Andrei Kirilenko has been at the top of a lot of Spurs fans' wish list for the off-season. A long combo forward known for his defense, Kirlenko is also a good offensive player and would, on paper, fit perfectly with the Spurs. Apparently PATFO is neither blind nor inactive, so they tried to land Kirilenko on a sign and trade with the Wolves. Understandably, the Wolves were not eager to help a direct rival get better and talks broke off. But can the Spurs still work out a way to get Kirilenko? Let's look at some scenarios.
Scenario one: Sign and trade with the Wolves
In his piece, Woj doesn't mention the details of what the Spurs were offering or what the Wolves wanted. Since he does mention Kirilenko wants an $8 million contract, the Spurs would have had to trade back a player or combination of players amounting to at least $5 million in order to comply with the current collective bargaining agreement.
We don't know who was included in the would-be trade, but for now let's assume the Spurs offered any combination of Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Nando De Colo, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Gary Neal. The Wolves have a glut of guards and power forwards so, if the offer was actually something like that, it's understandable they turned it down. Even if a first round pick was involved, the Wolves realize that it would likely be one of the that first round, and they are in win-now mode. But things could change if the Spurs included Danny Green in the deal.
The Wolves made some interesting off-season additions, but they are still sorely lacking perimeter defense despite the recent signing of Corey Brewer. The Spurs could send Bonner and Green to Minnesota for Kirilenko and provide Minny with one of the best 3-and-D guys out there.
Is it worthy for the Spurs? It's hard to tell. If Leonard is moved to shooting guard and Kirilenko starts at small forward, the Spurs would have serious spacing issues. And since the Spurs' starting lineup is phenomenal with Green in it, the upgrade on defense, if there is one at all, will likely be minuscule.
If Kirilenko starts at power forward, Duncan would have to take other team's best post players, which would wear him down. It would also likely mean he would get more of his offense in the post, since Kirilenko is likely a downgrade over Splitter as screener and interior scorer. So if Green needs to be included, the decision is a hard one. Having Kirilenko could help against teams that like going small, but would hurt in several other areas.
Likelihood of happening
Pretty low. There is no reason for the Wolves to help the competition get better without getting something back themselves. The only way I see it happening is if the Spurs are willing to offer Green and the Wolves actually want him. For all we know, they offered him already and the Wolves said no. And Corey Brewer, while not even close to the shooter Green is, can be their defender off the bench.
Scenario two: Three-team trade
There is a way for the Wolves to not take salary at all. The Spurs would need to find a team with cap space or a large trade exception who wants what the Spurs have to offer.
Let's use the Hawks as an example. They have a little over $7 million in cap room. If they strike out on their targets, they could decide to use that cap space to just fill out the roster and get an asset or two. So the Spurs would get Kirlenko, the Wolves net a large traded player exception and the Hawks a combination of the players mentioned in scenario one. Possibly even a first rounder from the Spurs for helping out. This way, the Wolves have little reason not to pull the trigger because they can then use that traded player exception to get themselves another guy. Unless they really don't want the Spurs to land Kirilneko, they would probably be on board.
The problem is finding a third team that is willing to do it. I mentioned Atlanta, but they are in the mix to get Monta Ellis, which means they will likely want to wait until they are done with all their other deals. This is the list of teams that still have cap room. Orlando and Philadelphia could be options, since they need to fill out their roster and are rebuilding. De Colo and Cory Joseph have marginal value but paired with a first rounder or a Euro stash could be attractive while Bonner could be a good trade chip or help them reach the salary floor. But again, it's possible they have other moves in mind. Finding a team that wants to be involved could prove difficult.
Likelihood of happening
It would depend on finding a third team that wants what the Spurs have to offer. If the Spurs can't find a team with cap space or a TPE that is willing, there's not a lot they can do. But perhaps offering a couple of young players, Bonner and picks could convince a GM to collaborate. Is Kirilenko worth that? Probably. But it's hard to see who that third team could be.
Scenario three: The Spurs clear cap room
This scenario is similar to the scenario two but the Spurs would cut the Wolves out of the equation. Since AK is an unrestricted free agent, he can sign wherever he wants; the team just has to have cap space. The Spurs at this point don't have any but if they dump a few contracts, they could get some.
Before making a commitment to Belinelli and Pendergraph, the Spurs were a little under $2 million under the cap, counting Neal's cap hold. Without it, they are a little over $2 million under the cap. Pendergraph's contract fits into the room exception, so the Spurs don't need cap space for him. That leaves Belinelli's alleged $3 million and AK's new contract which could start at $8 million. They need to clear an extra $9 million off the books. Fortunately, the combined salaries of Bonner and Diaw add to a little over that magic number.
In this scenario the Spurs could offer them separately. Diaw and Bonner likely have some value as players and their contracts come off the books next year. So a team with a traded player exception that is trying to contend now, like the Bulls and the Grizzlies, might welcome the extra big man depth. If it's a rebuilding team with cap space which has little use for either the Spurs are dealing with, they could attach an asset to each. A young player, a Euro stash or a draft pick could sweeten the pot.
Likelihood of happening
That's a lot of moving pieces. The Spurs would have to find a couple of teams that actually want Diaw or Bonner. It will likely involve the Spurs losing assets in the process. It would be risky, as the Spurs would also be trading away all of their big man depth, but it is possible. Again, the question is the same. Is Kirilenko worth it? If PATFO sees him as the final piece of the puzzle, the answer is yes.
So as you see, the Spurs have options. It is admittedly hard to imagine the Spurs making all of these moves in the upcoming days but there are ways to make room for Kirilenko. Of course it's possible they explored them already and decided against them or maybe they tried to make them work but couldn't get the other parties to agree. Making a deal with a player is complicated enough. Making a deal with a player and two other teams must be extremely difficult.
I honestly think it's highly unlikely AK wears the Silver and Black next season but in this instance I'd be happy if the front office works its magic and proves me wrong.
Hat tip to commenter Alamo, whose obsession with the Spurs getting AK helped me research for this article