Monday, June 22, 2009

48 Minutes of Hell: Tiago Splitter, Trade Asset

Tiago Splitter, Trade Asset

The Draft is almost upon us. There have been several reports that the Spurs are looking to trade into the first round, with one rumor having them interested in Washington’s 5th pick. But, honestly, we heard similar things last year. The cold reality of limited assets and the tough business of locating agreeable trade partners quiets most of the rumor-mongering.

This year’s trade speculation rests against the backdrop of needed change, with almost all those who follow the Spurs calling for or expecting overhaul this offseason. Don Harris recently quoted Spurs color analyst and family member Sean Elliott saying, “…I would fully expect us to have a revamped team next season.” His expectation seems universal.

A few of our readers have asked, given the team’s limited assets, whether Tiago Splitter’s rights could help a trade proposal go through. If Splitter is not tied to the rookie scale, as we’ve previously argued, one would think his rights would hold some value, certainly more than we assumed a year ago.

Tiago Splitter projects as an NBA starter, or at least a quality rotation big. He’s only 24 years old, but has the professional experience of a seasoned vet. And in this topsy-turvy economy, one wonders if his buyout situation is not actually attractive to teams. Put differently, if you’re a team that is not enamored with adding a rookie to your 2009-10 payroll, acquiring the rights to a talented big who requires zero immediate payment (and won’t until at least next summer) is something of a win-win. You avoid the cap hit, but still get to add a valuable player to your pipeline. Looking at the bigs available in this draft, Splitter would probably rank with Jordan Hill and DeJuan Blair, not far behind Hasheem Thabeet. Some might rank him ahead of the other three.

If this is the case, why would the Spurs want to give him up? If he came to the team next season, he’s a lock for a productive 25 mpg.

The simple answer is that he provides an asset the team currently lacks. He’s the young prospect that could put a cap relief package over the top. And again, that’s with the added luxury of staying off the books until at least 2010.

The Spurs recent dalliance with Yiannis Bouroussis is an indicator that shoring up their front line is an immediate priority, one that Tim Duncan cannot afford for them to sit on for another year. I expect the team to target another big with their MLE (Charlie Villanueva?). Then there is the possibility of Ian Mahinmi bouncing back from injury and contributing to the rotation. And most of us expect that if Chris Bosh is available next summer, the Spurs will use their cap space to make a run at him, however unlikely the odds. Add all that up. Where does Tiago Splitter fit into the puzzle?

But that’s on the optimistic view. The pessimist is happy to respond by saying the Spurs could strike out in free agency, Mahinmi could flop, and the team could completely miss their 2010 free agent target. If some combination of those things were to occur, Splitter is a mighty nice insurance policy.

Obviously, he’s the sort of asset one doesn’t just give away. There is no question he benefits the team a year from now. The question, however, is could he benefit the team 4 days from now? And if so, to what degree and how?

So to our readers who’ve asked what value Splitter’s rights hold, my answer is a curiosity struck “dunno.” I’d like to think he could command a pick somewhere between 10 and 20, but I also see the world through shades of silver and black.

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