The San Antonio Spurs are nearing the end of the road with a core that's brought home four championships and nearly won a fifth last season. While the team's trio of stars is getting up their in age, San Antonio is still a title contender again this season. The team crossed the metaphorical halfway point of the season with the fourth=best record in basketball.
So, will the Spurs be active at the trade deadline?
Remember, this is a franchise that's rarely made any splashy moves around the deadline. The trades they have made have been for complementary pieces or players already familiar with the order of operations around town. Still, the pressure is on more than ever now that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are nearing the ends of their respective careers. Is that enough to light a slightly hotter fire under the front office ahead of the trade deadline? It seems doubtful, but around this tight-lipped organization, you never know.
There's a void behind Kawhi Leonard
Once Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard went down with injuries a little more than a week apart, the Spurs' perimeter defense went down the tubes. Suddenly, San Antonio was tiny, running three-point-guard lineups out on the floor to contend with some of the West's best perimeter players. On the night Leonard broke the fourth metacarpal in his right hand against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant was guarded by 6'2 Cory Joseph down the stretch.
There was a gap at the backup small forward position to start the season, but the Spurs were able to mix and match. Without Leonard, it became a gaping hole, one that needed filling.
The Spurs have been 'unusually aggressive' in trade talks this year, Ken Berger of CBS Sports wrote in early January, but there wasn't any word who they might be dangling. This from the Berger column:
We've been predicting the Spurs' last hurrah for years, but this time it might really be the end of the road. The Spurs have been unusually aggressive trying to upgrade their roster in the trade market, a signal to rival execs that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford realize this might be the final shot at a title with the triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan, 37, has a $10.4 million player option for next season, and Parker's future also has to be addressed; only $3.5 million of his $12.5 million for next season is guaranteed.
But not until recently did we see anything else in regard to this. Evan Turner has been rumored as a trade target for the Spurs, Sam Amick of USA Today reported, though Amick also mentioned the team may just wait until the offseason to see if he can be signed outright. Here's the excerpt:
One rival executive mentioned the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Bobcats as possible destinations via trade, though both teams could also wait until the offseason to see if they could simply sign him then. Sixers center Spencer Hawes and Young are also frequently mentioned as trade possibilities.
Nothing more has been reported on this since it was written 10 days ago, and given Turner's nearly $6.8 million salary on top of the Sixers' expressed interest in acquiring picks, it would be difficult for the Spurs to swing a deal that would make them definitively better.
And that's just it: despite what you hear about the Spurs as rumors swirl, the numbers tell us it's going to be difficult to do a deal with them.
What can the Spurs offer?
Three of San Antonio's most expensive assets (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) aren't going anywhere, and a fourth, Tiago Splitter, was just re-signed to a lucrative four-year, $36 million deal over the offseason. But his value to other teams may not be what it is to the Spurs. Beyond that, no other player on the roster is making more than Boris Diaw's $4.7 million, so the Spurs don't have the sort of money-matching capabilities that could bring in a major impact player without dealing one of their top four guys. And piling two or three guys into a trade scenario might deplete depth more than Gregg Popovich would like.
Then there's Leonard, who's arguably San Antonio's most intriguing asset given his talent and age. The biggest problem — other than his importance to the team on both sides of the ball — is that he's making less than $1.9 million this season. The Spurs have zero cap room to absorb any bigger contracts in return, so finding a trade that would bring in the type of talent to justify dealing Leonard would be nearly impossible.
San Antonio has a handful of intriguing overseas prospects, but again, the money-matching situation doesn't work given they're not under NBA contract. On top of that, one wonders if there's any interest in Spurs first-rounders a year or two from now when they could potentially be much worse, resulting in higher draft picks than we're accustomed to seeing in San Antonio; then again, with the impending end to an era, maybe they'll want to keep those for themselves.
Duncan's career is nearing its end and this team badly wants one more ring, so we'll see if they go to any greater lengths to improve their title chances. Perhaps there was talk that the Spurs had been unusually aggressive pursuing a trade, but it won't be easy to pull anything off without a hitch.