The San Antonio Spurs in the Trade Machine

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It’s silly to think about potential Spurs trade scenarios, but, hey, it sounded like a fun exercise. It always sounds like a fun exercise. This is the problem of being raised on Bill Simmons.

So here we go: needs, assets, trade partners and best case scenarios.  Don’t hate me. I know 38-7 record is not indicative of a personnel crisis.  The Spurs are good. I get it. But it’s almost February and an NBA blogger has very little choice.

The Spurs’ two most deficient areas are interior defense and lack of a lockdown perimeter defender.  Last Friday night, Tim Duncan played like he was 25 again, dropping 21 points, 16 boards, eight assists and five blocks on the Knicks. And he was a largely responsible for limiting Amare Stoudemire to 8-25 shooting. But he’s not like that every night. Antonio McDyess has actually been San Antonio’s best interior defender this season. DeJuan Blair is energetic with quick hands, but he’s still a 6’7” center. Matt Bonner is Matt Bonner. And Matt Bonner is Matt Bonner with a bruised knee. Tiago Splitter’s recent push is still an exotic fruit.

The Spurs typically play George Hill on the opposing team’s best perimeter player, and when that player happens to be Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant, the mismatch is obvious. The Spurs don’t really have the option of going to the bench for a defensive wing. But if the Spurs were able to secure such a player, Gregg Popovich could find minutes for him.

The Spurs are short on assets. San Antonio’s current rotation is playing so well that it’s difficult to imagine the Spurs parting with any of its members, even Matt Bonner or Gary Neal. In other words, San Antonio’s assets are Chris Quin ($804,000), draft picks and, perhaps, Tiago Splitter and James Anderson. Splitter and Anderson are young and talented. It’s difficult to imagine San Antonio parting with either, but let’s return to the possibility in a moment, if only for the sake of argument. Essentially, the question is what could the Spurs get back for, say, Tiago Splitter and a draft pick? Or some such configuration of player(s) and pick(s).

The most likely scenario, at least it seems to me, is combining Chris Quinn with a draft pick.  This option preserves San Antonio’s rotation and doesn’t sacrifice young players in the Spurs’ pursuit of a 5th championship. There is also this, and it’s not a small thing. With the possibility of a player lockout looming over the league, it’s likely that the upcoming draft class will suffer from an inordinately high number of prospect withdrawals.  If there was ever a year for the Spurs to part with a draft pick, this is it. Couple the lockout situation with their current record, and it’s not hard to imagine San Antonio packing their late round pick with a player.

The problem, of course, is that San Antonio can only deal Quinn for a player whose salary is within 20% of Quinn’s. This dramatically reduces the list of plausible returns to, in my estimation, four players: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Bill Walker, Donte Greene and Tracy McGrady.  Let’s take them one by one.

Mbah a Moute is not Bruce Bowen, but he might be the closet thing to Bowen available to the Spurs. It’s also doubtful that Chris Quinn and a late first round would appeal to Milwaukee. Mbah a Moute is averaging nearly 25 minutes a game and can legitimately guard four positions. Still, it’s worth a phone call. In truth, Mbah a Moute is playing more than he should because of a Carlos Delfino injury. And while Milwaukee is competitive, they’re nowhere near championship contention. Rolling the dice on a draft pick might serve Milwaukee’s future interests better than naively building around an end of the rotation player. In a private e-mail, our Scott Sereday put it like this:

[Mbah a Moute] seems to be moderately above average, but has regressed offensively. The average late first rounder would be a below average player, so we would expect Luc to be better than the average draft pick.

For a rebuilding team, the uncertainty of the value of a draft pick might lend to more expected championships, but for the Spurs the opposite effect is true… their window is now and even modest improvements could have a noticeable impact of the number of championships we expect from them.

I don’t think this is worthwhile for the Bucks unless they are giving up on being competitive, but I would say it is definitely worthwhile for the Spurs. He also seems to be a good fit for the Spurs as long as he doesn’t eat up Ginobili’s minutes too much like Bowen did at times.

Remember Manu Ginobili’s remarkable buzzer-beating step-back jumper that propelled San Antonio past Milwaukee earlier this season? Go back and watch it again. Amazing shot, right? But, whoa, check out the defense from Mbah a Moute. Ginobili pulled a move that would shake 95% of the league’s defenders but Mbah a Moute is right there. He’s a tremendous defender.

