The trade season begins in earnest on Monday. On the 15th, players signed this summer are eligible to be traded. In all likelihood, the Spurs won't make any headlines. Simply put, they don't have the assets, players, or contracts to fetch an impact player. Still, I'm going to sketch the lay of the land, and your welcome to contribute in the comment section. So this post is what it is says it is: idle speculation.
The Spurs have two glaring personnel needs: 1) they could use an athletic wing who is able to get to the basket. This sort of player would help the current squad, but could also represent an eventual successor to Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley. Ime Udoka is not the heir apparent. 2) the Spurs would benefit from shoring up their front line. The need here is two-fold. First, Kurt Thomas is showing his age and Ian Mahinmi isn't showing anything--the Spurs need a rugged big to muscle rebounds, block shots, and body opposing centers. Second, the Spurs need a big who is able to come away from the basket and guard face-up 4s like David West and Dirk Nowitzski. Long term, they have options. Their current personnel, however, is incapable of meeting the task.
In terms of assets, the Spurs come up empty. The best they could offer is a 2011 first round pick, having traded away their 2009 pick for Kurt Thomas. But if things go south in 2010, the 2011 pick becomes extremely important to the franchise, and, don't hate me for saying it, could be a pick in the teens or lottery. I doubt they offer it to anyone prior to February 2011, at the earliest.
If the Spurs hope to compete for a title this season, they need to keep their roster more or less in tact. But they have pieces at the edges that could be moved without doing violence to the team: Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, and, perhaps, Kurt Thomas. Vaughn and Udoka are on expiring deals and make 1.2 and 1 million, respectively. Kurt Thomas is signed through next season at 4.2 and 3.8 million per. Ask yourself, how many teams are clamoring for these players? Exactly.
There is not much to work with then, but Pop and Buford will have to make due with what they've got. From where I sit, the Spurs are best suited to hang on to everyone else. If for no other reason, the Spurs rely heavily on "corporate knowledge", to use Popovich's expression, and need a bevy of players who are fully integrated into the system for the team to find success. With newcomers Hill, Mason, and, possibly, Mahinmi getting their shot this season, the Spurs are already plenty green.
The Spurs use their 14th and 15th roster spots to develop players in Austin and if needed those men, Blake Ahearn or Anthony Tolliver, could be cut to create space. Conversely, if the Spurs were to trade Vaughn or Thomas, Ahearn and/or Tolliver could drive south to fill the void. In addition to Ahearn and Tolliver, wings Malik Hairston and Marcus Williams are playing for the Toros. Neither is under contract with the parent club, but each is a recent Spurs draft pick whose development is being watched carefully by the three-headed monster of Buford, Lindsey and Demps. In my opinion, the Spurs could probably get by if they replaced Udoka with Hairston. This is not to say they are equal players, just that Hairston could provide an emergency stop-gap for the loss of an out-of-rotation wing.
Speaking of Austin, I'm of increasing persuasion that the Spurs would be best served to trade one of the three aforementioned vets for a player whom they could develop in Austin for next season. For example, given Tony Parker, George Hill, Roger Mason Jr., Manu Ginobili, and Blake Ahearn, do the Spurs have any use for Jacque Vaughn? He's a bright player and all, but come on. Superfluous. His roster spot would be better spent on a player that could contribute a year from now.
Listless stuff, I know. But those are the parameters I'm working within, and I won't allow my imagination to stretch further. Having said that, here is the blogosphere's most anticlimactic trade speculation post to date. I've organized the proposals in order of greatest to least plausibility. Drum roll for the doldrums...
Marcin Gortat: He answers the call for a rugged big, and has no role whatsoever with the point guard bereft Magic. JV for Gortat makes sense for both teams. Gortat played solid basketball against the Pistons last postseason, so it's odd that he's out of the rotation. But Stan Van Gundy didn't play Trevor Ariza either, so I wouldn't read too much into it. Gortat is NBDL eligible through this season.
Sean May: Jackie Bulter redux? Maybe. More turgid than rugged, May is a large PF. Nevertheless, his ability to rebound and hit spot up jumpers would help the Spurs front line. He's fallen out of favor with Brown, which means Popovich hasn't received a good report. Still, Pop could define a role and squeeze May dry for 15 minutes a game. Charlotte gets two Larry Brown-type players and exchange May's contract for Vaughn and Udoka's expiring deals.
Sean Williams: Rod Thorn is notorious for driving a hard bargain, but Williams is a sunk cost. He doesn't have a role in New Jersey, and it's hard to imagine San Antonio taking back his brand of citizenship and b-ball IQ. Still, it might be worth the risk of Vaughn and a 2nd round pick. The Spurs have such good culture, they could probably withstand the experiment, and the one thing he does well--block shots--is an area of need. Any reluctance shown by NJ and San Antonio might be outmatched by Williams--he's already pining for playing time and the Spurs would be certain to send him to Austin for the remainder of the season.
Kyrylo Fesenko: If Utah has any need for Ime Udoka, I'd gladly give him up for the right to develop Fesenko. But, alas, they don't. Moving along.
Alexis Ajinca and Adam Morrison: This is a personal favorite of mine because I love Ajinca's game. He's an ideal candidate to spend time in Austin and contribute to the Spurs and year or two from now. And with Parker and Mahinmi already on roster, you have to like the French connection. From those standpoints, this would be a coup.
Truthfully, I can't see the Spurs taking back Adam Morrison's contract. He's not a very good basketball player. In fact, he stinks. The Bobcats will have to add a sweetener like Ajinca to move him. The Spurs would have to give a combination of Kurt Thomas, whom Brown would like, and Blake Ahearn to make it work.
Nicolas Batum: Batum is starting in Portland, so this isn't going to happen. I'm adding him to the list for the wholesome quality of setting things right---Udoka is a Portland native that played his best basketball as a Trailblazer. Batum is supposed to be a Spur. I'm only doing my part to bring balance to the universe.
Andrea Bargnani: His skill set and size intrigue me, but he can't defend a fold out chair. Nevertheless, if the Spurs were confident Mahinmi will contribute this season, they could take a chance on Bargnani for Thomas, Udoka, and the Spurs' Golden State pick. The Raptors would likely balk, but Thomas and Udoka are two players that would help their playoff push.
Tyrus Thomas: Thomas is the square peg to Chicago's round hole. In some ways, he's the player that makes "ridiculous upside" something of a joke. John Paxson surely wants to recoup more than scraps from this high draft pick, but it's going to be difficult to get back more than 50 cents on the dollar. Thomas could blossom with a change of scenery and finally realize his potential. The Spurs should throw a penny in a well and hope that Kurt Thomas, a future first and Golden State's 2009 second could get it done.
There are other players--Dorrell Wright and Martell Webster--that might be available, but I simply don't see any scenarios where the teams involved could/would get a deal done. Do you have any ideas?