Biggest Needs for San Antonio Spurs During 2014 Offseason
The San Antonio Spurs can officially put those 2013 nightmares to rest. After claiming the franchise's fifth title since 1999, this summer's first order of business will be enjoying perhaps its sweetest championship yet.
Then it will get down to business.
San Antonio owns the 30th selection in this summer's draft, a pick that could well be used on international talent to be stashed away for another year or two. Most of the club's biggest needs can be satisfied internally. Winning it all in 2014 is a testament to that.
Changes will be in order soon enough, but there's a good chance they can be averted for at least another season.
Much hinges on whether Tim Duncan retires. Should he do so, San Antonio's offseason will become a pivotal point in the franchise's history. But if the 38-year-old sticks around for another season, focus will remain on improving this group from within.
Duncan's decision may not weigh as heavily as the one he once made in 2000 to remain with the franchise. All the same, it's a pretty important one. It won't shape the team's long-term future, but it will dictate its short-term decision making.
While the rest of the league's teams spend their summers looking to reach the top, San Antonio will be working to stay there. Here's a look at the club's first priorities.
1 More Season of Tim Duncan
This is one of those needs over which the Spurs really don't have much control.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports that Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt out of the final season of the contract, further noting that the organization internally believes he'll return for another go-around.
According to Stein:
Sources say the Spurs, to this point, are quietly operating under the assumption that Duncan and Popovich will indeed be back next season. Both of their current contracts, along with those of fellow Spurs pillars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, expire after the 2014-15 season, provided Duncan decides to opt in.
Stein's report includes Duncan's words from a news conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals: "I don't know when I'm going to retire. I don't know what the factors are going to be. I don't know any of that and I don't care about any of that stuff right now. It will happen when it happens."
He's repeated similar lines when similar questions were subsequently broached.
Put simply, the iconic Duncan is irreplaceable. His contributions on the floor are multifaceted and remain significant even at this late stage of his career. The 38-year-old continues to score efficiently; he defends at a high level; he rebounds with the best of them.
Even if you put aside Duncan's leadership and all the intangibles he brings to the table, his on-court production is still about as good as it gets in this league. This team moved away from pounding the post years ago, but Duncan has adapted in turn.
San Antonio's offseason will be shaped in large part by what the Big Fundamental decides to do. Should he walk away, the club may look to preserve some additional cap space and make a run at premier bigs like restricted free agent Greg Monroe or potentially less expensive solutions like Pau Gasol.
They would be filling the biggest of shoes.
Hopefully it won't come to that.
Re-Signing Patty Mills
While Manu Ginobili will always feel like San Antonio's sixth man, Patty Mills gave him a run for his money as the best of the team's second unit.
Even if the Australian isn't San Antonio's best reserve, he plays one of the most critical roles. That role goes way beyond just giving Tony Parker a rest here and there. Mills makes unique contributions, starting with his quick release from virtually anywhere on the floor.
Mills made 42.5 percent of his three-pointers this season en route to averaging 10.2 points per game. He was the quintessential spark plug, using his quickness to get to preferred spots and strike off the dribble or in catch-and-shoot situations.
The 6'0" point guard is also a blur defensively, with a penchant for applying full-court pressure and making opposing ball-handlers work.
Finally, Mills has proven to be clutch. He came up with 17 huge points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and revealed absolute fearlessness.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, Mills is a free agent this summer.
And he'll almost certainly be in order for a raise after making just $1.1 million this season. How much of a raise remains uncertain, but it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him take up most of a full mid-level exception.
After dotting the postseason with several impact performances, that kind of expenditure shouldn't be beyond consideration for the Spurs. Mills has earned this paycheck.
Re-Signing Boris Diaw
Chances are free agent Boris Diaw won't command a long-term contract this summer, and that should suit the Spurs just fine. They could use another year or two out of the power forward thanks to his rare versatility.
Diaw makes plays for others, can defend multiple positions, rebounds and is more than capable of shooting the ball outside or operating in the post. The jack of all trades became so valuable during the postseason that Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup, beginning with Game 3 in the NBA Finals.
That doesn't mean he'll replace Tiago Splitter in that lineup from here on out, but it's nice to have options.
Diaw made $4.7 million this season and would likely re-sign at a similar rate.
That doesn't break San Antonio's bank and would ensure another strong eight-to-nine man rotation going forward. For a team that relies so much on its depth, it would be hard to let someone like Diaw go. Though San Antonio may already have something of an in-house replacement in stretch-4 Austin Daye, there's something to be said for Diaw's familiarity with the system.
He's been an integral part of this rotation for two-and-a-half seasons now, so he already knows the ins and outs of the Spurs' game plan. He understands the culture, and he's thrived within it.
Those are the virtues that are difficult to replace.
Acquiring an Interior Defender
The Spurs need some additional rim protection.
Tiago Splitter is a strong all-around player, especially in pick-and-roll situations—but he's not an elite defender. The 6'11" center does a nice job of keeping his hands up and holding his ground in the post, but his above-the-rim game is lacking.
With Duncan at or nearing his end, the need for another shot-blocker is now.
The availability of such a shot-blocker on the free-agent market is questionable. It's hard to imagine San Antonio making a run at Andrew Bynum, even if he could be had for pennies on the dollar. Bynum's tendency to produce distraction just isn't consistent with the kind of pedigree the Spurs typically seek out.
Chris "Birdman" Andersen is one option, but it's somewhat hard to imagine the Miami Heat letting him walk.
Another possibility is Jermaine O'Neal, who was surprisingly productive with the Golden State Warriors this season. The 35-year-old averaged 7.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 20.1 minutes per game, proving he's still got it—or at least enough of it to play a meaningful role off the bench.
Someone like O'Neal wouldn't be the sexiest addition, but he would ensure that San Antonio could leave a rim protector on the floor at virtually all times.
There's always a chance San Antonio could pursue another big man via trade, but the organization doesn't have a wealth of assets at its disposal. That probably means the Spurs either sign someone on the cheap or remain as is.
It's tempting to blow things up at a juncture like this. Better to get a head start than watch an aging core fade before our eyes.
But this club has another season left in it as currently constituted.
Things obviously change if Duncan opts to retire. The organization could have close to $20 million in cap room and a glaring hole in the middle of the lineup. In that event, it might be harder to justify re-signing Mills and Diaw. Saving the cap space to attract a premier interior player would immediately become priority No. 1.
At the very least, someone like Pau Gasol would be extremely appealing as a short-term solution who could make the most of Parker's final years.
But let's assume Duncan sticks around for at least one more season.
If that's the case, this is no time to make any major adjustments. If it ain't fundamentally broken, San Antonio certainly shouldn't be making any significant fixes.
"What about the future?" you say.
As you might have suspected, this franchise has actually been planning for the future for some time. Some of that planning may yield dividends soon enough. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck explains:
In typical Spurs fashion, they have a few assets quietly stashed overseas. Two in particular hold great promise: Livio Jean-Charles, a dynamic 6'9" forward from French Guiana, drafted 28th in 2013; and Davis Bertans, a 6'10" forward from Latvia, a 2011 second-round pick who was acquired from Indiana, in the same trade that brought [Kawhi] Leonard to the Spurs.
Neither Jean-Charles nor Bertans is likely to contribute in 2014-15, but they should make their respective arrivals soon enough—just when the rotation needs some new blood.
And in the summer of 2015, the Spurs are currently scheduled to have a ridiculous amount of cap room—with only Splitter and presumably Leonard under contract. If there's a window in which the Spurs will look to make serious changes, it's likely in 2015.
Until then, R.C. Buford and Co. will demonstrate the kind of patience that got them this far.