Sunday, July 5, 2009

Overnight the Spurs went from pretender to contender

We last saw the San Antonio Spurs limping off the basketball court after being swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Their sports obituary praised their three-time championship run, as they were being written off as a serious contender for next year’s NBA crown.

Not so fast. The Spurs have opened their championship window for at least one-two years with acquisition of F Richard Jefferson from the Milwaukee Bucks and the drafting of F DeJuan Blair from the University of Pittsburgh.

This is another example of how well the Spurs manage their salary cap that allows them to make trades that aren’t available too many other teams. They traded three players on short-term, low-paying contracts and acquired a premier starting small forward.

Live Odds

Yes, this trade will rob them of cap space for the highly-publicized 2010 free agent class, as Jefferson is owed $15 million for the 2010-11 season. But, management felt it was time to get more athletic on the court, as Jefferson’s quickness will give the Spurs a new dimension.

He will become the third or fourth option on the offensive end depending on the health of the Spurs’ Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili). Jefferson has become more of a perimeter shooter, as he shot a career high percentage (39.7%) from beyond the three-point line last season, and this bodes well for the drive-and-dish styles of Parker and Ginobili towards the basket. His rebounding numbers should also go up next season, as opposing defenders do swarm on Duncan in the low post and this could open a lane to the glass for Jefferson.

During last season’s NCAA tournament, every NBA scout projected Blair as a top-15 player in the upcoming draft. So how did he slide all the way to the Spurs at the 37th pick in the draft?
Well, medical reports suggested that Blair was paired with bad knees that will get progressively worse over time. General Managers had to decide if he was a better short term pick for their team than the typical late round player available in the draft.

Your Money

This past season, Blair outplayed the #2 pick in the draft, Hasheem Tabeet, in Big East action, and average more rebounds per game than the #1 overall pick in the draft, Blake Griffin. The Spurs gambled and drafted a lottery player in the second round.

Team management recognized that they clearly didn’t have enough players to contend, and quickly added a shot creator and a rebound machine for next season. The NBA has become an arms race league, as contending teams have already gotten better in the off-season. The difference with the Spurs acquisitions are they added youth to an aging roster.

Written By Thomas Conroy