Shaking the Roster Up

by

The good folks at Elias Sports Burea are in the business of providing perspective. According to Elias, the Spurs are 3-9 against teams with a .600 or better record. The only Western Conference teams that are worse than the Spurs against said opponents are the Warriors, Timberwolves, Clippers and Kings. League-wide, teams beat .600 teams .329 of the time. To say the Spurs struggle against good teams is putting it gently.

Making matters worse, San Antonio has played 62 percent of its games at home this season. That percentage leads the league, but will quickly race toward the center as the Spurs launch into their annual Rodeo Road Trip.

Let me try this a different way. During Sunday’s telecast, Hubie Brown said the Spurs, or any Western conference team for that matter, should only measure themselves against one question: can they beat the Lakers four out of seven times, and while spotting Kobe’s squad homecourt advantage?

From where I sit, the answer is clearly ‘no’.

If the Spurs need to play at ten, on a scale of one to ten, to win a championship, they’re currently playing at five or six. Maybe they improve, and take things to seven or eight. I can see that. But this team gives us little reason to believe they’re capable of getting to ten. At the end of the day, one has to question whether this team has the right personnel, and whether the current players are not too dinged up, to make a serious run at another title.

That sounds pessimistic. I’m not saying the sky is falling, just that this Spurs team is playoff-caliber, but unlikely to advance far enough to earn a trophy. This franchise is simply not in the business of one and done playoff appearances.  They go for it all, and they go hard. Playing for an extra week in April? Meh. Maybe later. But not now. Not while there is still an opportunity, however diminishing,  to build a championship team around Tim Duncan.

And that’s really what this comes down to. The Spurs’ best opportunity to improve their roster is through the trade market, and the market is interesting. If not now, then this offseason. If not this summer, then next February. But the longer the Spurs wait, the less time the new faces have to gel with their new running mates. And by next summer, the discussion is really about building for a championship in the post-Duncan era. But we’re not there yet, I trust.

If the Spurs don’t make a trade, the best this offseason will bring is a resigned Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter and a decent draft pick. And none of that is guaranteed. If it pans out, then it’s a good summer, but not likely good enough. Not with Ginobili and Duncan one season closer to retirement. Those are the realities.

This conversation is complicated by several factors. The most salient among them is the looming possibility of a lockout and a hard cap–a lockout that could rob Tim Duncan of his final year in the NBA. The final year of Duncan’s contract and the next CBA are unhappily wed together.

Put it all together and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Spurs need to deal for an impact player.

There is truth to the notion that bringing in another impact player only messes with the team’s chemistry. I get that. I’ve made the point elsewhere. It’s a dangerous roll of the dice. But at this point–at the point of consistently losing to good teams–the position that says hold steady is just as dangerous, if not more so.

This comes with some qualifiers. Trades are not easy to make, and none of them fit just right. I see the Spurs as a team in decline, but not such a rapid decline that recovery is out of the question. The Spurs are still in a position where one smart move can push them to the front of the pack. And a dumb move could push the team into the lottery. It’s not a time for the faint of heart.

But since they’re declining, it would be foolish to trade for players who are in decline themselves. Let me give a tangible example: Tayshaun Prince.

By all accounts, Tayshuan Prince is available, and the Spurs would have the contracts to get a deal done. But is trading for a player who is putting up career lows–PER of 9.08–and has a bad back really what the Spurs need to recover?  There must be better options.

(As an aside, the pile of expiring contracts the Spurs can string together could amount to a player in the 10 million dollar range, but with one huge problem. Those contracts–Bonner, Finley, and Mason Jr.–are the team’s best perimeter shooters. In other words, if the Spurs don’t get a shooter in return, they might create a bigger problem than the one they have now.)

In my estimation, the Spurs should target a player(s) that fills a need (dynamic wing, or gritty, defensive big) and is at least likely to maintain his current level of production through next season. And ideally this player would have a requisite level of durability not shared by the Spurs’ core. Insulating against an already pesky injury bug is an important consideration. If not this, then swing for the fences and target a game-changing All-Star.