Bill Walker. This will take less time. Walker is an interesting reserve guard. He has range (.419 3P%) and some ability to finish at the rim. He’s far more promising than Chris Quinn and NY is desirous of acquiring first round draft picks. But is it worth giving up a draft pick for a player who duplicates James Anderson?

Donte Greene is only averaging 17 minutes per game and can’t find a spot in Paul Westphal’s rotation. At 6’11” he has unique size for a position — this would give the Spurs’ offense a wrinkle they’ve never really had before. Greene could develop into a solid defender, and he’s only 22. But Greene is a lousy shooter (hello, Chip Engelland) and would not help the Spurs at all this season. So why put him on this list? In short, he’s probably better than anything the Spurs will find with their 2011 draft pick, and at 22 he’s basically the same age as anyone they might draft.  What’s Sacramento’s interest? Here’s how John Hollinger described Greene in his preseason scouting report:

Greene remains a dreadful ballhandler and tries to do too much with the ball. In one game against Houston he suffered three straight turnovers on dribble drives; for the season he ranked 63rd out of 67 small forwards in pure point rating.

He has a nice 3-point stroke, making 37.7 percent, and at 6-foot-11 his best hope is probably to recast himself as a floor-spacing 4. But to do that, he needs to get a board once in a while. Despite being the league’s tallest small forward, he slipped below the league average for his position in rebound rate.

In short, with Omri Casspi on board, Sacramento might cut their losses with Greene and try their hand at getting lucky in the draft.

Greene is due $1.6 million next season.

When I began writing this post, Tracy McGrady was the least appealing player to make my short list. But after some thought, he’s probably San Antonio’s best trade option. I suspect Tracy McGrady will seek a trade or buyout in the coming weeks. Why? Well, to start, Detroit stinks. McGrady was only signed to a one year contract and stands little chance of resigning with the team. Basically, no one else would take him last offseason and the Pistons provided McGrady an opportunity to prove he can still play. He’s done that.

Detroit is going to lose him this summer, so they might as well seek some sort of asset for him prior to his inescapable departure. And besides, he’s been one of their best players in recent weeks. Do you really want Tracy McGrady reducing your odds in the draft lottery?

McGrady is averaging 21 minutes per game, can play at 1, 2, or 3 and is a decent 3-point shooter. From the Spurs’ perspective, he’d fit their system a little like Brent Barry, minus the dead-eye shooting. That is, he’s provides San Antonio with another ballhandler and distributor — McGrady has always been one of the best passing wings in the NBA. Occasionally he can get hot and go for 20, which would force opposing teams to account for yet another San Antonio scoring option.

McGrady’s splits indicate that he performs best after two and three days rest. In another words, a playoff schedule would suit his body well.

As things stand, San Antonio’s depth chart features rookies James Anderson and Larry Owens behind Richard Jefferson. Neither player is likely to help San Antonio in the playoffs. The Spurs may need only 10 minutes from such a player, which, given the opportunity to win a championship, could suit McGrady just fine.

So here’s the question: should the Spurs simply wait to see if McGrady requests a buyout? I’d rather San Antonio just offer up Chris Quinn and a second round draft pick. If McGrady is bought out, San Antonio will have to contend with Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Orlando for his services.

Returning to the option of trading Tiago Splitter and/or James Anderson, I don’t see much motivation for the Spurs to give up their young talent. Perhaps it’s a failure of my imagination, but I don’t see many trade scenarios which help the Spurs. Players in whom the Spurs would have an interest — Nico Batum, for example — are not said to be available. Some other players — Omri Casspi — could be available, but the exchange of parts doesn’t make good financial or basketball sense.  Denver is the wildcard. If Denver/NY/whomever needs a third team to facilitate some sort of Carmelo Anthony trade,  Denver might be interested in taking Splitter and a first round pick from the Spurs while the Spurs receive player(s) from another partner. But of course San Antonio would have to bring back some kind of impressive haul to even get in on the conversation.

And if you’re thinking Wilson Chandler, remember he is a restricted free agent after the season. Maybe something like that would work, but the Spurs are not exactly rolling in cap space.

And so on.

Perhaps the Spurs’ best option is the one we haven’t really discussed: waiting.

