Friday, November 21, 2008

Rumor Filter

The Spurs will march into the summer of 2010 with Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, George Hill and Ian Mahinmi under contract. Those four will command a meager 35 million in total salaries. And get this, as many as an astonishing nine Spurs will drop off the books at the conclusion of the 09/10 campaign. Nine players. Think about that. 60% of the roster.

R.C. Buford has been carefully orchestrating the Spurs salary cap for several seasons. He and Pop convinced Tim Duncan to take a pay cut starting in the 2010/11 season based on the movements of their conductor's stick. It should be obvious, the front office has a plan.

The Spurs are not dumb. Tim Duncan is the reason they've won four championships. Elite teams require elite players. And as the readers of this blog probably know, the summer of 2010 is stuffed full of elite players.

A combination of Parker, Duncan, Mahinmi, Hill, and, perhaps, Ginobili with free agent cash to spend should be an attractive proposition for any available free agent talent. One assumes Duncan will have lost something by that point--although his current numbers are the same as ever--and will be relegated to third wheel status alongside the Spur-to-be and Tony Parker, both of whom should be in their prime. That's fine. So far as third options go, Tim Duncan is a pretty good one.

The Spurs will also have an improbable but nevertheless available option on Tiago Splitter that summer. If he were to come to the NBA, forsaking certain riches in Europe, it would be on a rookie contract. Ironically, Tim Duncan's decline, which should promise a bigger place in the rotation for Splitter, along with a headline free agent signing, might create an attractive situation for the Brazilian.

This of course is complicated by the 2010 free agent status of Manu Ginobili and, to a lesser degree, Roger Mason Jr. Their market value and clout within the organization will factor heavily into the Spurs thinking, but it's impossible to know what that will be two years out. But know this: the Spurs front office adopted a plan for 2010 several seasons ago and it will take something of major significance for them to alter it now. They're on a deliberate course, carefully considered and charted-through. No one in San Antonio is eager to hit the panic button.

So when you read about rumors of the Spurs making a play for, say, Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, Chris Kaman, or Gerald Wallace, ask yourself how would such a deal affect the 2010 cap?

I'm here to help.

Assuming Harrington picks up his player option after this season, his contract still expires in 2010. For this reason alone he makes the most sense of all the names sauntered about. If Eddy Curry exercised his early termination option, he could be a free agent in 2010. He'd also be several million poorer for doing so. It's more likely they'll he lay claim to contracted money, clogging the books of the poor suckers that have to pay him. Gerald Wallace is scheduled to make almost 30 million between 2010 and 2013, so he's not a great fit. Chris Kaman is not as expensive, but he still leaves you on the hook for 23 million through 2012. In short, most trade rumors are laughable.

It's fashionable to suggest that the struggling Spurs are the floundering fish that will bite the trade hook. But it's just not likely. If the Spurs make a trade this season, it will be for a player whose contract expires prior to 2010 or whose contract is small enough that it will not self-destruct their free agent ambitions. The only exception to this rule will come if a GM is willing to give up Pau Gasol-level talent for Laker returns.

But that brings us to this: “No one wants their guys." That is, the Spurs have precious little to offer, not even a 2009 first round pick. There are very few circumstances that would cause a GM to send out inexpensive talent for Jacque Vaughn quality kick back. The Spurs don't have the assets to make a big splash trade. It's a tough market on Matt Bonner.

If the Spurs are able to execute their long-term reload strategy, they should be competitive through 2012, at least. Four more years of championship aspirations is a lot to look forward to. I wonder what Vegas would consider the better bet to happen first: the Spurs not qualifying for the playoffs or David Stern's retirement?

Update: Al Harrington is likely off the table.

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