The NBA Draft has arrived, the Spurs appear stuck in a fetid mixture of mud and molasses, and Tony Parker's name surfaced in a recent trade rumor that spread like marijuana at a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Put down the joint and keep reading to see one man's take on why Parker will open at least the next four campaigns in silver and black, despite a report from a reputable, well-read hoops scribe that suggests otherwise.
San Antonio owns the 29th and 69th picks and could go a number of routes tonight. Will GM R.C. Buford trade down to avoid the guaranteed money owed to a first-round selection? The financial bottom-line matters in the Alamo City, and it has driven Peter Holt to lead the chorus of vexed owners demanding a new salary structure.
Will Buford trade up, and where will his front office try to steer its ship with a proposed deal? The lottery (not happening), the teens or the early 20s? Mock drafts from around the Web project the Spurs will take everyone from 6'10" center Jeremy Tyler, to 6'10" international project forward Nikola Mirotic, to 6'9" forward Kyle Singler, to 6'8" guard/forward Tyler Honeycutt.
Translation: no one knows, not even Buford. San Antonio's big board will include lots of names and Plan As and Plan Bs. The polarizing figure known as The Jimmer could even fall that far, and the Spurs could do crazier things than take a flier on college basketball's reigning scoring champ. Don't give me that stupefied stare. I wrote that eye-popping statement to emphasize the draft's volatility.
Even if it is impossible to nail down the franchise's strategy, the information on the next five slides should provide some clues.
Oooooh. Ugh. Ouch.
Buford probably follows those woebegone cries with a stiff drink each time he realizes his team owes Richard Jefferson more than $30 million over the next three seasons.
Even the smartest guys in the room make massive mistakes. The front office and Gregg Popovich will have to live with this one. No executive with a functioning brain will assume the burden of that albatross contract after Jefferson's disappearing act in the first round flameout against the Memphis Grizzlies.
This explains why Buford has listened to trade proposals involving Parker. I promise to address the point guard I call the "Parisian paint piranha."
As much as the front office might love to unload a bandied about trade acquisition gone acrid, logic dictates Jefferson must stay for now. Maybe, as San Antonio Express-News columnist Buck Harvey suggested, Popovich can teach the lost forward "the art of competing."
The Spurs will head to training camp with at least 10 players signed to guaranteed deals. That number assumes Antonio McDyess follows through on his announced plans to retire. Steve Novak and Chris Quinn, emergency rentals that played sparingly, should not encounter much resistance from management if they desire another NBA home.
Quinn and Novak were not awful (Novak even sparked a home victory against the Charlotte Bobcats with his dead-eye shooting), but San Antonio should look to upgrade from those bit benchwarmers.
As one would assume, Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili occupy more than 70 percent of the team's cap space. Do the math yourself if you want an exact figure. Even if McDyess retires, the Spurs still owe him a few million bucks.
Buford guaranteed a portion of the deal's final year as an extra gift to entice the coveted forward to sign with San Antonio.
Matt Bonner is the team's highest paid role player. The organization will shell out more than $10 million for the Red Rocket's services through 2014. This writer still considers him a useful bargain.
Gary Neal, George Hill and DeJuan Blair still play on rookie-scale contracts. Buford will face tough decisions in coming offseasons, but he can worry less about the futures of those key contributors now.
Without adding Parker's extension, which kicks in this year, the franchise's payroll tops $57 million. That means wistful fans should forget about the gobs of cap space necessary to make a significant free agency splash. If intriguing college scorer De'Sean Butler rehabilitates himself and impresses enough to secure a roster spot, his contract will factor in calculating Holt's tab. Danny Green should net at least a training camp invite.
Buford can snatch a veteran or two whenever the market opens, but stop dreaming about Marc Gasol or Tyson Chandler. Shane Battier anyone?
Ooooh. Ugh. Ouch.
I just remembered the Spurs owe Jefferson $30 million over the next three years. Yes, it hurts.
