Shaking the Roster Up
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.Â 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,Â 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.Â 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 theÂ 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?Â 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 importantÂ 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.Â 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 throughÂ two types of options I think the Spurs should consider.
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 PopovichÂ 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 guardingÂ 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.Â 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 notÂ 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 booksÂ 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,Â 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 inventÂ a trade scenarioÂ 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. Â 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.Â If it didn’t work out–read: if it only worked as wellÂ as the current lineup is working–Â 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 isÂ the psychological one. It’s possible the clock has run out onÂ San Antonio’s current core.Â The Spurs might be in oneÂ 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.Â The difference, of course, is that Pau Gasol wasÂ a player moving into his best years. Manu Ginobili is moving out of his.