(Editor's Note: This was written at my request by the artist formerly known as LWM Sucks, who changed his name in honor of Manu's return. -jrw)
The Whirlwide Liter recently posted an intriguing article (Insider inside access required, a sneak peak is available here) on three trades that could improve the Spurs title chances -- which are calculated as currently being six percent, according to TeamRankings.com. I'm here to dissect these trades, hopefully balancing the pros and cons of each deal.
Side note: The Dallas Mavericks (yuck) managed to shock the world last year by winning a championship. Their title chances stood at roughly six percent last year. This has to be a good omen for the Spurs, right?
Matt Bonner ($3.3M), James Anderson ($1.5M) and a first-round pick to Memphis for O.J Mayo ($5.6M)
Pros: We increase our ability to put the ball in the basket more often.
Adding OJ Mayo to the Spurs vaults the Spurs from an elite offense (No. 8 in offensive efficiency) to a unit strong enough to contend with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder for the scoring title. Mayo, who is averaging 18.4 points and 16.3 field goal attempts per 40 minutes, requires the ball considerably more than Bonner and Anderson, of course. It isn't as simple as readjusting the rotation because Mayo won't content himself with solely spotting up and playing defense. His offensive ability, and also his usage rate (which would put him fourth on the team), demands a slight shift in the Spurs offensive hierarchy. But that shouldn't be a huge detriment to the current foundation of the Spurs. We'd gladly take his offensive production and Mayo, under PATFO's tutelage, could thrive in a system that requires constant ball movement and puts no pressure on him to handle the ball with TJ Ford (when he comes back), Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on the team. With so many other threats on his team, Mayo will have limitless space to roam and do things that he was expected to do when he was picked with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft.
Cons: Suddenly, there's a logjam at the SG/SF spots. Oh, and we would be down to a three man frontcourt.
How would Pop conceivably satiate Manu, Mayo, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Richard Jefferson? Where would all the minutes go? Who would be the odd man out? I don't like the proposition of having one of these guys sit for an extended period of time. Of course this situation will become clear when we inevitably (or not?) amnesty RJ next year. Still, having too many guys at the wing positions seems a little redundant unless Pop's going to go to small ball on a much more extensive basis. (Please, no!)
Also, it's not like Bonner is a premier defender. But he has a body, at six-foot-ten, that can stand there and take up space at the PF spot twenty minutes a night. Where would those minutes go? For my sanity's sake, I don't want to yell at Malcolm Thomas (especially since he's been released) because he can't defend Luis Scola in the first round of the playoffs. DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter won't be nearly enough of a frontcourt come the postseason.
Green and Anderson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Anthony Randolph ($2.9M)
Pros: Randolph could be a legitimate star.
There's a reason fantasy basketball pundits drool over Randolph's potential every year. At six-foot-eleven, and blessed with unreal athleticism, there is a lot to love about Anthony. With playing time, he's is capable of blocking 2.5 shots per game which would be a rare commodity for the Spurs not named Duncan, Green or Splitter. The Spurs are 24th in blocks per game and the sheer threat of another legit rim protector would serve to dissuade any guard looking to create around the basket. If we get the Randolph of a couple of years ago (I have no idea why his rebound rate has dropped so dramatically, but then again, DeJuan Blair's has too, so ...) that protects the rim and rebounds the ball at an elite rate, we could be getting a bargain. Of course ...
Cons: Randolph could be a legitimate flop.
There's also a reason those same drooling fantasy pundits, obsessed with his impressive peripheral stats, are continually disappointed. In his first five seasons, Randolph has started 33 times and has never topped 22.7 minutes per game. He hasn't been able to get his many talents to coalesce into a single impressive basketball player. He has the potential, but potential will never matter if we don't start witnessing actual results. Injuries, his inability to mesh in Don Nelson's system (it's a shame ... a guy with his body type and agility should theoretically flourish at the frenetic pace) and a poor attitude have created the Randolph of today -- the guy, while ripe with ability, that hasn't played since Feb. 8. The guy who's earning less minutes per game than Darko Milicic. Do the Spurs really want to take a chance on possibly finding that guy instead?
Bonner, Leonard ($1.7M) and Anderson to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao ($7.7M) [Update: Unfortunately this doesn't seem like a realistic trade now that Varejao will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist.]
Pros: Defense and rebounding.
I'd definitely be in favor of this trade. Although the Spurs have posted an impressive 95.7 defensive rating in the last 10 games, I still have my doubts that any basketball team relying on Blair and Bonner for greater than 30-percent of the available big-men minutes, can possibly keep up this phenomenal winning percentage (now up to .700, if you hadn't noticed). With this trade, the Spurs would create a legitimate frontcourt that would boast length, above-average rebounding (plus energy) and consistently cause problems in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. Also, this would completely eliminate the possibility of any truly awful defensive frontcourt pairing. Blair's "defense" (17.2 PER and a . 532 eFG% against opposing power forwards) would suddenly become more palatable. The Spurs don't allow many attempts at the rim as it is, so improving in this area will only be reinforcing a strength.
When you factor in Varejao's exceptional rebounding ability, this trade begins to feel like a no-brainer. Among PF's who earn 20+ minutes per game, Varejao boasts the No. 1 defensive rebound rate, offensive rebound rate and total rebound rate in the NBA. (Let me say that again: He's number one across the board for rebounders who play a lot!) Unlike Blair, Varejao's seven foot frame allows him to hold his own against the Andrew Bynums and Dwight Howards of the world. Players like Varejao, who excel in specific areas without being a complete liability in others, and do so at a rather efficient rate (his 19.26 PER is higher than David Lee) aren't readily available in the open market. Did I mention his contract expires in the 2013-14 season with a team option worth $9.8 million in the 2014-15 season?
Cons: Losing Kawhi Leonard.
Of course, I definitely do not approve of losing Kawhi 5-0. At the ripe age of 20 years old, he has a ridiculously high defensive ceiling that has Pop drawing comparisons with Bruce Bowen. While implausible at the moment, we could be looking at one of the future premier defensive stoppers in the entire league, as evidenced by his impressive average of 1.97 steals per 40 minutes. From a fans standpoint, it would be really disappointing to miss out on witnessing his steady progression into the player we all hope he can become.