Most of the plausible roster shake up scenarios walk a narrow ledge. I’m going to offer two scenarios, but only to give us something to talk through, not because I think the Spurs are moving in either of these directions.  I’m sure our readers will supply many more in the comment thread to this post. But let me stick my neck out and talk you through two types of options I think the Spurs should consider.

The first is getting in on a salary dump, using  Corey Maggette as an example.

The aforementioned combination of Finley, Mason Jr and Bonner would give the Warriors the expiring contracts needed to help right their financial ship, but why would San Antonio trade away its bench for a player who is a lousy three point shooter and possesses an awful contract? In a name, because they’d ask for Anthony Randolph as a sweetener.

The Warriors could offset the Spurs’ cap risk (remember, the possibility of a hard cap is real) by giving the Spurs Anthony Randolph in exchange for taking Maggette off their books. If the Warriors are serious about off-loading Maggette, they need to put a pretty luscious cherry on top of the Corey sundae. No one is taking on his contract otherwise.

Maggette makes sense for the Spurs in other ways. Gregg Popovich recently blew up over San Antonio’s inability to make enough shots, and Maggette can do that. He’s something of a pure scorer, although not a pure shooter. Maggette can play three positions, so the Spurs could feature him as a big 2, a natural swing or a small-ball four. It would not be difficult to find him minutes. With the exception of his three point shooting, there is no reason to think Maggette couldn’t play with Richard Jefferson.

The most problematic issue surrounding a potential trade for a Maggette-like salary dump is that the Spurs would more or less be saying goodbye to the possibility of resigning Manu Ginobili this offseason, something which might make the suggestion of such a move a non-starter. Of course, the Spurs could take their chances on this front and move for Maggette and Randolph with the strong intention to pass Richard Jefferson’s expiring contract off on another team in July, hopefully saving enough money to bring Ginobili back. Maggette, for what it’s worth, earns far less than Jefferson and is, at least this season, a more productive player. For example, Maggette is much better rebounder than RJ, who grabs an underwhelming number of boards for his position.

Of course the Spurs could offer Jefferson in a package for Maggette and Randolph in order to increase their chances of resigning Ginobili, but one wonders if immediate cap relief would not be more attractive to Golden State.

In Anthony Randolph the Spurs would get a player who is capable of playing and guarding three positions within their system, and someone who could be groomed as Tim Duncan eventual successor. His shot-blocking and rebounding would compliment a future frontcourt of Duncan, Splitter, and Blair. In another market, the idea of getting a young player of Randolph’s talent in a dump would be unthinkable.  But right now it’s the kind of added value that moves a contract like Maggette’s.

From a cap standpoint, Corey Maggette’s contract is dangerous, but not lethal to the Spurs. Under this scenario, the Spurs would get relief in the summer of 2011 in the form of Richard Jefferson’s expiring deal (15.2 million) and by waiving Antonio McDyess, whose 5.2 million is not guaranteed for the final year. If one subtracts McDyess from San Antonio’s 2011 books and adds Maggette, Randolph, Splitter and two draft picks (2010 and 2011), the Spurs would be somewhere betweeen 40 and 45 million in payroll. Not wonderful, but it gives R.C. Buford enough cap space to re-up Tony Parker, if they so desire. Maggette would plug the hole left by Jefferson, and the Spurs would be looking at a competitive roster.

But you see the difficulties of making a major move like this. Next year’s payroll is heavy with taxes, it puts the resigning of Manu Ginobili in doubt, and the Spurs would have to scramble to find low cost shooters to place around their bigs. Still, I think this kind of move is worth considering, although obviously not without risk, and would put the Spurs in a better position to win another championship in the Duncan era.

The other option before San Antonio is to move one of Richard Jefferson, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. In the case of Jefferson, something like Maggette and Randolph is equitable, after factoring in the financial implications for both teams. In the case of Parker and Ginobili, the Spurs would need to get back an All-Star or there really isn’t a deal that makes sense for them.

Rather than invent a trade scenario of my own for this example, I’ll steal one invented elsewhere: Manu Ginobili for Amar’e Stoudemire. From a fanbase perspective (we hate them, they hate us) this is a laugher. But it’s not such a crazy idea from other angles. In terms of talent for talent, both teams would come out alright. Offensively, both players would fit snugly in their new digs. Neither team would have any guarantees of retaining their new acquisitions this summer, but they don’t have those guarantees now. And for Phoenix, Ginobili is an All-Star they can afford to resign; Manu helps their books. Stoudemire is a book killer for Robert Sarver.

