The death of the Spurs role player?


Is this the last we'll see of the San Antonio Spurs' role players like Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry?

The tried-and-true formula for San Antonio Spurs offseason acquisitions was predictable. You surround the three-headed silver and black monster of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker with shooters and defenders.

For the longest time, it made sense and worked. Duncan would draw double-teams on the low block and pass the ball out to wide open shooters. Parker and Manu beat their defenders off the dribble and get into the lane. If they couldn’t find a shot for themselves, chances are there was a Spur around them somewhere who was open in shooting position. Then everybody did their damnedest to defend the right way on the other end of the floor.

But this summer may be the last we see of the typical model for bringing in new players. Duncan is aging quickly and draws fewer double-teams, it seems, by the month. Age isn’t catching up to Ginobili quite as fast, but Manu is still 33 years old and has an unfortunate history of injuries. Parker is squarely in his prime but will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season, and the chances of him re-signing, or even remaining with the team that long, are uncertain to say the least. All that to say that there are big changes ahead for the Spurs over the next two seasons.

Because the Spurs can no longer count on their core for the long term, future free agent and draft pickups could change. James Anderson might be the last of the typical Spurs role players that are brought in. The last print before the mold is destroyed, if you will.

So what will they do then?

San Antonio Spurs role players like Matt Bonner are endangered species.The transition from shopping for role players to searching for stars will begin. They can’t expect to land the number one overall pick in the draft and select a franchise cornerstone like Duncan and David Robinson. Again. Nor do the Spurs have international prospects stashed overseas with the potential for greatness like Ginobili and Parker.

Instead, the Spurs enter the NBA’s stock exchange, bringing in players based on potential. The front office gambling draft picks and cap space in hopes of bringing in a player who lives up to promise, defies expectations and shows the capability to perform at a level high enough to carry the franchise for several years. All while fitting in to the San Antonio Spurs culture and local community. Going four-for-four here is rare.

Bringing in players with star potential but little track record has its risks, ones the Spurs usually don’t take. George Hill was drafted with the promise of being a good NBA defender. But he also played three years of NCAA basketball before making the jump to the league. San Antonio drafted DeJuan Blair because he had lottery talent, but the front office knew rebounding ability usually translates well from college to the NBA. Ian Mahinmi? He doesn’t exist anymore.

While some may have the ceiling of a franchise player, others will simply bring abilities that the Spurs haven’t looked for recently. The front office won’t bring in exact replicas of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, so instead, role players will have some skills that used to be sole property of the “big three.” The job description won’t simply be “shooter, defender.”

The one hesitation I have declaring the end of the way the Spurs front office built the roster is the decision to give four-year contracts to Richard Jefferson and Matt Bonner. Both were re-signed without much indication the direction the team will have in that time. It seems far-fetched to imagine Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all suiting up alongside Bonner and Jefferson in the silver and black in the 2013-2014 season.

The Spurs front office was the best in the business over the last decade when it came to keeping San Antonio a perennial championship contender. As this offseason ends and we look ahead to the next, (assuming there’s not a lockout) how the Spurs decide to add players to the roster will be just as interesting as anything else.

  • Easy b

    Maybe Anderson is the incumbent stephen Jackson . That’s my diamond in the rough hope for the season- it’s a powerful thing being young and fearless, yet guided by skilled vets. Fingers x’d

  • B Burke

    It’s funny that since the Spurs pinned their hopes on drafting Timmy, the Heat are the only other team to turn a lottery pick into a championship. (You could argue that the Celtics should be included in this group, I guess, but that’s a different story.)

    With that in mind, I would like it if the FO simply continued to attempt fielding a competitive basketball team. There are no guarantees in this sport, and you might as well try to build around what you already have without mortgaging future draft picks. I’d honestly rather see the Spurs get beat in the conference semis annually than watch them languish in misery and failure for the better part of a decade so that they might earn the privilege of signing Amar’e Stoudemire on the downslope of his career.

    I think the more interesting question is how do you formulate a team identity when there’s no bedrock like Tim Duncan or David Robinson to build on? Do you still look for guys who play perimeter defense and shoot corner 3s? I think the model of continuity and success that makes the most sense for comparison to the Spurs post-Duncan would probably be the Jazz after Malone and Stockton.

    Intriguing post! Keep it up.

  • JTEX

    More than likely when Duncan retires, so will Coach Pop. It will be hard and next to impossible for the Spurs, to get back to the level of their decade of prominance in the NBA. San Antonio fans became very spoiled from ’99-2007. We had our time in the sun and that time is setting or already over. Look Spurs fans, there still is no former ABA team that has won 1 title , needless 4 NBA titles. Hopefully the Spurs will remain competitve and hopefully Mr. Peter Holt, will make the investments in the team to keep them at that level. As long as the Spurs remain competitive the fans will come but from the past Spurs fans can be very fickle. If they start losing on a regular bases, fan support may dwindle and attendance may plummett. So if you don’t want the Spurs to up and leave San Antonio, it will take fan support. We’ve done it for almost 40 years now and we have seen the high and lows but for most of those seasons the Spurs were competitive. It will be hard , when the future HOF Coach, leaves the Spurs. So we need to prepare for the inevitable.

