Last time, we looked at four potential free agent replacements for backup point guard should the Spurs lose Cory Joseph in free agency. A discussion of whether you want Joseph back or not in the first place can be found here, as part of a series of chats I had with J. Gomez on the Spurs impending free agents.
Now let's look at some shooting guards. This is much more of a priority. Whereas the Spurs have an entrenched starter in Tony Parker plus a credible reserve in Patty Mills at the point, there are no incumbents on the books at the two. Not only is Manu Ginobili weighing the pros and cons of retiring, but even more critical for the long-term future of the club is what happens with Danny Green, who is also an unrestricted free agent. Marco Belinelli, who can play the two or the three, is off the books as well.
Bringing back Green is going to cost the team a pretty penny. Not quite the max, but quite likely a deal where he's going to make eight figures per season. As I explained to my pal Gomez, Green's salary doesn't matter all that much, except for luxury tax purposes, because the Spurs can use his Bird rights to re-sign him. If they were to replace him instead, then the salary would matter, because they'd have to use what little cap room they have to do it. Gomez's rebuttal was that teams like Cleveland and Miami found relatively cheap solutions like Iman Shumpert or Shane Battier to do essentially what Green did for the Spurs and that we should trust PATFO to find similar alternatives.
I don't think replacing Green will be simple at all. He finished fourth among shooting guards (Ginobili placed eighth) and 12th overall in Real Adjusted Plus-Minus last season. Kawhi Leonard was fifth, Tim Duncan 13th. Green is not only an elite three-point shooter from all over the floor, not just the corners, but also one of the league's prominent perimeter defenders and perhaps the best transition defender in the league. I don't think he's quite a max player, but he's just entering his prime, a month away from his 28th birthday, and I doubt I'll blanch at whatever he gets this summer. It would be a grave mistake for the Spurs to not find a way to keep him, not just for his "corporate knowledge" but also because the cost of replacing him would have to be the team's big free agent splash. Instead of getting better, the Spurs would be trying to stay the same.
Here are four players who interest me, regardless. The first two in case Green bolts and the latter two as reserve replacements for Ginobili. I'm not including Jimmy Butler because it's a safe bet he'll accept a max contract from the Bulls, especially now that Tom Thibodeau won't be around any longer to drive him into the ground. As always, we're using contract information from HoopsHype.com.
Last team: Bucks
2014-15 Salary: $915,243
Middleton is the one guy on the market who would be a conceivable upgrade to Green. He's young, a lanky 6'7 and has shown a penchant for hitting game-winners.
A career .403 three-point shooter, his numbers last season were remarkably similar to Green's, except he only blocked 11 shots all season despite all that length. Green led all two guards with 87 blocks. The Bucks, with their dearth of weapons, let Middleton shoot a little bit more, especially once Jabari Parker went down with a torn ACL, but he still managed to retain his efficiency (well, until the playoffs anyway). Middleton would be an extreme long shot for the Spurs or anyone else. He's restricted, so the Bucks will match whatever offer he gets. Milwaukee losing him is about as likely as San Antonio losing Kawhi Leonard.
Last Team: Blazers
2014-15 Salary: $7,562,500
Afflalo represents perhaps the most realistic starting-caliber shooting guard who would fit in to what the Spurs are looking for. Monta Ellis is going to be too expensive and he's also too small and a terrible defender. Ditto Lou Williams, who's more of a sixth man anyway. Rodney Stuckey has limited shooting range, he's also a questionable defender, and he's likely to re-sign with the Pacers. Wesley Matthews is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered late in the season and will likely be out most if not all of next season. Iman Shumpert is restricted, meaning the Cavs will probably keep him, and he wouldn't fit the Spurs culture anyway.
It's not a given that Afflalo will be available, by the way. He has a player option for $8 million with Portland and may elect to keep it, reasoning that he could put up numbers with Matthews out next year to increase his value for when the salary cap skyrockets in 2016. He's coming off a down year, where he split his time with the Nuggets and Blazers, and has never been more than an adequate defender. I have my doubts whether in this age of smarter front offices that anyone will give him a long-term commitment. His athleticism is waning just enough and it doesn't take much of an imagination to get Richard Jefferson flashbacks with Afflalo.
As a two-year stopgap though? They could do worse.
Last Team: Nuggets
2014-15 Salary: $915,243
Barton is restricted, but a Nuggets squad going nowhere only played him 24 minutes a night with zero starts, so it's possible that they wouldn't be inclined to match if he got a decent offer from a suitor. The Blazers traded him for Afflalo last February in an effort to bolster their bench for a playoff run, and it was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did Matthews get hurt soon after, ruining whatever chances the Blazers had, but Barton played better for the Nugs than Afflalo did for Portland. (Also, Barton was the one decent postseason performer for the Blazers wretched bench crew in 2014.)
He can't shoot threes at all, which is right there in the job title, so that's a concern for Barton, but perhaps Chip Engelland could fix him. He shot 50 percent on jumpers from 16-22 feet last season, in limited attempts, so maybe his jumper is salvageable. He's got good size, though he's a bit slim, and he's shown promising defensive chops in his limited time in the league. Barton can get to the basket and finishes well around the rim. In that regard he'd be a solid replacement for Ginobili. He's not any kind of playmaker though, so in that respect he probably wouldn't work with Mills very well.
Last Team: Knicks
2014-15 Salary: $3,198,723
The most intriguing prospect of all. Most people know Shved for this bit of infamy:
I guarantee you though smart GM's like R.C. Buford are thrilled that little clip exists because it serves as a bit of deception, diminishing Shved's potential and his actual game. The Russian, despite playing in New York, toiled in relative obscurity playing for the league's worst team (and before them, the Sixers) and was the Knicks best player by a wide margin in his time there. Now, I realize that "best Knick" is akin to residing in only the first circle of hell as opposed to the seventh, but Shved quietly put up a 19.5 PER last season, posting per-36 minute averages of 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists over 16 games with the Knicks.
Shved has already been a member of four NBA organizations, his three-point shot is suspect and his defense has heretofore been abysmal. But the Spurs have been looking for "the next Manu" for some time now, with Nando De Colo and Belinelli being a couple of the more recent examples and Shved could be the next candidate to fill the legendary Argentine's low-tops. He's already shown he can pass and get to the basket, and he's 6'6 and not afraid to mix it up under the glass, so right there are some qualities to work with. Also, unlike the other people on the list, he's an unrestricted free agent, so it's a matter of going to the highest bidder. I expect the Spurs to kick the tires on this one quite a bit, regardless of whether Ginobili returns or not.