How Gregg Popovich could trade his favorite player

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The decision was not an easy one. Few players elicited as much praise or admiration from San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in pre and post game media sessions as his “favorite player,” George Hill. But understand, if there were a trade to be made, this is probably the right one.

For two consecutive years rumors swirled around the San Antonio Spurs trading their point guard near draft time. After a disappointing first round exit, with Tony Parker fresh off a scapegoat performance, it would have appeared his days in San Antonio were numbered.

But just as Popovich once said “these playoffs aren’t for George Hill,” this NBA Draft was not for Tony Parker. The value past the top five was too diminished to consider trading their star point guard, considering that the no. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving, might be a better all around player than Parker himself, but in no way is a safe projection to excel as Parker has.

Instead the Spurs traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the draft rights to the 15th overall pick Kawhi Leonard and a couple of second round picks (projected first round sharpshooter Davis Bertrans, and last year’s no. 46 pick Erazem Lorbek).

The decision, again, was not any easy one, as Jeff McDonald of the Express-News reported.

Though the Spurs are intrigued by Leonard, who at 6-foot-7 gives the Spurs added size at a position where they were small, Buford made clear the night was bittersweet.

“This might have been one of the most difficult nights in Spurs history, as long as we’ve been here,” Buford said. “To lose a player like George Hill, who has meant so much to our team, to our culture, to our locker room, it’s one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make.”

But if the Spurs hoped to be immediately better it had to solve leaks, diversify its strengths, and as our own Tim Varner so eloquently put it, solve for pattern. And when a team is forced to build through trades, often times it means parting with important pieces of the rotation (despite recent history).

In this instance Hill was in some ways a redundant strength. Granted, he was the Spurs best perimeter defender for the past two seasons, but he did so from a position that featured the Spurs best two scorers and playmakers.

Crunch time lineups were always going to feature Parker and Ginobili. Hill, as the Spurs fourth best player, deserved to be on the floor as well. But in running three-guard lineups, Hill’s strengths on the defensive end were muted some, with Hill cross matched against bigger shooting guards and small forwards. The further away from his natural defensive position, the less an impact he had.

Of all the Spurs trade assets, Hill was the most desirable combination of youth, athleticism, skills, and contract the Spurs had to offer while still returning positive value.

What the Spurs lose is their best combination of shooting, defense, and competent (though not spectacular or dynamic) ball handling. But so far as skill sets go, Hill on offense was a dime a dozen shooting guard with some plus ball handling ability that fulfilled the role far better than most role players.

Defensively he was not Bruce Bowen, and likely never will be. This is not a criticism of his game, nor does it suggest that his presence will not be sorely missed. But to get better something had to give. And in Gary Neal, James Anderson, and some hopeful combination of Green or Butler, the Spurs can spell George Hill. What they cannot spell is a productive small forward who can hold his own in small lineups.

In Leonard the Spurs hope to have the true small forward they thought they were getting in Richard Jefferson. As Varner pointed out, the loss of Hill has as much to do with Jefferson’s inability to produce in his role relative to the cap figure of his contract. Should the new CBA allow teams one contract reprieve, Leonard may even step in as Jefferson’s immediate replacement.

If Leonard merely reaches the same levels of George Hill (albeit in a different way) the Spurs will have gained greater value simply by getting that production in a different position — one that has been a weakness of sorts. But should Leonard reach his potential the way Hill has maxed out his, the Spurs will have found something far more impactful.

For one, at some point Leonard develops into a starter — whereas Hill was a solid third guard on a championship team.

This is a gamble to be sure. But the Spurs needed an infusion of something. And while Hill may have been better than those who will replace him, the depth of his skill set is hardly irreplaceable. His presence in the locker room and among Spurs fans? That’s a different story for another day.

  • TD BestEVER

    I agree 100%….. I thought Hill could have been sent to a team like The T-Wolves for Anthony Randolph or someone………because of his age and proven skill you would think that he would be able to get you more of a known commodity…..AS it is now, Leonard might not be in our top 8 players next year……and for that you give up your 6 man……..

