Dwight Howard to Houston rumors highlight Spurs need

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Every Spurs fan’s wet dream the past couple of seasons has been somehow ending up with Dwight Howard. A new dominating big man to usher San Antonio into the post-Duncan and Manu era. It’s never going to happen for a multitude of reasons, but what’s worse is that Howard may end up in Texas after all. Just not with the Spurs.

The Mavericks were long rumored to be in the hunt for Dwight Howard this summer, citing the franchise’s half-assed effort (at best) to repeat as NBA champions this season. The Mavs were going to tread water for a season and clear cap space to take a stab at bringing in both Howard and Deron Williams. Zach Lowe at The Point Forward detailed how difficult a feat that would be for the Mavs back in February, before Howard exercised his player option with the Orlando Magic for next season.

Now it appears the other member of the Texas triumvirate, the Houston Rockets, are making moves in an effort to put together a package strong enough to deal for Howard. Most recently, they dealt Chase Buddinger and the right to an international player to the T-Wolves for the #18 pick in Thursday’s draft. The Rockets are set on getting a star like Howard and have said that they don’t care about getting an agreement from him to stay in Houston beyond the last year of his contract next season. They think they can convince him to re-sign.

I don’t doubt that they can. According to David Aldridge at NBA.com Howard’s people say there’s “not a chance” that he would re-sign in Houston if dealt there, but that’s far too premature. A lot of NBA players spend their offseasons living and working out in Houston. They like the city. The Clippers traded for Chris Paul with the idea that they would be able to convince him to stay in with the organization and the Rockets looked primed to try the same.

Where does that leave the Spurs? My immediate thoughts after the Spurs were bounced by the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals were that the Spurs needed to get back to the old days somewhat and bring in a better defensive big. Somehow. If Dwight Howard ends up in the same division, I’m even more gung-ho about the need for change in the big man rotation.

Tim Duncan is still a solid low post defender and team defender, but he hasn’t been able to successfully guard the pick-and-roll in several seasons. Tiago Splitter is better, but he’s not the type of player you really want to throw on Howard. Splitter doesn’t quite have the strength, especially in his lower body. Let’s just not talk about Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair, we’ve been there before.

Scanning the rest of the Southwest Division, you’re looking at big men like Dirk Nowitzki, Luis Scola, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Anthony Davis (probably — though I doubt he’s going to be a big offensive threat early in his career). There’s a lot of offensive firepower that the Spurs have to contend with just in the division, not to mention the rest of the West (Andrew Bynum, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc), and the worse part is that it’s diverse. There’s not a singular type of big man in that list, there are several. Face up shooter with a high release; physical wide-body with uncanny touch around the basket; creative low-post threat with a lot of junk in his game. It takes a versatile defense to contend with all that.

I’m not normally one to get caught up in athleticism too much — especially when it comes to big men, who are usually best described as “raw” when you find one with some explosiveness. There are very few polished athletic bigs in existence on those that are around are usually on max contracts. That said, I think the Spurs could finally use a big that can fetch the label around the league as a “physical specimen.” (Note: If someone says Ian Mahinmi I will ban you from the comments — I’m only half kidding)

Typically, the Spurs prefer to go with veteran bigs whose athleticism is eroding, but possess their smarts to sustain a high level of play. Now may be the time for the front office to take a risk and move away from that strategy. San Antonio’s defense is in desperate need of a big with the foot speed to defend pick-and-rolls away from the basket and the strength to bang down low.

Unfortunately for you readers, I’m not doing what bosses prefer, and that’s bringing a solution along with the problem. The Spurs are fairly constrained by the salary cap and might not have enough assets to trade for a legit defensive/athletic big. Here’s your assignment: work the Trade Machine, peruse ShamSports and leave your suggestions in the comments. Have fun with it, this is sports after all.

  • SargeSmash

    As a Mississippi State homer (again), if we could somehow move up in the draft enough to get Arnett Moultrie, that’d be pretty awesome. He may not swat a lot of shots, but he’s awfully athletic for a big, and can shoot.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Don’t worry, blocked shots are overrated.

  • STIJL

    Depends on situation and game being played. ae:playoffs…big block (or a couple)…momentum changer.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Sure, but in a general sense the blocked shot statistic is vastly overrated.

  • DorieStreet

    Either that or invite him to Vegas (is it too late?). Spurs need to flip the script and see what he has now instead of the usual 3-5 seasons.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Shouldn’t be too late to put him on Vegas squad. Rosters haven’t been released yet, I would guess Spurs are working guys out for team over the next couple of weeks.

  • DorieStreet

    Trying to keep that Big Man In The Middle groove going – Hakeem, Yao….

  • ThatBigGuy

    I like the idea of having Smith. I think Pop and Co. can mold him into the play he’s capable of being. However, by getting rid of Neal and Jackson, you lose a lot of 3 point firepower. I’d switch Green for Neal, especially since Kawhi and a healthy Manu are going to steal some of Green’s minutes.

    That gives us a game changing 4, while keeping Neal as a bomb away 2 guard on the second squad with Mills at the PG. That 1-2 punch would be scary off the bench.

  • LukeDawg

    How about a trade with cleveland that brings in Varajao? Something like Splitter, Bonner, and Blair for Varajao and Casspi?
    Ive long thought that Varajao would be a great complementary piece to Duncan, especially as he ages because Varajao defends the pick and roll so well. Cleveland might do this just to provide some better interior depth and experience and especially if the spurs were to include one of their draft and stash guys (Lorbek, Hanga,etc) and or a future late pick while shedding a little bit of cap space.
    Thoughts?

