Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hoopsworld: The Ginobili Effect


By: Yannis Koutroupis

The San Antonio Spurs made their desire for Manu Ginobili to rest this summer rather than participate in the Beijing Olympic games well known, largely due to the risk of him getting hurt. Ginobili broke down at the end of last season and was a non-factor for all but one game of the Western Conference Finals, where the Spurs lost in five to the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite all that, Manu's competitiveness and pride for his country wouldn't let him skip out on the Olympics.

Everything was going good until Argentina faced Team USA in the semifinals, when Ginobili aggravated his left ankle injury in the first quarter. While the injury doesn't appear to be severe, the ankle is still going to be a lingering issue for one of the league's most frenetic players throughout the entire season. He does have a month to rehab the ankle, but his style of play makes the probability of reinjuring the ankle high.

Having him settle down isn't an option either. Spurs head coach Greg Popovich has said on numerous occasions that being so unpredictable is what makes Ginobili great. The fact that he could do just about anything next has made Ginobili one of the best guards in the league, but his body is quickly becoming less and less capable of being able to support this type of play.

So rather than trying to change how he plays on the court, the Spurs will likely change how much he's on it in the early going. He'll undoubtedly be at least somewhat limited during training camp, and don't expect to see much of him in the preseason either.

Due the growing concern about him becoming injury prone the Spurs have also wisely decided to hold off on contract extension talks. Ginobili is under contract for the next two years and committing any significant amount of money to Manu right now would be something that the Spurs could really end up regretting.

It's easy to get caught up in how none of this would have happened if Ginobili stayed home, but it's a moot point now with the Olympics over and the Spurs have no choice but to move on. This is something they have to deal with.

Thankfully for the Spurs they may be able to afford to give him some rest early on in the season. Ten of the Spurs first 16 games are against teams that were .500 or below last season. One of those teams is Portland, who will be much better, but the Spurs still have a favorable schedule to start.

When this will become a major pressing issue is when Ginobili misses even the slightest amount of time during the heat of the playoff race. We saw last year how much difference a few games made, and this year should be the same. The Spurs goal was to lighten the load on Ginobili by adding Corey Maggette, but they were not able to afford his services.

For the next two years though the Spurs options are really limited on what they can do with Ginobili. You cannot trade him because he's among the elite game-changers in the league and you aren't going to get back someone of equal value. Another proven perimeter scorer along his side would be ideal for the Spurs, but they don't have much to offer in terms of a trade.

The Spurs are in position to have a significant amount of cap room in 2010 though, where they can either extend Ginobili if he miraculously stays healthy, or go after one of the other big name free agents. Until then the Spurs' success will largely depend on Argentina's best. Considering how good the West is and Ginobili's injury history, the next two years could be extremely frustrating in San Antonio.

There will be stretches where he and the Spurs will look poised to win it all, but their ability to actually do so is contingent on Ginobili being 100% healthy in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Spurs, a clean bill of health for Ginobili after a grueling 82-game regular season seems a bit unrealisitic.

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