    PLus even if he is as good as advertised…… It wasn’t our wing defense that cost us……but our lack of post D……. And looking at what’s out there…..I’m not sure what we can package together and get some post help……. maybe Anderson and a 2nd rd pick

  • BALLHOG

    Not on the Pop/Buford bandwagon, and never will be.  But ya gotta give creit where credit is due.  THey showed a lil game on this one.  Pump up a little media farse barking of trading Tony Parker.  Spurs knew that if they stepped up the trade Parker rhetoric, it sends their message to the rest of the leauge, rapped in a big red bow…

    Their angle…Put on the trade Parker act, increasing Hills value.  Trading Parker sent the message that Pop now  felt that Hill could be his starter now.  In doing so, increase Hills value, and get him home to India and get a nice young (much cheaper) player in his place.

    After all, it was time for Hill to get paid.  So, the Spurs plan actually worked…I thought the #&$^ was hillarious and eerily scandalous.

    Having said that…Still in the same posiion though.  Soft image, below the rim game, no help in the low post, and still sold on Bonner,,,,the overpaid 6’10 two guard with red hair, who cant defend, cant get his own shot, and cant hit a shot unless it’s uncontested.  OK for maybe 1.6 mil a year, playing 10 minutes a game….Otherwise, a liability that will continue to stop Spurs from winning when it counts.

    RJ always could play basketball, and any of us that have really paid attention to the leauge know that.  Pop brings him in and trys to make him a spot up shooter, and runs zero offense thru him….then sits back and says nothing while RJ gets beat down with media scrutiny.  Pop should be careful…Karma is a MF…

    Is it me??????Pop also seems to struggle at developing players.  Hasnt developed a player since Parker,  (Bet Ian Mahinmi is extatic) This has been demonstrated repeatedly over the years.  So, what do we do now with rookies and inexperienced young players?  Bench them, send them to the D Leauge?  Sit them behind the bench in suits?  What?  Somebody please let me know.  If this trend continues, “Why even bother to draft anyone at all?  What is the point?  Coah wont play them.  Had to play Neal because Neal is a beast….Couldnt justify not playing him.

    We think that Hill was developed?  Please dont.  Hill was already developed when he got here.  He was solid both  offensively and defensively in College.  The problem….He is not a point guard.  He is a capable, scoring 2 guard who is smart, long, and athletic and was absolutely held back by Pop.  Played out of position and not allowed to just play his game.

    Good luck in Indy George.  They will cater to your strengths and let you play “YOUR” game.

    Finally, there is Splitter…The most overpaid player on the roster,  Even Bonner is better than this guy.  Bonified role player, but could be decent as a back up, even more decent at 1.9 a year….But again, who is going to develope him?  Somebody please let me know….Maybe the Coyote?

    Am I missing anything here?  Somebody put me on the right page….What is really going on with the Spurs?

    Our Dynasty is slipping away while our core guys are being surrounded with a truly weak supporting cast each year…….yet nobody says a word….I take that back…They say “Go Spurs Go”…My bad…

    Dayum Shame..

  • DorieStreet

    I recall reading online this past spring that they just changed the rule for this season to have it more flexible (Titletown 99030507d mentione it first).
    I’ll follow up to get the exact rule change but off the cuff they have made the inactive/active a player move game to game, in addition to making 13 possible–or is it mandatory?

  • DorieStreet

    10+  Yes, the league did amend the inseason squad allocation, but I can’t recall the specifics. Will look it up again.

  • DorieStreet

    It has to be this way. The Spurs’ strategy/path to success in 1st decade of the 21st century can’t work under this franchise’s financial restrictions.

    The quality veteran FAs (Bowen/Horry/Barry etc) for affordale $$$-retired.
    the FA field now has many players overvalued & overrated for the $$$ they can request under the current conditons.

    50 wins still has to be the goal – we are in the western conference=no losing records allowed in the playoffs.

