[Editor's note: There's a lot of talk going on lately about the Spurs frontcourt, and for good reason. There are only four big men on San Antonio's roster, and two of them (Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair) can't take the floor together because they give up too many points. Then there's the issue of Blair's knees and his durability, which again re-surfaced as a topic after he left Sunday evening's game against Denver after suffering a knee contusion at the very beginning of the game. The Spurs went the rest of the way with just 3 bigs, and as Bushka noted, Pop was forced to go to Kawhi Leonard at power forward in the 2nd half.
There's also a great deal of buzz recently about Emeka Okafor, whether and where he'll be dealt before the trade deadline. So I asked The Big Fundamental to take a look at the most logical trade that could take place to bring the Hornet big man to San Antonio, and to analyze whether it would actually improve the team or not. - jrw]
Considering there are always inherent flaws (the magnitude of which can be measured on a scale from very small, all the way up to the Charlotte Bobcats) in every basketball team, the decision to circumvent the trade market could alter the future prognosis of the team. Every team, no matter how successful and seemingly impenetrable their roster is, should look into making improvements and this definitely applies to the Spurs.
Of course, PATFO's solution to the Spurs' most prevalent need (the frontcourt) is rather ambiguous in nature. They can buy out a big man after the trading deadline, stay pat and hope that continuity reigns supreme or they could piece together a package consisting of some combination of James Anderson, DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson for a defensive-minded big man.
It seems that, at the very least, PATFO is willing to talk about someone like Emeka Okafor. The most logical trade would probably be to deal Blair and Jefferson (NBA Trade Machine notes that the trade would decrease our projected wins by 1). Ignoring the likelihood of the deal, let's examine some pertinent questions and some possible short-term and long-term implications of acquiring Okafor.
Who would get minutes?
Barring injury, the Spurs rotation would squeeze in about 10 players into the rotation. The surplus of talent allows Pop to ride the hot hand, get creative in constructing lineups and allocate rest to any player he deems necessary.
Certainly, this will test Pop's management skills, but because he's Pop and he's brilliant I'm not going to worry. How the minutes are distributed isn't as relevant, in my opinion, but rather who gets the minutes is more important.
As for who will become mainstays in the rotation, I would expect for the majority of Blair's minutes to transfer to Okafor. At 28.9 minutes per game, Okafor was playing 57% of the available minutes at center but that was mostly because he was competing against Gustavo Ayon, Carl Landry and Jason Smith. He'll probably garner somewhere along the lines of 25 minutes on the Spurs.
Okafor should be earning less minutes than Tiago Splitter because the majority of lineups containing Splitter have positive adjusted plus/minus ratings (his adjusted plus 4.74 is only behind Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker). Plus, Okafor's defense hasn't exactly been solid. He hasn't had one season with an above-average defensive rating, his block rate has declined and the Hornets have a negative 8.5 net rating when he's on the court (opposing teams score 104.0 points per 100 possessions).
Okafor does not have the requisite speed to keep up with stretch four's and other similar players who can expose Okafor's poor foot speed. Pairing him with Duncan or Splitter will create an awkward match defensively and will not be conducive to good floor spacing offensively. While Blair isn't a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, his ability to keep up with power forwards seems to be more valuable than Okafor's shot blocking. (insight courtesy of SpursFanSteve)
As for RJ, his departure will definitely clear the logjam at the wing. There will be a higher dosage of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and even Anderson. If Anderson can relish the opportunity, he could make an impact for the Spurs and improve his standing around the league.
Would Anderson be more upset that he wasn't traded?
Gosh, I hope not. Ideally, the Spurs would able to hang onto Anderson. A selling point to Anderson's camp could be the extra minutes available (RJ logged 52% of minutes at SF) and the opportunity to grow as player playing in one of the most complex systems in the NBA.
I'm not one to accurately assess the common athletes thought process (but it probably goes around the lines of: Want money, need money, crave money) so I won't assume that he'll be OK with the potential to earn the minutes rather than having finite minutes handed to him.
If not? Then let's just ship him for a second rounder or some potential laden big man (maybe Larry Sanders?) before the deadline.
Will we see more Tim and Tiago lineups?
For a lot of Spurs fans, the TAT (Tim and Tiago) lineup is one they want played more often and I would agree. I think that the lack of floor spacing isn't a huge issue this season now that Timmy has transitioned from a dominant post player to a mid-range player (4.5 attempts per game from 16-23 feet). Okafor is more of a threat to protect the rim than Blair so the prospect of a below-average frontline is less likely. Maybe that alone gives Pop more incentive to use Tiago and Timmy together. They double as some of the best interior passing big men in the entire league so if you pair them with some capable shooters and Manu Ginobili/TP, watch out.
Will SA's three point attack be affected?
By sheer attrition, yes, the Spurs three-point attack will take a hit. They are losing their third most proficient three-point shooter (.448 3P%) without acquiring anyone to compensate for RJ's shooting. The Spurs are second in eFG% from the arc (.594%) so getting weaker in this regard isn't too bad. With Okafor, the Spurs still have four above-average shooters that can space the floor for Manu and TP. RJ's shooting was nice but given the collective skill of the Spurs, his skill set is redundant.
How much will this deal handcuff Spurs salary wise in 2013-14?
Now here is where the trade starts looking worse. Next year, the Spurs have $47.3 million against their cap. With Okafor, that adds approximately $2.3 million and that will hamstring them from making any meaningful free agent additions, even if Timmy takes a pay cut. Adding Okafor would also add about $5.7 million to their payroll for the 2014-15 season. The lack of flexibility wouldn't make maximizing value any easier. The option to amnesty Okafor doesn't seem like a legitimate option either. Otherwise, would trading Blair and RJ justify two months of Okafor? More than anything else, this would be the reason we see the Spurs take a pass on dealing for Emeka.