NBA Market Watch: San Antonio Spurs

NBA Market Watch: San Antonio Spurs
Apr 26, 2007, 02:52 am
The San Antonio Spurs powered through their early season struggles and came on strong to finish out the season, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Phoenix in an attempt to wrest away the second seed in the Western Conference.

The Spurs boast perhaps the best roster continuity of any team in the NBA, with stalwarts Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Bowen being a fixture in the San Antonio lineup for the past 5 seasons. The continuity and chemistry this team has should serve as an example of what is best in basketball, as the team has successfully implemented a series of well-seasoned veteran role players over the years to bolster the strength of the team’s main core.

While the Spurs remain one of the favorites to win the title this season, there is little doubt that the team is reaching a point where an infusion of new talent is needed. The Spurs can extend out their championship competitive years by making some moves in the next two off seasons by drafting well and spending wisely, something they’ve been historically prudent at doing in the past.

With close to 8.5 million in projected cap space coming up in ’08 and only the “Big three” under contract out of the significant rotation players, the face of the Spurs franchise is sure to change to some degree. How those changes transpire will determine whether Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker enjoy the latter years of their partnership playing at the level they’ve grown accustom to.

Roster and Financial Breakdown:

(Salary Cap projections were created taking the average increase over the past 5 seasons)

Record/ Overview:

58-24, 2nd place Southwest Division, 3rd seed Western Conference

The Spurs run virtually everything they do through Tim Duncan. Duncan anchors the defensive interior, which allows Parker and Ginobili to be more liberal with their perimeter decision making. On the offensive end of the court, Duncan’s ability to operate out of the high and low post enables San Antonio to cycle in different looks off the bench. Duncan’s playmaking also alleviates a substantial burden from Tony Parker’s shoulders, allowing him to focus more on scoring the ball by taking advantage of off-ball movement and the defensive imbalances created by Duncan’s presence on the interior.

Parker isn’t as pure a playmaker as some of his title-contending counterparts, but his ability to impact the opponent’s defensive sets by dribble-penetration is as good as there is in the league. Parker has never been a consistent perimeter threat, but he made substantial strides in that area this season, and his ability to hit the open shot coupled with the defensive attention Duncan draws allows him to create opportunities in the lane for himself and others.

Manu Ginobili has also continued to increase his perimeter effectiveness, raising his 3 point accuracy to all time highs, while significantly increasing the volume of those shots overall. He plays off of the other two stars so well, moving around the court and providing himself as a secondary option off of the action of that’s created in the offensive movement.

Outside these main three players, though, production has been done in a piecemeal fashion. Swing men Michael Finley and Brent Barry combined for solid production, as did centers Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson. But these positions are rife with age and a decreasing level of execution that will have to be addressed soon enough. Bruce Bowen would probably fall into this category as well, as his defensive footwork and ability to cover his assignment will soon be reaching its critical mass.

All of these support players are successful veterans who have a history of winning basketball, so it isn’t surprising that they’ve come together and are prepared to push into the playoffs with strength. But, this Spurs team is going to need to make some tough decisions in the immediate future, because the core of the team is reaching an age where it’s critical to pass on their knowledge while they still have the physical ability to execute it.

Current Assets:

As rich as the Spurs are in experience and execution, the team is extremely asset-poor when it comes to young talent or solid veterans with quality market value that could be used to acquire younger, more talented replacements. Re-constituting the Spurs roster is going to be a process of drafting and smart free agent expenditure.

The two players that might qualify here are 22 year old Jackie Butler and 24 year old James White, who have both been glued to the IR for most of the season. Butler, who never played a minute of college basketball and went undrafted is a talented big man with excellent hands and legit post moves, but struggles with conditioning issues and poor defensive fundamentals—two cardinal sins as far as Gregg Popovich is concerned. White played 5 years of college basketball on the other hand, but has always relied too much on his outstanding athleticism rather than developing a real feel for the game. He’s too unpredictable and inconsistent to get minutes in San Antonio’s rotation, but has a chance to provide help on the defensive end at the very least down the road if the light bulb ever comes on.

