Next year’s bigs, free agent news
When the Spurs began last season, everyone wondered about San Antonio’s frontcourt rotation. Until the Spurs signed Boris Diaw late in the season, San Antonio basically ran 4 bigs: Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, and DeJuan Blair. It was a dangerously thin rotation, and defensively challenged. Yet, the Spurs did alright. San Antonio finished tied for the best record in the league. The Spurs’ policy of patience won out as Diaw proved a much better player than any of the players they might have picked from last year’s end-of-the-offseason scrap heap.
Coming into this offseason, it has been assumed the Spurs would work to create a different looking frontcourt. Erazem Lorbek, for example, was expected to play for the Spurs next season. The Slovenian PF was seen as Matt Bonner’s eventual replacement, San Antonio’s new “stretch 4”. But Lorbek has reportedly decided not to make the leap to the NBA, and the Spurs may settle into another season with the effective but underwhelming Matt Bonner. For Spurs fans, this has the feeling of walking in place or, put differently, watching other teams gallop ahead.
And elsewhere there is little to indicate the Spurs’ are on the verge of significant roster improvements. The rumor mill, to varying levels of believablity, has connected San Antonio to Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Camby, and Chris Kaman. These names range from nearly impossible to ho-hum. Even DeJuan Blair (who receives high marks for speaking candidly about his status with the team without falling into a moment of unprofessional ranting) says he does not expect to be with the Spurs next season. But, in typical Popovich-Buford fashion, there is little chatter as to where might he find himself next season.
Boris Diaw is still (presumably) working on a deal with the Spurs, but news on the status of those negotiations is scarce. And Tim Duncan will obviously re-sign with the Spurs as soon as other the parameters of other free agent contracts are in place. But again, crickets.
With this as a backdrop, I’d like to make a few observations, especially for those fans who want to see more happen, and soon.
First, the Spurs were not far removed from a championship last season. Yes, the Spurs were not good enough to beat Oklahoma City. Yes, the Spurs need to improve. But San Antonio doesn’t need to change too much, and making a bold move that falls flat is far riskier than simply maintaining the course, with an expectation of internal improvements. The Spurs, in other words, should wait for another Boris Diaw—a player who is a good fit, can play right away, and for whom SA will not overpay.
The free agent market is still in play, as is the possibility of future player buyouts and amnestied contracts. Further, the Spurs have a decent stack of tradeable players/contracts to package for someone else’s castaway. Spurs fans should know by now that the Spurs play their best options, but they don’t necessarily play a plan. San Antonio will wait until the right deal comes to them. It’s a time-tested strategy that works, even if it creates a boring news-cycle.
Second, has anyone noticed that NBA owners are still overpaying for average players? It’s as if they didn’t listen to their own blustery lockout rhetoric. But this is foolish. Beginning next summer—when more rigid cap penalties become a reality—teams with poor cap management will find it increasingly difficult to improve themselves in free agency or trades. But, for the Spurs, next summer’s cap is largely determined by this summer’s spending. Foolish cap management could set the Spurs’ franchise back by five years or more, which would not only squander the remainder of Tim Duncan’s career, but such tactics run the dangerous risk of alienating San Antonio’s small market fan base.
This doesn’t mean the Spurs shouldn’t make moves, and it doesn’t disqualify the team from making bold moves. It simply means that Spurs fans shouldn’t lose sleep over the slow news cycle. The Spurs might not find the right deal until after veteran buyouts next March.
Yes, next March. But no worries. Things are fine.
Finally, that internal improvement thing isn’t a joke. Danny Green (assuming he’s re-signed), Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills (assuming he’s re-signed) and, perhaps, Tiago Splitter are all rotation players whom could play much better next season. Kawhi Leonard’s ceiling, as the most prominent example, is amazingly high and the Spurs could return a much better team just because Leonard returns a better player. Will it be enough to win the West? Doubtfully. But that in combination with one patient free agent signing could win the day. The Spurs aren’t that far away.