That leaves the front office four ways to upgrade the roll call. One is to do little and hope Tiago Splitter gets more consistent minutes and increases the frontline's bulk and profile. I'm a big Splitter suppoter and still believe he will become a big time blue-collar performer.
Another is to ask Duncan for another generous favor. The 35-year-old, future Hall of Famer's contract expires next summer. If he agreed to renegotiate a deal that would provide the Spurs additional salary cap breathing room while keeping him employed a few more seasons, Buford's free agency options would increase.
Understand these two things, though. Only a massive, ridiculous pay cut will afford San Antonio enough room to even think about an acquisition on Chandler's level. No one knows what the new salary cap will look like, but hoops aficionados should know by now that Holt wants it to look a lot different than the current one. League-wide spending will decrease, if his vision becomes reality, not vice versa.
Duncan has reworked his deal once. Is it reasonable to ask him to do it again? Why should he walk away from the highest annual salary of his career?
The third scenario seems most palatable to all sides (fans, execs, players and ownership): stay at 29 and hope to hit on another late-round gem.
Buford has produced Hill, Blair, James Anderson and Splitter in the previous four drafts, so it's not impossible to get better from a low draft position. History also says even the finest GMs cannot mine gold every time.
Mirotic needs a few years overseas to marinate. If he's still on the board, it would surprise me to see someone a few scouts think possesses All-Star potential drop to 30. The Spurs would prefer to find an athletic big to fill out the frontcourt rotation, but they can afford to select a project.
In the fourth, improbable operation, the Spurs would make a roster-changing transaction to move up a few spots or to the lottery. Given that the draft order starting with the third pick is murkier than ocean water after an oil spill, it seems doubtful San Antonio would execute such a trade without a target and the assurance it could land that player.
Anyone who takes Adrian Wojnarowski's aforementioned report at face value could use a brief history lesson.
In 2003, weeks after the Spurs eliminated the New Jerseys Nets in a six-game Finals, San Antonio's front office threw $90 million at the rival point guard when he became a free agent. The love affair with Jason Kidd meant a plane ticket would soon occupy the young Parker's locker. The uneven Frenchman had to watch Speedy Claxton close out the series because his turnover-filled performance had infuriated Popovich.
Something strange happened. Kidd opted to stay in Jersey and Parker traveled from that low to a pinnacle Finals MVP-worthy display in 2007. If Buford did not pull the trigger then when it made sense to many, why initiate discussions now?
“We’re not shopping anyone,” the GM told the Express-News via text message. “We’ve received calls on a lot of our guys, and we’ve answered the phone.”
Even those who loathe Parker know his jersey will someday hang in the AT&T Center rafters. The so-called haters cannot deny that inevitability. It will take a mammoth offer to pry Nos. 9, 20 or 21 from San Antonio.
Such as: Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom for Parker and Jefferson. Since Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak is not a bozo, that has zero chance of happening.
I don't buy that Buford would dump Parker just for the chance to select Klay Thompson in the early teens. Sorry folks. I have seen this movie before, and I know how it ends.
Remember last year when some pundits, and even Amar'e Stoudemire, suggested and even insisted he was headed to New York? How did those predictions go?
Parker signed a four-year $50 million extension last fall, and the decision makers knew the risks then. They inked him just after a freak hand injury and a second-round exit.
Blow up the roster? The Spurs just don't do "blow up." The Dallas Mavericks winning it all with the league's oldest cast makes it even likelier Buford will keep the core intact. How is that not proof San Antonio can make another run?
Hill and Parker underachieved in the first round, but that does not make them sure-fire trade bait. One lackluster series, or even a controversial comment in a French newspaper, are not sufficient reasons to give up on one or both backcourt members.
Isn't it Buford's job to answer the phone? Can a GM in his difficult position justify keeping his gig if he says "no" without sniffing out potential offers?
