Spurs Free Agency: A Short Appraisal of Available Wings
Now that the Richard Jefferson has opted out of his contract, it’s fair to say the Spurs will target a wing in free agency. Although Jefferson’s deal brings the Spurs close to the cap line, they’re still limited to exception money and veteran minimums. In addition to this, they hold Bird Rights on Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson.
The Spurs could resign Jefferson or look at sign and trade options. With so many teams under cap this year, and a few looking at hard sells to their respective free agent targets (I’m looking at you, New York Knicks), the Spurs could also move Jefferson in a sign and trade and bring back nothing but a big, fat trade exception. R.C. Buford and company are fine.
The Spurs’ failures last season are easily organized around two principal concerns: defense and shooting. Â The Spurs need to target a wing who can at least satisfy one of these objectives, if not both. RJ was neither a perimeter stopper nor sniper. In fact, his presence on the floor introduced all sorts of bad voodoo into the Spurs’ offensive spacing.
When the free agent season kicks off at 12:01 tomorrow, the Spurs, although cash strapped, will be in good shape. The Tiago Splitter situation is increasingly optimistic. James Anderson was an ace draft pick, and, at the very least, supplies the Spurs with the sort of shooting they sorely lacked last season. (Anderson, it should be noted, also provides the Spurs will a player who can eat minutes at shooting guard. Manu Ginobili, in other words, can play fewer minutes during the season’s early months because of James Anderson’s arrival.)
But Splitter and Anderson are not enough, and Richard Jefferson’s opt out only intensifies the team’s need to upgrade their talent base.
Alonzo Gee and Malik Hairston have both shown themselves worthy of Â NBA minutes, but how many minutes is still uncertain. I suspect one of these two will emerge from training camp as a reliable small forward reserve. I’d bet on Gee over Hairston because he has better size and more range on his shot, but Hairston’s scrappy defense will garner attention. These are two players to watch during summer league and training camp.
Taking things a step further, the addition of Anderson gives the Spurs a solid 5-man deep glut of guards. Parker, Hill, Ginobili, Anderson and Temple. And Hairston and Gee are both capable of sliding between wing positions. Â The Spurs, then, would do well to hunt a bargain bin combo forward during their free agent pursuits–a wing who is capable of playing small ball power forward.
The catch is cost. How much will the Spurs have to spend after signing Splitter. If Splitter commands the entire MLE, the Spurs are limited to the lower level and vet minimum contracts. These, and sign and trade options.
Who’s available at these prices?
Dorell Wright – Of all the small forward options, Wright is the most intriguing. Â Wright is only 24, and has steadily improved every year in the league. He has a reliable mid-range game and shoots 40% from the corners. And Wright not only has good size (6’9”) for a defender, he applies himself to one-on-one assignments. Wright is capable of guarding 2s, 3s, and small ball 4s. By one account, Wright had the 17th best APM in the league last season. How could the Spurs afford such a promising player? In short, Wright was not the best citizen last year, and there are concerns about his character. The Spurs would have to take a risk on a player who may be a bad fit in the locker room.
James Jones – Jones is another thought-provoking option. Unlike Wright, Jones is known for his great locker room presence. He doesn’t have nearly the upside of Wright, but he’s a smart, efficient defender and a great shooter from the perimeter. Jones is an oft-utilized stretch four option, but he is a competent small forward. Â How much is James worth? The Spurs might be able to secure his services for the LLE.
Travis Outlaw -Travis Outlaw is likely to command more than the Spurs have to spend. In order for the Spurs to secure Outlaw, some sort of trade scenario would have to play out. Antonio McDyess for Outlaw makes financial sense, but it’s a solution that creates another problem–the Spurs gain depth at the wing while losing depth in the frontcourt. A sign and trade swap of Jefferson for Outlaw is conceivable. Whatever the case, signing Outlaw requires creativity. But the payoff is there. Outlaw, much like Jones and Wright, is a good defender. And he’s excellent from the corners.
Matt Barnes – Barnes is a fan favorite, but I’m not entirely sure why. He’s a tough defender, but lacks good size for a small forward and is a mediocre three point shooter. Plus, Barnes is probably seeking more money than the Spurs can pay, making him a difficult get apart from a trade. To my mind, Barnes is Keith Bogans with more offense. The Spurs can do better.
Ryan Gomes – Gomes is an under-the-radar option, but a very solid option nonetheless. Like Dorell Wright, Gomes is young and improving. He’s a smart defender, but not a Â defensive ace. I studied his game using Synergy and came away with the distinct conviction that Gomes is laterally slow against quick wings, but intelligent enough to make up for his shortcomings. And his strong base allows him to play effective defense against smaller power forwards. Â On the other end, Gomes is a terrific offensive fit for the Spurs. His midrange and corner game couldn’t be better suited for San Antonio’s offense. And in terms of the locker room, Gomes is all San Antonio. Â Ben Polk recently wrote an appreciation of Gomes that details his locker room value.
Ronnie Brewer – Ronnie Brewer can’t shoot. He’s not even Bruce Bowen good. Can. Not. Shoot. But he’s the best man defender of all the available free agent options, just nudging Wright for that honor. If the Spurs must sign a player who is only a defender or a shooter, Brewer addresses the team’s defensive concerns.
Kyle Korver – Korver is Ronnie Brewer in reverse. Can. Not. Defend. But Korver is the best pure shooter available in free agency. Lights out.
Tracy McGrady – And now for something completely different. McGrady is a gigantic risk, and is, at this point, an average defender and shooter. Perhaps worse. But he has great court vision and is tremendous passer. Remember how Brent Barry used to energize the Spurs’ offense by providing ball handling and ball movement? Tracy McGrady would add that, minus Barry’s dead-eye accuracy. McGrady is worth a look if he’s willing to sign for the veteran minimum. Otherwise, the Spurs should pass.