Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The NBA's trade season is in full swing, and the Spurs have a few talented guys who aren't currently getting playing time in Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair. Does that mean that they're actively shopping these two in hopes to improve during the stretch run, like they did last year?
The Spurs have apparently signed Kiwi/Aussie center Aron Baynes. He's been seen in San Antonio, where he's taking his physical, and if everything is sorted out, he should join the team soon. That puts the roster at the max of 15 players and it gives the Spurs six bigs. This is after they spent the majority of last season with four. Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair have seen their minutes all but vanish as the season has gone on, and this signing seems to emphasize what we suspected: Pop doesn't consider them good enough to be in the rotation. If someone will be leaving the team, it'll be one of the two of them - most likely Blair.
"Why Blair and not Bonner?", you may ask. Bonner has some guaranteed money left on his contract for next season, which makes him tougher to move. There are teams that could benefit from his skill set and positive locker room influence, but it's mostly young teams who are not looking to improve now. "Why not both?", you may also ask. The combined salaries of Blair and Bonner amount to almost five million dollars, and you have to match salaries to make a trade work. I simply don't see the Spurs taking on that amount of money for the type of player they could get back in a trade where they only send out Blair and Bonner. Finally, why not keep both? Neither can be sent down to the Toros, which means De Colo would make Austin his permanent home or one of those guys sits in a suit for the rest of the season. That's a waste considering they are NBA caliber players.
So the Spurs will probably look to move someone when Baynes joins, and it makes the most sense for that someone to be Blair. But can the Spurs find a partner to broker a mutually beneficial trade? It depends on what they want back, if anything at all.
If the Spurs simply want to cut a little salary this season, finding someone to pawn Blair off on shouldn't be that hard. DeJuan has been on the block for a while now and no one has bitten, but that could be solved by lowering the asking price. It shouldn't be hard finding a team with a bit of cap space or a minimum contract guy. We are talking a financially motivated move here, so what comes back doesn't matter. The Cavs and the Suns have cap space and auditioning Blair would be a smart move for two franchises that need all the young talent they can get, especially if the cost is only a conditional second rounder.
But getting an asset back would prove more difficult since Blair is an unrestricted free agent next season, which makes him a rental. Teams on the playoff bubble like Philadelphia, Portland and Minnesota might want to bolster their bench with an energy guy like DeJuan, but it's unlikely they'd trade anything of substance for him. A young player like Will Barton would be a nice addition to the Toros. He could develop some there, but it's tough to see teams sending back anyone who might crack the rotation this season. A team with a low second rounder could also take a shot at a Blair rental, but there really didn't seem to be a market for him out there when he was getting minutes. The time to showcase Blair seems gone and his value will only fall as the DNPs pile up.
My preferred course of action would be packaging Blair with someone like Mills or Neal, and even a first rounder if necessary, for a player in need of a change of scenery. I'm not talking the Tyreke Evans of the league here, but someone like Donatas Moteijunas of the Rockets or Tobias Harris of the Bucks; guys who aren't getting playing time on their current team, but could still develop into something special.
Those are just examples and the point would not be to find players that would contribute now, but cashing in on some depth for a higher ceiling player makes sense. The Spurs could also simply try to find another cheap forward to throw at the Durants and Gallinaris of the West. The Wizards' Chris Singleton or the Jazz's Jeremy Evans could be that 13th guy that's only used in specific matchups, and probably shouldn't be as hard to get as Harris, Motiejunas or players of that caliber.
Then there's the big time trade scenarios. Unfortunately, as enticing as it is to come up with those, it seems less and less likely the Spurs are interested in doing something so potentially destructive. The Baynes signing makes that a little clearer: PATFO realized the team needed another big like most observers were claiming and went and got one via free agency instead of trade. Additionally, to make any big trade happen, the Spurs would likely have to give up either Leonard or Splitter, and at this point those guys have made themselves untouchable with the excellence of their play. Unless an ideal trade scenario unfolds, I don't see the Spurs pulling the trigger on some big deal, which means including Blair as a sweetener in a larger trade doesn't seem to be in the cards.
If a trade doesn't materialize, the only other option seems to be to buy him out and waive him. If Blair isn't moved by the trade deadline, he might ask to be released so he can find another team (which is the precise route through which the Spurs got Boris Diaw last year). It's a reasonable request from a young player that has spent his entire four year career receiving a modest pay check (by NBA standards), while often playing a significant role. The Spurs would probably oblige because that's the type of organization they are and because they got a huge return on their investment on Blair already. The problems are then the Spurs get nothing whatsoever in return for him, while having no control over where he signed.
DeJuan is not likely to tip the balance of a postseason series by himself, but he could definitely offer some valuable energy minutes off the bench to a playoff team. I could see the Clippers and Warriors trying to replace guys like Ryan Hollins or Andris Biedrins on the depth chart and teams on the bubble like the Timberwolves or Trail Blazers would probably be interested too. In such a scenario, Blair would be helping teams the Spurs are in direct competition with, and San Antonio would get nothing in return.
That's why, if the Spurs are prepared to waive Blair, then trading DeJuan as soon as possible, and ideally to an Eastern team, is far better than waiving him -- almost regardless of what the Spurs get in return.
Note: this is not the place to trash Blair or come to his defense, guns a-blazing. If you want to read about Blair's merits and flaws, you can do that in the many articles on the subject. If you want to start a new discussion, the fanposts are there for you. Trade talk or a counter argument as to why it makes sense to keep him are, of course, fair game. Thanks. J.