    What ever the future hold for the San Antonio Spurs, no one can take the decade when the Spurs were one of the very best sports franchises in professional sports. Those Championship banners will fly forever in the AT&T Center.

    Now if we can just get Eva Longoria to keep her pie hole shut, it would be in the best interest of the Spurs! Hey Tony, who wears the pants in your marriage?

  • Rene

    Im tired of people saying Duncan is washed up when last year he still made the all-star game and two years ago with Gino out he basically carried this team on his back. He is not your average player. Thats why throughout his carrer he has been called “argulably the best PF that has ever played the GAME” becuase he is not a avergae player. He is getting older but also he has enough knowledge to know that he has to alter his game. He made the decision not to go to Orlando becuase of us as fans. We should embrace him and support every minute he has to offer are city the way we did Gervin and Robinson until he calls quits on his terms. Three years ago we only lost becuase Gino was hurt not becuase the Lakers were better if I recall we had most those games. Two years ago we had the injury bug and last year we just let it go, maybe it was the Suns time. I personally think they just go luc, becuase if there staff believed in them why did they trade there 2nd best player. We aint done by a long shot and all you have to do is believe and support them, Boston proved that last year with there old team just ask Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, and Dwight Howard

  • B Burke

    You mean like warmup pants? Or shorts, really?

  • Pingback: Houston Rockets Daily News for September 7th, 2010 | Red94 | essays and musings on the nba and houston rockets()

  • JustinFL

    It seems like one of the Spurs’ strongest strategys to rebuilding while contending has been to focus on the development of players. They’ve had to live off the bottom of the draft since Duncan. They take what they can get and work hard at the devolopment of those players. They’re the best in the biz. As I’ve stated here before, I don’t feel Tony and Manu’s careers would have been as successful without the Spurs’ coaches, trainers, and assistants.
    Even now I think of Hill and how we’ve been able to get more out of him than I thought possible. I’m just gonna be honest about that. And when he was bringing it during the playoffs, it made me realize how much I love this attribute about the Spurs. Pop is far from perfect, but he knows what it takes to get what is needed from a player for the betterment of the team. Some players come along and develop, others don’t. Look at the diverse way in which he handled Hill and Parker. Because of their demeanor and personality types he was more stern with one than the other. With Hill he is much more subtle with his message.

    This organization has been uncanny at finding all the ins and outs of players. We look beyond stat sheets.
    With that said, it does seem like we make some questionable calls like keeping certain vets past their primes, overpaying specialists(Bonner), and I don’t even know what to say about Jefferson. We made a move to get him, which didn’t seem like a gamble, but now we are just stuck with him. I understand after getting him we didn’t have alot of better options, so here we are.
    So, development of players our strength, player movement and contracts not so much. Right?
    It would seem like that to us on the outside, but in all fairness we don’t know what really goes on inside NBA organizations. I’m not giving the Spurs a pass, just trying to be fair. I will say this offseason hasn’t been normal because of many teams clearing a buttload of capspace for BronBron, and the CBA expiring after this season.

    Considering all that being stacked against us, we could have done worse. As far as the 2004 Pistons, if Joe wasn’t so busy trying to pull a play out of our playbook by drafting overseas, they would have gotten a franchise player in 2003 and possibly started a dynasty. Yea, I know Joe, it’s not as easy as it looks trust us.

  • ejordan

    Hey, hey….as long as you gentlemen are arm-chairing it as experts let me opine, as a self professed non-expert. Let em play!!!!! It will be mid-season before we know what kind of team the Spurs will field considering the new additions in the lineup. There will be plenty of time then to complain about not having enough franchise/stars/champions on the team aka Laker’s style. Meantime do all the ladies a favor and cut the length of the shorts in half…..The game definitely lost some of its glamor when they started wearing those pants from the Hood! Hey, it won’t help their game but it will add some interest!

  • Armand

    Best/Worst case scenario of our “youngsters”:

    George Hill – Jason Terry/Keyon Dooling

    Dejuan Blair – Paul Millsap/Reggie Evans

    Tiago Splitter – Chris Kaman/Fabrcio Oberto

    James Anderson – Quentin Richardson/Kareem Rush

  • Jim Henderson

    September 9th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    “Best/Worst case scenario of our “youngsters”:

    George Hill – Jason Terry/Keyon Dooling

    Dejuan Blair – Paul Millsap/Reggie Evans

    Tiago Splitter – Chris Kaman/Fabrcio Oberto

    James Anderson – Quentin Richardson/Kareem Rush”

    Terry is probably close to a ceiling for Hill, but Hill has already surpassed Dooling.

    Blair’s ceiling & floor are both higher in my view. Ceiling: Boozer; Floor: Milsap

    Splitter will probably never be the scorer that Kaman is (it’s hard to compare them — they’re such different players, but Kaman may be a bit higher than Splitter’s ceiling), and I think his floor will be higher than Oberto’s level.

    It’s too early to tell on Anderson. His ceiling could very well be higher than Richardson’s, although Q-Rich has had a decent career. And let’s hope of course that K. Rush is below Anderson’s floor.

  • Pingback: As the catalyst, Manu Ginobili offers the Heat a lesson in chemistry()