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.

The Cap
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 Roster(s)

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.  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.  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.  Included in this list may be past picks such as Hairston and Gist.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.

  • Jaceman

    Great post. Keep up the great work. As a question, who do you think you could land for your expiring contracts and who would you be willing to part with? The obvious answers would probably be Bowen and Oberto. I’m actually not opposed to trading Mason, Thomas, and/or Bonner if that lands us a good solid guy. I can’t really think of anyone that teams would be willing to dump for money though, except maybe Richard Jefferson or Jamal Crawford or something. Do you think they’d be worth it? I posted this on my last post at Poor Man’s GM, but do you think taking on a bad contract for a solid young guy would be worth it? For example, taking Jared Jeffries’s contract for getting Wilson Chandler?

  • Greg

    The more I think about 2010, the more I’m convinced that bringing in a player now to help Duncan and the Spurs win is the best option. Because if we wait for 2010, how certain are we that someone is going to want to come play in a smaller market? Most of the free agents are coming from smaller markets and want the allure of a bigger market. So trying to get someone this season I think is a better idea.

    I’ve seen Richard Jefferson’s name come up a few times. Is there real interest there or is it just a rumor? I haven’t checked the numbers, so I’m not quite sure what kind of salary he would bring.

    I am a huge UNC fan, so I watched Danny Green all season and like what he brings. He’s tough and athletic and can score. He loses focus from time to time, so I’m not sure how he and Pop would mesh, but he is a good talent. Anybody who really followed the Tarheels knows that he was one of the main barometers of the team’s success. If he was having a good game, the team usually did well.

    And just because I’m a UNC homer, any thoughts on Wayne Ellington? I know he’s only 6’4″, but he’s a lights out shooter. He’d definitely open up the floor because of his shooting touch, but he also is able to put the ball on the floor and create. And with how many open looks our 3 point shooters get, I think he could thrive.

    Again, love the blog and can’t wait to keep reading all your updates throughout the offseason!

  • Jaceman

    Only reason I’d be opposed to Richard Jefferson is that he makes $13-14 M, that money can be much better spent.

  • Joe

    Great posts, as always, guys! Since some of these other comments are also about players we could trade for, I’ll throw this out there, too. How about another FA name that people haven’t talked much about — Andy Varejao. Is it a given that Cleveland can resign him? The last round of contract negotiations he went through with Ferry left him very upset, and at the time he vowed he wouldn’t resign with them for his next deal. He’s not a franchise player, but his D and athleticism are the types of skills that the Spurs desperately need, right? He’s also much younger than other big-contract trade possibilities like Carter or RJ who would hamper the Spurs’ long-term cap flexibility. Is it conceivable that the Spurs could work out some sort of sign-and-trade for him if he’s determined to get out of Cleveland (perhaps a couple of the Spurs prospects — Mahinmi, Splitter, Hill, etc. — coupled with their non-guaranteed contracts with Oberto & Bowen)? Thanks!

  • Francis

    If there is a way for the Spurs to get him at the tail end of the first round, I’d love to see them grab Jrue Holiday. That guy has a lot to learn, but he was amazing every time I saw him play in AAU circuits two years ago. At UCLA, he was stuck behind Collison, but that team was at its most dynamic with Holiday on the break. I know George Hill has proven to be a very strong bench player, but I actually liked the Parker-Hill backcourt at times; if nothing else, it’s a huge improvement over that Parker-Finley backcourt. Holiday is a couple years away from contributing, but I think he’s a top-10 talent who just came out a year too early.

    Marcus Thornton, a 6-3ish guard from LSU, would be an interesting pick with that first 2nd round pick. I flew to Greensboro NC for the first round of the NCAAs this year, and I was Thornton first destroy Butler, and then go punch-for-punch with UNC and Ty Lawson. Gutsy shot-maker, terrific ball-handler… not much of a passer (barely over 1-1 AST/TO ratio) but what impresses me the most is that he was the go-to-guy on a mediocre LSU team, scored 20+ ppg, yet managed to shoot 47% from the field.

    Finally, Dionte Christmas from Temple would be a nice 2nd round pick also. He’s got serious offensive game, and came shoot NBA range threes. Plus, the George Hill Experience may militate in favor of taking an experienced college player.

