Kevin C. Cox
Dismissing the Josh-Smith-to-the-Spurs trade rumors, discussing All-Star weekend, dishing Manu's possible retirement -- and more.
I've been a little busy lately, which means I have not had a chance to write everything I wanted to write. The Spurs have reportedly shown interest in trading for Josh Smith and All Star weekend has come and gone. Here are some thoughts on those topics and more.
Any realistic trade for Josh Smith has to include Splitter, possibly Leonard
The Spurs were mentioned as one of the teams interested in Josh Smith and it kind of makes sense. Jackson's big expiring contract makes them one of the few teams that can match salaries without losing a star in the process and a lengthy, athletic, defensive-minded forward could only help the defense. The problem is, Atlanta will want at least Splitter back and possibly Leonard to pull the trigger. If the Hawks ask for Jackson, Splitter and parts (like De Colo and a first round pick) it makes sense for the Spurs to explore it, even if there are some possible drawbacks that come with making a significant move at this point in the season. More likely, the Hawks ask for Leonard back, which puts the Spurs in a bad position since they'd be losing both their small forwards, one of which PATFO regards as an eventual star -- all for a guy who could very well be nothing more than a rental. Smith is not going to sign an extension and wants the max. He will be an unrestricted free agent, so he might decide to bolt and join the Mavericks for all we know.
Some might say "the Hawks are going to lose him anyway. They don't have leverage. If they take Jackson, Bonner and a pick they'd at least be getting something back for him." The problem is, they don't have to trade him. They are not paying the luxury tax this season. They could keep him, make a playoff push (and collect the revenue that comes with it) and then let his contract expire. Who knows? Maybe he re-signs with them. Maybe they use the cap space to get a replacement. There are also 28 other teams that can make an offer. I'm not saying the Spurs shouldn't be interested in Smith; I'm just saying the Spurs will definitely have to give the Hawks something of value back for him.
The dunk contest is fun if you want it to be
If you haven't read Matthew Tynan's piece about Saturday's event, do it now. The cynicism surrounding the dunk contest is really ridiculous. It's just a fun little event that is blown way out of proportion. Just like that Nets game I recapped, I watched the dunk contest with a couple of friends that like basketball but don't follow the NBA. While I was snidely saying that Ross didn't belong, they kept watching in awe of the players' athleticism. Regular NBA viewers and especially NBA die-hards who watch every game and can recite former dunk contest winners are desensitized to just how fantastically athletic these guys are. I am positive that I wouldn't have enjoyed this year's dunk contest as much as I did if my experience hadn't been filtered through the eyes of people that are still willing to let themselves be amazed by almost superhuman feats from guys that put themselves under scrutiny, merely for our entertainment. [Ed. note: And a trophy. Don't forget that trophy. -jrw]
The Red Rocket did fine
Bonner campaigned to get into the three point shootout and got his wish. While some were looking for Bonner to implode under the bright lights, the Red Rocket held his own and did a great job representing the Spurs. It took a ridiculous shooting display by Kirye Irving to beat Matty in the final round but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that a Spur was actually the media darling for once, even if it was on a minor stage, and he didn't disappoint. I'm not going to make claims that this performance might help Bonner do better in the playoffs or anything like that. I'm just happy he got to participate and I'm proud of how he did.
Manu is not retiring
I've seen several comments both here and in other Spurs sites over the last few weeks devoted to the possibility of Manu Ginobili hanging them up after this season and I have to say, I really, really don't think that will happen. Manu has been vocal in the past about wanting to play for a few more years and as recently as a couple of weeks ago he said the same thing on a Q&A he regularly does with fans. It's mostly in Spanish but on a couple of questions about his retirement he answers that he doesn't know when that will be, but he thinks he'll play for a couple more years in the NBA. He never hints to a possible retirement after this season at any point.
And it's not just that Q&A, either. Everything I've read or heard from Manu about how long he plans to keep playing suggest that he is still motivated to play at a high level for a while longer. He was asked where he would go if the Spurs don't want him back and he answered "to the team, among those interested in me, that has the best players." That doesn't sound like a guy ready to retire to me. Unless he suffers a serious injury, expect to see Manu back next season.
Other teams have flaws, too
I often come across comments from fans that are convinced the Spurs have some fatal flaw that makes them a pretender instead of a contender. Usually it's the lack of another quality big but sometimes is pick and roll defense, the lack of a back up point guard, health, etc. All those seem like good reasons to remain cautious but guess what? Other teams have flaws as well.
There is a completely understandable tendency to blow the Spurs' problems out of proportion and to minimize other teams' flaws. Considering most of us watch all the Spurs games but only a handful of other teams, it's not strange that we notice our guys' shortcomings more. Our knowledge of our team's strengths and weaknesses is extensive and specific, but our understanding of what other teams do well -- and not so well -- is general at best. But if you venture to other teams' blogs you'll notice that even fans of other elite squads have some worries as well. OKC fans worry that the team's fluctuating defense and 4th quarter collapses might harm them in the playoffs. Heat fans are worried about Wade and about how the team forgets about Bosh for stretches. OKC relies on Westbrook, who can be unstable on occasion. The Heat's defense relies on trapping on pick and rolls and a team like the Spurs could take advantage of that with crisp passing.
No team is perfect and while it might make sense to go forward with a trade or a change in the rotation to improve a particular area, the Spurs are good enough to be rightfully considered a elite. Will they win it all? Who knows. But it's important to bear in mind that other teams have some flaws too, and what separates the teams at the top is how well they perform for a few weeks in May and June. Just remember, the Spurs were dismissed at the beginning of last season but they caught fire at the right time and were two games away from the Finals. Not to mention the fact that the Lakers were supposed to destroy all comers this year and might not make the playoffs.