San Antonio Spurs: The Comprehensive Guide to the Team's Offseason
The Spurs offseason began earlier than expected Wednesday night with a 107-99 loss in Oklahoma City.
The sting of such giveaways tends not to go away. It stays on the brain and becomes the relentless pain in the butt that overextends its welcome like Randy Quaid’s character Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon's Vacation series.
The bright side: Since this pain is not a person, it will not ask to fumigate an odoriferous chair or empty an RV toilet in the street drain in front of the house.
If the Spurs fail to win another title, however, nothing will ease the piquancy of what just happened.
The logical question as San Antonio’s premature vacation commences: Where does the franchise go from here?
Here is one fan/columnist's answer to that query.
Though rooted in realities and facts, this comprehensive guide to the Spurs’ 2012 offseason—which includes the NBA Draft, free agency, the Las Vegas Summer League and the Summer Olympics—is still a guess.
Tim Duncan's Decision Will Shape Everything Else
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The franchise player’s max contract expires July 1, but ESPN does not need to commission Jim Gray or book a room at a San Antonio area Boys and Girls Club for a TV special.
If Duncan opts to keep playing, he will do so in silver and black. He made that clear to Yahoo! Sports NBA Editor Johnny Ludden.
“I’m a Spur for life,” Duncan said.
His candid remarks to Ludden should not have surprised anyone. No. 21 said his balky knees feel better than they have in years. His pick-and-roll-fueled Renaissance suggests he still has two more seasons worth of elite interior production to give.
I wrote after Game 6 that Duncan should consider retirement after enduring another crushing collapse. Read that column here.
I thought about every word I typed before publishing the bittersweet piece. I stand behind the opinions expressed in it.
He has nothing left to prove. He’s a winner and a championship human being. While he can still contribute at a title-worthy level, he will not get a better shot at a fifth ring than the one that just expired.
My advice to him is to stop the madness and focus on his post-career plans, whatever those are, and his family.
Duncan, however, did not amass four championships and a slew of All-Star, All-Defense and All-NBA selections by taking advice from a 27-year-old teacher who writes pro bono basketball blurbs in his sparse spare time.
I have no doubt that he will hang up his sneakers when he believes the time is right.
My guess: He signs for two years and $14 to $16 million.
Spurs Have a Packed Roll Call
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Excluding Duncan, nine players are under contract in some capacity through the summer of 2013. Patrick Mills has a player option on his deal, and it would behoove him to pick it up instead of testing the free agency waters.
If we assume that Duncan and Mills are back, that leaves four roster spots open.
There are two other significant contributors from the just ousted 50-win squad the front office should want to retain. I’ll get to them in later slides.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard are locked up for next season.
Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair will suit up for San Antonio, barring trades, under non-guaranteed deals.
GM R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich don’t do panic.
That essential, helpful quality should dissuade management from throwing grenades in the direction of the team’s core and seeing what happens.
While Wednesday’s loss was distressing and disheartening, keep in mind that this squad won 50 games in a truncated 66-game slate that was tougher to navigate than the middle of the Amazon Rainforest.
The Spurs secured the best record in the Western Conference despite Ginobili missing the equivalent of a month and a half.
The run to the conference finals was as improbable as it was imperial.
That will guide the organization’s thinking as it moves forward.
...And No Cap Space
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Free agent forward Nicolas Batum is not thrilled with the direction in which the Portland Trail Blazers are headed and would love to defect to San Antonio to play alongside fellow Frenchmen Boris Diaw and Parker.
Both sides have mutual interest, according to reports like this one from CSN Northwest.
Roy Hibbert worked out with Duncan last summer and considers the Big Fundamental both a mentor and a friend.
This, of course, means the Spurs will soon add a defensive-minded seven-footer and an athletic freak on the wing who is equally explosive on both ends. Right?
Not so fast, you San Antonio dreamers, you.
Including Mills’ player option, the Spurs have $49 million committed to 10 rotation cogs. While as much as $8 million in cap space plus the mid-level exception sounds like a lot to work with, re-signing Duncan will use up most of that financial flexibility.