    AND- the future of the Spurs getting back to a true title contender/winner–
    the squad is set up to be ‘Young Americans vs the Foreign Invasion” =
    If Neal, Anderson, Quinn, Novak, Butler, Leonard, Joseph don’t do the job, then  de Colo, Richards, Bertrans, Lorbek and how many other Euros the Spurs have drafted & stash need to come in and justify their worh to this team.

  • DorieStreet

    Hey KOBE4MVP:
    Pick me up a Metta World Peace jersey, will you  –large.

  • DorieStreet

    I welcome all Spurs fans to come on and share their thoughts, rants, and opinions–
    but these poeple coming and just making these pie in the sky request for this team==
    Howard/Marc Gasol/ Zach==================

  • DorieStreet

    All of the Spurs’ shortcomings, ills, holes and failings were not going to be solved during the draft this past Thursday night. IMO Leonard was plan B (with history–it has come out that the Pacers were fond of Geroge HIll for awhile). Plan A was Tony going to SAC for #7 or to TOR for #5 but taking RJ along with the deal–and both teams said no.

    Still 5 days to wheel & deal untl CBA expires, but I doubt Spurs can make something happen in that time frame. Lockout looms over league operations moving forward.

    Scola, Mahinmi, de Colo, Richards—and you are just now scratching your head this extracted ‘fantasy’ drafting by the Spurs?

  • DorieStreet

    “…the role of attacking, attacking, attacking as the …”  –that is why I THOUGHT the Spurs got Richard Jefferson for- but he could not do that in this structure.
    The SF /3 position for San Antonio doesnt mean ‘Bruce Bowen Clone Only’ –Leonard’s game involves scoring and rebounding;
    You obviously didnt watch San Diego State during the NCAA tournament.

    Once agian–to a 3rd different fan—did you really expect the Spurs to be in position to solve all of their problems last Thursday night?

  • DorieStreet

    Valid points; interesting takes.
    My quick, harsh, simplified review of the great Spurs run.

    Won first title with front court of 2 collegiate POY-HOF in the front court + gritty league vet (Elle) and collegiate POY (maybe NCAA HOF?) –Elliott== and a bunch of castaways.

    Won 2nd title (after a drought) with same 2 collegiate POY-HOF (and the same in BB HOF) with different castaways + 2 foreign players.

    Titles 3 & 4 won with 1 remaining POY-HOF and the 2 (outstandig) foreign players + quality FAs—ignoring to comprise some of the team with yound drafted american talent; but FO went whole-hog with the ‘Euro draft & stash’ scheme===while ignoring trend toward young & athletic talent entering league.

  • DorieStreet

    My error——and apoligies to td4life:

    this reply was meant for NimaK

  • DorieStreet

    For those Spurs’ fans dissatisfied with the transactions the franchise undertooked last Thursday:
    The new CBA —-or lack there of come 0001 hours Friday July 1st –most likely prevented several trades from happening.  To much uncertainty about what will be the guidelines, procedures, and restrictions for the NBA going forward.
    5 more days to deal….

  • Colin Rigney

    Koufos?  No way partner.  

  • Rob

    http://basketball.realgm.com/news/polls

    Interesting vote poll.  As of this moment…Leonard is heavily cast as the steal of the draft.

  • Bob

    The perimeter defense was also pretty bad last year. Guys were shooting lights out against the Spurs from the perimeter. Even guys like Rondo. Really as bad as the post defense was the Spurs should have been able to win against the Grizzlies because of the advantage on the perimeter. The Spurs allowed Memphis to match or beat them on the perimeter. That’s what caused the series. I agree the lack of post D lessened the chance for error but the Grizzlies were one of the worst shooting perimeter teams and the Spurs were the best. The Grizzlies lack of perimeter offense caught up with them against OKC and that’s why they were forced to start OJ Mayo. They wouldn’t have had that problem with a healthy Rudy Gay.

  • Rob

    For less money (and probably the same if not more) production,  Ezram Lorbek will probably give the Spurs the same.  If I were the Spurs I wouldn’t offer valuable MLE to a player of Koufos’s caliber just to get a big.