Ian Thomsen’s recent SI article on the possibility of a hard cap under the next CBA leads me to believe that Amar’e Stoudemire is not a lock to opt out of contract this summer. He’s scheduled to make nearly 18 million next season, and I can’t see a team offering him a starting salary of 18 million on a new long term deal. But who knows, there is always Dan Gilbert.  This puts San Antonio in a good spot.

If Stoudemire came to San Antonio, the Spurs would have the remainder of this season and next with a core of Parker, Stoudemire, and Duncan. If it didn’t work out–read: if it only worked as well as the current lineup is working– the Spurs could have a cap number between 25 and 30 million two summers from now, assuming they waive Antonio McDyess. That’s a great place from which to start a proper rebuild.

But my primary interest in a big deal involving Parker or Ginobili is the psychological one. It’s possible the clock has run out on San Antonio’s current core. The Spurs might be in one of those situations where turning over a significant piece could infuse new life into the team.

Gregg Popovich recently issued a mea culpa with regard to his original assessment of the Pau Gasal trade, a move he originally slated as “beyond comprehension.”

“They gave up a great player but it helped them extend the franchise’s success into the future. It’s shown that they’ve done a good job. Whatever they were thinking a couple of iterations ahead at the time has paid off for them.”

“When you make decisions you try to make them good. Obviously, the decision they (the Grizzlies) made then has served them well in the future, which is now.”

You have to wonder if re-shuffling the deck doesn’t provide a bridge into San Antonio’s future.  The difference, of course, is that Pau Gasol was a player moving into his best years. Manu Ginobili is moving out of his.

  • lvmainman

    Batum could fill the missing Bowen defender role.

  • lvmainman

    I’d be willing to trade with the Nets.
    Spurs get: Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Tony Battie

    Nets get: Tony Parker, Roger Mason, Matt Bonner

    We get younger and more athletic. Thoughts?

  • lvmainman

    Actually based on Nets need for cap space, I think only

    Spurs get: Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Kenyon Dooling

    Nets get: Tony Parker, Roger Mason

    will work.

    Pass it on to GM Buford.

  • Easy B

    Remember how pivotal Speedy Claxton and Steve Kerr were in title runs….we could get better quickly with more point guard and 3pt help. We don’t need to swing for the fence to give the team an added dimension.
    The only way the spurs can beat the lakers this year is by playing their own style of ball….tons of ball movement, stingy defense, and plenty of 3 pointers to keep timmy free to do his thing. If we try to get more long players to matchup better, we are playing lakers ball and into their hands.

  • Easy B

    Looking through the point guard crop…Dooling looks like a realistic option…wondering how many years left on that contract of his – getting around $3.5 mil this year I think. Maybe his 3pt percentage would lift a little in a spurs jersey.

  • pastrypride

    This is not a championship-caliber core anymore. The window is closed. It probably was last year. We went all in and it didn’t work. Last year we were bumped in the first round of the playoffs and it looks likely to me that will happen again. I don’t give us much of a chance at all to get past the second round. I want to keep my hope alive as much as the next guy, but if we’re talking about our personnel and cap space, we have to face the facts.

    From this point on, the focus should be on the team’s long-term development. Let’s not wait until we go 20-62 two or three years from now to start rebuilding.

  • goyo

    HORRIBLE ANALYSIS

  • Tristan

    I am for getting McDysess on this team. I think he is coming into his own. R.J. needs to be the main scorer right now and Pop needs to tell him that. Timmy is great and my first option, but we need to build up R.J.’s confidence. This team may make a move, but not a serious one. We gonna be ok. I agree with all that small ball is killing us and all the different lineup changes, we need to throw theo in the game and get others involved, nobody can get in a rthym and stay with it for more than a game. We need transition. We need confidence back that we are a great group. I don’t like most of the trade scenario’s everyone talk in bout. We will just have to call it a season and start fresh next yr if we get another player that doesn’t know the most complicated playbook in the nba. I say thanks to the owner Mr. Holt, R.C. Buford, Coach Pop and the team. They playin good, just not great. Look at the NBA they are gettin younger and faster than ever, quicker. It is crazy. But they are tryin and they are smart. They will get it together and start winning. Just be patient.