The departure of Richard Jefferson via a deadline deal freed the front office from the burden of the lone contract worthy of amnesty expulsion.
It does not make sense to use the one-time provision on any of the current cast members.
Jettison Parker or Ginobili? Please keep such heretical ideas to yourself.
Plus, Hibbert is a restricted free agent and said he loves Indiana. Where would Batum fit on a roll call crowded with forwards?
So much for that.
Give Green His Greenbacks
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Danny Green shot a woeful percentage in the Western Conference Finals and was, at times, torched on defense.
He couldn’t slow any of his Thunder counterparts, nor could he continue the two-way difference making production that made one of the most surprising contributors on a contender in the league.
One horrendous series should not overshadow all that he did to bring the Spurs back into the championship spotlight.
He became one of the association’s most economical and versatile forwards one year after languishing in the D-League. He improved both his shooting and playmaking and delivered a constant stream of earnest defensive performances.
He’s still just 24, and his confidence and role should expand in his second year under Popovich’s tutelage.
Green’s evanescence against Oklahoma City could prove a blessing for Buford, who no longer needs to worry about any rivals overpaying for the former Tar Heel’s services.
If the Spurs can convince Green to take $3 million a year or less, they should not hesitate to extend his employment in the Alamo City.
James Anderson's San Antonio tenure has all but come to a close.
Two Spurs' Careers Travel in Opposite Directions
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Basketball players are not unlike ties.
When paired with the wrong dress shirt or suit ensemble, they can look hideous and even useless. A bright pink tie festooned with white and purple, hail-sized dots does not complement a navy blazer.
To make the ultimate understatement, it’s kind of a loud color clash.
The moment Mike D’Antoni thought Diaw was destined for greatness after a breakout campaign starting in place of an injured Amar’e Stoudemire, the 6’9” forward became the repugnant Santa Claus tie that didn’t seem to fit with any of the dress shirts in the closet.
At long last, he found a perfect match for his pass-first services in the Spurs.
He surprised many with his still-sharp defensive aptitude and craftiness around the basket.
All starting him alongside Duncan did was yield a 20-game winning streak that pushed San Antonio to the brink of a fifth championship.
Blair, the undersized forward with no ACLs, was demoted from starting center to eventual cheerleader. He became Diaw’s polar opposite in the process.
Fans clamored for Popovich to give the noted Thunder killer more minutes in the conference finals. Even after strong showings in Games 3 and 4, he remained a seldom-used reserve.
While he can grab 10 rebounds in any given game, he is an indisputable defensive liability. The only frontcourt partner that can make Blair a plus player is Duncan.
A Splitter-Blair combo eats up too much of the same territory and cannot score outside of 10 feet. A Bonner-Blair combo gets scorched and embarrassed on the defensive end. Bless their hearts.
While Diaw earned another look, Blair demonstrated beyond any doubt that his shortcomings outweigh his strengths. Two ties, one dress shirt, one recourse.
No First-Round Pick
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The Spurs surrendered their first rounder in the Jefferson-Jackson swap. It was a small, sensible price to pay for an exchange that made the squad tougher and better equipped to excel in the postseason.
What or whom were the Spurs going to get with the 30th pick anyway?
Jackson’s Rio Grande-sized testicles helped San Antonio the way Jefferson’s quiet, sheepish desire to fit in never did.
Richard was a nicer guy less likely to encounter trouble with the law.
Stephen was a better teammate more likely to drill a big shot or secure a monster defensive stop.
While it is conceivable that Buford and Popovich could shop Blair with a future pick to acquire a prospect in the first round, there isn’t much room on this roster for another youngster, unless, of course, the guy in question happens to be Duncan Pt. 2.
More "Kawow" Moments Coming
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The Spurs' biggest trump card this summer is the continued development of 20-year-old forward Kawhi Leonard.
He established himself as one of the five best rookies from the 2011 class without the benefit of a full offseason with the coaching staff, the Las Vegas Summer League or a normal training camp.
