The question for the San Antonio Spurs is this: how do you rebuild when you haven’t had a lottery pick since 1997?
There’s little reason to believe they’ll receive one next year either.
Despite their first-round collapse against the Memphis Grizzlies, this team is still not likely to miss the playoffs. The backcourt of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with bench players George Hill and rookie standout Gary Neal, will keep this team in position to earn a spot in the lower ranks of the playoff seeding. Also, the team happens to have the greatest power forward to ever play in the league, even if he has lost a step or two (or three).
But the window for a Spurs championship is undoubtedly closed, so how should their front office plan for the future?
Many Spurs fans are calling for the team to trade away Richard Jefferson, who hasn’t meshed nearly as well with the system as hoped. This is not the best thing the Spurs could do, though, because Tim Duncan will retire soon, and Jefferson is a relatively cheap cog that will fit well alongside Parker and Ginobili once he’s gone. It’s also helpful to remember that Jefferson’s effective shooting percentage this past season was the best of his career (57.9%), as was his true shooting percentage (61.2%). To compound this, the Spurs will never get a player of equal trade value for him, so why not wait and see how he does when he can combine with Parker and Ginobili as a penetration combination?
The bigger problem for the Spurs is their lack of strength and size inside, as was highlighted by their first-round series against the Grizz. There’s an old NBA proverb that goes, “If your starting center is 6’9” and he’s not Ben Wallace, you’re in a heap of trouble.” Except that DeJuan Blair is two inches shorter than that, but there wasn’t a viable alternative except for plugging in the geriatric Antonio McDyess, out of his natural position, in at the five, with Blair and Matt Bonner filling in. Unsurprisingly, they had the stuffing knocked out of them by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
But big men take time to cultivate, and it seems that there simply aren’t enough of them to go around. With the Spurs paying Duncan $18 million next year, it seems highly unlikely that the Spurs will be able to snag Nenê from the Nuggets, even despite his relationship with Tiago Splitter.
So could you blow up the team and trade away the big 3? Probably not, if you want to receive anything as good as you’re letting go. Ginobili is an electrifying player, a clutch performer, and a fan favorite, and by many accounts the third best SG in the league. There is no way they’ll let him go. Duncan is the San Antonio Spurs, and the organization has a profound respect for him that will ensure his retirement in black and silver. Parker is the most tradable, but for the time being, he is still the best at penetrating defenses and is capable on defense.
In Tiago, the Spurs have a future big. He missed training camp this year, and was behind for the rest of the season. He was Spanish league MVP and Spanish league Finals MVP in 2010, and is a wonderful defensive player. The Spurs are also developing Brit Ryan Richards, who just turned 20 last month and could be a force in a couple of years in Europe. He has a wide array of post moves, and the length to make a difference as a shot-blocker.
But honestly, the only thing that Spurs fans can do is to wait and trust your front office. Take next season (if there is a season) as a farewell to Timmy and be incredibly grateful that you had a chance to watch him play for your team. Remember fondly all the times opposing fans sneered and labeled him boring, because he was still lifting up and banking it off the glass.
Any big moves can wait until after he’s gone. You owe him that much, at the very least.