  • TD BestEVER

    Lorbek will be a soft version of Splitter……and not as athletic as well…….Koufus is of a known quality that only needs game time……Lorbek seems like one of those players that will never make the jump to the NBA………….

  • Bry

    And they also wouldn’t have had that D. When they basically replaced Gay (a good scorer but bad defender) with Battier that is when they really took off. Gay getting injured actually helped their defense significantly.

  • Bry

    Ballhog, I don’t know what you’re talkking about. And DorieStreet, I’m surprised you’d call those ‘Valid points; interesting takes’. The Spurs have not had a draft picked lower than 20 since Duncan. Even so, they win 50 games every year and won 61 last year. Despite all those crappy draft pix, Pop has developed all those players. And frankly, he developed Hill about as much a anybody could (Hill is still a 6’2″ scoring gaurd). Matt Bonner made 3 million/year and led the league in 3pt percentage. Stop pretending he’s the reason they lost to Memphis. (He does play too many minutes, but then again, for the majority of the 48 minutes that are played, Matt Bonner is not on the court). Splitter was a rookie, who also made around 3 million after missing all of training camp. How in world is he the most ‘overpaid’ players on the team? Do you even know how much these guys are paid? Do you compare that to how much the average NBA player is paid, and how much they produce? Your comments make no sense. So, yes, you are missing an awful lot. Despite – once again – having a crappy draft pick, the Spurs pulled out four solid players, two of who should easily be in the rotation this year. When you consider that Splitter minute’s should go up a lot, and Ginobili probably won’t have a broken arm come playoff time (yeah, I had to say probably) I think this 61-win team did a fine job improving in its areas of weakness and they’ll do well next year. In fact, they are basically one PF away from being top dog again.

  • DorieStreet

    Unless they trade up by dealing players (Hill) or draft picks/players rights, any NBA team that wills 50+ games and goes deep into the playoffs every year will always be picking from the mid- 20s down to 30th.

    Going down to Memphis was a collective effort by the team. The squad gave effort /every game ws close( except for the the 2nd haf of game 4 ) but everyone in the 9-man rotation had subpar games throughout the series–heck 2 players (Blair, Jefferson) were not even called upon to play in the final 2-3 games. 

    PF and  C acquisition –and better defense by all players will be needed–to go far next season in the playoffs.

  • Bob

    If Gay was playing he would have replaced Sam Young in the rotation. But they also took off before they got Battier. Figuring out how to use Tony Allen is what really helped them. But it wasn’t just the individual defense of Allen and Battier. Hollins had a great game plan to stop the Spurs offense and the Spurs never made the tactical adjustments. They just kept trying the same things on offense.

  • Rob

    You may be correct in that sense regarding Lorbek.  My main point is that the Spurs wouldn’t be wise to use valuable MLE to spend on a player like Koufus just to get any big.  I’m sure they could do better.

  • Titletown99030507d

    LOL. This should make for an interesting after CBA.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Aw C’mon Colin, the man played well when they gave him crumbs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Dude, backup a minute and back off the koolaid and wait till after this next season to prove you wrong on Splitter. He will be getting enough playing time if there is a season to make think other wise and what the hell have you been smoking? Bonner is no way in hell better than Splitter. Watch a few games did you last season? Please Wrong analysis on Splitter. He was the brightest spot in the Memphis series as so claimed by the talking heads and experts and analysts.. PUUUUUUUU that smelled.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Failed to mention if you havn’t noticed Timmy isn’t Timmy anymore. And the last time I checked the FO hasn’t cloned a a pre 2007 Timmy as of late in their hidden research lab. So if I were you I would get used to the fact that what the FO is doing recently is making a team that is competitive nothing more and nothing less. That’s all he can do for the remainder of Timmy’s career. Don’t think you can add a draft pick and trade and wha la you a championship team at this point. They still will be fun to watch and they will some games but really keep your feet on the ground when assessing this team. It’s going to take few more years and with some luck and I mean luck in acquiring the right talent then maybe they’ll get back to the elite status they once held. There is a cycle to everything. We’re on the downcycle trying to make our way up again. Unless some crazy trades happen and you have an all-star PF coming here because that’s what’s gonna take to get back to that magical level of play you better get used to enjoying the coyote at halftime. Splitter is the not the person holding this team back. Bonner sucks and everybody knows it. He had the majority of backup minutes in the playoffs. Couldn’t hit the side of the barn, couldn’t block a shot, doesnt even know how to flop. Don’t get me started.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEL8gpr_014

