Malik Hairston's release in July trimmed the San Antonio Spurs roster to 14. The explosive forward requested a contract nullification so he could pursue guaranteed money overseas. He signed a two-year deal with Italian club Montepaschi Siena and passed up the chance to crack Gregg Popovich's regular rotation.
Back problems appear to have complicated Hairston's stay in Italy. Several reports said the team had released him because of disc discomfort that was damaging his play. Will the Spurs snatch up one of the best athletes on the open market, or will Siena renegotiate his contract?
Hairston opened some eyes in the Alamo City, including those of this writer. When he departed for Italy, he left behind numerous fans who hoped he would challenge for the bulk of the reserve minutes at small forward. He avoided the mistakes that plague fringe rotation youngsters and rarely disappointed when handed crunch-time minutes.
In a March contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he entered the game with less than a minute left and sealed the deal with a fast-break dunk. He drilled a 20-footer to ice a closer than necessary home date versus the New York Knicks.
Assuming Hairston does not return, and that still seems likely, the Spurs still have an open roster spot to fill. With just 11 players signed to guaranteed deals, Popovich and GM R.C. Buford might have room for several low-cost additions.
What do the contending Spurs still need? A look at the projected depth chart provides some answers.
Tony Parker and George Hill will share most of the point guard minutes. Garrett Temple will get some burn, and Manu Ginobili can run the team in a pinch.
If Popovich keeps Ginobili in his accustomed reserve role, Hill will start at shooting guard. Draftee James Anderson, the Oklahoma State standout, should gobble up the remaining minutes here, though sharp-shooter Gary Neal can make his case in training camp and the preseason.
Richard Jefferson figures to start at small forward, since the Spurs roster does not include any other small forwards. Finding a Jefferson backup, with Hairston out of the picture for now, remains an offseason priority. Buford inked Keith Bogans, who played erratic minutes at the three, one week before training camp last year.
Some guy named Tim Duncan starts at power forward or center. I list him at both positions because the other players at the four and five are also interchangeable. Antonio McDyess could start at center or anchor the reserve unit with Ginobili. Expect Popovich to bring Tiago Splitter off the bench, so he can spell Duncan.
Splitter and Duncan could play a few minutes together per game, but keeping them seperate seems judicious and intelligent. The coaches asked Dejuan Blair to add a short jumper to his repertoire and improve his free-throw stroke, and defense so he could switch to power forward for longer stretches. Matt Bonner will take the leftover minutes, and there are sure to be plenty of nights when Popovich wants to rest Duncan or limit his daylight.
Even with five big men in the rotation, the Spurs could still another piece of interior insurance, in addition to a backup three for Jefferson. Louis Amundson is somehow still available and would be an outstanding option there.
ESPN's Marc Stein reported two weeks ago that the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Hornets, and Indiana Pacers remained in the Amundson hunt. That was two weeks ago.
Several outlets reported last week he would sign soon. "We expect something this week," his agent Mark Bartelstein said in a USA Today article published Aug. 24.
Welcome to Tuesday Aug. 31. Amundson still has not signed with a team. Should the Spurs join the fray? This isn't a rumor or informed speculation. I just surveyed the free agent landscape and realized he was still homeless.
The energetic hustle hound became a fan favorite in Phoenix. The Suns waived goodbye to Amundson when they acquired Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick to help fill the Amar'e Stoudemire void.
The Spurs cannot offer him the $3 million for next season he has demanded, but maybe they could entice him with the chance to dress in the same locker room as Duncan. He would get more minutes in Golden State or Indiana but might miss the postseason.
His earnest effort would not matter as much on the defenseless Warriors. Amundson can add something to a defensive culture, but he alone cannot create one.
The Spurs still have about $2 million of the mid-level exception and the veteran's minimum exception with which to lure players. Here are nine other free agent possibilities. A few of these ballers might make the roster and crack the rotation. Others are prospects Buford and Popovich could stash in Austin or invite to training camp.
Trenton Hassell: The 31-year-old small forward plays pesky, sedulous defense and could be added with a minimum deal. His offensive game, though, is unreliable. He shot 41 percent from the field last year for the woeful New Jersey Nets.
Jarvis Hayes: Another reserve small forward candidate, at 28, Hayes also delivers earnest defensive performances. He also played on the historically caustic Nets and shot a similar percentage to Hassell. Does that sound like Bogans part II (by no means a horrible option in late-August) to anyone else?
James Singleton: The 28-year-old hustle maven averaged four points and nearly five rebounds for the Washington Wizards last season. He seeks out scrums and claws for tough rebounds. His 38 percent shooting would probably improve in the San Antonio system.
Jawad Williams: San Antonio Express-News beat reporter Jeff McDonald reported that the Spurs have already welcomed the 27-year-old small forward to their practice facility. He averaged four points and 1.5 rebounds for the Cavs last year. I smell a training camp invite, if the Cavs decline to match an offer.
Damien Wilkins: The parade of backup small forward candidates continues. The 30-year-old averaged 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds on a scary bad Minnesota Timberwolves team, but he still has some game.
Jerry Stackhouse: Yes, he plays shooting guard, a position of strength for the Spurs, but wouldn't it be something if the former playoff nemesis from his days in Dallas donned silver and black? Even at 35, he might be the best player, aside from Amundson, on this list.
Fabricio Oberto: The 35-year-old has acquitted himself well in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. He's old and unathletic, but the Spurs could do a lot worse than a former fan favorite who knows the game and accepts his role without complaint. If one of the bigs suffered an injury, Popovich could rely on Oberto to step in and play smart basketball.
Ike Diogu: The Spurs do not need to snatch an All-Star who will make the Lakers quake in their boots, just a sixth big who can get the job done. He's still just 26 and would not embarrass himself in a spot minutes role.
Joe Alexander: OK, work with me here. He has not exhibited any Spur-like qualities in his dud of an NBA career, but he's uber-athletic and worth another look by somebody, if not San Antonio.
Two other intriguing insurance options at center, Josh Boone and Kyrylo Fesenko, are restricted and seem to still fit in Utah and New Jersey.