Training camp is just days away, people! We made it through the worst part. Soon there will be scrimmages and then pre-season games and Spurs basketball will be back for good. The Spurs will look to repeat as the rest of the league tries to unseat them. It should be epic and it's right around the corner. But before shifting our focus to the product on the court, let's have one final look at the off-season.
The Spurs did what they seemingly set out to do by bringing pretty much everyone back. It's hard to argue with that as a strategy and even if we disagree with it, we would have to dive deep into hypotheticals to figure out if there was a more successful path. Instead, let's keep the blueprint the Spurs used and see if there were opportunities that could have been seized without changing the approach the franchise set out for itself.
The Spurs had the last pick of the first round. That's typically considered to be a bad place to be because the player the team selects will have two guaranteed contract years despite not often being ready to contribute immediately. So there were three paths to take with the pick: trade it, use it on a draft-and-stash prospect or select a guy and sign him despite knowing he won't likely have an immediate impact. Obviously the Spurs went with the former and selected Kyle Anderson. But were there better options out there?
Very few picks changed hands in the bottom half of this past draft. The Suns had three picks and didn't trade any of them and the Thunder went with an unorthodox approach by selecting Josh Huestis, whom they have previously convinced to sign a D-League contract, instead of trading the pick. That suggests there wasn't much of a market for low first rounders. So it's extremely unlikely the Spurs would have been able to swap this year's pick for a better future pick or receive substantial cash considerations. And trading down would have likely meant not getting Anderson, whom the Spurs seem to hold in high regard.
Speaking of Anderson, he seems like a solid selection. He was projected to go a bit earlier and had a track record of production in college. He also has some good physical tools and an already evolved skill set. Some might have wished San Antonio would have picked someone else (and I would love to hear about that in the comments) but I doubt anyone is disappointed they went with Anderson.
Re-signing free agents
Boris Diaw's contract is perfect. Diaw got the guaranteed money a player his age was seeking and the Spurs surprisingly retained flexibility. Someone was bound to throw money Boris' way, so the new contract is fair price for him. Bonner at the minimum doesn't merit much discussion, either. For all his flaws, he is still an NBA caliber player with a unique skill set and seems to be a positive locker room presence.
Mills was due for a huge payday after shining in the championship season. He doesn't seem well suited to run a team but he can be a great tertiary scorer and he is still young enough to continue to improve. It was only because of injury that the Spurs managed to keep him at an affordable price. Mills would have gotten much more than $4 million a year if healthy so I can't exactly give the Spurs props for the good contract. But the important thing is he's locked up.
It also looks like Aron Baynes will come back, likely at the prize of the qualifying offer. That was a tough push and pull negotiation, with both sides showing patience. Baynes was this ridiculously Spurs-y find, an Australian big man who played college in the US and was stuffing stat sheets in Europe after going undrafted. He never quite produce much once he made the transition but he had a couple of good playoff moments and that's often enough for front offices to get carried away and lock a player up. PATFO resisted that temptation. As for Baynes, no one can blame him for weighing his options but considering he is in his prime, it makes sense he is going for the glory instead of a payday in China.
So to recap, circumstances played major parts on how the Mills signing went down. Bonner seemed determined to come back to San Antonio so his signing is a product of mutual interest resulting in a seamless negotiation. The patience the Spurs showed in the Baynes dealings was wise but the ball was in Banger's court the whole time. It's in the way they handled the Diaw contract negotiation that the Spurs truly deserve props. Overall, it's hard to imagine a better scenario.
Considering the Spurs had seemingly decided to keep as much of the championship team intact as possible and they went with Anderson in the draft, there weren't a lot of roster spots open. But it didn't have to be that way and here's were real questions arise. The idea of this exercise is to keep the main goal - keeping the core together - in sight at all times. But the Spurs could have done that while tinkering with the fringes of the roster.
What if the Spurs simply waived Austin Daye at no cost, creating another roster spot? What if they passed on Anderson and gone instead for a draft-and-stash option and let Baynes walk? That's two more roster spots. And the Spurs had the resources to add other players in the form of the mid-level exception ($5.3 million a year) and bi-annual exception ($4.3 million over two years). Again, making those moves with Daye, Anderson and Baynes wouldn't have cost the Spurs anything.
Armed with three extra roster spots and ways to fill them with proven NBA players, the Spurs could have still maintained the main core while upgrading the roster. Guys like Vince Carter, Spencer Hawes, Josh McRoberts and Paul Pierce signed for the MLE. Ekpe Udoh, Ed Davis and Rodney Stuckey signed for the minimum, which means the BAE likely would have been enough to lock them up. Are those guys huge upgrades over the players that are projected to be in the Spurs' rotation? Not really, in most cases. But there was an upside to those potential signings that just isn't there with the guys the Spurs brought back.
Ed Davis is never going to be a dominant big man but he's the same age as Daye, has great physical tools and a history of per minute production Austin can't match, for example. Carter and Pierce are high character veteran wings who could have pushed for a prominent place in the rotation, which seems unlikely for Anderson. And bigs like Hawes, McBob and even that tease Gustavo Ayon might have been able to claim that spot as fourth big, which is something Bonner, Baynes and Ayres haven't been able to do. Obviously the Spurs didn't make a crucial mistake that could cost them their repeat. But by being hellbent on continuity they might have let a couple of intriguing opportunities pass them by.
Looked as a whole, the Spurs' off-season makes a ton of sense. There was a plan in place and it was executed to near perfection. Everyone is back and the team should be one of the two or three squads that have a realistic shot at the title. Whether it was the best possible plan given the circumstances is yet to be determined. A repeat would obviously validate it and even a conference finals appearance would be enough to consider it a success. While the allure of change and established names still seems tempting to me even in retrospect, I can completely understand why the Spurs proceeded the way they did.
How about you? Is there something you think the Spurs should have done differently?