2005 late 1st round draft pick Ian Mahinmi continues to be stashed in France, this year joining a Euroleague team in Pau Orthez that didn’t seem to be as committed to developing him as the Spurs may have hoped. Mahinmi wasn’t ready for the Euroleague level, averaging under 4 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. Still, Mahinmi shows flashes of great potential at times, excellent athletic ability and a real nose for the ball. With that said, his skinny frame is still slowly filling out, and it’s quite clear that another year in Europe is in order for the French/African prospect, preferably on a smaller team.

The team does have a sizable chunk of expiring contracts to negotiate with, but the players available are more attractive for their potential cap relief than for any expected in-game contribution they’d provide at this point in their careers.

Expiring Contracts-

The one thing the Spurs are rich in is expiring deals. If the team is looking to make any type of substantial upgrade to its roster next season, they could feasibly look into moving some of these deals in exchange for a younger player who could possibly fill a more long-term role.

The team has over 22 million coming off the books in ‘08/’09, with the fortune of having six contracts with values all ranging below 5.5 million, (Brent Barry.) These smaller, manageable contracts should be much easier to move if the team is so inclined because they cover a much wider range of salaries in return. The ability to mix-and-match these salaries should enable them to have a voice in any talks with teams who are looking to rid themselves of a player that may have more years on an unfavorable deal.

The key to remember in this situation of course is the word “unfavorable”. Even though the Spurs have the lose contracts to consummate a deal, the field of available talent may be limited in terms of acquisitions the team would actually desire to obtain. There are a few lower priced acquisitions that could bear fruit however, such as Charlotte’s Primo Brezec and Walter Herrmann. The Spurs already established a working connection with the Bobcats via the Melvin Ely deal, and Charlotte could certainly use some players with playoff experience to help mold their young core.

Brezec has skill and a solid resume of effective play out of the pivot and would instantly become Duncan’s best frontcourt mate since David Robinson retired. Herrmann turned in a solid showing toward the end of the season after being released from bench obscurity and was an impact European player only a few years prior before a tragic family accident robbed him of his fire. His ability to hit the NBA three-ball would certainly fit into the Spurs system and he has a level a familiarity with both Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto, both Argentinean National Team teammates. The major question mark here is whether the Bobcats would be interested in trading him, though.

On the higher end of the spectrum, there are other options to consider. The Seattle Supersonics team is rich in frontcourt talent, albeit inexperienced and unproven in the types of pressure situations the Spurs look to thrive in. But the Spurs have unsuccessfully attempted to couple Tim Duncan up with a productive frontcourt teammate for years, and the team itself is in desperate need of some developmental talent with a future to couple with Tony Parker.

There is an array of possibilities that the Spurs can look into, but any trade of substance is going to require value in return. San Antonio will have to look long and hard at the value of each player they choose to analyze and determine if it is worth relinquishing draft picks for these players. Once the Spurs look past the peripheral roster players and undesirables around the league, their market currency really begins to run thin.

Regardless of what avenues San Antonio decides to explore, there is no questioning that father time is catching up to a number of their key contributors. Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen are both 36 years old, while Michael Finley will be 35 next season. These three players log the most minutes of any of the Spurs outside the team’s top three.

In the frontcourt, sage veteran Robert Horry is closer to being a key bench coach than a key player off the bench at age 38. Younger contributors like Francisco Elson and Melvin Ely have limited upside, which the team is well-aware of. These are players that can round out a roster and give key minutes as specialists, but outside of Ely, none have shown any evidence of ever being able to take their games up to a level that will be necessary to complement Tim Duncan as he advances past his prime and needs more support.

Total Cost: $22,300,000

Rotation Players-

All but three of the team’s rotation players expire after next season, though Michael Finley and Fabricio Oberto both have player options that they’re expected to pick up. This is an ideal situation for the Spurs based off the age and production level of most of these core players in terms of freeing up money quickly to pursue more potent replacements.

As mentioned in the above section, none of these players has a tremendous amount of market value beyond Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker. If the team feels that it can adequately re-constitute the roster around these three, there is little likelihood that any will be available on the open market any time soon. If any of those three were to be made available, it would most certainly be Ginobili, a big game performer whose penchant for the spectacular might outweigh his actual nightly contributions.

Still, Ginobili isn’t likely to be moved or improved upon via trade when considering the level of familiarity he enjoys with the San Antonio system and is probably there to stay for the long hall. If the team is committed to these core three going forward, it is unlikely that either Finley or Oberto bring anything of value in return on their own.