  • Titletown99030507d

    No, RJ is overpaid. Make all your excuses he didn’t pan out. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    For 2 million per where can you get a better PF other than Koufos? Isnt it about the money per talent ratio? 

  • Titletown99030507d

    I think the FO is making the wing the scapegoat for the entire reason we didn’t advance because as Pop said we weren’t too small we just didn’t play hard enough. He thinks the new commodity we got at SF is going to put us over the hump. LOL yeah over the hump with Bonner playing 28 minutes along side him. What he’s trying to say is we need  some shooting son of gun at the wing in order to make up for Bonner’s offensive deficiencies. What a bunch of crap!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Oh the humanity! That’s not going to win you games.. You need score, block shots, rebound at the PF position.

  • Rob

    Yes regarding money per talent.  But after looking deeper…Moot point anyway.  Koufos won’t be a free agent until 2012.  So even if the
    Spurs were interested, trade is the only way to get him.  MLE would not
    apply.

  • Titletown99030507d
  • DorieStreet

    Regarding roster size, here is the league regulation on this: http://www.nba.com/news/inactive_rules_0506.html

    In a nutshell / 12-man active roster + 1 inactive (a must) each game. A team is allowed up to 3 inactives per season, for an ‘official’ 15-man squad.
    Active/inactive players list can be set game-to-game, 1 hour before tipoff.
    No length of stay required (minimum or maximum) for either list.

  • Titletown99030507d

    What do we have to throw at them at that rate and talent? And no not Splitter. It’s just that I keep saying I don’t want an old ass 4/5 on this team. I’m done with that. I’d like to see some one stick around for at least 4-5 years.

  • Titletown99030507d

    So in essence they have 15 to work with from game to game if they wanted to make changes. My bet Quin and Novak are gone. And Ryan Richards is in limbo for now.

  • Titletown99030507d

    The only way these players get a chance to develop is time on the hard floor. The obvious one that need minutes should be given minutes  and not be discriminated based on what league they came from or how young they are. that is just plain dumb.These players that are watching the game from a good view should be allowed to play. Then why draft them? It’s called minutes. Regardless they got to get on the floor. Lose a few but gain valuable experience especially at this point of the current Spurs situation. I’d rather get a good look at these young guns and barely make the playoffs knowing you have dependable help because of the valuable experience they received in the regular season are more than ready to contribute in the playoffs. eg:: Splitter. Right Pop?

  • Titletown99030507d

    I don’t want to see Bonner near an NBA court not now not ever!

  • Titletown99030507d

    I’m starting not to like that draft n stash method of team management. When the hell are they going to see an NBA court? Let’s see 3 years to get over here, 2 years to get Pop’s trust, and then 2 years to actually crack the starting rotation. By that time the guys will be visiting Timmy and Pop at the retirement home. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Why don’t we put Bonner at the wing and let him attack, attack, attack!

  • Tyler

    Almost all of the Spurs draft and stash talents have been 2nd round picks – picks that are essentially risk free (no salary scale like 1st rounders).

    Statistically speaking, most 2nd rounders don’t pan out, and most are out of the NBA altogether in 2 years. In fact, of the 60 total players taken in the draft, on average, only about 20-30 will be in the league in 4 years (there are only 450 total spots available, and many teams don’t carry the full 15).

    I encourage people to look through the 2nd rounders from the last few years. You’ll see that very often a vast majority of those players aren’t in the NBA. 

