Next year’s bigs, free agent news

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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.

 

  • DorieStreet

    @Timothy Varner: I read Mike Monroe’s full article from your link (thanks). Yes, DeJuan Blair didn’t request a trade via his agent, or had a girlfriend express her dissatisfaction via twitter, but the resulting message was the same as James Anderson’s earlier this season: ‘ I’m not happy with my current situation on this team.’ And in your last paragraph above regarding internal improvement for the squad through the younger Spurs players, DJB’s name is not listed. (Nor was Anderson’s, either). It leaves us fans to surmise that Blair and Anderson will not be on the 2012-13 roster.

  • imwithstupid

    Well said, it doesn’t make any less aggravating though… Has anyone heard if Ryan Richards has been approved to play with Jamaica?

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

    I think it’s fairly certain that Anderson will not return. The Spurs didn’t extend their team option on him for next season and his agent had expressed his willingness to be traded during the season. I think he’s gone. With Blair, I’m not sure how much he can really improve outside of a reliable jump shot. And even then I’m not sure how much that really improves his game.

  • DorieStreet

    @Andrew A.McNeill – Well at least Blair is in a spot that may kickstart a deal– playing on the USA Select squad, going against the Olympic team in scrimmages (plenty of eyes around to see if his game can help out elsewhere in the league).
    Is he eligible to play out in Vegas this month?

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

    He’s eligible, but I don’t think they’ll even ask him. It probably isn’t the best place to show him off for other teams, and I think he may take it as disrespect if he’s asked. I’m curious if Kawhi will play on the summer league team, though. That would be interesting.

  • Tyler

    The more punitive luxury tax is a key point. Retaining cap flexibility will become even more important in the future as other teams have to amnesty or trade away contracts just to avoid the tax burden. The Spurs are in a good place – extremely competitive while also not burdened by large, lengthy contracts. Stay the course and they’ll reap the benefits down the road.

  • http://profiles.google.com/lordxar Ray Briggs II

    I, for one, don’t think Blair came off all that mature in that article.
    “We were No. 1 the last two seasons when I was starting, and then lost
    in the playoffs when I wasn’t. That’s just, well, I don’t know, common
    sense.” – That’s called correlation DeJuan, not causation.
    I really like Blair but I think he has reached his ceiling and either him or Matt have to go if the front court rotation is going to get strong enough to hang against Clippers, OKC and Lakers.
    My hope is that Blair, Anderson and a pick of some sort can get us a decent rotation worthy big man from somewhere. But I have to admit the lack of any type of news worries me about spurs upgrading at least a little this summer externally.

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

    It’s funny, I actually thought the opposite. I thought Blair came off pretty honest and professional. Sure, a little misguided with the quote you offered, but overall I thought he came off well.

  • Andrew in Australia

    Would the Spurs think about signing Greg Oden? Even a one or two year deal on the cheap. If he gets healthy his size would help next to Duncan and Splitter.

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

    Gotta think it’s at least a possibility. The Spurs have a very good medical staff, I would think they would explore signing Oden, depending on the price.

  • DorieStreet

    Can’t count your chickens until the eggs are hatched—you were so sure about Lorbek coming over—-

  • Blofeld

    Having a great regular season record is great’n’all, but In the words of Billy Beane’s character from the movie Moneyball: “if you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a sh*t.”

  • STIJL

    “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.”

    This is the reason why I think the players association called BS regarding the owners claims about losing profits. IF…And wholeheartedly if it was truth the “owners” were losing money….these deals would not be taking place.

    So much money IS being generated and greed is the only concept being accepted.

  • STIJL

    I regress. But Spurs are not in a good position to offer or get back any player that might “improve” their team from last year. Hopefully they will (can) maintain last years status and as mentioned…the new players improve to a point that might make the difference in going after another title.

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  • will ny

    what do you think the chances are that we pick up Elton Brand once he gets amnestied?

  • ThatBigGuy

    I agree. Kawhi will be better for sure, and if we re-sign Diaw and Mills, they’ll improve as they become more comfortable with the system. Just by bringing back the same guys from last year ought to improve the team by default, assuming healthy seasons from everyone.

    Brand would be a nice pick-up, but I don’t think we can compete in the auction for him.

  • Juzamaku

    Article says 2+1 years. So Lorbek should be out next year too unless there’s a buyout clause.

  • Bob

    The Spurs had a pretty good record with RJ starting but they were much better without him.

  • TDzilla!

    high risk, high reward option?

  • Tyler

    I was (and still am) sure he’d be a solid player, not that we would sign him.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeG_SA Patrick★ G

    We should try to get Meyers Leonard( Center 7’1” Rookie drafted to Portland)

  • http://twitter.com/MikeG_SA Patrick★ G

    We should get Meyers Leonard( 7’1” Center Rookie Portland) I tried it on the NBA Trade Maker http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7me6of9

  • Roland

    The Spurs should look to develop a rookie in Austin. Sign Henry Sims from Georgetown! It’s better than drafting another Ian Mahnimi.

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