  • Jonathan

    I combined a couple of trade ideas I’ve heard into one…a little crazy, but I kind of like it…

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yzvm78q

    Thoughts?

  • tp

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yhf3fff

    with this can we sign still manu back?!(rj-maggettte and bell)
    or this
    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yzyohum
    (rj-corey,randolph,morrow)-if gsw wants to trade corey and have cap relief i guess this might work?idk really, but if ever can we sign manu back?
    i mean morrow is a really good 3pt shooter,whose cheap!anthony,as said is timmy’s future successor,and corey can just be a sf,go to the paint and attack,let the 3pt shooters handle the three,its their work.
    i guess we need a good player trade with rj. IMO players should be traded off the bench is fin and matt, we love fin but his aging and a year or two from now would be retiring while matt, he gives us something one night and the next he doesn’t,not that consistent i may say, and his atrocious on defense,esp when he runs with the ball.
    what you say ’bout this guys?

  • dan

    Al Jefferson and Sessions for Tony Parker and Roger Mason. We get a top C and serviceable PG. They get a top PG and serviceable SG plus cap relief (throw in Mahinmi so they aren’t left without a C).

  • rg

    san antonio has good players no more trade required they just cant find their rhytm. if they will you will see how good this team was go spurs goooo. dont trade manu this team needs him he was an excellent player. if we wont win this year. there is another year when they got used to each other. look how many seasons michael jordan before he won his first championship just be patient we’ll be there if not now there is always next time.

  • Renato

    The chandler/jackson trade or the the maggette/randolph trade would be excellent, because it gives the spurs a guy who can hit shots.

    Jefferson is a player who needs to be the primary option and have the ball in his hands. He MUST be demoted to the bench and brought in simultaneously with duncan comming out. You can only have 2 guys on the court who need the ball in their hands at a time. The spurs have 4 players who that applies to: parker, manu, jefferson, duncan. I believe that if pop plays jefferson and manu together, and parker and duncan together, their will be far better results. When Manu and Jefferson come in, Duncan and TP need to come out

  • Nadeem

    U guys should forget chandler/jackson trade. Bobcats are in the playoffs because of the Jackson trade. No way would they trade him. Chances of Maggette trade are slim to none as well. I bet if a trade happens, it will be something none of us would have predicted.

  • VP of Common Sense

    I don’t think any of the Big 3 get moved and we would have to drug a GM to take Jefferson off our hands…

    So,

    Spurs get:
    Jared Jeffries
    Wilson Chandler

    Knicks get:
    Finley
    Bonner
    Mahinmi

    We still would need some outside shooting, but Jeffries and Chandler would be defensive upgrades.

  • wannabe_fan

    I would be surprised if the FO made a “big” trade before the deadline.

    1. I don’t believe they want to take on big contracts for less than stellar talent.

    2. In my mind, there are only 2-3 players that would “might” have an instant impact. Trouble is, who wants our “spare parts”?

    3. Pop and the FO have an “ideal” of players they want: Basketball players (BBIQ) rather than “athletes”; Team players rather that someone who wants to be “the man”; decent character, although they’ll settle for “fair to middling” on that. I think right now, the FO would take 2 out of 3, if that player was very athletic, shot lights out, hustles, and plays “D”.

    I don’t see these qualities on any of the players discussed. We shall see.

    Now let’s go out and beat the Kings tonite!

