The Spurs displayed tremendous heart, effort and resiliency this season. I will always respect this team and the toughness displayed against the Warriors in the playoffs. This was a team of overachievers. They gave everything they had and went down swinging.
As admirable as the effort was, it was apparent the team had very specific needs beyond Kawhi returning.
How to address those needs is The Question.
The unknown at this point is how much financial wiggle room the team will have to bring in the guys they need. Green, Gay and Lauvergne have a player option for next season. Anderson, Forbes and Bertans are all restricted free agents. Parker is a free agent.
Manu may retire, but hopefully, because he’s Manu and does Manu stuff and is the quintessential role model, he comes back for one more year.
The decisions made this summer by players and by the Spurs organization will determine if or to what extent these needs can be addressed.
A couple of ground rules: First, for the sake of argument, let’s not jump to the Kawhi comes back and LeBron comes to San Antonio scenario. Let’s just see if we can get things squared away with Kawhi first.
Second, let’s not fire up the ESPN trade machine. It’s easy to get salary numbers to line up so the Spurs get a guy or guys you like for guys you don’t think the Spurs need. Example: Just because you want to send Derrick White and Pau Gasol to the Charlotte Hornets for Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb and the numbers work (This Trade is Successful!) doesn’t mean Charlotte jumps all over that. I’ll go out on a limb and say in this case, they wouldn’t. Let’s try to be a bit more realistic.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that things work out between Kawhi and the Spurs. Even with Kawhi, the Spurs would still have these needs if they are to contend for another championship.
- A Relief Point Guard. I’m all in on Dejounte Murray. I love confidence and his upside. The young man (he’s just 21 years old) has the potential to be a triple double machine. He’ll never be a high volume scorer, but he can be a very good point guard and a very good two way player. He has All Star potential. That said, he has much to add to his game before he’s ready to be the steady floor general for a team pushing deep into the playoffs.
He needs a mid-range shot and the ability to knock down the 3 ball at a decent percentage, both of which are doable given his work ethic and Chip Engelland’s tutelage. He needs to improve in the area of decision making and as a distributor. More reps and more game time help in these areas. There is no substitute for experience.
As Dejounte goes through normal growing pains, he (and the Spurs) also need a reliable Plan B when he finds himself struggling as young players do from time to time. Sometimes it’s just best to sit, watch and learn.
Look back at a young Parker. The Spurs saw his potential as well as his limitations. They pushed him and gave him reps but also had a Plan B for those moments when he was in over his head. Plan B was a relief point guard named Speedy Claxton.
The Spurs and Dejounte need a Claxton. They cannot continue to look to a 40 year old Manu who may or may not return next year as their most trustworthy point in the playoffs.
In an ideal world, Parker would be that guy. It’s another issue altogether, but Parker has lost so much he’s best suited to be a third option off the bench. He may not want to accept that role or reality.
2. A Punisher. The Spurs had trouble scoring all season. Rudy was a fantastic revelation in the playoffs because he was one of the few Spurs who could create his own shot. The man played with a chip on his shoulder. Some team will likely offer him a lot more money than the Spurs would be willing to this summer. I’d love to see him return and be the leader of that second unit, but I have a feeling that’s a long shot.
If Kawhi returns, without another legitimate scoring threat on the floor with he and Aldridge, the strategy for defending the Spurs is clear: devote maximum attention to either Leonard or Aldridge and force the other to beat you. The Spurs need a third option who doesn’t need a ton of touches but can punish teams for leaving him alone.
A third option in this case is a guy who can put the ball on the floor, get to his spots and hit the open shot. The third option punishes you if you leave him alone. Every. Single. Time. Neither Danny or Patty are ‘that guy.’
Look back again to another former Spur: Willie Anderson. He would be an example of the kind of guy that would fit that mold. Anderson wasn’t an All World player, but he wasn’t the kind of guy you left alone. He had to be accounted for. He could get to his spots. The Spurs need another starter who requires attention and punishes you if think Kawhi and LaMarcus are the only Spurs on the floor who can score.
3. A Garbage Man. Watching the Spurs get hammered on the boards against the Warriors was brutal. A garbage man gives a team second chance point opportunities, is content to get his buckets from whatever he collects around the rim. Defensively he protects the rim, limits second chance points, and gets the fast break going.
Aldridge is a solid but not great rebounder. His offensive game is mostly jumpers from 12-15 feet from the rim, which limit his offensive rebounding. Defensively, he rebounds a bit better, but still, he’s average for someone his size.
Gasol can have stretches where he rebounds fairly well, but his knees, age and frame limit him from doing the dirty work the Spurs need done.
Looking back again, someone like a Malik Rose would be fantastic to have on this team. Rose wasn’t a rim protector but he was an active, physical player. He was largely content to get his points doing dirty work, banging around with big men, and fighting for boards. That was his game. The Spurs need someone like him with bigs like Aldridge and Gasol. Even a guy like DeJuan Blair when he was focused and locked in was a good example.
As Pop might say, ‘We need some nasty.’
The great thing about these three needs is they don’t demand large contracts because they do have holes in their game. They are complimentary pieces. Guys like this don’t break the bank.
The reality is in a post-Big Three era, and a (hopeful) Kawhi/Aldridge era, the complimentary pieces need to change to fit the new centerpieces. Here’s to a very successful summer and offseason.