Offseason 2014 was the best kind of snooze. After capping off one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, the Spurs had every reason to keep the band together. They returned every major piece and looked poised to chase another a title and that stupid, non-existent thing called a repeat.
Offseason 2015 will not be like that. It could ultimately end up being the opposite of that--or at least as tumultuous as we've ever seen since Popovich arrived in Central Texas.
Most prevalent, rumors seem to be flying around the internet that the Spurs are looking to trade Tiago Splitter. This mainly stems from ESPN's Marc Stein yesterday:
The working assumption nonetheless persists that the Spurs, with maestro executive R.C. Buford as their offseason point man, will manufacture at least $20 million in salary-cap space this summer to go after Aldridge — or Memphis’ Marc Gasol — even if Leonard is maxed and Duncan returns.
One scenario on the personnel grapevine gaining steam is the notion that the Spurs could elect to explore the possibility of dealing away Tiago Splitter to create more financial flexibility. Splitter has two years left on his contract valued at just under $17 million and is quietly regarded as a key contributor in San Antonio given how well he fits as a frontcourt sidekick next to Duncan. But if you’re the Spurs — and if the increasingly loud rumbles about Aldridge having San Antonio as the preferred destination atop his wish list prove true — examining Splitter’s trade market might suddenly become unavoidable.
The collective basketball-internet has latched onto a sentence with a trail of more qualifying words and breadcrumbs than Hansel and Gretel could've dreamed possible. Terms like "one scenario" "could elect" "to explore the possibility" make up nearly a third of this 30-word sentence, but certain corners of the Spurs Nation are already preparing their goodbyes.
Let's get a few things straight:
There are too many uncertain variables to discard a known entity
Kawhi Leonard getting the max is as sure a bet as there is this offseason. Outside of that? Anything goes. Will Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili come back? They account for large cap holds: $15.542 million and $10.5 million, respectively. Danny Green, a potential Spur For Life, has a large cap hold of $7.65 million. Marco Belinelli ($3.735 million), Cory Joseph ($5.058 million), and Aron Baynes ($2.596 million) are not sure things to return. Matt Bonner, signed on a one-year veteran's-minimum may decide at 35 to retire and take up music video production. (Jeff Ayres and Reggie Williams are effectively afterthoughts.)
Tiago Splitter is not some lecherous cap drain who MUST be dealt
Splitter is a competent two-way player, especially effective on the defensive end. The praise, as praise is, was most effusive last year when the Spurs were destroying everything in sight. His elevated play could be seen as one of the things that ultimately separated the Spurs from the team that lost the Heat in 2013. But he has also been pretty good this season when healthy. That whole turning point in the Spurs season (admittedly the narrative would've been stronger if they were currently still playing basketball in the playoffs) against the Sacramento Kings on February 27th also coincided with Splitter being returned the the starting lineup. For all of the column-inches and ink (is that still what you call it on the internet?) deservedly dedicated to Kawhi Leonard during that run, Splitter was also magnificent. Unfortunately, he did not play in the final six regular season games and carried that injury into the playoffs. With an offseason to regain his health, and with loads of that Corporate Knowledge which is Popovich's most coveted asset, there is no necessity to push him out the door.
Splitter will only be dealt for an upgrade
Splitter is pretty much paid appropriately. He is expecting around $8.5 and 8.25 million over the next two years. He is currently the 62nd most handsomely-rewarded player in the NBA, which sounds a little high, but consider some of the big men who are not instant-upgrades with larger contracts: David Lee, Roy Hibbert, Nene Hilario, Derrick Favors (though he obviously has potential), David West, Marcin Gortat, Anderson Varejao (while Jordan Hill, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik all earn comparably).
Of the free-agent bigs, only Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Monroe's upside are worth dumping Splitter in a sign-and-trade.
None of those potential upgrades are a lock
Marc Gasol is still playing and the Grizzlies just stole home court from the Warriors. There is no guarantee that he will be leaving the only American city he has ever called home. If he does decide to branch out from Grind City, there is no lock that he comes to San Antonio.
LaMarcus Aldridge is more intriguing as a realistic target (though I would prefer Gasol's defense and passing). For every pro there is a con. Portland can offer him a 5th year at max, but there is a looming increase in the max. He has made Portland his home and is beloved, but his family lives in Texas. The Blazers went out in the first round, but so too did the Spurs (but that was at least round 1.5...fix it NBA).
Some have put Aldridge at 50/50 to leave Portland, and others have called the Spurs his top destination.
Bruce Ely of the Oregonian wrote:
ESPN's Chris Broussard on Saturday reported that he asked Aldridge if Portland is his No. 1 choice. Broussard said Aldridge smiled and said "We'll see."
And after Game 2 in Memphis, Olshey gave the team the option to stay the night and fly home on the team charter, or return to Portland on their own.
Take it for what it's worth, but only one player wasn't on the team charter: Aldridge.
"I didn't want to stay in that hotel one more night,'' Aldridge said on Saturday. "So I bought my own ticket and flew home."
Having stayed in Memphis hotels, I don't halfway blame Aldridge for wanting to get back to Portland as soon as possible. But it also doesn't scream brotherhood, or togetherness, either.
The Spurs need big man depth as much as a star
As much, or more.
After watching Boris Diaw average nearly 30 minutes-a-game against the Clippers this seems obvious. Diaw is sensational up to about 24 minutes per game posting a +17 and +13 box score plus/minus in Games 3 and 5. The other five games (where he averaged over 30 mpg) he had a combined -38. He absorbed nearly all of the second big minutes (Tim Duncan averaged a ridiculous 35.5 mpg!) with Baynes rendered ineffective by Blake Griffin's athleticism and Splitter battling injury.
Bonner and Ayres were non-factors, and they could be replaced, instead of Splitter, to shore up a big man rotation that could compete with some of the Titans of the Western Conference.
Non-marquee free agents, a Spurs specialty, include: Bismack Biyombo, Alexis Ajinca, Tyson Chandler, Brandan Wright and the dozens of others that R.C. Buford is seeing that I haven't even thought of.