Elsewhere I've written that once they're healthy the Spurs will have an elite back court. I stand by that claim. Parker-Hill, Mason-Ginobili is a good core for the next few years, at least. No worries there. But I know that all things are not budding and green in the shire. In this post I will take the same tact, but will focus on the small forward position.
Ime Udoka is not playing well this season. Truth be told, despite lofty expectations and a good series against the Hornets in last year's playoffs, Udoka has been mediocre since he arrived. Those of us who had hopes that Udoka was Bowen's heir apparent remain underwhelmed. There is still a lot of season left for him to turn the ship, but one must wonder if Udoka should not be consigned to the good player/bad fit category. His contract expires after the season, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Spurs let him walk if he wants more than a couple million. They really can't afford to pay more, especially for another player north of 30 with uneven production. The notion of Udoka as Bowen's successor is not so thrilling a thought; Udoka as a low-cost, spot defender makes sense.
Udoka's poor play has been softened by the stellar play of Finley, but not many of us (and by 'us' I mean you, me and everyone we know) think this is a good bet to last. Finley worked hard this off season, but he's old. Gravity always wins. A productive Fin in March, April and June would be huge as the Spurs make a push to 5. But it hardly needs to be said that Finley does not represent the future in San Antonio.
Bowen has played well this season, but he now walks the line between ageless wonder and aging blunder. This is not a knock against him. He does more with less than any player in the league. But one can only be so effective in slowing time, and Bowen's resistance to age has been remarkable. Still, he's beginning to loose his lateral quickness. Once that goes he must forfeit his roster spot to retirement. I'm hoping Bowen makes it through this season. If he comes into 2009 camp as the most reliable 3 on roster, the Spurs faithful will have to break out the candles and prayer beads.
The Spurs have two wing players in the pipeline: Viktor Sanikidze and Malik Hairston. Amongst Spur fans, Sanikidze is the Keyser Soze of international draft and stash players. One often hears rumors of the 6'8'' small forward being a terror on the court, but it's hard to track down any evidence of this in time and space. At 22, there is still hope. He played decently for the Georgian National Team this summer, but is currently taking the quiet approach while playing for Estonia's very own Tarta Rock. At this point, Sanikidze is a summer league hopeful. Chances of his ever contributing to the Spurs in a meaningful way are gravely remote.
There is more hope for Malik Hairston, who will open is professional career as temporary property of the Austin Toros. He spent training camp with the Spurs and showed promise. Too bad for the Spurs, however, any team in the league will have opportunity to give Hairston a call up. This is likely. The people over at Draft Express put it this way:
Malik Hairston could very well be the first player called up by an NBA team, as soon as one injury or another happens and the need for a versatile swingman arises. He has an NBA body already to go along with nice physical tools, an advanced skill-set, and excellent intangibles to boot. It was surprising to say the least to see San Antonio decide to keep Desmon Farmer over him, but if Hairston can show improved ball-handling skills and the ability to defend both wing positions effectively, his stay in Austin should not be very long.The Spurs will not have a first round pick in the 2009 draft. Their ability to fill gaps in the quickly eroding small forward wall will have to come through free agency, a trade, or the D-League. As we will see in a future post, this is not a simple task given the Spurs assets and cap situation. But for now, there is good reason to cheer for Hairston.