San Antonio Spurs Make Quiet But Significant Noise With Tiago Splitter Signing
Pat Riley reeled in Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James last week in one of the greatest free agency coups of all time. The Heat congratulated themselves and indulged frenzied fans with a lavish party at American Airlines Arena. More than 13,000 fans packed Miami's pro basketball palace Friday afternoon to welcome James and Bosh to South Beach.
The three stars emerged on a humongous stage in a cloud of smoke and under the glare of obnoxious strobe lights. The Heat's newest slogan, "Yes. We. Did." flashed on the giant LED screens above.
Riley prepared for 2010 Free Agency by ensuring he would have no more than two or three players under contract this summer. The way he gutted the roster allowed him to sign the three best ballers on the market.
The legendary coach had hoped for years he would convince Wade to stay by surrounding him with expensive talent worth the sticker shock.
Yes, he did.
The Spurs' moment of ecstasy came Monday afternoon and was met by far less fanfare and no pyrotechnics. The extent of the front office's party after GM R.C. Buford introduced 2007 first-round draft pick Tiago Splitter in a presser?
I would guess it involved a few high fives and some firm handshakes. Maybe an employee was courageous enough to bring some cascarones to the office. I doubt he or she cracked any of them.
The Spurs organization shuns the confetti-filled, party-first atmosphere that defines Miami, even if many San Antonio residents also love fiestas.
Splitter arrived in the Alamo City, at last, after a three-year wait. Days after King James guaranteed more than six or seven championships in his new home, the Brazilian big man merely told Buford and a few reporters in broken English that playing alongside Tim Duncan was an exciting proposition.
His price tag —a modest $11 million over three years, and little more than $3 million next season, according to the San Antonio Express-News — gave Buford and co. another reason to smile. They landed the big man they had coveted since picking him 27th in 2007 and did so without surrendering the full mid-level exception.
If the Spurs re-sign Richard Jefferson for a lower price, since they own his Bird rights, they could then use the remainder of the mid-level and the bi-annual exception to ink rookie James Anderson and lure another free agent.
Matt Barnes will find a number of suitors when the frenetic, LeBron-centric market slows. How could he not at least consider the Spurs?
No amount of speculation, negative or positive, can dampen the euphoria in South Texas.
Splitter— considered for several years the best big man, maybe the best player in Europe— will not soon become what Duncan was to David Robinson. Go elsewhere to find hyperbole.
He will likely never make an All-Star team. He may not even start next to Duncan on opening night. The reason for the fuss, though, is simple.
If Splitter, 25, can provide some or most of the seven-foot help Duncan needs to hoist his fifth trophy, he will prove worth every penny of that deal, which qualifies as chump change in this climate.
He projects as a bruising banger, a productive rebounder, and an above average interior defender. If Splitter averages 10 or 11 points and six to eight rebounds plus a block or two a game, he will be a boon in a league where size matters.
Gregg Popovich does not figure to feature his newest puzzle piece much in the offense, and the acquisition does not change Duncan's importance. He remains the franchise's foundation.
Splitter, though, should give Duncan some much-needed frontcourt help in the two years leading up to the future Hall of Famer's presumed 2012 retirement.
The 6'11", two-time Spanish league MVP should shine on a roster that also features Dejuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, and Matt Bonner. What can Splitter do for those support players?
If Splitter scores a few buckets in a row in a playoff game, will opponents continue to play Duncan one-on-one or stick to any constant defensive strategy?
The decline in double-teams on Duncan led to the roster-wide dip in three-point accuracy as much as injuries to Bonner and Roger Mason Jr. Spot-up specialists need open looks and cannot be expected to hit at the preferred rate from distance if the star once doubled on every possession isn't doubled much anymore.
McDyess can still swish mid-range jumpers in his sleep but has become a less effective post option as his years climb. Blair's size (he's 6'7", and that's a generous listing) limits his ability to finish in traffic. Bonner can drill treys when he's open and hit the occasional floater in the lane.
Splitter will make life easier on the other role players if all he does is convert three to four buckets per contest. The Spurs have tried to replace Robinson since he retired in 2003, but have rarely succeeded in their quest for a Duncan sidekick.
Duncan does not need All-Star company at the four or five as much as an efficient interior giant who can bump foreheads with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, or Andrew Bynum without standing on a phone book.
The Spurs could add another frontcourt piece with a minimum deal for extra insurance.
No one can say the franchise has lacked in the effort department when it comes to finding affordable forwards and centers.
First, the team tried Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed. The pair worked in 2005 when the Spurs triumphed over the Detroit Pistons in seven games to capture their third title. Popovich could not play them much in 2006 when the Dallas Mavericks presented matchup problems galore.
The coach opted for a smaller lineup that forced Duncan to rack up exhausting minutes. Splitter, more agile than most his size, might have made a difference then. Popovich might have re-considered rotating Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley at the four.
Fabricio Oberto and Fransisco Elson fit the bill in 2007 when the Spurs swept the Cavaliers for their fourth and last championship. The Los Angeles Lakers ousted them the next year, in part, because of the frontcourt's limitations aside from Duncan and an injury to Manu Ginobili.
Kurt Thomas, acquired just before the 2008 trade deadline, proved a terrific addition. His toughness and determination, though, could not trump the Lakers' talent, uneven as it was.
Splitter could have helped in 2008, 2009, and this year. Another seven-foot presence would have made it tougher on the Phoenix Suns' sharpshooting big men.
Phoenix would not have triumphed without its dead-eye perimeter shooting.
Splitter will save Duncan a few more minutes a game and will help him stay fresher for the stretch-run and postseason grind.
If the combination of Blair, McDyess, Splitter, Bonner, plus another big can spare Duncan the equivalent of 10 to 15 regular season games in minutes, Monday's news will matter as much as what Riley pulled off last week.
The Spurs' prized pick spent the last few years with Spanish team Caja Laboral, formerly called Tau Ceramica. He recently swept Ricky Rubio's team in that league's championship round.
Given the chance to opt out of his deal in 2008, Splitter instead signed a new deal that would keep him in Spain until at least this summer. The threat of a lockout in 2011 and his buyout further complicated the situation.
It was fair to wonder if he would ever make the NBA jump. He finally did.
The Spurs' new slogan might echo Miami's. Just don't expect to see it in lights or on a billboard. Anyone expecting an exorbitant "welcome to San Antonio" show at the AT&T Center this week will be disappointed.
Still, Buford, Popovich, and other team officials can say it with equal conviction.
Yes. We. Did.
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