Free Agency: My Thoughts
To give you a window into my fragile emotional state, once the Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs I checked out from caring about the NBA. The loss to the Thunder was too disappointing. I needed some time. But I’m writing again. It feels good.
What We’ve Learned
- In my estimation the Spurs’ loss the Thunder revealed no fewer than three roster issues: 1) the Spurs’ team defense is not athletic enough, 2) the Spurs need more players who can get their own shot, 3) the Spurs need an actual backup point guard.
- It’s worth noting that Manu Ginobili hasn’t made it through a regular season unscathed since, well, I’m not sure if he’s ever made it through a regular season without injury. My memory doesn’t go back that far. He’s still amazing when he’s amazing, but his play against the Thunder was a good reminder that the Spurs must begin to supplement and eventually replace his play-making.
- The Spurs’ FO should absolutely explore the trade market on DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, and Matt Bonner—as I’m sure most Spurs fans are doing right now, even as I type. These are all good players in the right situations, but in order for the Spurs to win a championship, they need to get more from the minutes they would otherwise give these players.
- It’s worth trading Blair and Neal for any asset available. The Spurs don’t necessarily need to receive a player back. Draft picks and trade exceptions will do. The Spurs can’t afford to lose Bonner unless they can somehow replace him with a stretch four (Lorbek?).
- Additionally, the Spurs should look at the market on Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson. Obviously, you don’t move these players unless they’re necessary in a deal for an unquestioned roster upgrade.
- A note on Stephen Jackson. He’s a hero to us all, I know. But he has a fairly large expiring contract that might force the Spurs’ hand. He’s a short term fix, and if the Spurs have to use his contract in order to trade for a long term upgrade, it’s a hard decision they will have to make.
- The Spurs shouldn’t overpay for Danny Green, but they’ve done the smart thing by extending a qualifying offer to him.
- Ditto on Patty Mills. Let another team set the market on Mills, but hope for an opportunity to bring him back to San Antonio.
- Boris Diaw earned his keeps. He gives San Antonio a boost on both sides of the ball. The Spurs’ lack of cap room makes it impossible to overpay for any player, but they should work to give Diaw a good deal.
- Kawhi Leonard is a crucial piece to the Spurs offseason puzzle. The Spurs will be a better team if Leonard is able to improve his game this summer. Internal improvement is always under-valued, but Leonard’s high ceiling makes him one of the most important themes of the offseason.
- Duncan is still a great player, even at 36. The Spurs should pay Duncan whatever he wants but hope he wants less than he should.
What We Know Now
- Per Marc Stein, the Spurs and Duncan have apparently worked out the framework of a deal, but Duncan hasn’t yet committed his signature to a contract. Optimistically, this means he is giving the Spurs some opportunity to scale his deal based on the caliber of free agent they’re able to attract.
- Reports say the Spurs have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova (via SpursTalk). Ilyasova is an ideal free agent for the Spurs, but given his expected price tag and the Spurs current wallet, it’s difficult to see this working. Either Duncan is willing to take a reduced paycheck if SA is able to sign Ilyasova or the FO has their mind on a sign and trade package. Keep your fingers crossed.
- The Spurs’ interest Erazem Lorbek and Nando De Colo is widely reported. With Lorbek, I don’t think the Spurs can lose. He’s an ideal fit for SA’s system—a new Matt Bonner, but with a more skills. Offensively, De Colo makes sense as a multi-positional playmaker. On the other hand, it’s uncertain if De Colo can defend in the NBA. Remember Russell Westbrook? Plus, assuming Danny Green returns, the Spurs’ backcourt is already crowded.
- Because of the new CBA, the free agent market might be more volatile this summer as teams account for the increasing tax penalty of future seasons. The Spurs are always patient, but this is a good summer to wait for opportunities to present themselves. The Spurs, as always, should not play a plan, they should play their options.
- The amnesty market is still developing. Tyrus Thomas and Dorrell Wright are two players whose teams may either exercise the amnesty clause on or seek to dump. Both players should appeal to the Spurs. Other players may shake free in the coming days.
- Depending on what the Spurs are able to accomplish with trades, veteran free agents like Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby could fit the bill as 5th bigs. Again, letting the market settle and come to them is the best option for San Antonio.
- No matter what happens this summer, the Spurs should return a good team. I expect them to fight for a Top 4 seed in the Western Conference, and, as you can see from the bullets above, they have a laundry list of team-positive scenarios to pursue this summer that will make that expectation come to life. Having said that…
- The Spurs should not let up, even a little bit, on their offensive agenda. No matter how much recovery they make as a defensive team this summer, the current NBA privileges offense. The Spurs’ best players are good, but not great defenders. San Antonio has to play to their strength, which means they have to continue to run up the score. In other words, they don’t have roster space available for players who can’t score.
- At the same time, San Antonio should target offensive players who can infuse their defensive schemes with some much needed athleticism. Rather than filling out the end of the roster with players for Austin, I’d like to see the Spurs take a chance at developing a couple (heretofore failed or old) athletes. Anthony Randolph is the poster child for this kind of approach, and he’s unrestricted. If the Spurs have an opportunity to give a player like Anthony Randolph or Kenyon Martin or Tyrus Thomas or Marcus Camby a chance to assume the regular season minutes Pop would otherwise give to DeJuan Blair, the Spurs would benefit. As a thought experiment, I can’t imagine Anthony Randolph under-performing DeJuan Blair if afforded the same situation (the opportunity to start games next to Tim Duncan) and the same minutes. It’s hard too imagine Randolph dramatically over-performing Blair, but he would do things Blair doesn’t. Namely, stand 6’11” and block 3 shots per 48 minutes. Assuming the Spurs simply re-sign Duncan and Diaw, their frontline would still lack length, athleticism, and shot blocking. I hope the Spurs target a player like Randolph or Camby as a fifth big.