I hardly ever do this kind of thing, because I'm very bad at it and not at all versed on the vagaries of luxury tax implications and other things that prevent NBA teams from wheeling and dealing more liberally, but Ken Berger of CBSSports.com wrote this blurb in a recent column about the Spurs that got a lot of attention:
• We've been predicting the Spurs' last hurrah for years, but this time it might really be the end of the road. The Spurs have been unusually aggressive trying to upgrade their roster in the trade market, a signal to rival execs that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford realize this might be the final shot at a title with the triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan, 37, has a $10.4 million player option for next season, and Parker's future also has to be addressed; only $3.5 million of his $12.5 million for next season is guaranteed.
Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether Berger's information is legit. Gregg Popovich and Spurs GM R.C. Buford (or PATFO, as we know them) have a well-established reputation for being even more close to the vest with their machinations than typical NBA executives, and even if they are feeling out teams for trades, who knows if they're doing it with a sense of desperation or "need," or if they're just fishing in case something piques their mutual interest? As always with the Spurs, it's best to take the pragmatic approach -- i.e. seeing is believing -- I'll believe they make a move of note when I see it.
Tiago's down, should the Spurs make a trade
With Splitter down, should R.C. Buford be working the phones trying to get the Spurs another big man? Probably not. But here are some trade ideas all the same.
That being said, I spent an hour on ESPN.com's trade machine and came up with a few deals that will never ever happen, just ripe for your mockery. I invite all of you to ridicule these and to come up with better ones.
Trade 1) Spurs send Matt Bonner, Nando De Colo and Aron Baynes to the Bucks for Ersan Ilyasova
The Bucks signed Ilyasova, whose nickname is "Turkish Thunder," according to basketball-reference.com, to a five-year, $40 million deal in the off-season because he was one of the best values in the league the past two years as a way-underpaid, highly productive stretch four. In turn Ilyasova has repaid the Bucks' faith in him with by far the worst season of his career, with career-worst numbers in almost every category, including an unfathomable .233 shooting percentage from downtown and a PER in the single digits (9.6). It's certainly arguable that he's been the worst rotation player on the league's worst club.
So, naturally, he's a guy I want. I'm betting on his long-term track record, including some big games in international tournaments, over his miserable form this year. I think he's a guy who's stuck in a bad situation, playing with bad, shoot-first point guards, and with wings who are so bad that they don't draw any attention away from him. I think Bucks coach Larry Drew erred badly in benching him early in the season and that move sapped Ilyasova's confidence and maybe his commitment to the cause as well. He just doesn't look like he's playing as hard as he had in past years. Did he get fat and happy once he got the guaranteed $32 million? Could be.
Regardless, I think the Bucks would love to have a reset button on that contract and to do a complete rebuild without Ilyasova as part of their future plans. If they could move him for $6.2 million worth of expiring contracts and maybe a late first-round pick, I think they'd strongly consider it. They'd also get to kick the tires with Baynes and De Colo (remember, it's not like they have any studs running the point) for a few months to see if there's anything there with those guys.
For the Spurs, this trade would be more of a long-term move than necessarily one for the 2013-14 season. Obviously they'd have to think a lot of Ilyasova internally to commit so much money to him, but their roster-building philosophy has leaned heavily toward foreign guys for some time now and seven million a year really isn't that much for a 26-year-old power forward who'd be your starter for a couple years once Tim Duncan retires. Ilyasova would be a decent enough stopgap until the team finds its next star big-man. Plus, I'm betting that Chip Engelland could quickly tweak whatever flaw is in Ilyasova's stroke to get him to shoot threes well again (remember, we're talking about a guy who shot 45 and 44 percent from deep the last two years).
Could Ilyasova help the Spurs for this playoff run? It's certainly possible, if he commits to learning the offensive and defensive systems quickly. To me, whatever he provides for 2013-14 is a bonus, but at worst he'd be Bonner with more rebounding/defense/athleticism, a fifth big who could be promoted to fourth or even third on the depth chart depending on match-ups and how well he's playing. Since most of the contenders lean toward small-ball, I think Ilyasova could be a solid backup to Boris Diaw if Splitter is phased out due to match-ups.
Anyway, this trade will never happen.
If you thought that trade was ambitious, then I give you this baby...
