurl.com James SVS (Philippines)

    Guys,
    This my first time to post a comment/s. Being a spurs fan, it’s really sad on knowing that this is one the franchise’s worst season standing. The big 3 are very important to those young players and still capable on winning another champoinship. As I viewed the replay/s, the weak sides are mostly; 1) outrebounded, 2) weak defense, 3) low percentage on 2 and 3 points made, 4) less aggressive and energy, 5) lower free throw percentage compare to high caliber teams and 6) the big three are too exhausted to compete with those young talented guys because so, that Hill, Blair, Jefferson and the rest must provide each own blast attack.
    To coach Pop, I trust u well, please trained Bonner, mahinmi, finley and mason jr more on defense, not only long range shooting. To Jefferson, you need to improve your defense and aggressiveness. To the supporting casts, keep on improving. Please help the big 3….. The play off is nearer…. Don’t waste another season, as time goes by, we become older, take care of your kness….
    Good Luck guys. Be positive. We your fans all over the world will keep cheering on your every ball game.

  • likster

    in reference to Blair’s height compared to Barkley and Ben Wallace, there is one major difference. Blair’s vertical is not very good. Barkley could play above the rim, crazy athlete. Wallace could get up in his prime. Blair, not so much, i dont think he has any hang time so his long arms are rendered useless..

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  • Jenkins

    It’s interesting to see how many fans on here are so quick to dismiss this player and that player when they’ve been on the team for 1/2 a season. RJ was good at the 2 teams he played for before (his average was about 16-18 pts per game during his 7 years w/ the NJN and 20 ppg last year w/ the Bucks) but all of the sudden it’s 12.2 ppg. Why do you think that is? Did he suddenly get worse at playing basketball? Perhaps it’s the system, or the style of coaching or the players around him. RJ isn’t the problem, it’s the adjustment that he’s being asked to make. I’m not saying he should be kept, I just think people need to be more patient – a different style of ball (uptempo) would support his game better.

    TD is a treasure but I doubt seriously he will get another ring. Dallas just improved drastically, Denver has better, younger talent and Kobe and Co. are the best team in the league and (barring utter catastrophe) will probably remain so for another few years.

    The trade deadline has passed w/ us making a simple offload of Theus. Is another late pick next year really gonna help us? If the Spurs really want to win NEXT year, we need Bosh, Amare, Wade or someone of that caliber (even then, the Lakers will be a challenge). And that’s going to have to be just signing a guy to a max contract – do we have the payroll to do that? Hardly. As such, some players gotta go.

    Ginobli’s contract is up this year. Although I love the guy for what’s he’s meant to us in the past, the time has come to part ways. McDyess should be gone – buyout. Mahimi isn’t worth the roster slot …3 years and he still hasn’t played well enough to break into the rotation yet.

    The future of this team should be Blair, Jefferson, TD (for the next 2 yrs), Mason Jr. (nobody shoots as well as he does), Hill, Parker, in that order. Everyone else should be kept around only for least amount acceptable. Let’s start restructing some contracts (staring w/ RJs) and get the next franchise player in here. Bosh, Stoudamire, D Wade then Joe Johnson, in that order.