The Spurs find themselves in a bind. They won 67 games but face an unclear future. Should they tweak the roster and go for another ring with the same core? Should they aggressively look to trade for a missing piece? They could also take a step back and be content being a fringe contender while LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard gel and younger players develop.
With very little cap room, they will not be able to make the types of offers necessary to lure top free agents. They can however trade and salary dump their way to tier 2 and 3 players chasing rings. I expect them to make moves on the margins, and hope their young players improve enough to make them contenders. If not, they will be a competitive team that is simultaneously developing the likes of Boban Marjanovic, Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson, and even Leonard.
But for those who want to win now, what can be done to this roster? What is the wish list? What's feasible? (Read Jesus Gomez's cap breakdown if you haven't already.)
Priority #1: A defensive-minded, shot-blocking, rebounding center
Against the Thunder, the Spurs needed a center who could defend the pick and roll, rebound, and protect the rim. Tim Duncan showed signs of life in a few games, but it wasn't enough to contend with Kanter and Adams. If Duncan and Boban both return, they will have more than enough for the regular season, but I'm not sure that gets the job done in the playoffs. Boban won't be ready defensively and we saw Duncan needed help this year. Unfortunately for them, Bismack Biyombo's stellar series has elevated the value for that type of center. Biyombo is likely to get the max. With as little as 4 million in cap room (and that's assuming a Diaw salary dump), the Spurs will not be in the market for the top centers.
Solution: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah wants a ring. If Duncan and Ginobili retire, the Spurs should have just enough to make a decent offer for Noah. If not, they can try to appeal to the ability to play for a title. At age 31, Noah will likely want to cash in on his last big contract. But given his recent injuries and where the NBA is going, I'm not sure he will command top dollar. Deep down Joakim Noah is a winner. He won two championships in college and led the Bulls to the playoffs every year Derrick Rose went down. That type of energy is needed. Noah is also an elite passer for a big man, and can help push the pace. His offensive shortcomings are problematic, but he can be effective facilitating.
Priority #2: A True Stretch 4
The Spurs desperately needed a stretch four in order to go small. So much so that fans were calling for Matt Bonner as the solution against OKC. A stretch four allows the Spurs to play Aldridge at the five alongside four shooters.
Solution: Jared Dudley
Dudley is a veteran and a true strech four. He's a career 40% three point shooter and is coming off a 42% shooting season with the Wizards. A lineup of Parker, Green, Leonard, Dudley, and Aldridge is suddenly much more open than with Diaw and West and their limited range. Think of a Parker/Aldridge PNR with Leonard, Green, and Dudley as kickouts. Dudley is also a respected veteran and mentor. He would have to be willing to take a bit less than he could get elsewhere, but I could see him wanting to play for a more competitive team.
Priority #3: A Point Guard
With Tony Parker guaranteed two more years at 15 million and Patty Mills still under contract, the Spurs are again in limbo at the point guard position. With limited flexibility and less of an immediate need, this may be put off till next off-season.
Solution: The Draft
This is a point guard heavy draft, and even at 29 there is a potential to land someone promising. If Wade Baldwin from Vanderbilt or Anthony Barber from N.C. State are available, now is the time to get a young point guard who can learn from Tony Parker. I'm biased as a Vanderbilt alumni, but Baldwin is 6 foot 4, can defend both guard positions, and has a solid outside shot. He's also a one-man fast break type of player in the open court.
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The Spurs have many areas where they could upgrade and not much cash to work with. Such is life for a perennial contender with a lot of veterans. They also have a lot to be excited about. The development of Simmons, Anderson, Boban, and Kawhi, coupled with year 2 of Aldridge has a lot of potential. There is a lot to be said for holding tight and developing what you have. Drastic moves like trading Green or Parker just won't get back the type of value that is worth breaking up current chemistry. But if the Spurs can swing discount deals for Joakim Noah or Jared Dudley, they should give it a shot.