Friday, June 12, 2009

HoopsWorld: Fixing The San Antonio Spurs

It's an odd-numbered year, and for the first time since 2001 the San Antonio Spurs are not competing for a championship in the NBA Finals. In fact, they didn't even make it out of the opening round as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks in five games.

It's hard not to overreact, but when you consider everything that the Spurs went through this season it was actually a year that many other franchises would kill for right now. However, the Spurs are not content with anything other than being a championship contender.

Looking at the Western Conference in its entirety, the Spurs are quickly starting to slip down the rankings. Currently the future in Denver, Portland, Houston, and Los Angeles looks brighter than it does in South Texas. With that in mind, we make our attempt at fixing the San Antonio Spurs:

What Went Wrong

There's nowhere else to start other than the Beijing Olympics. Against the will of the Spurs, Manu Ginobili suited up with the aspirations of leading Argentina to a gold medal as he did in 2004. Argentina settled for the bronze and Ginobili headed back to the states in need of surgery on his left ankle. While the Spurs were far from pleased, they were hopeful that it would lead to Manu having his first 100% healthy season in years.

Manu only missed 12 games to start, but it became a recurring theme throughout the season that just as everyone thought he was peaking Manu would suffer another setback. Early in April Manu was ruled out for the rest of the season because of lingering pain in his right ankle.

Tim Duncan struggled with injuries of his own, especially late in the season. By the time the playoffs came around Tony Parker claimed Duncan was basically playing on one leg.

Ian Mahinmi, although not as vital to the team's success as Duncan and Ginobili, was unable to play a single game this season because of persistent ankle pain. Coach Popovich had high hopes for Mahinmi this year and was undoubtedly planning on giving him a chance to be an impact player for the team.

For years the Spurs have always been amongst the oldest teams in the league, but their age never played as big of a factor as it did this year. Usually reliable veterans Kurt Thomas, Jacque Vaughn, Bruce Bowen, and Fabricio O'Berto (mainly due to various health ailments) were nowhere near as productive as they were the year prior.

What Went Right

This past season was a career-year for Tony Parker, who put the rest of the league on notice as to just how good he really is. For years Parker's talent has been slighted because he played alongside two other superstars, but there is truly no denying now that he is one of the league's biggest stars. With Duncan's retirement just a few years away the Spurs can rest safely knowing in Parker they have another franchise player.

The Spurs also managed to add two nice young pieces in Roger Mason Jr. and George Hill. The two were major bright spots this season despite the fact that their play tailed off somewhat towards the end of the season. They did play the most minutes of their short careers this past season, so it's logical to think that they hit the proverbial wall late in the year.

At the trade deadline several names were thrown around in association with the Spurs including Richard Jefferson, Rasheed Wallace, and Vince Carter. Unable to find a deal to their liking they decided to stand pat. Thankfully they were able to add a very valuable piece for nothing in Drew Gooden after he was bought out by the Sacramento Kings.

Gooden had some great moments for the Spurs, but was too banged up to change their fortunes.

Michael Finley played especially well down the stretch, providing some much needed offense in Ginobili's absence but the Spurs as a whole just didn't have enough this year.

Where The Spurs Go From Here

It's been years since the Spurs appeared to be this far away from contention. They've always found a way to make minor tweaks that make a major difference, but it may take more than that to get back in the mix in the West.

The Spurs are fully prepared to make some drastic changes though. They have over $30 million expiring contracts, including Manu's deal worth $10.7 million alone. Manu certainly has value around the league and although it's hard to imagine the Spurs parting ways with someone who has helped them accomplish so much, it may be time.

The Wizards are said to have an offer for Ginobili on the table, but the details are not known. A deal that makes a lot of sense for both sides is a swap that consists of Mike James, Etan Thomas, the fifth pick in this year's draft, and Nick Young for Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto. Nick Young would provide the Spurs with the promising young shooting guard they tried to acquire in J.R. Smith and with the fifth pick they could go a number of different ways. Jordan Hill or DeMar DeRozan would look awfully nice in a Spurs' uniform.

Considering their track record though it's hard to imagine the Spurs pulling the trigger on a deal of that magnitude without getting more proven talent in return. Word is that the Spurs do have strong interest in purchasing their way into the first round of this month's draft. Should the trade up into the 20-30 range expect them to look a proven collegiate player like Eric Maynor, Wayne Ellington, or Danny Green. Omri Casspi was someone who they were very impressed with, but he's unlikely to stay in the draft.

This summer the Spurs will have the mid-level exception at their disposal, which they could use to try to convince a proven veteran like Rasheed Wallace to accept. Wallace is said to want $8 milion, but when he sees how down the market is and the opportunity the Spurs present he could be persuaded to take their offer.

Whatever direction the Spurs do go in don't expect them to jeopardize their salary cap space in 2010 unless something spectacular comes along. Only Duncan, Parker, and Hill are under contract for the 2011 season, making them big-time players for some of the top free agents. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are the big names, but don't be surprised if Chris Bosh is really intrigued by the idea of playing with Tony Parker closer to home.

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