The San Antonio Spurs had a busy day. They released the info on Kawhi's injury, waived Malcolm Thomas and are expressing some serious interest in Othyus Jeffers. There seems to be some unrest or at least some questions about these moves, so let's break them down.
The Spurs needed to get some wing depth...
With Kawhi and Danny out, the Spurs are down to just two natural wings. And Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli are definitely better suited to play shooting guard than small forward, a position they will likely have to fill for a while. Next in line is Cory Joseph. Joseph doesn't really have the size to play the two and he will often be over matched despite his toughness.
Then there's Nando. De Colo has been playing point guard for the Toros - and putting up some really impressive numbers - but his fit off the ball with the big club doesn't look so good. Defensively, those four guys don't exactly sound like ideal fits for the small forward slot, at least not full time.
...because Malcolm Thomas is a power forward and not a wing
Malcolm Thomas played power forward in college. He played power forward in the D-League. He played power forward in Europe. And he played power forward in his sole appearance with the Spurs. Why some fans are still convinced he is a small forward is beyond me. The guy didn't have a dependable jump shot until very recently. He used to do his damage around the rim. The three point shot simply wasn't a part of his arsenal until this year. And while his shot is more effective than before, his release is slow.
He has very good quickness ... for a power forward. There is a reason no one that has ever coached Thomas seemed to think he could be a small forward and it doesn't just have to do with his jumper. Thomas has always played inside and it shows in his defensive stance and awareness. He simply isn't a wing. He could be molded into a combo forward with time but sending him out there at the three without a safety net would be setting him up for failure.
Thomas was released because the Spurs didn't have room for a project. There were more pressing needs and they needed a roster spot to fill them.
Of course the Spurs didn't release Bonner or De Colo instead
Disregard the fact that he is still a useful player for a second. Bonner is making very close to $4 million for the year. If the Spurs release him, no one will claim him off waivers and they would be on the hook for the rest of his contract while still spending to get someone to fill the 15th spot. The Spurs are a very frugal franchise. That was never going to happen.
Nando De Colo will make close to $1.5 million this season. That's not as much as Bonner but it is still more than Baynes and Thomas are making. And while he has fallen out of favor, he has the size to slide to the shooting guard spot in a pinch. With the Spurs hurting for some wing depth and having too many bigs already, Nando was not going to be waived.
So it was between Baynes and Thomas all along. Both guys are a bit superflous and both would probably be claimed off waivers. Baynes has been with the team for longer and -- judging from his having actually received playing time while the game was still in doubt -- he has Pop's trust. He has also hung out with the rest of the guys for two years while Thomas has barely been in San Antonio. The last thing a team missing three core players needs is to see a tenured teammate released.
Othyus Jeffers sounds like a good guy to have on the roster
This is not a done deal yet but it seems like it will happen.
Jeffers is only 6-5 but every scouting report mentions his length and toughness, which allow him to play both wing spots. Think of him as a destitute's man Tony Allen (that is a compliment, by the way).
Perhaps more importantly, at 28 years of age, Jeffers is a veteran that has already spent a little time with the Spurs. So the front office knows what they are getting. And he knows what he is supposed to do, too.
Jeffers will likely bust his ass on defense and on the boards, even though in all likelihood, he will just receive those two ten-day contracts before being released once Danny Green heals. By all accounts, he is a pro that will do his job without worrying about scoring his way to a guaranteed deal. And that's all the Spurs need.
The Spurs didn't prepare better for this situation because it was unforeseeable
The Spurs came into the season with four point guards and only four wings, three of which were better suited to play shooting guard. My first thought when Kawhi went down was why are both Cory Joseph and Nando De Colo in the roster if they are not being used regularly? The Spurs could have traded their flotsam for a legitimate back up small forward or use the free roster spot to get one.
Then I realized that the Spurs had prepared for a different kind of calamity.
No one could have predicted Leonard and Green were going to break their hands at the same time. Leonard's knee issues were reportedly a thing of the past after a summer's rest and Danny Green had missed two games in his career as a Spur. One of those is infamous because he wasn't hurt. Those guys were reliable.
The one returning Spur wing that had a long history of injuries was Manu Ginobili. So the Spurs prepared for a regular season without Manu, not Green or Kawhi. They signed Marco Belinelli and moved Nando De Colo to the two guard spot during the summer, trying to get Manu insurance. Who can come the closest to replace Manu's production? A couple of creative guards or a 6-8 wing that can't dribble? What the Spurs did was predictably wise and conservative. I would have loved to see PATFO take a chance on a young, athletic combo forward because I love combo forwards. But I can't blame them for not being clairvoyant.
It's really hard to tell. Assuming Jeffers is called up, the Spurs could stand pat and try to weather the storm. The next month is not exactly filled with tough challenges. The Nets and Heat have great scoring small forwards that can create for themselves. The Kings and Rockets could take advantage if Good Rudy Gay shows up and . But the rest of the teams mostly have spot up shooters at the wing. If the Spurs can tread water for a little while, it'll be the All-Star break before you know it, and their injured players will be back.
There's also the possibility that the Spurs, who were reported to be looking for an upgrade via trade, take this moment as a sign that they need to cash in their chips. PATFO doesn't have one particularly appealing asset, but could bundle a few for an appealing trade package. A combination of Bonner's expiring, their young guys, their draft pick and their stashed prospects could be enough to get a team that is going nowhere to bite and send a good veteran wing back.
Regardless of what happens, there's no reason to overreact. If the Spurs beat a few teams without three of their prospective starters, it doesn't mean they have the Larry O'Brien in the bag. If they lose a few, it doesn't mean it's time to blow it up. I'm just goint to wait for the team to get healthy again before drawing any conclusions about their chances this year.
After all, it's only January.