The death of the Spurs role player?
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?
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.