The San Antonio Spurs may be the best team in the league, but they still have some work to do before securing a spot in the finals. Fortunately, general manager R.C. Buford could be on the right track in terms of finding the missing puzzle piece that can win the team its fifth championship.
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Buford has reached out to the Atlanta Hawks about dynamic power forward Josh Smith, who is set to hit free agency in July. San Antonio could certainly use some help in the front court, and Smith has the potential to be an excellent fit in head coach Gregg Popovich's system.
This season, Smith is averaging 17.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, and has shown improvement from long range in making 34.5 percent of his threes. He has also been excellent over his last five games, posting 19.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, five assists and 1.6 blocks per contest while shooting 52 percent from the field.
It may be a hard pill for the San Antonio fans to swallow, but the team as it is will have a hard time both making it to the NBA Finals and, should they get that far, winning a ring. The team's core is getting up there in years, and a solid young talent like Smith will give the Spurs that extra push to get to the next level.
This means that Buford needs to get former co-worker and current Hawks' GM Danny Ferry on the phone and start negotiating a deal. It may take some time, but both teams have what the other wants. It is just a matter of Buford and Ferry coming to an agreement, and the deal is likely done.
The only real hitch in the potential trade is that the Hawks would likely demand a top young center in return, as ESPN's Marc Stein reported over the weekend. This means that in order to land Smith, San Antonio would likely have to part with Tiago Splitter. A deal would work with DeJuan Blair, but chances are that Ferry will push hard for the taller and more athletic Brazilian.
Throw in Stephen Jackson for financial purposes, and the deal makes sense, at least based on the numbers.
Now, while Spurs fans run off and get their pitchforks and torches so that they can storm my office and leave with my head on a stake, allow me to explain why that trade works.
Yes, Splitter is a big loss, but the hole left by him is easy to fill. All that Popovich has to do is shift Duncan to the 5 and install Smith at the 4, and the Spurs lineup becomes all the more dynamic on both ends of the floor.
Losing Jackson's tough defense and three-point shooting may seem like an odd move, but Smith will be able to provide everything Jackson does at an even grander level. He'll drive the lane, be an incredible defender and also be able to stretch the floor. Trading for him is a gamble, but it's just crazy enough to work.
More importantly, the Spurs don't really have a choice but to go all-in on Smith if they want to win a championship this season. Popovich has proven that he can indeed get the best out of both his veterans and youngsters like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, but he cannot bank on their improvement come playoff time.
The fact is that the Spurs have been the top-ranked team in the Western Conference each of the past two seasons, only to fall short both times. The core's age has been exposed at that level, and having the dynamic nature of the 27-year-old Smith in the lineup would immediately inject some extra bounce into the team's collective step.
Of course, that all depends on if Buford and Ferry can agree to terms on a deal. The Spurs need a dynamic two-way player to improve their chances of winning a title, and the Hawks would easily prefer to unload Smith's contract via a trade rather than let him hit free agency and lose him for nothing.
If Buford wants to essentially guarantee his team a ring, he must pull the trigger and stop at nothing to put Smith in a Spurs uniform.