He was the most composed man on the floor when a Nick Young three-pointer put the L.A. Clippers up 24 in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. The Spurs rallied to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Not many rookies start on a team two victories away from the NBA Finals. He procured the jumpshot many scouts believed he didn’t have and figured out how to score without ever disrupting the offensive flow.
It is not a stretch to peg Leonard as a future Defensive Player of the Year winner.
His importance to the Spurs will be magnified as Duncan and Ginobili continue to age.
Not a Slovenian Savior, But...
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When the Spurs shipped George Hill to Indiana to land Leonard, they also snatched the draft rights to overseas prospects Erazem Lorbek and Davis Bertans. While the latter is a long way from the NBA, Lorbek could arrive sooner than expected.
The 6’10” forward/center is not a defensive panacea, but he can help on both ends. If San Antonio can pry him from Europe this summer, he can contribute immediately in some fashion and would give Popovich even more depth to lessen the wear and tear on a 36-year-old Duncan.
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Parker and Ginobili will lead the French and Argentine national teams in the quest for a podium finish this summer in London.
While the injury potential will alarm Popovich and cause him some sleepless nights come August, a man who respects the international game as much as anyone understands what drives his two backcourt stars to represent their countries.
Parker will compete in his first Olympic games, while Ginobili will participate in his second tournament since carrying Argentina’s basketball program to its first-ever gold medal in 2004.
Splitter, too, will log heavy minutes in Brazil’s frontcourt alongside fellow professional ballers Nene and Anderson Varejao.
That gives Spurs fans something compelling to watch in the lull between the Finals and training camp, and if one of these three suffers a debilitating injury, something to talk about.
Might Popovich consider making Parker and Ginobili part-time players in next season’s first half to allow them enough time to recuperate and stay fresh for another championship run?
An award-winning coach drowning in depth could afford to do that without risking an unceremonious fall to the lottery.
The Big Ticket to a Crazy Summer
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By now, I have squashed all Spurs’ fans hopes for a blockbuster roster addition. I have crushed the dreams that involve luring Batum and/or Hibbert to San Antonio.
That does not mean I cannot slip in something wacky on the last slide.
Since most previews of this ilk include a token radical trade idea or a prospective free agent signing that has less chance of coming to fruition than a Susan Boyle gangster rap album, here is mine.
How about Kevin Garnett in a Spurs uniform, swatting shots and intimidating opposing bigs next to Duncan?
There are a few minor problems with my proposition.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard wrote in a recent profile of the Spurs’ foundation that Duncan hates Garnett.
Um, yeah, that’s an issue.
They play the same position and have been franchise anchors for most of their careers.
Duncan and Garnett ranked third and fourth, respectively, on the list of the NBA’s highest paid players.
Would both pending free agents ever accept the challenge of joining forces?
Garnett, like Duncan, could opt for retirement after a Hall of Fame tenure.
I will assume for a moment, though, that two of the greatest interior defenders ever can put all of the above aside in pursuit of a joint, career-capping title.
Would The Big Ticket ever ink a one-year deal for the mid-level exception?
The difference between this and trying to fetch Batum or Hibbert: Garnett doesn’t believe he will be a max-level star for the next decade. He's not THAT arrogant.
Batum and Hibbert posted impressive numbers this season, and they will want to be compensated thusly.
The Spurs don’t possess the cap space or the financial wherewithal to pursue an expensive young stud this summer.
If Garnett is willing to give it another go at a reduced rate, presuming Buford and Popovich could convince him to leave Boston in favor of San Antonio, the front office could make the numbers work under the new collective bargaining agreement.
It would mean saying “adios” to Diaw or Green, maybe both.
Garnett would join a rotation with Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Splitter and Leonard. Popovich would get the elite defensive squad back he has missed since 2008.
The team that finished second in the league in points per game would gain another weapon capable of scoring in numerous ways if the opponents loaded up on Duncan, Parker or Ginobili.
Good luck stopping that, Scott Brooks.
Will this ever happen? Cue up that Susan Boyle cover of “Gin and Juice.”