I know what you’re thinking and, no. Don’t worry; this southern California native isn’t polluting PtR (anymore than I already have) with hippie rhetoric. The title of this post (in this case) refers to a poker term in which a player has invested a certain amount of money or chips where the odds of the return are so great that even with an unlikely winning outcome the player is forced to stay in the hand. Simply put it’s a value play.
Going into the 2010-2011 season the Spurs will have 7 players under contract and team options for two more, Malik Hairston and Alonzo Gee, who the Spurs will likely exercise. That leaves up to 6 roster spots and a mandatory filling of 3 of those vacancies. Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, Ian Mahinmi, Keith Bogans and Garret Temple will all be unrestricted free agents.
It seems that Tiago Splitter is the proverbial fork in the road as it pertains to the Spurs signing and resigning of free agents to fill out the roster. If he signs the Spurs will go one way, if he doesn’t, perhaps another. But for the sake of this post let’s assume the Spurs do sign Tiago and use their 20th over all pick to draft a small forward.
It’s no secret that there will be a slew of big time free agents this summer and after those stars there are even more good role players. The Spurs though, should neither sign nor trade for any of them. The easy way to qualify this statement is to point to the obvious fact that new players tend to struggle in their first season as a Spur. But just as the Suns exploited our weaknesses this postseason, Tiago will bring to light our strengths as our starting center.
Let’s start with Matt Bonner. His unaesthetic game is much like the full court press. It’s unconventional and, although it can be exploited, there are usually benefits that come from using it for small spurts at a time. Like a well timed changeup pitch in baseball, Matt Bonner shakes up opposing defenses a bit. The Spurs seem to run into problems though when he plays extended minutes and his lack of physicality (not lack of effort though) gives way to opponents point in the paint. Adding Tiago should obviously limit Bonners minutes but the important part of the equation here is that The Red Rocket will probably be prepared to take a step back for the betterment of the team. Aside from his stretching defenses, Matt’s team first attitude is something of great importance for the immeasurable value of team chemistry.
Recent reports of Ian Mahinmi stating that his decision on where he signs will be based on playing time has Ian seeming like the opposite of what I highlighted about Bonner. But I like Ian’s competitive spirit and I do think there are some minutes to be had there for him even with Blair, McDyess, Tim, Tiago and Bonner ahead of him. Sounds crazy but let’s break it down quickly. There are 96 combined minutes available at the 4 and 5 spots. Tim Duncan is not aging, he is simply aged. And while I’d love to see Timmy produce at a high level for 35 minutes per game it’s not only at the detriment of his knees but probably the team to going forward next year. It’s not a knock on the greatest power forward of all time it’s just what it is. The Phoenix Suns exploited Tim’s lack of lateral movement when Tim has to play heavy minutes. And McDyess isn’t good enough to warrant heavy minutes even if he isn’t showing major signs deteriorated physical ability. I’d like think Splitter is young and skilled enough to merit heavy minutes but given that he will be a rookie I can only assume Pop won’t play him starter minutes even if he is just that. So this is where we’ll stand:
Duncan: 30mpg (or less)
McDyess: 15 mpg
Blair: 18 mpg
Bonner: 8 mpg
Tiago: 20 mpg
That would leave 5 minutes per game left and if the Spurs coaching staff and front office could convince Ian that he will be given roughly that amount to prove himself each night then everyone wins. Ian could potentially have a break out year and steal minutes from McDyess or Tiago and we’d have 6 big men, 5 of whom know the Spurs system so when an inevitable injury hits our front court we won’t be forced to play a newcomer unnecessary minutes.
I haven’t heard anything but praise about Dejuan Blair and no one likes a nit picker but there is a reason I think his last years season average of minutes per game should not be increased next season. Dejuan Blair is a fun player to watch and when your team boasts 4 or 5 very capable scorers Dejuan is just the type of play you like to have. He hustles, he rebounds and he gives the team an injection of energy even if he’s not providing in the box score. But for the same reason Matt Bonner should not play very many minutes Dejuan should be limited to fewer than 20 per game. Dejuan is strong and stout underneath on defense but he’s just too short. The fact that he is so physical negates some of his lack of size but in extended minutes he too can be exploited by taller opponents. No need to trade him but no need to up his minutes either.
Garrett Temple and Roger Mason Jr. are easy decisions though they are opposite ones. Sadly, for whatever reasons, Roger Mason Jr. has lost his confidence and shot. Which came first is a great mystery but a change of scenery for Roger is imminent and I wish him the best of luck. Temple on the other hand is young and showed good potential. I won’t lose any sleep with Garrett Temple being our 14th or so man on the roster, especially if he can be signed for a relatively low amount.
The tougher decision is what to do with Keith Bogans. There have not been many players in recent Spurs history who’ve received more erratic minutes. Some nights he would start and log heavy minutes and on other nights receive a DNP CD (did not play, coaches decision). Given this it’s tough to gage where he stands with the coach Pop and Spurs. But if we’re to assume that Richard Jefferson will improve one season to the next because he’ll be more comfortable in the Spurs system then why not assume the same for Bogans? Resigning Bogans is important for several reasons. First he shoots the three at a respectable clip, 35.7% on the year. Second he does not coast very much at all. He earned fewer than 1 million dollars for the season. Third he plays the type of physical get-under-your-opponent defense that is perfect for making shooters uncomfortable and forces them to be funneled into big help defenders. The problem last year was that very often the help defender was an undersized Blair or Bonner. Replace them with Tiago and Keith Bogans seems the perfect fit. But the last reason to resign Bogans is the most important and, by the way, the same reason we should not trade Richard Jefferson. By resigning Keith Bogans it means we DO NOT bring in a player unfamiliar with our system. We avoid the missteps of defensive rotations, the relied adlib play on the offensive end and the potential crumbling under Pop’s notorious demands.
Bringing in Tiago and drafting of whoever is just the amount of tinkering the Spurs need going into next season. Those calling for major trades or signings are missing out on something. Most of the Spurs cap room is tied up between Manu Tony Tim and RJ. There’s no need to belabor the fact that RJ is overpaid; it is what it is and the Spurs won’t be able to get a good return on his contract with out pairing him with a player who’s still on their rookie scale contract. As for the big three this is where the Spurs are pot committed and if you're a fan you're probably emotionally dedicated to these players. The Spurs front office has committed a large amount of money in the big three and the return has been three championships thus far. Now, the value play is to resign the current players who are already familiar with the Spurs system. The Spurs chances to win it all may not be great but they are still better than most. To get a perceived difference maker the Spurs would have to give up a proven player (one of the big three or Hill) and they’ve already witnessed first hand what a twenty pointes per game player can be reduced to when giving the Spurs system a first time go. There’s no need to gamble, there’s no need to panic; just pound the rock as they’ve always done.