Offseason Breakdown: Should the Spurs Trade Manu Ginobili?
In his final interview of the season, Gregg Popovich talked about hard offseasons. This offseason, he suggested, would be difficult because the team will say goodbye to some of its role players. Telling the Robert Horrys of the world that it’s time to part is never easy. But then Pop said something else that struck me as telling. He said there would come a time when the Spurs would have to replace a star with a star. He was quick to add that the time had not yet come, but gave an impression that it was not too far off.
As Spurs fans, this is something for which we have to prepare.
Looking at the Big 3, one would assume Tim Duncan will retire a Spur. He’s part of the fabric—he is the franchise. Tim Duncan is one of the most untouchable players in the league. So when the Spurs arrive at the point of a star for a star, it’s beyond doubtful that they wave goodbye to Duncan. His contract is locked up through 2012, and he’s safe.
At 26, Tony Parker is close to his prime. I think he’s the second best point guard in the league, just behind Chris Paul. If you’re going by All-NBA votes, Parker certainly belongs in that conversation. Relative to talent, he has a good contract that only pays 13 million in its final year (2011). The Spurs really would have to receive a can’t refuse offer to trade Parker. An elite point guard, in a point guard dominated league, that is a 3-time NBA champion and former Finals MVP. And 26. And he has a good contract. Whatever price you name is too low.
That leaves us with Manu Ginobili. When healthy, he’s one the best 10 players in the league. His incredibly affordable contract is set to expire after next season. He’ll be 32 in July. He has an insatiable lust to play for his country, which is admirable and unfortunate. But that lust walks hand in hand with qualities that make him more valuable than other stars—the man is an absolute winner. Euroleague title? Yes. Olympic gold? Yes. NBA Championship? Three. Whatever it is that Chauncey Billups brought to the Nuggets, Manu Ginobili has in spades.
But it’s obvious to me that if the Spurs have to let go of a star, he is the most likely candidate. This isn’t to say that the Spurs will seek to trade Ginobili. I don’t think they should or will. Pop is correct to say the time to exchange a star for a star is not yet. But next summer I expect Manu Ginobili to receive the same treatment Tony Parker did in 2003. Remember that? The Spurs had just beat the Nets in the Finals, Parker’s team had bested Jason Kidd’s team, and the Spurs still put Parker on ice and chased after Kidd in free agency. Well, next summer the Spurs will approach Ginobili in the same way while they make an offer to the star who could replace him—Dwayne Wade seems like an impossibility, but Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh or even Dirk Nowitzki are within the pale. And after the Spurs make an offer to a player of that caliber, they’ll have to throw some money at Tiago Splitter. You see all that much ballyhooed cap space evaporating?
But if they can’t land a star, they’ll extend Ginobili. At least, that’s how I think things will shake out.
It’s in the Spurs best interest to give the Big 3 at least one more season together. Trading Manu Ginobili is an unthinkable proposition for the Spurs, in part because they’re in a great position by simply allowing his contract to expire. And, of course, he’s Manu Ginobili. The time is not yet.
Obviously, the landscape changes dramatically if the Spurs take on someone else’s cap dump this summer, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. But despite all this, I suspect there will be Ginobili chatter behind the scenes. Why? While I don’t think the Spurs have any interest in trading Manu Ginobili, I think they’ll receive more calls about his availability than ever before. This might seem counter-intuitive given his recent injuries, but if you’re an opposing GM you know:
- the Spurs need to reload, and their assets are limited
- if healthy, Manu Ginobili can lead a team to glory
- he is only due to make 11 million next season
- his contract is expiring, so the risk is minimal
- even if he doesn’t return to form, his bird rights and a scaled back contract offer give any team an insanely good 6th man going forward
The problem for other GMs is that the Spurs aren’t stupid, and you can’t get Manu Ginobili through some ill-conceived salary dump. The Spurs are smart not to return calls, but even if they did pick up the phone, the initial offer would have to be strong in order to keep San Antonio on the line. Say it with me, “He’s Manu Ginobili.”
And here’s the thing: you can comb through every roster in the league, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a deal that gives enough value or makes enough long term sense for San Antonio. It’s too difficult to trade a star without losing your hat.
But I did look. And I looked. And I looked some more. I looked at every roster in the league for an offer that might make the Spurs think. I came up with three. Three offers that I’m nearly certain the Spurs would reject, but that would nevertheless cause them to hold the line for a few minutes.
- Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto for Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and Alexis Ajinca
- Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto for Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas
- Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto for Tayshaun Prince and Amir Johnson
You can see why those teams might call and pester San Antonio.
Not only could Charlotte use a star to market to fans, but they could use Ginobili’s expiring contract. He’d make the team better, he’d help their pocketbook, and he’d free up 2010 cash. Win, win, win. Moreover, it’s doubtful they can resign Felton. So in reality that’s Wallace and Ajinca for Manu. Yes, please.
Ben Gordon came up big for the Bulls in the playoffs, but he wants a little more money than he’s worth, and more money than the Bulls can pay without damaging their cap situation. Getting Ginobili, to pair with Rose, Deng, Noah and Salmons would be a coup. It would put them in a better position to trade Hinrich. And, of course, it would give greater flexibility next summer when Ginobili and Brad Miller’s contracts expire. If you can’t resign Gordon, Manu Ginobili for Ty Thomas is an easy choice.
The Detroit trade is a little more dicey. Could the Pistons play Hamilton at small forward? In the long run, I don’t think it matters. Prince and Hamilton are part of the old face, and Joe Dumars is currently giving the team a facelift. I’m not sure that either player is in Detroit’s long term plans. What matters is that Manu Ginobili is the anti-Iverson. If he plays for your team, it gets better. But even more importantly, landing Manu Ginobili would reduce Detroit’s cap by 11 million in 2010, bringing it down to around 20 million. I’m not even sure if that’s legal. And they’d still have Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. Hello rebuild. With that kind of flexibility, the Pistons could resign Ginobili and two All-Stars in 201o to pair with Rodney Stuckey. In other words, they could become serious contenders in the space of one humid Midwestern afternoon.
Let me reduce this down to a fine point: is there a more attractive expiring contract in the entire league than Manu Ginobili? R.C. Buford’s phone is ringing.
Most of our readers can see why these scenarios would bring pause prior to dismissal. But I think dismissal is the right choice. Gerald Wallace is half the player of Ginobili and twice as injury prone; it’s doubtful that Ben Gordon is “a Spur” in terms of team culture (and would the Spurs be willing to give up their 2010 cap space for him?); as good as Tayshaun Prince is, he and Amir Johnson do not add up to Ginobili in terms of talent, and you lose your 2010 cap space. No thanks.
Ultimately, it’s too difficult to replace Manu Ginobili in a trade. The Spurs’ best move is, just as Pop indicated, to wait until the time is right. So, if you’re one of those fans who are thinking about a star for a star rebuild, you’ll have to wait patiently at least one more season. The Spurs best chance at competing for a title is to wait until next summer or by blowing up their 2010 strategy and trading for another star to pair with Duncan-Parker-Ginobili.