The Draft: Preliminary Thoughts
The Spurs have 3 second round selections in the 2009 draft, number 37, 51 and 53. Most of us would agree that their position of greatest need is small forward. So in the initial weeks of our draft discussions, I’m going to focus more heavily on that position. But honestly, I’m pretty excited about this draft. I’ll get to the players in subsequent posts, but for now I want lay out a few things to keep in mind.
As we discussed yesterday, the luxury tax threshold is likely to impose a hard cap on the Spurs. This is important because the Spurs will only have so much money to pay rookies, even on second round contracts. If they use their MLE on an established veteran or two, they’re right against the tax line. Obviously, this impacts the number of rookies they’ll want to include on next season’s roster.
Also bear in mind that a late first round pick won’t hurt the Spurs much more than a second round pick. Even though the cap is tight, it’s not inconceivable that the Spurs would move into the 20s to get a guy they really like. So they’re not locked into the second round, but they have little wiggle room outside of it.
The Spurs had 2 second round draft picks last season. The year before that, they selected Marcus Williams in the second round. This is instructive.Â Those three picks (Marcus Williams, Malik Hairston and James Gist) are still in the Spurs conversation, albeit in a let’s-see-what-he-can-do-in-training-camp sort of way. Williams is currently under contract. Hairston was under contract until the end of the season, and willingly returned to the Toros after being cut. James Gist played in Italy because of an arrangement between Angelico Biella and the Spurs.Â My point? The Spurs draft with the San Antonio and Austin rosters in mind. They know that it’s not a make the team in training camp or bust situation for their second round draft picks. If a kid is close, but not quite there, they’ll offer him an allocation to Austin with a real shot of making the team at some future point. Consider that Marcus Williams was with the Spurs vis-a-vis Austin for the better part of two years. And his strong play afforded him several 10-Day contracts. A D-League player makes more money on a 10-Day than he does for his entire season of minor league work. Williams should not be hurting for a paycheck.
Because of the Toros, I would not be surprised to see the Spurs go into next season with 13 or 14 players on roster, leaving a roster spot or two available for one of their second round draft picks if he were to breakout in D-League play.Â Included in this list may be past picks such as Hairston and Gist.Â Next season’s Toros squad should be interesting.
Having made this point about the Toros, let me say that cap and roster considerations could force the Spurs into draft and stash scenarios. Under this scheme, the Spurs would try for the best international player available and then let him develop in Europe. They’ll bring him over if and when he proves his worth, and when they can afford to pay him.
The Trade Market
There is good reason to believe the Spurs will seek to package their expiring contracts for an All-Star caliber player (another team’s salary dump). If this is the case, the Spurs will be abandoning their 2010 cap strategy and placing themselves up against the tax line for the remainder of Tim Duncan’s career.Â Under such a scenario, the Spurs will need to fill out the end of their bench with inexpensive players. Again, the Austin Toros will have a big hand in shaping roster spots 10-15.
Many fans assume that the Spurs will simply trade away the picks they can’t use. I tend to think that their approach to second round picks is forever changed now that Austin is a prominent part of their program.Â Unlike past seasons when the Spurs automatically went international in the second round, they could chase a domestic player if they think he’s got a shot of making the team in January and February of 2010–you know, after his extended training camp in Austin.Â If this type of thinking is new to you, try reading the posts found here and here.
Ian Mahinmi, Tiago Splitter and Robertas Javtokas
Ian Mahinmi is essentially a rookie big for the Spurs 2009-10. No one knows what he’ll bring to table, but we do know the Spurs will provide him with minutes in order to see what he’s got. If he’s getting minutes in the frontcourt rotation, that basically excludes another young big from getting any minutes this season. Beyond this, it’s now realistic to expect the Spurs to sign Tiago Splitter next summer. Between Mahinmi and Splitter the Spurs have enough young bigs in the pipeline. I’d be surprised to see them draft a big; if they were to draft a big, they would have to see him as an absolute diamond in the rough.
I’ve included Robertas Javtokas’ name in the subhead because it’s entirely possible that the Spurs trade away the expiring contracts of Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto and Matt Bonner in a package for an All-Star caliber player. If they do this, they’ll have to be creative in the way they fill out their frontcourt. It’s at this point that Javtokas’ name could enter the conversation. But, again, it might be difficult to make the money work. But please note that I operate under the assumption that RJ will never play in the NBA even though he’d make a decent rotation player. He’s Francisco Elson with teeth. And, honestly, he’d be a help to the Spurs right now because of his ability to step away from the hoop and guard players like Dirk Nowitzki.
All Things Considered
The Spurs’ 2009 is more of an open book than you might have thought. If the Spurs trade for a wing and use their MLE on a big to help Tim Duncan, it looks like their smartest move is to draft at wing and, perhaps, to look at a draft and stash point guard.Â As I said at the top, and with all the qualifiers that followed, for the next couple weeks I’m going to concentrate mostly on small forwards projected into the second round. But understand, a lot of things are up in the air until the league establishes a tax line and the Spurs show their hand on expiring contracts. Look for forthcoming features on Omri Casspi, Vladimir Dasic, Jonas Jerebko, Sergio Llul, Nando De Colo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Danny Green and Victor Claver. If you don’t know some of those names, don’t fret. All in due time.
I’m confident the Spurs can find a wing to develop in this draft as well as a couple good prospects for the future. Despite all the talk about it being a weak draft, I’m excited about several players who should be available for the Spurs.