Last time, we looked at LaMarcus Aldridge, the preeminent draw of the free agent class, plus a couple of other guys who the Spurs might be interested in to either replace Tim Duncan or play alongside of him if he doesn't retire. It was the fourth of our five part series, and in the earlier editions we discussed the point guards, the shooting guards and the small forwards. So many interesting names out there, and a handful of them would even be upgrades over our incumbent Spurs.
Center is a tricky proposition for the Spurs. Not only is Aron Baynes a free agent, but starter Tiago Splitter had an injury-plagued season last year, and the timing of the latest flare up of his calf really affected the Spurs both in the lead up to the playoffs and in their series against the Clippers. You have to wonder if PATFO is ready to move on from him at this point. It's especially worth speculating about since the salary cap math dictates they'd pretty much have to in order to chase a max free agent. If you're gonna lose the Brazilian big man anyway, it might as well be for someone who directly replaces him, right? (All of the "Should he stay or should he go?" conversations I had with J. Gomez about Spurs free agents can be found here.)
There is a certain big man out there who's something of a perfect Spurs free agent. He's a worldly, defense-oriented, superb passer with a decent sense of humor. Also, San Antonio signing him would make @hpbasketball lose his mind on Twitter. As always, the salary information is via HoopsHype.com.
Last Team: Grizzlies
2014-15 Salary: $15,829,688
It may indeed be a "pipe dream," this notion of Gasol ever leaving Memphis during his prime, but if he does decide to bolt, you'd have to think the Spurs would be as ideal a landing spot for him as any. He's long respected Duncan --the two have had their share of playoff duels-- and has battled against Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in international competition as well. Gasol embodies everything on and off the court the Spurs look for in a player and they in turn would seem to fit him to a tee.
Gasol averaged a career-high 17.4 points last season, with decent efficiency (49.4 percent shooting). Remember, on a team with a burly low-post scorer in Zach Randolph, many of Gasol's opportunities have to come from the high post. 46.3 percent of his field goal attempts last season came on jumpers between 10-22 feet, and he shot a respectable 43 percent on shots from 10-16 feet and 40.2 on long twos. Those percentages aren't one year flukes either, they're right in line with his career totals. He's not automatic with the mid-range jumper, but far more consistent with it than Duncan.
But Gasol's best offensive asset is his passing. His assist percentage last year of 19.6 trailed only Joakim Noah and DeMarcus Cousins among centers, which is saying something given the Grizzlies dearth of shooters. Perhaps Gasol has grown weary of the clanky stylings of Tony Allen and he's open to playing with shooting guards who can, you know, shoot.
On the other end of the floor Gasol is a hard guy to get a handle on. He's averaged just 7.9 rebounds per game over his career. His brother, Pau, who many critics deride for being soft, has averaged 9.4. Brook Lopez, who is openly mocked for his weak rebounding, averages 7.3.
Gasol is also not the most intimidating rim protector either. He rejected 1.6 shots per game last season, the same as his career average, and while that's a solid number, he allowed opponents to convert 49.4 percent of their looks against him in the post last season, according to NBA.com's player tracking tool. The year before, it was even worse, 51.2 percent.
Like Duncan, Gasol's best defensive attribute is his ability to recognize the other team's sets quickly and to communicate that to his teammates and get them organized. He was the backbone of a squad that finished third in defensive efficiency last year, behind only the Warriors and Spurs. It's kind of a joke he has a Defensive Player of the Year award and that Duncan doesn't, but Gasol is the closest thing in the league to Duncan in that regard.
My guess is that the Spurs will try to move heaven and earth to make a pitch for him, but it probably won't be enough.
Last Team: Suns
2014-15 Salary: $5,000,000
Wright was an absolute monster off the bench for the Mavs for the first of half of last season, putting up a ridiculous 25.7 PER and .274 WS/48 while shooting .748 with Dallas, with over half of his attempts coming at the rim. He was a pick-and-roll terror off the bench, and if he kept it up, he would've been a legitimate candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Mavs, however, decided, "we don't need any of that," and flipped him to Boston for Rajon Rondo because Mark Cuban's analytics department accidentally got themselves stuck in a wormhole to the year 2012. The Celtics had their fill of Wright after 15 minutes and sent him packing to the Suns, reminding the faithful over there of a poor man's Amar'e Stoudemire, while the Mavs tried to fill his shoes with the incredibly wealthy albeit broken down genuine article.
The thought of Wright working the business end of a pick-and-roll with Ginobili is enough to make one froth at the mouth. He would certainly be a bench upgrade to Baynes, even though he's mostly a liability in his own end. For 15-18 minutes though, against opposing second units? Sign me up.
Last Team: Pelicans
2014-15 Salary: $981,084
Ajinca was on the Spurs Summer League team a couple years back and looked a gangly, uncoordinated mess. His development has taken a quantum leap since then though and he enjoyed a very nice season as Omer Asik's understudy with the Pelicans, at times looking like the superior player. Ajinca put up career-high averages of 16.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per-36 minutes, and dropped his foul rate down from hackhackhack to simply obscene. No, Ajinca is not Rudy Gobert and never will explode the way he did, but he's a useful enough player and someone who's at the opposite end of the spectrum to Wright, more of a defensive specialist. The Spurs could've used one of those against Blake Griffin. Maybe familiarity with Parker and Boris Diaw gives the Spurs an in here.
Last Team: Grizzlies
2014-15 Salary: $3,000,000
Surprisingly, Koufos is the junior member of this list, even though he's been in the league for awhile now. Koufos has been steady and unspectacular in Gasol's shadow for a number of years, posting remarkably consistent rebounding numbers and doing a surprisingly good job of walling off the rim, limiting foes to 46.9 percent shooting. His offensive game in incrementally inching further and further away from the rim as his athleticism wanes, but he's not quite in liability territory just yet and perhaps a certain shooting coach can work with him on that jumper. The question for Koufos is whether he can polish up his passing skills enough to play for the Spurs.
If there are people I'm missing please be sure to point them out and make a case for them in the comments.