Free agency is coming and with it our "Should He Stay or Should He Go?" series, in which we take a look at the Spurs' free agents and try to determine whether they should be retained. First up, Matt Bonner.
Matt Bonner is the longest-tenured Spur outside of the Big Three. He was there for the 2007 championship. He went from bench warmer to starter and back. And now he will become a free agent after winning his second ring. So should the Spurs bring him back?
Matt Bonner, stretch four extraordinaire
Here's the entire list of players who are 6-foot-9 or taller who shot over 40% on at least one three pointer a game (min. 50 shots).
It's the usual suspects. It's the first time Jerebko has shot over 40% in his career and Hedo is not technically a big. But the rest of the players are who you expect to see. Bonner is a member of an elite group of stretch bigs who are not only competent but actually deadly from outside. Two of those players, Anderson and Hawes, are also great rebounders, which explains why they made (and will continue to make) a lot more money than the others.
Bonner, just like Copeland and Novak, is a specialist. He's a decent defender but his value is completely dependent on his ability to stretch the floor and hit spot-up threes. That's it. Fortunately for him, he still does it well and that's a rare skill with undeniable value.
If I expand the search to find other big men that, while not elite at shooting the three, are at least above average, not a lot of names pop up. Channing Frye, Marcus Morris, Luke Babbit and Byron Mullens, basically. So aside from stars or big wings, only six other role players did what Bonner was able to do last season. And only Frye matches Bonner's track record of dependability.
That's what the Spurs will be thinking about when it's time to deal with Bonner's renewal: do we want a big man with that skill-set? And if so, can we find one that is either better and/or cheaper than Bonner? It doesn't seem all that likely.
Is it time to go younger?
The reality is Bonner's ability to hit outside shots is valuable and, for the right price, he should be brought back. You can't ask for a better sixth big than Matty. If he agrees to sign for the veteran's minimum or even a short deal worth slightly more than that, the Spurs would be getting a proven shooter who knows his place, is always ready when called upon and doesn't embarrass himself on defense. It's hard to imagine Bonner playing hardball, money-wise, because he is a self-aware guy who knows his past contract will be his biggest. So there's only one reason not to bring Matt Bonner back: getting younger.
Bonner will only get serious minutes in some games in which the match-ups favor him and then receive some DNPs. He's perfect for that role. But considering he is not a crucial part of the rotation, the temptation to go for potential instead of reliability is real and reasonable. It is possible that some other, younger guy with a similar skill-set will replicate what Matty does while still developing other parts of his game.
Austin Daye is the obvious example. Daye won't likely ever be a rotation-caliber wing in the NBA, at least not full-time. But as a stretch-four he could offer outside shooting combined with more length and mobility than Bonner. Exchanging an aging but still effective part of the rotation for a younger but unproven commodity always carries an amount of risk. But considering Bonner is not as important to the team as he once was, maybe it's time for a change.
Should the Spurs keep Bonner?
Yes, if he wants to come back. Bonner is still one of the best in the league at what he does and the Spurs have a use for his skills. Because Bonner has been with the team for so long, we simply take his excellence as a shooter for granted. But going over potential candidates reveals that there aren't any viable options that would be as cheap as Matty. Getting a younger player that could do what Bonner does and more would be ideal. But that player might not exist.
Unless San Antonio can lure Frye with the mid-level exception, re-signing Bonner is the best way to ensure that the team has a killer stretch four option on its bench. And keeping Bonner shouldn't, in any way, affect the team's ability or proclivity to bring back Boris Diaw or spend the MLE. Matty shouldn't and likely won't get significant playing time next season. But whoever the Spurs bring in to supplant him won't either. So if he's actually willing to occasionally wear a suit on a few DNPs, retaining him makes sense.
Bringing Matt back for one year at the minimum would be the best-case scenario. After next season, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili could retire and the Spurs will probably have to start rebuilding their roster. Bonner wouldn't make much sense then. But even for a 2-year, $5 million contract, Bonner would provide some solid value as a veteran who knows the team and his role.