The Spurs/Toros Conundrum
When the Spurs signed Keith Bogans, my mind immediately turned to a recent Spurs.com video.Â In that video George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Malik Hairston, Marcus Williams, Jack McClinton and James Gist visit a San Antonio-area food bank. As our readers know, Hill, Blair, Hairston and Williams are under contract with the Spurs. It’s presumed that Jack McClinton and James Gist will attend Spurs training camp, and, along with Curtis Jerrells, they could be afforded an opportunity to play for the Austin Toros this season.
The signing of Keith Bogans, while a neat, tight fit in some ways, would seem to push either Malik Hairston or Marcus Williams off the team. The current depth chart, including training camp invitations, looks like this:
SG: Mason Jr./Ginobili/Finley/McClinton
Technically, the Spurs could add one more player for camp, but the aforementioned roster is a competitive mix.
The problem, if that’s the right word, is that the Spurs own a D-League team for the express purpose of developing players.Â 36 hours ago, Malik Hairston and Marcus Williams were coming into the season as the first fruits of the Toros project.Â Their probable inclusion on the roster was a surefire sign to fans that what happens in Austin matters, and that supporting the development of Toros players was an increasingly important aspect of following the Spurs.
I should be careful. The signing of Keith Bogans does not do great violence to the Toros’ place in the Spurs’ program. Far from it. The Spurs are still likely to begin the regular season with two former Toros projects on roster. And, honestly, two is a significant number. But the Hairston-Williams-Mahinmi hat-trick would have amounted to a heard-above-the-crowd statement from the Spurs to fans and future players alike. It was a statement that said, “The Toros are not a tease. They’re an indispensable part of what we do.”
My mind goes back to that food bank video: James Gist and Jack McClinton participated alongside four would-be Spurs, everyone in Spurs gear with a team of videographers and PR people in tow. The Spurs are including all six players in their community outreach; Gist and McClinton, despite their long odds of making the roster, are treated as part of the family. How do you think they view the current contracts of Hairston and Williams, two players who are not far removed from the situations of Gist and McClinton? I suspect they see Hairston and Williams as figures of hope.Â The sort of hope that’s important to attracting talented players to a still developing farm team. The sort of talent that helps at the gate.
My point is this: the Spurs’ use of the Toros is not a stunt. Relative to the D-League, it’s a premier program that helps fringe NBA players–think Pops Mensah-Bonsu and DeMarcus Nelson–secure contracts with NBA teams. The Spurs’ commitment to Hairston and Williams vis-a-vis Austin provides incentive for future Spurs second round draft picks to stick it out within San Antonio’s program. It provides incentive for players like James Gist and Jack McClinton to stay in Texas once their inevitable training camp release arrives. And while accepting a tour of duty for the Toros is not a solemn pledge to a player likeÂ James Gist that he’ll eventually become a Spur, the cases of Williams and Hairston certainly suggest that it helps one’s chances. Combine this with a competitive team, excellent coaching and player development, and the Toros are an attractive destination for NBA hopefuls.
But now, with Keith Bogans in the fold, Malik Hairston and Marcus Williams must wonder what lies ahead. James Gist and Jack McClinton might get the impression that former Toros are merely pawns in the Spurs’ game. Gist and McClinton might look a little more closely at opportunities in Europe. The Spurs’ ambitions with the Toros and their commitment to winning creates a strange political brew. It’s part of the process of mapping out a successful model for D-League success, but it’s not always kind.
Am I saying the Spurs made a mistake by signing Bogans? No. Not at all. The team’s commitment to winning NBAÂ championship far exceeds their commitment to building a D-League juggernaut. If Bogans is more of a help towards that end than, say, Malik Hairston, then the Spurs are right to sign him. Still, I wish there were some third way. And maybe there is.
This year’s training camp cuts will prove difficult for Gregg Popovich. I’m curious to see which direction the ax falls. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the initial Bogans report, but part of me wonders if his contract is actually guaranteed. Reports of contracts specifics, at least in San Antonio, almost always originate from agents. The Spurs keep quiet.
As someone who chronicles the team, and taking into account the near-camp timing of this signing, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Bogans was in fact playing his way onto to the team with a make-good. This is nothing more than the conjecture of a pundit, but bringing in a veteran free agent is, in part, an excellent way to measure the games of Hairston and Williams.Â It’s a no nonsense way of saying, “Look we like you, but you’ve gotta bring your best if you’re gonna stick with the team.” Last season the Spurs signed Salim Stoudamire at this time, and his deal was not guaranteed.
Of course, there is another aspect of this to consider. And again, it suggests to me that Bogans makes more sense on a make-good contract. Even without Hairston or Williams, the Spurs still have too much going on in their backcourt rotation. There are too many players and not enough minutes. Is Bogans being brought into camp to put pressure on Michael Finley? If Bogans outperforms Finley, would the Spurs be willing to move him? As hard as this is to imagine–Michael Finley exudes the sort of professionalism the Spurs treasure–it’s possible that the Spurs are open-minded to parting ways with someone other than a former Toro.Â Given the current age and trajectory of the team, moving forward without the rotation of yesteryear makes sense.
At any rate, this is shaping up as the most intriguing training camp of the Tim Duncan era.
Update: So much for conjecture. Jeff McDonald spoke with Bogans’ agent and is reporting that his contract is fully guaranteed. Although Joel, a 48MoH reader, left a worthwhile reminder in the comments beneath this post: “It sounds like Bogans signed for the veteran minimum, which means the Spurs only have to pick up…$825k even if the whole year is guaranteed, the rest is paid by the league…If somebody else outplays him at training camp itâ€™s not a big deal to cut him.”