Who knows which players will receive buyouts just after the trade deadline? (Troy Murphy? McGrady?) The Spurs can find a player for the end of their bench from that list of castaways, and it won’t cost them anything.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Daniel T
    Nice trade Sr….. + 100

  • Titletown99030507

    @DanielT, having said that about Scola and Splitter then wouldn’t you think when Splitter has his own time to the court in the coming year or years he’ll be the player the FO knows he is just for the fact that Timmy and Dyess will be playing less or gone. In other words more time to shine just like when Scola left Splitter racked up the MVP and became a superstar. I don’t know if giving up on Splitter just yet is a smart thing to do. Look what happened to RJ coming to Pop’s system. And now RJ 2.0. a year later – way better than last year and he’s an NBA veteran. This is Splitter’s first year in the association he need’s this one year just like everyone that has come thru here that’s not named Tim Duncan, or David Robinson.

  • Titletown99030507

    @Hobson13, If Dyess were to go down for a month I would concentrate on giving Splitter that opportunity. 10-12 games at 25 min or more in a stretch would make him a better player.

  • Daniel T

    Titletown99030507:

    I don’t necessarily see trading him as giving up on him as it is getting value in return. He and Neal are two 26 year old rookies, neither of whom has yet to start a game. Hill’s a 24 year old veteran who has had 50 starts. Chandler and Lawson are 23, Randolph is 21, they’re all veterans and have started over 300 games between them.

    Tough to trade away three young Spurs, but you get back three even younger and more veteran players in return. I think Lawson would be a better ball handler that could fill in for Tony without needing Manu in to run the offense. With Chandler in as a SF at 6’8″ Anderson can move to SG. Either Chandler or RJ could be the starter, but Chandler would be a much better option playing the 4 in small ball.

    If it were just Randolph vs Tiago I’d stick to Tiago for now, but it looks like Tiago will be another year or two before he makes a substantial contribution and he’d be at least 27 by then. Randolph is only 21.

    I see the Spurs improving for both now and the future at PG and SF, and with Anderson coming back at SG might likely be better at that position as well (vs Anderson continuing at SF).

  • ryo

    Donte would be a nice pickup for SA but I would hate to see him go.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Daniel T

    I agree with you about the trade but let me add. That Tiago Splitter was suppose to average 12 and 6 by all accounts this year…. That’s what all the smart people said. That he was a NBA ready player. Well looking at it now he may NEVER average 12 and 6 in a season, and he surely doesn’t look like he will next year. So having said that – I would swap him for a 1st rounder draft pick and cash if someone offered it. He needs 25+ minutes a game to become half of what people hope he can. And if he is getting that much burn, your team is either really good and winning w/o him, or they suck and are in the lottery for young talent. So i say cut bait….. and get someone who can either help you this or next year…… Or at very least get a YOUNG player 22 or younger to rebuild around. Splitter doesn’t fit either category……

  • rob

    Splitter definately would fit better in a more offensive focussed system that could use his only decent talent at this point. The only problem I would see in NY is that he’s too slow to run the court in that fast paced system.

    Splitter is a quagmire of talent offset by a bevy of under developed to non existing skills that contradict his ability to be useful at this point.

    As mentioned before by others…at 27…could (will) he ever develop other aspects of a post game that would quantify him playing significant minutes for any team in the nba?

    My guess is the Spurs spend the time to see if they can develop those traits in Tiago. They (the Spurs) are known for working with their players in trying to develop them into, in the least, dependable players. Sticking with who they draft in these kind of situations to almost a fault.

    I’ve contradicted myself many times in looking into different trade scenarios. Some focussing on just getting post help for this season to abandoning that all together and getting solid wing help so the Spurs could solely focuss on getting a solid post player via free agency in the off season.

    What would help the most in securing the Spurs another title this year just may hurt their chances in future years. But I think it can be honestly said that if the goal is to get at least one more title while Duncan is on the team…the Spurs would need to bring in (rent) another (key word) “PROVEN” post player. In order to do that the team would have to give away some of it’s young athletic guards.

    I must say that I do think Randolph is talent in the waiting but not “Proven” enough to give away Two of our solid perimeter players.

  • rob

    whoops. Hit send before I finished.

    The trade scenario that Daniel T submitted would seem to qualify the needs/wants of all teams involved. If anything Chandler and Lawson do make the Spurs solid in the backcourt and Randolph just might prove to excell in the Spurs system. If he doesn’t…his salary doesn’t kill the Spurs chances to pursuing a proven big man in the offseason.