Monday, June 1, 2009

48 Minutes of Hell: Offseason Breakdown - Small Forward

The one spot on the Spurs roster that deserves a stick of dynamite is small forward. The frontcourt needs work, but the type of work that merely adds to a solid core. You understand this. You’ve left a hundred comments amen-ing the sentiment. The reconstruction of the Spurs’ wing is not an easy project. Essentially, the Spurs need to replace Bruce Bowen’s defense, add another ball handler, find someone who can score off the dribble and has three point range.

At this point, you should be laughing. Doesn’t every team want a player like that? And of course it would really help if said player were Hedo Turkoglu long. But while it’s not an easy project, it’s not an impossible one either.

It’s easy to see that combination of skills and toss your arms to the sky in a hopeless exhale. When players like that come along, teams lock them up with big contracts. The sort of contracts the Spurs can’t afford apart from landing a cap crushing salary dump. But don’t despair.

It’s not inconceivable that the Spurs simply hit reset on their small forward situation. They can do this by trading Bruce Bowen’s semi-expiring deal (or waiving it) and letting Ime Udoka walk. That would leave only Mike Finley as a SF reserve, assuming he opts in for the final season of his contract.

As I’ve thought about the Spurs wing situation, I’ve become increasingly hopeful. Why? Well, the Spurs do not have to arrive at their final destination overnight, they just have to start moving in that direction. If they can find one player this offseason who improves their wing rotation, then they’ve gone a long way. He doesn’t have to be a perfect composite of all the things listed above, but he needs to bring a couple of those characteristics. Adding depth behind such a player would then become a high priority, but the Spurs can show patience in that process. This is the first reason not to worry.

The second reason is that the Spurs should have plenty of options this offseason—the summer is setting up nicely for San Antonio. I would be amazed if the Spurs went into next fall without having made at least one significant move toward small forward recovery. And I suspect they’ll have taken two large steps on that front, one through trade or free agency and the other through the draft. Let me explain.

The Spurs are walking into an offseason that presents a perfect storm of possibility. Think about it. The price on free agents is coming down due to a hard economy and the ever present class of 2010 looming large in the background. Teams won’t want to spend. And some of those same teams will want to rid themselves of overpaid but otherwise useful players. This combination puts the Spurs in a good spot–they’ll have opportunities to improve through the trade market or in free agency, if they want.

I’m not going to pretend to know which direction the Spurs will choose, whether they’ll make a bold move or cleverly refine the edges. Personally, I like some of the oft-discussed bold move scenarios, and others not so much. The same is true of more subtle refinements. I’m stating the obvious, but it depends on who we are talking about and how much they cost.

But I came away from the Combine with a sense of optimism about the offseason ahead. The Spurs should be able to pull a decent Austin-bound prospect out of this draft. If they move into the first round, as recent rumors suggest, they could land a player who gets a shot at meaningful minutes next season.

So, I’m not going to include a list of players in this post. I’ll let you do that in the comments, and for good reason. Rather than publish the laundry list–one that ranges from Vince Carter to Tyler Smith, and stops at all points in between–I’ll let you talk it through. How do you think the Spurs should fix their small forward situation? Your conversation will demonstrate my point: they have plenty of opportunities to improve themselves at wing. There is reason for optimism.

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