We're entering the dog days of the NBA offseason. Most of the big names across the NBA are off the board and traditionally we don't see a lot of late July/early August trades. Still, the activity in South Texas is higher than normal. The San Antonio Spurs have just one roster spot left, and it's a spot that long-time observers are used to the team leaving open, yet quite a few names keep popping up to fill that spot.
Before we even get started, we can cross Gary Neal's name off the list. The Spurs had an option to bring Neal back despite the signing of Marco Bellinelli, but yesterday ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the Spurs are in the process of withdrawing Neal's qualifying offer, which will make him an unrestricted free agent. It also means they can't re-sign him for more than the league minimum. It was a nice three year run, Gary.
As for those that are available, there are three names that either keep coming up, deserve consideration or fit a specific need. Let's have a look at the pros and cons for each hypothetical signing.
High Reward, Low Risk
Greg Oden - He's played 82 games total since being drafted number one overall in 2007, and six years later it's still not clear whether his knees work properly. Still, the Spurs have been linked to him over and over again. And reports indicate he's making his decision soon.
Pros: He could be the dynamic rim protector the Spurs have wanted to place next to Tim Duncan for years. He has the ability to be a monster, if only in small stretches. The sample size for the following numbers is very small, but in 2009-2010, the last time we heard from Oden, his numbers per 36 minutes were off the charts. Through 21 games of that season, Oden was averaging 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in 23.9 minutes of action. That translates to 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes. That's insane. You don't pass up that type of talent (even if there are serious questions about the player's health) if it comes cheap.
Cons: The above section describing his last season in the NBA season contains the words "through 21 games..." That's the second highest number of games he's played in a season in his entire career. The last time he played a game was on December 1, 2009, when an eighteen year old Kawhi Leonard was just a freshman at SDSU. The point is that there's really no telling what kind of feel he has for the game and whether his offensive skills, which were raw three years ago, have developed at all. Additionally, the Spurs have depth at the center and power forward positions, so is signing Oden the best way to maximize that roster spot?
The Summer League prospect
Deshaun Thomas - The 58th pick in last June's draft turned a lot of heads the first weekend of Summer League. At least a couple of guys on press row told me they thought Thomas was the steal of the second round and possibly the draft. Still, a couple of below-par games at the end of summer league, and a question about what position he'll play leaves some uncertainty about his immediate future with the Spurs.
Pros: Thomas' game isn't just polished, but he's a really smart player too. He's always looking for his shot first, but that doesn't mean he's only looking for his shot. Thomas showed great court awareness, knew when to make the extra pass and proved to be a really good offensive rebounder. His offensive game screams back up small forward and/or small ball power forward.
Cons: Is this guy a small forward? Offensively, that matters less since he has a very versatile game and Pop would surely figure out how to use him off the bench. He played a lot of power forward in Las Vegas and I'm not saying he can't guard wings, but we would probably have seen him at least try if the coaching staff thought he was able. Since he played a lot of power forward at Ohio State, he'll have to learn to guard wings and you have to think he'd be better served doing that in Europe or Austin.
Veteran Role Player
Ryan Gomes - Word came out this week that the veteran swing man worked out for both the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder recently (H/T to our friends at Project Spurs). Gomes, a seven year veteran, played overseas last year. His numbers fell off his last year in the league, but he's shown to be a solid back up small forward in the league.
Pros: Throughout his career, he's shown an ability to make three-pointers, and especially corner three-pointers, at an average to above average clip. He can defend either forward position and he's been around the league for a while so he has adapted to having a role off the bench.
Cons: He was really bad in his last two years in the league. Really bad. In 2010-2011 his player efficiency rating (PER) was 9.04. In 2011-2012 it dipped all the way to 4.44. You have to be a really good defensive player to make up for that kind offensive ineptitude and Gomes just was't that good on defense. He's only 30, so it's possible he could improve, but his career has not been trending in that direction.
The Do Nothing Approach
The final option for the Spurs is do nothing. Wait until training camp, invite some guys like Gomes and Summer League small forward Hollis Thompson, and let them compete for a job. There's nothing that says they have to add a 15th man to the roster. It might even be more prudent to wait until trade deadline in February, or the waiver wire deadline in March, to add a veteran name. Plenty of options, just a matter of what direction the Spurs decide to go.