    Let me go off on a tangent about Greg’s UNC questions. Greg, let me admit that as a Duke alum, I’m none to fond of Tarheels. That being said, I think Ellington showed a lot of game in the ACC and NCAA Tourneys, especialy when Lawson was out. Until that point, I wasn’t sure if he had any off-the-dribble game, but he clearly has shown a lot of potential in creating his own shot (although shots for others, not so much). I like Ellington a lot (hey, I watched JJ Redick start last night and outplay Ray Allen… and Ellington is twice the athlete and almost as good a shooter as Redick). As for Green, his atrocious shooting in the ACC tourney sunk UNC, as much as the Lawson injury. I like the idea of Green, as a long, athletic guy, but he seemed so inconsistent. Looking at that UNC roster, he was totally expendable to me. He doesn’t use his size as an advantage defensively; I watched the unathletic Duke guards (Scheyer/Paulus) blow by him enough times to feel like he isn’t a great defender.

  • Joe

    Another thought — I wonder how much 3 second-round picks are worth to another team that is having financial problems in such a bad economy. Maybe assuming that they would only net a late 1st-round pick in return is setting the bar too low. It would at least be worthwhile for the Spurs to talk to teams like the Warriors, Bucks, Nets, and Suns (assuming none of them land a top-3 pick) to see if they would be willing to part with a top-14 pick just to avoid the guaranteed contract that comes with it. If any of those teams really are determined to cut payroll, jetisoning a 1st-round pick would be easier for fans to swallow than just dumping a decent player who has proven value. Who knows — maybe it’s not out of the question that they might luck into a player with the outside potential of becoming a legit 3rd scorer in a couple of years, like Stephen Curry, Gerald Henderson, or James Johnson.

  • Jaceman

    I think I’d be leery of Varejao because he was not able to reach an agreement with Danny Ferry. While Varejao does add a lot to the floor, he currently makes $5.7 M, and honestly, I think he would only opt out if he thought he deserved more. I’d rather try to trade for Ronny Turiaf if that’s the case.

  • Dave J

    Any chance Victoria, Spain can’t secure a new sponsor (in this bad economy) and can’t pay Splitter, thus voiding his contract and making him available for next season?

  • Kevin

    Not to throw cold water on the situation, as the draft talk is exciting…

    But when we start talking about all the possibilities the Spurs have in front of them, do any of us actually expect for San Antonio to make any dramatic or interesting moves?? The most exciting pursuits of big name players I can remember involved this last trading deadline and our pursuit of JKidd a couple years ago… neither of which produced any excitement in the end. My prediction: we go into next season with basically the same team we had this year (only with a healthy Manu). That’s a good team and all, but somehow I feel like I’m letting 48MoH get me too excited for strategies that won’t develop…

    Y’alls thoughts?

  • Timothy Varner


    Let us excite you….

    No, in all seriousness I think the Spurs have no choice but to shake things up this summer. The only question is whether we’ll see fireworks or a glass of soda fizz over.

  • Timothy Varner

    Very little chance. They’ll get their sponsor. Tiago Splitter is a 2010 proposition.

  • Dux

    Hey Tim,

    Great post about the draft. I’m a big fan of the site. I was wondering what your take on Damion James from Texas is. Some of the mock drafts I’ve seen have him in the late first round and early second round, around pick 37 for the spurs. He seems to have all the physical tools to play SF in the league, but I’m not sure if he ever had the proper coaching to play the position to the best of his ability. Either way, he seems like an intriguing prospect, especially if the Spurs need a slasher wing.

  • Greg

    Kevin, I think I feel the same way you do. It’s so much fun to think of all the possibilities facing the Spurs this offseason, but deep down I have a feeling that nothing major will happen. I hope we’re wrong and the Spurs do make some major moves, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they won’t.

    I know I’ve seen Ariza’s name on here a few times, but I was doing a little reading and saw he only hits about 30% of his 3’s, and as Bill Simmons points out, most of his shots are wide open, making that percentage even lower. I know he brings length and athleticism, but with Pop’s fascination of 3’s, do we want someone who shoots that poorly?

  • Jaceman


    I understand your concern with 3pt %age, and I don’t know about Pop, but I think it’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for the sake of defense.

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