With the trade deadline approaching, the San Antonio Spurs are looking to fix their roster problems. What are their options, and should they pursue?
The San Antonio Spurs are on pace for another 50 win season despite the loss of Tim Duncan. With the trade deadline approaching on the 23rd, many teams are looking to shop around and receive some sort of value for their team. The Spurs have been relatively quiet in their historic dominance when it comes to the trade deadline as the most notable trade occurred during the 2011 draft day where George Hill was traded for the 15th pick which turned out to be Kawhi Leonard. What do the Spurs do this season? Do they continue to slip under the radar past the deadline, or do they actively push for a player? If so, which players?
There are some arguments to be made when it comes to the Spurs shopping the market. First off, why would they want to give anything up when they’re winning games? They’re on pace to win nearly 60 games and be a contender in the playoffs. But on the other hand, the elephants in the room are the Golden State Warriors who are getting better by the day and are looking to be the clear favorites for the Larry O’ Brien.
One reason San Antonio shouldn't give up anything this season is because they are capable of contending with the tools they have. Over the last 20 years, they have defeated The Miami Lebrons, the SSOL Suns, the Shaq and Kobe Lakers and the Larry Brown Pistons. If they can defeat those teams, there’s little reason to think that they can’t do the same with the Golden State Warriors. If the 2016-17 Lakers can grab a win over that team, it's in the realm of possibility to win four games against them. Popovich even helped lay out a blueprint last season that showed the interior weakness Golden State possessed which they still possess currently. OKC almost managed to win the series based on their big men, and Tristan Thompson was worth every penny in last year's finals. The only reason for San Antonio to do a trade is if they see a glaring weakness that can’t be adjusted by their team culture. What are San Antonio’s weaknesses anyway?
The primary weakness in the Spurs’ rotations is their PG depth. We've all heard a million times that Tony Parker is not the same player he once was, and there is no chance that he can compete with the likes of Steph Curry, Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in a seven game series. We get that. The second weakness the Spurs face is a solid center. Dewayne Dedmon has flashes of being a monster on the floor defensively and on the boards, but he still needs time to reduce his fouling trouble in order to be a starter. Pau Gasol is the current starter for the Spurs and brings a great offensive skill set, but with his lackluster defense and with him facing the twilight of his career it’s highly questionable if San Antonio can with a title with him on the roster. Based on those two weaknesses, what can the Spurs do?
A. Push with the current roster they have during the playoffs.
B. Make moves for a big man.
The reason why making moves for a point guard isn’t an ideal option is because the cost outweighs the benefits. No team is willing enough to trade for Tony Parker who costs $15 million, and for many teams, that’s a heavy price point for veteran leadership. More teams would be willing to receive Patty Mills instead, but the caveat with Mills is that he would be a rental as he is a free agent this summer along with the fact that he is the best shooter on the Spurs’ roster. So most teams will likely avoid him till the summer. Dejounte Murray would be a potential target for most teams, but he is a high-value asset as he has shown flashes of his potential against the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers over the last few weeks. With the PG market being so elite, everything comes at a heavy price, and San Antonio just cannot afford to give up much without losing significant depth. Based on those ideas, the Spurs can look for a big man. The big man should show significant defensive prowess and be relatively young and relatively cheap. The Spurs offense is already elite, and their defense is hindered by the likes of Pau Gasol, so this big man should make up for it on that side of the floor.
One big man who fits these criteria is Nerlens Noel.
Big Man? He is 6’11, so check.
Is he young? He’s 22. Check.
Can he play defense? You’re god damn right.
Should San Antonio give anything for Noel?
Philadelphia is all about gaining assets. They’ve got picks till the end of time. The catch with Noel is that he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and if the Spurs want to get him before the trade deadline, they will have to match any summer offers, and if the Spurs don’t have enough salary, they only end up with a half-season rental and an even bigger hole in their roster.
Realistically, Noel should be a summer target for the Spurs if he is still available.
The other potential target is Jeff Withey.
Who, you ask? Some tall big man sitting on the end of the Jazz roster behind Gobert, Diaw, and Favors who doesn’t get more than 10 minutes a game. The Spurs are fantastic at turning fringe bench pieces into starter caliber players such as Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons, and the same would likely go for Withey. He has a great interior presence, and he’s pretty young too at the age of 26. The problem with Withey is that it’s unclear how long he’d need to develop in order to become a significant contributor to the Spurs. Pau Gasol would still be on the roster, and he’d be sitting behind Dedmon who is a player of similar caliber.
After looking at these two big men, a trend occurs: A larger cost than benefit. Whether it would be salary, depth, or time needed to develop, the Spurs would not gain a significant edge if they were to participate in the trade deadline this month. Based on that knowledge, they will likely sit out on the trade deadline. Unfortunate, but expected. But they have made a move to fix some defensive problems.
This move is acquiring Joel Anthony. A 34-year-old veteran who won back to back championships with the Miami Heat. What they get out of Joel Anthony is an answer to their interior presence consistency. Joel Anthony is known as “The Warden”, with his stellar defensive ability in the paint. Although he is 34 years-old, he shows significantly more promise on the defensive end with the Spurs compared to Gasol, and as a result of his experience, Anthony doesn’t need time to adapt to the system compared to potential targets such as Noel or Withey. He understands what it takes to win a championship and he’ll provide additional mentorship to the likes of Dewayne Dedmon also. Although his salary is yet to be shown at this time, one can assume he will be a cheap addition to the Spurs. Joel Anthony is big, defensive, experienced, and motivated. He isn't the perfect plug for the Spurs, but with the way the Spurs operate, they'll make it work better than any other team in the league.
Should the Spurs work the trade deadline? No. They have the pieces right now to be a serious threat in the playoffs despite their current PG deficiencies. They filled in their current gaps at the center position with Joel Anthony and they should be able to roll with the punches come playoff time.
What the organization needs to work is the summer of free agency. With the odds of Dewayne Dedmon getting a sweet contract increasing for every rebound he gets, Jonathon Simmons getting a huge payday for every chase down block he gives, and Patty Mills becoming the richest Australian in the league this summer for every three he drains will be a concern for San Antonio. We can't forget that Manu Ginobili is probably going to retire this season too. The Spurs will have some significant work to do, but have faith in them to land some talent on their roster. Players such as Chris Paul, George Hill, Jeff Teague, JJ Redick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are available guards this summer and players such as Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, and James Johnson are on the table for the PF/C spot.
In summary, if you're a San Antonio fan, you won't have to spend your time worrying this trade deadline (as expected). Come summer time, we will all be pressing that sweet F5 button in hopes that management works some magic.