Stock Market crash: Sifting through the Spurs trade assets
Finality; the San Antonio Spurs have been written off before but the Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies had the feel of goodbye. It would appear the Spurs gave their best punch (61 wins) and still fell well short of an elusive fifth NBA championship.
If not completely dead yet, the Tim Duncan era is in the terminal stages of old age. The question is whether or not to sign off on a DNR. Kidneys, livers, hips and knees; tricky operations all, but ultimately replaceable. The grey matter that makes everything go, the brains behind it all, is a different story.
Tim Duncan is that system. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are the heart and lungs. Together the three will never function as they once did, but is what’s left enough to justify switching out a few more organs and joints?
Over the past year the front office made a commitment to the core of this team, extending Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to remain with the Spurs through the rest of Tim Duncan’s NBA life. Richard Jefferson was given an extension in exchange for providing the Spurs the financial flexibility to go on this last run (61 wins aren’t cheap after all).
At this point the Spurs are still vital enough that an end blow would still be more Dr. Kevorkian than pulling the plug. What is apparent is the Spurs need an infusion of something. Capable as his hands are, R.C. Buford does not exactly have much to work with — the 29th pick in a weak draft and whatever salary exceptions might remain post lockout.
That leaves the trade market as the best means through which to acquire talent. But before looking to what can be acquired, we must first look to what assets the Spurs have.
The Big Three
In a future not as distant as those associate with the San Antonio Spurs organization would like, the numbers of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker will hang in the rafters of the AT&T Center. But will either of them wear another jersey before then?
Short of the sort of sweetheart deal that ended the Spurs, or taking advantage of a team with a disgruntled superstar, it will be near impossible to returning equal value for any of the three in a trade. Should the Spurs opt to move one then the onus on the front office will be to remove them all. Any combination of the two is likely good enough with this roster to compete for at least the eighth seed, keeping the Spurs out of the deep lottery that would get them out of mediocrity hell.
Tim Duncan: The NBA is, first and foremost, a business. But exceptions exist to every rule and Tim Duncan is that rare exception. Duncan — age and production be damned — is the Spurs. Due diligence requires the front office to take phone calls, but unless LeBron James, Dwight Howard, or Kevin Durant are on the other end (the exception to Duncan’s exception) then it’s not worth selling the franchise’s soul.
From a basketball value standpoint Duncan’s production falls well short of his contract. But he remains the rare expiring contract that retains significant basketball value. Realistically there is no equal return for Duncan, sentimentally or systematically.
Manu Ginobili: Manu Ginobili appears to be the second best player on a championship team capable in brief spurts of being the best player on a championship team. The problem for the Spurs over the past few seasons is aligning those spurts of near-MVP play with the playoffs. The trouble with trading Manu is two-fold. One, he legitimizes anything the Spurs would hope to do competitively the next two seasons. Two, he’s old.
Turning 34 to be exact. And while still productive Ginobili is the sort of gamble a team with immediate championship aspirations might take. The problem is any team with immediate NBA championship aspirations is not likely to gut their roster enough to make it worth a move, except for James Dolan (who already went all in). The contract extension was the right move for the Spurs. And a good one. The length and cash likely make it untouchable though.
This is also where the basketball as a business point is turned on its head. The Spurs are a small market team that needs to fill seats. Ginobili is the biggest draw. What sounds reasonable in the blogs is not necessarily viewed similarly at the gate.
Tony Parker: The lone member of the Spurs core still in the middle of his prime, Tony Parker is the most likely of the Big Three to be moved because he’s the one with the most good years ahead of him. On the flip side, he’s the one with the most good years ahead of him.
In Utah Derron Williams netted the Jazz a talented project in Derrick Favors and multiple draft picks. Tony Parker is not Derron Williams. Any first round picks are likely to be of the mid-to-late variety. Given a three-guard rotation of George Hill, Gary Neal, and Manu Ginobili, Parker might be expendable. But the return would have to be for an impact starter just short of his level and depth.
A decade of building around Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker with nothing more than spare parts and late first round picks has left the cupboard pretty barren in terms of trade value. The few young assets with potential are on rookie contracts that cannot return equal value and the veterans not enticing enough to merit anything in return that wouldn’t merely be rearranging chairs.
George Hill: George Hill is the San Antonio Spurs most promising young player, but his ceiling screams role player on a playoff team. Hill is the Spurs fourth best player who unfortunately plays the same position as its best two players.
If the Spurs are to get an impact player it likely would have to come at the expense of Hill. Given the lack of perimeter defense, unless the return is a two-way starting quality small forward a move would not be advisable. Because he is currently on his rookie contract, Hill would have to be packaged with Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner, or Antonio McDyess to make the numbers work.
DeJuan Blair: DeJuan Blair still has the same knees that kept him out of the first round. He still has the same height and weight issues. Two years into his career he remains a defensive liability without a true position. And while he is a great rebounder with some special abilities he’s not likely to return an athletic, defensive minded power forward. Or a small forward.
The Spurs showcased Blair’s talents in the starting lineup until shortly after the trade deadline. His value is not likely to grow much higher. And yet no matter how great he is at his skill set (rebounding), undersized rebounding is among the easiest and cheapest skill sets to find in the league.
If Blair is the price to pay for getting someone to bite on a bigger contract it might be worth it. But in terms of getting back a better player? The Spurs are probably better served hoping he develops.
Gary Neal: Currently part of the solution as opposed to the problem. Too good a value to give up.
Matt Bonner: Criticize Bonner for his performance if you wish, but Bonner remains one of the few valuable trade chips the Spurs have: a viable (if overused) rotation player on a reasonable (under the current CBA) contract. On his own he is not enough to fetch anything but he is a good piece to package with underpaid young talent or draft picks to make the numbers work as part of a bigger deal.
Richard Jefferson: The Spurs gave Richard Jefferson a contract extension so he would opt out of his previous cap killer. It probably enabled the Spurs to workout extensions for Parker and Ginobili, as well as bringing in Tiago Splitter. That extension is also hanging like an albatross around their financial necks. Chances are the Spurs will try to move Jefferson, but if there is a trade to be made understand it might take dangling draft picks and younger talent. Also, you’re really just trading your problem for someone else’s problem and hoping that problem fits in well enough to go from bad to liveable.
At best such a move is extremely shortsighted (The Charlotte Bobcats trading for Stephen Jackson for a lone playoff push), at worst highly combustible (Gilbert Arenas and the Orlando Magic).
Antonio McDyess: The last round of expiring contracts were not as valuable as teams wielding them may have hoped (see Dampier, Erik). What value they will hold under a new CBA remains to be seen, but a retiring McDyess on a partially guaranteed contract could be a useful part of a bigger deal.
McDyess signed a similar deal to the one the Spurs gave Bruce Bowen in the same summer they used Bowen’s only partially guaranteed contract to acquire Richard Jefferson.
Tiago Splitter: This time next year Tiago Splitter might be the Spurs best defensive big man. Players of his size and ability don’t come as cheap as he is currently signed for (see Petro, Johan). The intrigue might be there from potential suitors, but it’s probably too early to pull a trigger unless a perfect opportunity presents itself.
James Anderson leads a group of training camp bodies and end of the bench players (Steve Novak, Chris Quinn, and Danny Green) who are too young and unproven to hold any trade value currently, or simply have none at all.
The problem with acquiring players that only make sense on contending teams is when it comes time to trade them in those pieces only make sense for contending teams. It is possible for the Spurs to move some players around, but if the aim is to start anew realize it’s not lottery picks that are coming back.
If the goal is to try and make one more push then, as Popovich said would be the case, don’t expect many changes to the roster.