  • ThatBigGuy

    That leaves Duncan and Varajao averaging 48 minutes a game. You can’t trade 3 bigs (4 if you include Lorbek) for 1 big. What’s your plan to get another pair of bigs for the bench? And where would Casspi get playing time between Green, Jackson, Manu, and Kawhi?

  • nashty

    i hope they snag quincy acy out of baylor somehow after the draft

  • LukeDawg

    Well first of all i think you are forgetting Diow. Yes he is currently a free agent but obviously my scenario is contingent upon resigning him for a reasonable price. So that is 3 bigs and it wouldn’t be difficult to find a fourth, space-eating post defender with the rest of the mle, especially considering he would only have to replace a guy that didnt shed his warm ups for the majority of the postseason run.
    And as far as Casspi goes, he was mainly a serviceable throw in mainly to match salaries but he can cetainly fill in at the 2 and 3 and allow the spurs to shed Jackson as a potentially very valuable expiring deal later on in the season, perhaps even in trade for a better quality post defender.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.c.purkey Robert Clark Purkey

    The fact of the matter is, since even thinking about touching a driving perimeter player is considered a foul, the league is now a drive and kick to the shooters league. The way Miami played their last two games looked exactly like how the Spurs were playing. You need a big man who can defend the pick’, shoot the midrange, defend the low-post, and rebound and kick-out to Tony, or Gary (not a PG I don’t care WHAT you say), or (hopefully) Patty. That big man…does not exsist. You need another David Robinson basically.

  • Ian

    I heard Alexis Ajinca came to SA for a workout, and he certainly fits the bill of young, athletic and long big man. And I also doubt the price for his service will be ridiculously high either, considering he’s a failed project who played for terrible teams like Bobcats and Raptors. I know the guy’s like a wire and almost as incomplete a player as Mahinmi was in SA, but he’s certainly one of the few long & athletic bigs in the market right now. He’s a French too so maybe Parker and even Diaw can help him get acclimated to the Spurs system?

  • Jon

    Spurs should go after Greg Oden. He’s had a year to rest and rehab his knees, has the potential to be a franchise big man (potential…), and he would be pretty cheap. I trust Pop and co. to be able to manage his minutes to keep him healthy. Oden + Duncan would bring back memories of Robinson + Duncan and the twin towers.

  • Tyler

    My thoughts exactly. True rim protectors are hard to find, and often substantially overpaid. The game is smaller and faster than it was 10 years ago. This is a perimeter driven league.

    Surrounding TD, Manu and TP with as many long athletes as possible seems like a better and more achievable outcome.

  • STIJL

    I agree with that. Would love to keep Neal IF Neal would play his natural 2 guard position and not PG. And if the Spurs could land Smith, Neal’s almost non-existent D might be masked with a superior interior defender such as Smith. That plus Green’s qualifying is 2 mil.

  • STIJL

    On the cheap Oden as long as it doesn’t hinder the Spurs acquiring another player just in case Oden’s recurring problems reoccur while on the Spurs. But if it meant the team Only got Oden this off season, I don’t think it would be worth the gamble.

  • STIJL

    Tend to agree. The Spurs (record wise) was the best team in the league. They adhered to the drive and kick philosophy. Worked very well until OKC figured they didn’t have to pay attention to Spurs big man rotations sans Duncan…played passing lanes and hounded our perimeter players out beyond the arch. So…that said…that interior big is going to have to be somewhat gifted offensively as well to make teams honest.

  • Jon

    I agree. Have you read the Grantland article on Oden?

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7908766/a-rare-interview-former-no-1-overall-pick-greg-oden-injury-plagued-career

    It seems the Portland medical staff might have rushed Oden back too soon and with more rest, he might not have gotten hurt. The Spurs staff has proven itself to be somewhat overly cautious. That being said, here’s an idea. Maybe we trade Blair and sign Oden and Diaw, essentially swapping Blair for Oden. At worst case scenario, we are the same team as this past year, as Blair hardly played in the playoffs, and best case scenario, Oden is a huge upgrade to our front line, which would have done wonders this year.

  • DorieStreet

    Remove the word “almost”.

  • http://twitter.com/jollyrogerwilco Dale Dye

    Greg Oden? I thought McNeil suggested getting someone YOUNGER than Duncan! =]

  • STIJL

    I think Spurs would do that in a heartbeat and would be a chance worth taking in the scenario you described.

  • Ryan

    I say try to get Ryan Anderson it won’t be easy but he’s a young big who can score and with a little help from Timmy he may become a pretty good defender

  • Tracy Gieck

    The Spurs will never win another championship until Joey Crawford retires. If you think I’m full of sh t, look at the Spurs W/L record in the playoffs over the last 10 years, then compare it to when Crawford is on the floor. It will set your hair on fire.

  • animal

    i would go after oden and take a shot, if he do not work let him go but i think he would workout with the spurs, portland did rush him back to soon

  • Mike

    I doubt this trade would ever happen because it seems 1 sided in terms of long term potential, but this would be a win now situation for Spurs. http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=cowojfw

  • Joe C
  • Mike

    Josh Smith as a Spur with Parker, Manu, and Duncan would be awesome. Imagine those 4 out there with Kawai. That is a pretty stout 5 right there. What I love about Smith is he is unselfish, not a ball stopper. He’s a good citizen here in Atlanta, just takes some crazy shots sometimes, ala Westbrook. But with veterans like Manu and Parker and a coach like Pop he will be kept in check. I think Joe Johnson is the weak link in that Atlanta locker room with his ball stopping tendencies and lack of passion for the game. He disappears every playoffs.