These questions were posed and answered before the 12/17 Grizzlies game.
1-If you were the GM of a team with cap space next season and you needed a wing, would you go after Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard? Could having Butler in the market deflate Kawhi's value?
Erler: Leonard all day. He's far more valuable as a defender with all the things he can do against all kinds of guys. He can legitimately guard any 1-3 in the league and even some stretch fours. He can rebound at an elite level for his position and have more of a proven track record as an efficient scorer. Butler has to shoot this way for the whole year to prove to me it's not an anomaly. Remember what happened with Paul George last year. He was an MVP candidate until January and then his percentages regressed to the mean for the types of shots he was taking. Also,Tom Thibodeau plays Butler crazy minutes and that will take its toll too. Ultimately it's a moot discussion though because nothing short of committing a serious crime will hurt Leonard's value at this point. He's getting the max. Butler is too. There's so few quality wings out there that when you have one, you pay whatever it takes. Once Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got the deals they got, this stopped being a debate.
Passos: I love Jimmy, and I'd probably give him a max contract purely so I could make Seinfeld references for the next four to five years. But Kawhi's Finals credentials easily trump Jimmy's early-season success, which is happening in that ominous 'contract year'. Plus, Whi is two years younger than Jimmy, Jimmy.
Gomez: It should. The Bulls have a bit of a reputation as cheapskates so if I'm a member of a front office of a team looking for a two-way wing, I'd take my chances maxing out Butler. I still think the Spurs offer Kawhi the max but with Butler and even someone like Wes Matthews in the fold, the Spurs could have some leverage to do an almost-max deal, like the Warriors did with Klay Thompson. Extra weird hypothetical: the 76ers should offer the max to both. Carter-Williams, Leonard, Butler, Noel, Embiid? Amazing lineup.
Itz: Leonard. He's younger, longer and he has a higher ceiling.
2- The December gauntlet has started with the games against the Blazers and Grizzlies. What do you think the Spurs record will be at the start of the new year? And what upcoming game are you looking forward to?
Erler: 24-10, with road losses to Portland, Dallas and Memphis. One game below my projections to that point. My system is to pick wins in all home games and losses to any top-10 West team (OKC, Hou, GS, Mem, Dal, Por, LAC, NO, Phx) and top-6 East team (Chi, Cle, Tor, Was, Atl and Cha). Yeah, I thought Charlotte would be good. I'm some basketball expert.
Passos: 22-12. I think they go 2-2 this week, taking the two home games against Portland and Memphis. That leaves six more, two of which are SEGABABAs (SEcond GAme of a BAck-to-BAck) against New Orleans. I feel like we drop one of those, and maybe the SEGABABA in Dallas. Between Houston and a healthy Dwight, who always gives us trouble, the Clippers, and Thunder, I think another loss can be expected.
Gomez: I'm going with 23-11 with losses to the Rockets (twice), Mavericks on a SEGABABA and OKC. And I'm really looking forward to the Spurs playing the Thunder. I think they are going to come out strong and beat San Antonio but I'd love to be wrong.
Itz: The only game I was really looking forward to was the game against Portland on Monday night. I was looking forward to that game since last March, when I realized that if the Spurs beat the Blazers in their next regular season match up they would hold a winning reg-season record over the entire league. Then Popovich rested the Big Three and Splitter, and they went down to the Blazers. So I guess I'm looking forward to the Portland game on Friday for the chance to even the series back up and then optimistically looking forward to the January 16th game against the Blazers. They'll enter 2015 at 25-11
3- Who among the Spurs' coaching tree -- including the assistants on the bench right now -- do you think will have the best career when it's all said and done?
Erler: Does Steve Kerr count in the Pop coaching tree? If so, him. If not him, then I'll go with Messina because he'll get to coach the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard, and that right there is a good base to stat from. Plus he has a wealth of knowledge and experience and a track record of success before he ever got here. Both Monty Williams and Jacque Vaughn have a lot of young talent, but neither have shown they can turn that talent into wins and I fear that neither are long for their current gigs. Mike Budenholzer is by far the best coach of the bunch and he knows what he's doing and has a lot of talent in Atlanta, but their ownership is in flux, they don't even have a real GM at the moment and I'm not sure they'll even be able to keep guys like Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague long term so it's hard to be confident in his situation. It's hard to predict because as Pop himself would tell you, how much success a coach has or doesn't really has less to do with him and more to do with things beyond his control like ownership decisions, injury luck, how draft picks and free agents pan out and so on. If everything was equal I'd go with Budenholzer, but it's not, so the safer pick is Messina, because he'll have Holt at his back.
Passos: If Brett Brown can keep a job through two (intentionally) terrible seasons, then he's got a boss whose concept of success is working on a totally different curve. If he has time to develop all that young talent they're going after, he could be in a good place a few years from now.
Gomez: If he survives this season, I think it's going to be Monty Williams, weirdly enough. If he stays in the good graces of Anthony Davis, he could be New Orleans' version of Scott Brooks. The Brow is soon going to carry that team deep into the playoffs and if Williams, who is a decent if unspectacular coach, can stay around for the ride, he might end up having the best career out of everyone from Pop's tree.
Itz: I'm going with Mike Budenholzer. He's in a good situation and it looks like he'll have the opportunity to see what he can do in Atlanta. They've played an easy schedule so far but they're exceeding most people's expectations. It seems like he has job security and could really build a nice culture in Atlanta. 1A - Ettore Messina.
