Manu Ginobili was the source of both overwhelming joy and heartbreak during the 2013 NBA Finals, and the question of how to use him next season poses an interesting predicament for the San Antonio Spurs.
Head coach Gregg Popovich is a mastermind and he will find ways to get maximum productivity out of Manu while not putting too much pressure on the aging guard.
Of course, at the conclusion of the 2013 playoffs, Ginobili's contract expired. The Spurs, however, wasted little time making a decision about the future of the Argentine.
His new two-year deal is worth a reported $14 million, and after making $14.1 million in an ultimately disastrous 2012-13, the reduced contract is welcomed by Spurs fans.
San Antonio's highest-paid player made the biggest mistakes last season and Popovich cannot—and certainly will not—let that happen again.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the 11-year veteran had his lowest player efficiency rating since his second season in the league. At 19.0, it was still higher than the standardized average of 15. Manu deserves minutes because he is still slightly better than average, but he has consistently been trending downward.
Will Manu Ginobili be worth the $7 million contract next season?
However, though Manu's scoring is slowly decreasing, his "teammate stats" and defense improved last season. Ginobili's field-goal percentage dropped from .526 to .425, but he still averaged 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists while nearly doubling his steals per game from 0.7 to 1.3.
Ultimately, Ginobili had his most productive defensive season since 2007-08, as his defensive rating improved from 104 to 100.
The biggest negative for Ginobili, though, was his lackluster NBA Finals performance.
He showed flashes of Manu-like masterpieces of years past in Game 5 against the Miami Heat, but the final two games were, to be blunt, train wrecks.
Ginobili proved to be either a magician or, more often seen, a disaster as the main ball-handler. Manu made a few passes that were simply head-scratching decisions, but the lack of off-ball movement did not help either.
San Antonio signed perimeter specialist Marco Belinelli to a two-year, $5.6 million deal and the 27-year-old Italian will both maximize and hide Ginobili.
When Tony Parker is on the bench, the duo of Ginobili and Belinelli will be an improvement from the Ginobili/Gary Neal combination of last season.
Neal is a fantastic three-point shooter, but not a great off-ball offensive threat. Belinelli, on the other hand, creates his own shot rather than always relying on the ball-handler to find him.
Belinelli committed just 1.1 turnovers in 25.8 minutes per game in 2012-13, so he is smart when controlling the ball too. Additionally, Popovich can give Belinelli a few more minutes than Neal was allowed because the former Chicago Bull is a more complete player.
The fewer possessions during which Ginobili is tabbed as the sole playmaker, the better off the Spurs will be.
Another player who will help keep him at his most productive state is budding superstar Kawhi Leonard.
The San Diego State product dazzled on both ends of the court during the Miami series and will also be more of an offensive threat next season.
Leonard is by no means a dominant scorer, but against the Heat, he showed the ability to score from all areas of the court. Consequently, Ginobili can take fewer risky drives and instead look for an open Leonard.
Manu may have seen the last of his best days, but he can still be productive because the Spurs are taking pressure off Ginobili by improving around him.
Belinelli and Leonard will maximize Ginobili's offensive contributions by forcing the crafty left-hander to do less—otherwise known as addition by subtraction.
If Manu continues to play hard-nosed defense, San Antonio will see strong production from the future Hall of Famer while hiding his flaws too.