2) Spurs send Bonner and Danny Green to the Magic for Arron Afflalo
This is more of a traditional "going for it," trade, the kind that would piss off the rest of the league and cause the pundits to shake their heads (literally or figuratively) and mutter, "They did it again," and inspire at least one admiring column from Zach Lowe and maybe one podcast rant from Bill Simmons.
Unlike Ilyasova, Afflalo is in the midst of a career-year (though he has been slumping of late with a bad foot) and he's signed for two more seasons after this at $7.75 million, though he has a player-option for the 2015-16 year. If the Spurs acquired him, they could keep that defensive integrity with a starting lineup of Duncan-Splitter-Leonard-Afflalo-Parker, with the bonus that Afflalo shoots it from outside just as well as Green does but is better at putting it on the floor and finishing at the rim. I like Green, but there's no doubt that Afflalo would be an upgrade.
So why would the Magic go for it, assuming we throw a first-rounder or two their way? Well, it turns out that for the first time in recorded history I was wrong about a sports opinion and they aren't going to contend for a playoff spot after all, even in the wretched East. (ahem) Nikola Vucevic hasn't been as good as he was last year, Victor Oladipo has been good but not franchise-altering as a rookie, and youngsters Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson haven't helped the cause either. The Madge started the season okay, but have been in a free-fall of late, losing seven in a row to drop to the second-worst record in the league. Moving Afflalo would allow Oladipo, who's not a point guard, to play the two exclusively and help open the tanking/rebuilding floodgates for Orlando, and trading with the Spurs would allow Jacque Vaughn to repay Pop and the Spurs organization for giving him his coaching start as well as his championship ring as a player.
Obviously, this trade can't be consummated until Green comes back from his broken finger, but who are we kidding, if/when Afflalo gets traded it'll be to some team that offers significantly more than Green, Bonner and some picks (though Green's a guy who is both young enough to be useful and experienced enough to impart some wisdom on the young guys), but a guy can dream, right?
Since we've had one hypothetical deal where a coach from the Popovich tree repays his mentor, why not another?
3) Spurs send Bonner, De Colo and Boris Diaw to the Hawks for Paul Millsap
This is probably the biggest stretch of the bunch, but I just can't believe that the Hawks, despite their current third-place standing in the East, will be serious about competing when they've already lost their best player in Al Horford to a torn pectoral. I know they just beat the Pacers recently without Horford, but I think both GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer are smart enough to understand that what the team's ceiling is without Horford. (Then again, being a pupil of Pop would seem to foster a "next man up" mentality, so there's that.)
Just understand that while this deal would be looked as a ridiculous, one-sided coup for the Spurs, I'm not at all convinced that it would even make the team at all better. Diaw has been fantastic this season, one of the team's most valuable players without a doubt, and I don't think Millsap is anywhere near the defender or passer that Boris is. Heck, even as an inside scorer, Diaw has been remarkably effective -- one of the most reliable post guys in the league. Ironically, the main thing, besides rebounding, that Millsap does better than Diaw, is shoot three pointers. The Spurs would do this deal because Millsap would give them a more reliable scorer and rebounder and he'd be under team control at a very good price for another season. As we all know, Diaw's inability to rebound probably cost them a title last season, so in that regard Millsap would be an upgrade. Could he establish quick chemistry with the guys (who would be quite letdown if Diaw was dealt since he's one of the most popular dudes on the team) is the question.
For the Hawks, the trade, beyond being a favor to Pop, would help the team quickly plummet in the standings, possibly as low as lottery-ville, open up $10 million in cap room for next season and in Diaw, Budenholzer could have a secondary shot-creator to Jeff Teague to help that moribund offense.
Yes, I know it's a stretch.
There's also a variant of this trade I thought of, that's even more wishful thinking...
4) Spurs send Bonner, Green, Baynes and De Colo to the Hawks for Millsap and DeMarre Carroll
This would be a straight give up trade for the Hawks and one that allows the Spurs to keep Diaw. Carroll would replace Green as the rotation wing and maybe they go for it if for some inexplicable reason Bud and Ferry really think a lot of Danny. I mean, ostensibly the Hawks could be a terrifying three-point shooting team with Green on one side of the floor and Kyle Korver on the other, so that could be a really solid offensive club in 2014-15 with Horford and Teague ... and okay, I'll show myself out.
(I told you there's a reason I don't write these kind of columns very often. I am NOT the Picasso of the trade machine.)