    Looking at the numbers, I’m puzzled as to why there is so much animosity directed at the “draft & stash” method. Those players, because they are 2nd rounders, aren’t normally going to be NBA players anyway. Why not pick a young guy with talent and upside and let him develop on someone else’s dime? I could see the argument against draft and stash if the Spurs were continually passing up better players, but that usually isn’t the case. In other words, what is the opportunity cost of drafting an overseas player? As it turns out, very little considering the caliber of player available in the 2nd round.

  • TD BestEVER

    I agree…..it’s very rare to have a player actually developed…..it’s basically catching lightning in a bottle…….Because Parker is basically the same as he was his 1st few years on the League……..just a little older and mature……. and with a better J…….. that almost any coach would have had him work on……….

  • Colin Rigney

    The NBA isn’t a league where teams “develop” players.  Players develop themselves each off-season, its part of their job.   NBA is a business, teams make gambles, some pan out and some don’t.  For example, the Mavs “developed” Nash and Devin Harris but traded each before their prime only to bring in 36 yr old (at the time) Jason Kidd.  How does that work?  Did the Lakers “develop” Kobe Bryant?  The janitor could have coached him and he still would be just the same.  Poppovich has “developed” Parker to head 3 championship teams.  Mahinmi?  Please!  He’s gonna sit the bench next year too. The only reason he saw the court was an injury to Brendan Haywood.  Teams such as the Spurs don’t have years to waste by buying projects such as Mensa-Bosu, Marcus Williams, Haislip and Mahinmi, etc only to watch them under-perform.  Developing players is for college, not the NBA.

    ……….and RJ is still under-performing (not coach’s fault) and overpaid (management’s fault).

    Bonner is not better than Splitter, at least in the paint.  Give him more minutes and he will prove it. 

  • Rob

    Addressing this to both TD and Title…so Blair has no hope to improve?  He is what he is?  He was given minutes only to get perpetually worse during the season.  To the point Pop wouldn’t (couldn’t play him) even over Bonner in the playoffs.  I mean…this is what this analogy is stating isn’t it?

  • Rob

    Read my response to TD just above.

  • Tim in Surrey

    We should probably not hope for this. While it would allow us to clear RJ’s contract off of the books, it would help out other rivals a LOT more. Orlando is a good example, as they could erase Arenas off their books. Or Portland, if Brandon Roy really is done. There are quite a few good teams with worse contracts than RJ’s clogging up their salary cap budgets.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Randolph doesn’t intrigue me and I’ve probably been watching him longer than anybody here. Lots of talent, sure, but until he decides he actually wants to play basketball he’s not going to develop. I don’t know what it is about LSU, but he has the same problem that Stanley Roberts and Stromile Swift had before him: Million-dollar talent, ten-cent heart.

    And that pretty much goes for a lot of those other guys (Beasley, Speights, Koufos). I’m sure they’re fine human beings. But these guys are basketball players because they’re SUPPOSED to be, not because they want to be. If you put faith in the ability of Pop, Tim, and Manu to light a fire, then I can see it. But they couldn’t do it with Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Williams, or Richard Jefferson (yet), so I’m not convinced that the Spurs have a magic cure for basketball ennui. They do have Chip Engelland, though, so maybe we should look for a big man desperately in need of a jump shot?

  • Tim in Surrey

    Can you point me to some footage? Because I’ve never seen Koufos play well. Ever. Not even at Ohio State.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Would you have thought Bertans at the 29th spot was an error? And Joseph at the 46th? Because the result would’ve been the same.

    More to the point, however, what did you think when they drafted Hill? I remember a lot of wailing and moaning about that one, especially after he played so poorly in the summer league. The fact is, Joseph is a real talent who didn’t set the world on fire in his one year at UT. But with three point guards, none of whom really took over and none of whom could really switch to the 2, it was a pretty weird situation. And let’s face it, Rick Barnes is not exactly Dean Smith when it comes to developing point guards.

    But certainly you’re right that we need another interior defender.

  • titletown99030507d

    He’s a rebounder and we’ll use him strategically in those situations.

  • titletown99030507d

    And? Doesn’t hold true for Splitter. Splitter didn’t get enough time period. The Jury went home and forgot about him.