By now, everyone knows that there's something of an arms race going among the teams considered legitimate NBA title contenders for next season. There's also been moves by teams who desperately want to contend, in an effort to make themselves better.
Rumors have been flying, and various jokers like Amare Stoudemire and Ron Artest have been tweeting about wild trade scenarios that had yet to materialize. Extra joker points go to RonRon for making people like me think he was joking about signing with the Lakers, then actually going out and doing it.
And then there's the great Rasheed Wallace sweepstakes, with 'Sheed having his choice of title contenders to sign with. No better way to counter crazy than with crazy and smart. Graydon Gordian seems to think so, and at this point the Spurs are running out of good options, with 'Sheed probably being the easiest of those options, if he can be convinced to come to San Antonio. The money is going to be the same no matter where he goes, so it just comes down to his own personal preference.
Let's review what's happened so far, and speculate on what's still to come for the Spurs.
Big Transactions For Contenders
So where do we begin? Well the Spurs got it started, but let's go over the big moves that have happened so far in this arms race.
Richard Jefferson to the San Antonio Spurs
-- Traded Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Fabricio Oberto to the Detroit Pistons.
The Spurs definitely got better with this move, but they tipped their hand by pulling the trigger on this so soon. Within 24 hours, news broke about the next big trade. Another consequence of this was a severe reduction in frontcourt depth and salary flexibility. The Spurs frontcourt now consists of Tim Duncan(GOAT), Matt Bonner(not an NBA starter), Ian Mahinmi(Mr. Glass Ankles), and DeJuan Blair(rookie with no ACLs). We'll address the frontcourt situation further below.
Shaquille O'Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers
-- Traded Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a 2010 second-round pick, and $500,000 in cash to the Phoenix Suns
This gives Cleveland a marginal improvement on the offensive end, but Shaq's defensive play is suspect at best at this point in his career. I don't think Cleveland is done yet, but this really isn't much of an upgrade, especially when you consider Shaq's salary.
Vince Carter to the Orlando Magic
-- Traded Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, and Courtney Lee to the New Jersey Nets (The Nets also sent Ryan Anderson to the Magic)
When news of this trade broke, it seemed as though Orlando was adding another much-needed scorer to their lineup, and that this would make them better. Then came news that Hedo Turkoglu was opting out of his contract. And as of this writing, Marcin Gortat appears to be headed to the Dallas Mavericks. For the record, I like Courtney Lee and think he will add to a nice young lineup in New Jersey. Unless they pull some better move out of their hindquarters soon, I don't believe this was a good move by Orlando. In fact, it seems as though they may have been weakened as a result of this trade.
Ron Artest to the Los Angeles Lakers
-- Signed via Free Agency
If we view this trade at face value, the Lakers have somehow managed to make themselves better. Particularly disconcerting is the potential for LA to dominate on the defensive end. Then again, there was a certain advantage to having Trevor Ariza - as the little o points out, the Lakers made a habit of having Ariza guard Tony Parker, which was disturbingly effective. Ron doesn't have the foot speed(especially at his age) or length to bother Tony. Also, he's a notorious chucker, which does not bode well for him in the triangle offense. The jury's out on this one right now, but I still think this is an upgrade for LA. UPDATE: Manuwar wrote a nice opinion on the trade here that's worth the read.
Like it or not, it seems as if our trade for Jefferson made some other GM's very nervous. Seems reminiscent of how the Gasol trade got all the other teams to make hasty decisions a couple of years ago. So that's it for the contenders. There's been other moves, but we'll leave that for the "experts" to discuss.
What This Means For The Spurs
The Good: Small Forward
The Spurs made a good upgrade at the SF position, one that has been badly needed for several years now. The only thing that would make it better is if Bowen came back and we could dump Michael Finley. As things stand right now, the SF rotation seems to be Jefferson/Finley/Marcus Williams. Depth is still a legitimate concern, but the starting SF position has been greatly upgraded.
The Bad: Frontcourt Depth
After the big trade, the Spurs got lucky in the draft and filled one of the many holes in the frontcourt with DeJuan Blair. But DeJuan isn't a starter, and this team needs a decent big who can stand in there with Tim Duncan and take some pressure off of him on the defensive end.
So how might we find this elusive 2nd big man?
- Option 1: Free Agency
Timmy is one of the best help defenders in the game, so a big who can play excellent man defense would be ideal. We won't need a lot of offense from our 2nd big, but a guy with a decent shooting stroke, who could help spread the floor for Timmy on the offensive end and knock down the open shots, would complete the ideal package. I wonder if there's a free agent available who fits that profile?
A lot has been written about Rasheed, and whether or not he would be a good fit for the Spurs - in fact, the subject has been beaten to death. But if looking at in only basketball terms, it becomes pretty clear that this is the perfect player to complete our team. Yes, there's a chance he has character/chemistry issues that sink the team's hopes - but those chances seem pretty remote from where I'm sitting. I'd actually be more worried about RJ's assimilation to the Spurs, since Buford and Pop have designated him as our new defensive stopper.
Of course, there are other free agents out there, and this has been discussed at length here. Antonio McDyess, Zaza Pachulia, Rasho Nesterovic, Glen Davis and some others are still available - but we can expect that well to dry up fast right after Wallace makes his decision.
- Option 2: Trade For a Big Man
There are still some big men available on the trading block, but their numbers are dwindling as of late. After the Clippers traded Zach Randolph to the Grizzlies, Marcus Camby doesn't look as available anymore. The Hornets are still looking to cut salary, so Tyson Chandler is available. They might also be willing to part with David West, and aren't exactly in a great position to negotiate. Andris Biedrins was almost involved in a trade for Amare, so perhaps he's available as well. There are plenty of possibilities here, but it's late and I don't want to thiink about salary matching at the moment. Feel free to leave all the trade suggestions/scenarios you want in the comments - the more the merrier.
It's pretty clear that the Spurs front office has a plan, even though they're staying mum about it at the moment. In the coming weeks, we may witness that plan unfolding brilliantly, or crashing and causing improvisation. Either way, it will be fun to watch.
The Same: Backcourt
Between Tony, Manu Ginobili, Roger Mason, and George Hill, we've got an awesome backcourt rotation. This could be tweaked by an extra PG to offer added depth, and another wing(Hairston? McClinton?) to fill out the roster and spell the old farts. But the Spurs's backcourt is among the best in the league, if not at the top, so this area is most assuredly not a cause for concern.
The Bottom Line
The Spurs have already had a very productive offseason, and finally seem to be implementing their plan to transition the team into the twilight years of Timmy and Manu, if not beyond. Getting your ass kicked in the first round, then watching the Euroleague star you traded away for peanuts frustrate the Lakers for 7 games will do that to you. Stampler was right, this team needed a beatdown to get back in gear. With that said, the front office has been doing a hell of a job so far this year, but their job isn't done by any stretch of the imagination.
Let's hope the good times keep rolling, all the way to another river parade.