How the Spurs can make a trade in the next 24 hours … if they really want to
If you want to catch up on the few, somewhat skimpy rumors surrounding the Spurs, please head to our ‘Rumors’ page. Just a heads up, though: there ain’t much there.
The San Antonio Spurs have been quiet as the 2 p.m. CT Thursday trade deadline approaches, which is the norm around here. The phrase ‘unusually aggressive’ has been bandied about over the last couple of months in regard to the Spurs’ discussions with other teams, but not much more has come of it aside from a little rumoring.
And here’s what we know. The Spurs’ core group — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard — is not on the trade block, and Tiago Splitter’s relative value to this team means he is highly unlikely to be moved at his price tag. So what does that leave the Spurs in terms of assets? Nobody that makes more than Boris Diaw’s $4.7 million, which makes potential salary-matching for another high-end player nearly impossible given the talent they’d receive in return.
The Spurs are walking a fine line right now. They know they’re on that list of title contenders, even if they might be third or fourth, or worse, on that list. But they also know that time is running out on the current era and maximizing their championship possibilities is an absolute must at this point with the rest of the league growing so rapidly around them.
San Antonio is in a tough spot, and just because we’re not hearing much out of that camp doesn’t mean there is no activity. This franchise is notoriously tight-lipped in its goings-on, and we often have no idea a move is being made until it actually happens; even the premier NBA media sleuths have a difficult enough time cracking through that scoop barrier.
The reasons why the capped-out Spurs will find it incredibly difficult to make a trade have been outlined ad nauseam: their best, most proven assets aren’t going anywhere; low-end valuable young players don’t make enough money to match salaries with players who would be considered improvements; and their draft pick is likely going to be in the 25-to-30 range, depending on how the season plays out. So how can the Spurs’ deadline behavior seriously be considered aggressive? If San Antonio really wants to get a deal done — beyond just a minor, low-end deal — how can they do it?
There are a couple of ways that I can see:
No. 1: The Spurs would have to locate a player in a bad situation with a team and convince that organization to trade said asset for expiring contracts. One of the things San Antonio has been able to maintain is pristine cap flexibility over the next several years, especially once Duncan and Ginobili retire.
Splitter is the only player actually under contract on the entire roster for the 2015-16 season at $8.5 million, though Leonard will soon join him at a similarly high price tag. This means that San Antonio has space to consider taking on a multiyear contract if one presents itself.
But under the new CBA, those man- or team-eating five-plus-year contracts aren’t killing franchises anymore and have allowed for much more patience when it comes to “problem” players. For this to work, the Spurs would have to find a team with a dead end and nowhere else to go, because San Antonio doesn’t exactly have the prized assets most are searching for in return.
No 2: San Antonio might not have the most attractive young, available assets, but it does have interesting prospects overseas. Players like Davis Bertans, Adam Hanga and Livio Jean-Charles are not yet NBA ready, but they all seemingly possess a solid amount of potential as role players in this league — particularly Bertans and Jean-Charles.
If the Spurs can find a way to put together an attractive package of current contract players along with the rights to one or more of these prospects, there may be a team out there that would bite at the last second. Nike International Director Rich Shoebrooks once called Bertans the best shooter he’d seen on the Hoop Summit International team since Dirk Nowitzki, and Jean-Charles stole the show in the event last year with 27 points and 13 rebounds against some of the best talent in America.
They may not be immediate contributors, but these prospects could be intriguing enough to warrant consideration; that is, unless the Spurs want to fully prepare themselves for life without Duncan.
No 3: Speaking of life without the Big Three, there’s another aspect teams should consider. Once the big man and his running mate retire, the Spurs are probably going to drop off quite a bit in the standings; after all these years of super late draft picks, San Antonio might be inching toward the lottery. The good thing about that is, the Spurs are one of just five teams in the league that don’t owe anybody a single future draft pick.
Some of the NBA’s lottery-bound cellar-dwellers are in possession of multiple first-round picks, and teams like the Celtics and 76ers have made it clear they’re looking for more. Could the Spurs and their future picks be an attractive option? You’d think so, considering those lower-end squads could be interested in spacing their picks out for multiple seasons.
But again, San Antonio might want to keep those for itself. This franchise realizes the importance of first-round draft picks to a small-market organization, so they’ll obviously be hesitant to mortgage any part of their future for just one more shot at a title.
The Spurs want to win a fifth title. Badly. But they can’t put all their eggs in one basket, because there’s still a future in San Antonio. If they really want to make a trade now, the possibilities are there, but they all come with some pretty major risk. And we’ve seen how crucial depth is for a team like this, so do they really want to deplete that by attempting to pile up contracts to match that of a guy like Evan Turner ($6.68 million) or ¹Thaddeus Young ($8.85 million)?
¹Personally, I think Young could be worth it, especially considering he’s under contract through 2015-16. But to make that work, the Spurs would have to send Philly a pile of rotation players in order to match, which could be tough for a team that so values ‘corporate knowledge.’
Assets like Jean-Charles and Bertans, along with future picks, could help the transition from the Big Three era go through much more smoothly. And who knows, they may be able to keep Parker and Gregg Popovich in town for a little while longer.
Every fan base wants to see action, but the truth is, what you see with the Spurs might just be what you get. Besides, they’re pretty damn good as presently constituted. Making some brash move doesn’t guarantee a title, and what would be worse than trading part of your future to chase another ring, only to fall short?
The Spurs are what they are at this point; they’ve squeezed more life and success out of this core group than someone with an extreme toothpaste budget does to a tube of Crest — they just keep finding ways to reach down for that last little bit.
So regardless of what happens, just enjoy this for what it’s been: one hell of a ride.