Total Cost: $58,200,000


When James White, Jackie Butler and Beno Udrih comprise the bulk of the team’s youthful talent, there are clearly issues going forward. The Spurs haven’t positioned themselves well to develop home-grown talent over the past few years. The one critical exception would be Tau Ceramica star Luis Scola, who has driven his team into the Euroleague finals, is still only 26, and has proven over and over that he could step into the Spurs lineup next season and play a significant role. The only question is whether the Spurs are willing to pawn up the type of money it will take to bring him over.

Scola is a power forward all the way, so the team would have to commit to moving Duncan to the pivot on more of a full time basis, something that is bound to happen eventually as Duncan’s footspeed decreases. Bringing Scola over would also put three Argentinean nationals on the team, which could help ease the transition and synthesize chemistry above and beyond what would be expected from an incoming player.

As a trade chip, a player of Scola’s stature could fetch a nice return depending on what the Spurs asking price would be and how closely the other team scouts international talent. A player like Scola would be an ideal pickup for a younger team looking to acquire veteran-level experience while still maintaining room for future growth. Teams like the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics may be interested in gaining the frontcourt experience and post savvy of Scola in exchange for some of the excess youth that they posses. Don’t be surprised to see the Spurs dangle their first-round pick combined with Scola’s rights to see how far they can move up in the draft this June.

Total Cost: $2,100,000

Free Agency

The Spurs’ best chance at adding a player of impact may rest in their reputation and ability to draw in high level veteran free agents with the lure of championship contention. This approach could yield a positive return in the form of a quality mid-level acquisition, but any mid-level player of stature is going to be on the other side of 30 years old in all likelihood, so long-term viability may be lacking.

However, the Spurs could get creative with their assets and orchestrate a sign-and-trade for a higher level player by combining some of their loose salaries in conjunction with the rights to Scola or Mahinmi together with a couple of draft picks thrown in. A team like Charlotte may entertain a sign-and-trade for Gerald Wallace, for instance, in exchange for veteran stabilizers who could teach the other young Bobcats how to win. Wallace is set to walk right now, but may give pause to entertain a trade that puts him on a team such as the Spurs. Charlotte is significantly below the salary cap, so taking an extra year worth of contract money may be acceptable if sweetened by draft picks.

This line of thought is purely theoretic, but represents a mindset this team will have to take if they hope to aggressively approach this offseason.

NBA Draft:

The sheer depth of this years draft bodes well for the Spurs chances of adding a player who can grow into a prominent role in the future. The Spurs have three picks overall, #28, #33, and #58. San Antonio’s early second round pick was acquired shrewdly from Milwaukee, in exchange for a late 2nd round pick in last year’s much weaker draft.

San Antonio’s scouting department is known throughout the league as one of the most thorough around, and it got even deeper this past year when they decided to add former head and assistant college coach George Felton as their Director Of College Player Personnel. Felton will team up with the highly respected R.C. Buford, Dell Demps, and Sam Presti.

The Spurs could look to address the wing position with their first round pick by taking collegiate All-American Alando Tucker. Tucker may be an excellent replacement for Michael Finley, another Badger alum who was underrated coming out of college after finishing off his final college season with less success than anticipated.

Tucker’s jumper is still somewhat suspect, but it’s hard to question his intensity or relentless approach to the game. Coming out of a defensively oriented program like Wisconsin could help Tucker to fit right into The Spurs defensive structure.

Fresno State’s Dominic McGuire is also in this category, though his resume isn’t as long as Tucker’s. McGuire is a very intriguing talent because of his positional versatility and two-way skills. McGuire’s perimeter shooting isn’t fully developed and he may suffer from the new workout schedule which could limit his opportunities to display his range of abilities, but he’s a talent worth watching.

Brandon Rush is a player the Spurs will have to look at, as he has excellent length, athleticism, and the type of defensive and perimeter shooting ability the team will need to replace once Bruce Bowen decides to hang them up.

There are a number of other intriguing wing players who could be available to San Antonio in their draft range, including Derrick Byars, Arron Afflalo, Morris Almond and perhaps even Marcus Williams. Herbert Hill possesses a skill level in the post that’s potentially superior to any of the Spurs current frontcourt players not named Duncan, so he may be an intriguing selection in the early stages of the second round as well.

All in all, this is a good draft to be looking for a wing player in the late first round, so San Antonio should have a few intriguing options to choose from.

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