The San Antonio Spurs, team of the previous decade, four-time champions and a model for all small-market teams, have been subdued by the NBA’s plague: age. Heavily favored in their first-round series against the Grizzlies, the Spurs fell to younger, quicker and healthier Memphis team.
The Grizzlies further proved that even in the NBA, talent will triumph over experience, especially when experience has no answer for Zach Randolph.
A few weeks later, Tony Parker admitted the window may have closed on this Spurs team, and frankly I have to agree. The Spurs looked older and slower against a Memphis team many expected them to sweep. This current Spurs squad likely doesn’t get past the second round, even in a year where we saw the oldest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks, win the NBA title.
But the Spurs can’t be complacent and enter next season (if there is a next season) with the same group of players, just a year older and a step slower. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford must make a move to lengthen the Spurs’ lifeline.
Tony Parker is the Spurs’ most marketable player. He’ll enter next season at 28 years old, in the midst of his prime. He’s coming off a season where he played in all but four games and averaged 17 points and 6 assists. He stands as the only player the Spurs could realistically trade, and get something valuable in return. It’s unfathomable the Spurs could even mention Tim Duncan’s name in a trade. The same likely goes for Manu Ginobili.
The latest reports have the Spurs discussing a Parker trade for a lottery pick—nothing imminent, but the Spurs are interested. The two teams they are rumored to be in talks with are the Sacramento Kings, who hold the seventh pick, and the Toronto Raptors, who hold the fifth pick.
This is certainly a weak draft, but there are several prospects in the lottery which could help the Spurs.
The Spurs can afford to give up Parker. Young point guard George Hill assumed the role of point guard several times last season, and while he doesn’t have Parker’s flash, he did a serviceable job. But if the Spurs wanted to go for a point guard, Kemba Walker could come in and play the point guard position effectively. Walker’s game slightly resembles Parker’s game, plus Walker is a very polished prospect who would be able to contribute immediately.
Brandon Knight, a bigger point guard, poses more upside for the Spurs, but he’s not as polished of a prospect as Walker. Knight is a very good defender and could develop into a point guard with time and tutelage, but with the Spurs' window closing, I think they’d prefer the more polished and NBA-ready Walker.
But if the Spurs were to acquire a pick in the early lottery, I would use it to find the heir apparent to Tim Duncan. Duncan’s numbers have been gradually decreasing over the past few seasons. This season, however, for the first time in his career he failed to average a double-double. More notably, Duncan averaged 13 points and nine rebounds, career lows in both categories.
This draft offers a few big men who could help the Spurs find Duncan’s heir apparent. The Spurs would love to have a guy like Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian big man, measured at 7’0”, could end up as the best big man in the draft.
The Spurs would probably have to wait a year for Valanciunas because of his buyout situation, but outside of Enes Kanter, he’s the best big in the draft. If Valanciunas comes over after a year, he’ll be slightly more developed, and ready to step into the fold for the Spurs.
The 35-year-old Duncan put up a career-low in minutes played as well, only playing about 28 minutes per game. The Spurs aren’t very deep at the big positions, but they also need someone who could relieve Duncan, and play effectively when he is on the bench. Valanciunas could be their guy, but they can only acquire him through a Tony Parker trade.
The Spurs could also look at other big men such as Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely or Markieff Morris. They could spell Duncan at the power forward position, and eventually develop into starters. The Spurs could opt for a shooter such as Klay Thompson, or they could go for a small forward like Kawhi Leonard, a tough defensive player who fits the Spurs’ blueprint.
The Spurs need some youth to rejuvenate what appears to be an old and finished squad. Their only access to a young piece will be through a Tony Parker trade. Parker has helped the Spurs to three championships, but the Spurs must make a decision, a decision for the present and the future. This Spurs team doesn’t have much time left.