Are the Spurs listening? Yes. Will they jettison Hill or Parker? Don't bet on it.
Deride the roster's ability to contend if you must, but don't call it older than dirt.
Please comment below if you can guess the team's average age, sans McDyess, without looking below or elsewhere on the Internet. If the Spurs played tonight, Popovich would chaperon one of the NBA's youngest roll calls.
An average age of 24.8 means another inexperienced contributor is not a necessity. It would aid in the inevitable rebuilding phase ahead, but it doesn't fill a current need as much as some think.
No one would complain if potential 29th picks JaJuan Johnson or Jeremy Tyler, both bigs, become rotation cogs. San Antonio's recent postseason struggles suggest, though, that an overflow of youth can sometimes stand out in neon lights as an attack-able weakness.
Most attribute the humiliating April defeat to old age (and blaming some of the early exit on that is not wrong), but what about the few, green 20-somethings who played significant minutes? Don't their adolescent errors hurt as much?
The Mavericks and Miami Heat did not trot out youngsters much in the recently concluded championship series. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James have played eight seasons. Mario Chalmers was the lone player without substantive postseason experience to log major minutes. Even that point guard wasn't trying to lasso livestock in his first rodeo. I seem to remember a big shot in a national championship game that helped his draft profile.
The reality outlined above is what makes drafting Mirotic an attractive possibility. Stash him overseas a few more years and then bring him stateside after Duncan retires, along with other potential contributors. Nando de Colo and Ryan Richards come to mind.
If Buford stands pat tonight, his roster boasts four frontcourt players who will see significant court time next season.
That does not change, however, the need for an athletic shotblocker to aid Duncan and compliment Splitter. The Spaniard projects as a long-term, superb pick-and-roll defender, but he is not a swat artist.
Duncan cannot carry the same defensive load he has since David Robinson hung up his sneakers. Splitter will provide substantial assistance, but the team needs another center or forward to replace McDyess.
Upgrading a shoddy coverage and adding another interior presence go hand in hand. If the Spurs unearthed a capable seven-footer to serve as a backup and also found a reserve small forward to supplement Jefferson, the front office might consider that an agreeable, efficient offseason.
A second wing to man the three ranks just behind more size on San Antonio's "needs" list. Popovich made his priority clear after an embarrassing extermination: get better on the defensive end.
The numbers did not lie. The Spurs finished near the middle of the pack in opponent's field goal percentage and points allowed. San Antonio cannot contend for a fifth title without heavyweight improvement in those areas.
That amelioration starts with the acquirement of the accessory pieces detailed above. Whether Buford will obtains those commodities remains unknown.
Supporters should see the Parker rumor as evidence he is exploring all avenues before choosing his route.
Buford and Popovich will not propagate a deal that further jeopardize's San Antonio's ability to contend now. The Spurs will not trade Duncan, arguably the greatest player in franchise history, or Ginobili, arguably the most popular.
Given that, management will do everything possible to make the most of the sparse time those two cornerstones have left.
The 29th pick once yielded Toni Kukoc. It also produced such duds as Lester Fonville and Steve Logan.
San Antonio could take a number of actions tonight. Just consider the information contained in this slideshow when offering a prediction.
1. The Spurs do not have substantial cap space and will factor that hurdle into the decision-making process.
2. Expect Parker to stay put. Buford isn't bird-brained enough to dump the point guard because he misspoke abroad or cheated on his ex-wife. He'd do it for an outrageous offer. That sentence says it all. The chance to pick Thompson is not outrageous.
3. San Antonio's average age is a lot younger than many think. That makes getting even younger a not-so-slam-dunk proposition.
4. The Spurs will look at the draft, free agency and trade opportunities to address needs. They might land another piece in this draft or wait until the market opens to bid on a bachelor.
5. The team's brass still has the Larry O'Brien trophy on its mind. Images of the veteran Mavs celebrating a long overdue triumph could not have quelled those visions.