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  • AndySpursFan’90

    spurs get boozer/miles for jefferson/finley

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yjwwp5n

  • http://www.nba.com AndySpursFan’90

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yjwwp5n

    spurs get boozer/brewer* (accidently posted Miles on above post)

    jazz get Jefferson and Finley

  • gta232323

    why does everyone want marcus camby? he’s old! he wouldnt do any more than ratliff

  • vince garcia

    i think the spurs should weather this season.. short playoffs and no championship. i just dont think jefferson can put a spark on this team. he is scorer but theat kind of player who can change the game.
    manu is a game changer – he can shoot or drive and make crucial points for the team
    just trade jefferson, bonner and mahinmi.
    try to get back gist and hairston.
    splitter will be coming plus bouroussis
    we should find a fine wing player – who can shoot the lights out – day in and out. maybe a stand out d-leaguer
    i would not trade manu – he is the heartbeat of the team
    i would trade parker for a smart athletic pont guard who can really make intelligent plays and steward the team in crucial minutes.
    so next season
    bonner, jefferson and mahinmi out
    gist, hairston, splitter, bouroussis and magette in
    a new point guard

  • Renato

    Why do people want to trade parker. Parker has had excellent seasons leading up to this one. His problem is playing summer basketball for france has left him tired. A rested tony parker is still and excellent player. Id rather the spurs trade manu (although he is my fav spur) than parker. Parker is the future of this team

  • al

    i agree we do need a trade but not at the expense of our big 3. we must keep jefferson somehow but i liked someones quote from above making a complete swap with the pistons since they have nothing to loose because they’ve been loosing anyways.
    get prince/hamilton/ben in trade for fin/bonner/mason, we’d be more competitve instantly and dyess reunites with his old buddies which will boost his play for sure.

    also id say they can throw in chris wilcox who is an under the radar athletic big that can give us good minutes off the bench. i think it would very much work spurs fans.

    plus joe dumars is crazy enough to do it! he traded billups from a perfectly good team(remember).

    spurs fans would say” well thats all our 3 pt shooters” well i say ” we need to earn the 3 pts the conventional way and take it to the rack”(and 1).

    oh yeah before i forget MEMO TO SPURS RJ CAN CATCH ALLEYS AT ANY TIME U WANNA THROW EM UP THERE!!!!!!

  • Jason

    This is the trade for us…

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yh4sm7z

    essentially the spurs trade Ian Mahimi and Matt Bonner for Tyrus Thomas… it is plausable because this is done to facilitate Amare to Chicago. Its a very low risk, high reward trade. Even if Thomas is a total bust in San Antonio (which I don’t think is possible), all we’ve gambled away is Bonner. Of course if it works out, he could bring his 2BPG next to Duncan in the line-up… oh ya, he’s 24 and has SIZE.

  • Alain

    You say the Spurs need an impact player, a dynamic wing or an gritty defensive big.
    1) Isn’t that exactly what Jefferson was supposed to be, a dynamic wing, the fourth musqueteer to our big 3 ?
    2) Seems to me you lost your train of thought while writing the article : a defensive big… and suggesting Amare ? I fully agree with a previous comment, Amare is a star only because he plays with Steve Nash, just as Jefferson is still making a living off of having played with the fantastic Jason Kidd in NJ.

    Moves have been made by the front office : get a wing player, draft a defensive big. But no matter what, we need our 3 stars on top of their games to have any title chance. So far it’s been 1 out of 3.

    Get Tony and Manu back, and THIS team WILL contend. Miss either one, and no trade will make any difference.

  • beto

    nombre dudes ! dont trade manu he’s the heart of the spurs ! they need to trade mason da rason.he sucks!! puros bricks!

  • analyzed

    Can anyone tell me why Mason din’t play in the Blazars game and instead Finley played. Unless Mason is injured ( there are no reports) the only logical reason I can see why he din’t play and Finley did is he is on the way out ! Realistically among the 3 , Mason, Bonner and Finley. Mason is the only one other teams would find valuable the 2 others are loose change.

  • pablo

    i have the solution to Spurs problems… well at least i’ll make an attempt to address them.

    as much as i want to win, i don’t think we can trade Parker or Manu. hopefully Manu will resign this offseason at a modest rate (say 5 to 7 million a year).

    the Spurs should partner with Houston in a three way trade with Philadelphia…

    Spurs get: Dalembert and Battier
    Rockets get: Iguodala and Elton Brand
    Sixers get: R. Jefferson, McGrady and Bonner

    the Spurs get an upgrade at SF who has smaller contract. Dalembert would provide energy and size.

    Rockets may prefer Dalembert to Brand, but they greatly improve and would have a good shot to make noise this year.

    Sixers get rid of their three bad contracts and have everybody off their books at end of 2011.

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yl32qjh

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