4-Splitter is finally back, which is great. But it's power forward, not center, that has been the weak spot for the Spurs. Is it concerning enough that the Spurs should look to the market for reinforcements, or will Tiago's return have enough of an effect on the big man rotation?
Michael Erler: Boris is looking pudgier to me and his energy level is down. Predictably, he looks pretty satiated --note the irony-- to me now that he's A) gotten a ring and B) gotten a contract. This is why I argued that maybe it would be better for the Spurs to let Boris and Patty go and get some fresh blood in the mix to keep up that hunger. Cory Joseph is certainly doing his part filling in for Mills (and Tony Parker) but Diaw is not pulling his weight -- pun intended. Splitter will help the rotation no doubt but ultimately the Spurs will have no choice but to hope that Diaw gets more motivated as the games take on more meaning. They rely on him too heavily (I can't stop myself) to change things much now. He's the guy that lets them play "medium-ball" as Pop calls it. He's the X-factor that teams like the Thunder and the Warriors can't account for. He posts up smaller guys, is a hi-lo threat, can pass from anywhere on the court, space the floor and guard a wide (I'm not even trying to do this, I swear) range of people. He's indispensable at this point. He's also far more valuable to the Spurs than he is to anyone else, just like Danny Green, Splitter, etc. The Spurs have built a powerful machine, but it's like a Jaguar. When it runs, there's nothing like it, but all the parts are unique, delicate, and easily broken.
Bruno Passos: I agree with Erler on Boris' appearance -- which is somewhat disappointing given that he has those financial incentives tied to his weight in his new contract. I think both Boris and Bonner rely on good ball movement to play to their strengths offensively, and with the team not at 100%, it's just not happening. As a result we see both guys floundering into the lane trying to create something out of nothing. For what it's worth, Bonner's scored more off the dribble this year than I've ever seen.
Jesus Gomez: Not having to start Diaw in almost any match up should help the entire rotation. But I can't say I feel content with how things stand at the four. The Austin Daye experiment has gone awry. Matt Bonner should be a situational player. Don't tell the Spurs I said this but Tim Duncan is not a power forward anymore -- not unless his shot returns. Kicking the tires on Andrei Kirilenko in February makes sense. Prying Darrell Arthur away from theNuggets if they go into fire sale mode would be ideal.
Chris Itz: I'm not ready to give up on Boris. Most of his statistics are actually up this season. He's rebounding and assisting at a higher rate than last season, playing more minutes and getting to the line more and hitting them at a higher rate. Everything else is virtually identical to last season except that he's really struggling from deep and taking almost one more per game, but I think that average will come up as the season progresses. I don't think that he'll hit the 40% mark again, but he'll certainly bring his current 29.3% average up. I don't think the Spurs need to look for reinforcements, they just need be better as a team for Boris to shine.
5- With his stellar play so far this season, should we include Danny Green to that list of sought-after wings? Unlike Kawhi, he's an unrestricted free agent. Should the Spurs be worried about losing him?
Erler: I talked about this the other day -- whether Green is now officially an eight-figure guy. He's probably worth more to the Spurs than to other teams and whoever signs him has to know that you'll need not only a top-flight point guard but also at least one other A-ticket star on the roster to maximize his value because it's not like Danny is going to create his own shots. Can you contend with him as your third-best player? Probably not. Maybe fourth-best. With the Spurs he's more like fifth or sixth, though according to Box Score Plus Minus he's been the team's best player right now because he's the only Spur who's a clear asset on both ends of the floor (Leonard and Duncan haven't been offensively, Ginobili hasn't defensively, and you don't even want to know about Parker). I think that Green feels a tremendous amount of loyalty to the Spurs because they basically saved (and made) his NBA career. As long as they pay him what he's worth or close to it --and remember, it's cheaper to live in Texas than lots of places-- he'll stay. The only questions I have about Green possibly leaving are A) if he'll ever get fed up with being the whipping boy on the team what with Pop constantly chewing him out, and B) if he'll ever grow weary of not playing down the stretch because of Manu. The latter question will be moot, possibly as early as next season, but the former is something I wonder about. I'm comforted by the fact that Pop is an excellent judge of people and he mainly tears into the people who need the direction and can take it. Maybe he's deduced that the best way to reach Green is by yelling at him.
Passos: I think teams are hesitant to go after players that shine in the Spurs system, and as much as he's improved, he still has limitations to his game. If there's a contender that has the cap room and the hole that he can fill (much like he does in SA), they may be able to pry him away. If not, I think PATFO will do what they can to retain him.
Gomez: It's so tempting to say yes, he is at that level. But he still can't create for himself. He's one of the league's few elite 3-and-D guys but how much better can he get? He's on the third tier of wings right now and there's nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, someone is bound to overpay. And I'm not sure I can see the Spurs paying him eight figures to stay although I hope they do.
Itz: I think the Spurs should be a little worried about losing him. I also think that most teams have learned that players moving from the Spurs to a different team aren't exactly the same on their new squad. There's probably a front office or two that would like to scoop up Danny and may offer him a little more that the Spurs. The Spurs will make him a solid offer and I think Green really likes being part of the team. As long as the Spurs offer and his best offer are within 15% or so I think he stays in SA.