Ed. Note: For the duration of the upcoming week, the majority of the work here at 48 Minutes of Hell will be performed by our newest contributor, Tim. I am "occupied" to a point where I will hardly be able to watch a minute of pro ball for the next seven days, much less sit down and actually write something. So for the time being, Tim is gonna hold down the fort.
To the great consternation of Spurs fans, Malik Hairston received his pink slip last weekend. Malik Hairston? Consternation? Really?
Let me explain.
The Spurs second round draft pick had a good camp, but wasn't so impressive that anyone other than die hard basketball junkies would take notice. Had he made the team, it would have been justifiable. But no more so than Desmon Farmer. They both played well in camp and showed enough to make the Kool-Aid drinking crazies giddy. The faithful are passionate about all 15. Chapter and verse.
Hairston flashed offensive potential, but also showed that he has much more work to do on that front. Defensively, however, Hairston displayed real promise. At 6'6'' and 200 lbs, the sturdy-framed 21 year old could eventually find a niche for himself as a defensive ace in the league. His preseason defense was impressive, including 7 blocks. And while Spurs fans run with the defense-first, I Dream of Bowen crowd, they're also realist. Bowen is 37. Udoka is 31. Finley is 35. The Spurs pipeline is short on young, athletic, defensive-minded wings. Hairston could have helped. In San Antonio, "young 3" is an oxymoron.
No one is foolish enough to expect that Hairston could have helped the Spurs this season, but the thought of creating roster space to sign Hairston and assign him to the Toros was appealing. This is especially true with Ian Mahinmi's NBDL time mostly behind him; the Toros could use a prospect or two to develop. Malik Hairston showed enough potential for the Spurs to groom in Austin, at least on a one year flier.
The beauty of Peter Holt owning a D-League affiliate is the ability it gives the Spurs to convert end of the bench suits into jerseys. The Toros represent the ability to take a chance on a player like Hairston, giving him the coaching and playing time he needs to become a productive NBA player. It's surprising that the Spurs did not make this happen with Hairston.
There is still a chance that Hairston will make his next stop in Austin. If he is agreeable to the D-League, the CBA allows him to be assigned to the Toros. Unfortunately, the Spurs would have no protection against league call-ups. By waiving him, they've lost his rights. Barring a trade, strong play from Hairston will mean they've groomed someone else's player.
Hairston is not this season's Ian Mahinmi. But with a little luck, he could follow the path of Marcus Williams, with better results. Last summer, the Spurs waived second round draft pick Marcus Williams in favor of training camp upstart Darius Washington. This was not surprising. Williams possesses marginal professional talent. In terms of potential and has-it-now skill, Hairston is better on both ends of the court, with a higher ceiling. Nevertheless, Williams lasted through last year's camp until final cuts, much like Hairston.
Rather than signing an international contract, Williams was convinced by the Spurs to sign with the Toros. In a circus of call-ups, he eventually received a couple 10 day contracts before being waived and signed by the Clippers. Marcus Williams is no longer in the league.
The allure of the Toros is not counterfeit. For a player who has been through a Spurs camp, the Toros offer several advantages. First, it's a true part of the Spurs' program. Assistant general manager Dell Demps runs the Toros. His task is to fill the pipeline with a steady flow of players matriculating through summer league, training camp, and the D-League before arriving on the Spurs bench. The Spurs deliberately use the Toros to accelerate the skill set and basketball IQ of first and second year players. Put differently, they use the Toros as a place to develop future bench players.
The Toros are coached by Quin Synder, who runs Popovich's offensive and defensive sets. If a player has just come off a Spurs camp, he should have a leg up on the competition by playing for the Toros. In theory, the ability to diminish the learning curve, and thereby limit in-game mistakes, would make a player more polished and therefore more attractive to other GMs, not just Spurs staffers.
The Spurs are not blind to this sort of sacrifice. Character matters in San Antonio. For a player like Malik Hairston, joining the Toros says something about his character. Rather than storming out of town after being cut, players in his position can say, "I know I didn't make the team my first go-round, but I'm still here and I'm going to give it another go. "
From the sound of things, the Spurs would love Hairston to land in Austin. I suspect more than a few fans would be happy for that too.