I got into a Twitter discussion yesterday with several folks about a potential-but-never-going-to-happen Josh Smith-to-the-Spurs trade idea from ESPN’s PER Diem. If you follow me on Twitter, you can see the exchange. There are two interesting aspects to the discussion that I decided deserved a post: first, do the Spurs need to make a deal? And second, what is the value of Josh Smith, particularly as it relates to the Spurs? I’ll close this out with what I think the Spurs might do between now and Thursday, given the knowledge that I’m almost always wrong about this sort of thing.
Need a deal?
It’s a fascinating idea to me that the Spurs are somehow “deficient” if they don’t improve their athleticism at the trade deadline this year. I’m not saying they will win the title as currently constructed; I am saying that I don’t think an addition right now will help them win it this year. How many times have we seen new players come in mid-season and struggle to pick up what the Spurs are trying to do? The additions last year – Jack, Mills and Diaw – worked because of familiarity with the Spurs’ offensive and defensive systems (and because Boris Diaw is a freakishly cerebral basketball player.) There are examples of guys who struggled in mid-season / first-season situations (RJ, Elson, Rasho, Nazr, et al) because this is a hard system to work into. It takes recognition, reaction, and repetition to make it work. I think that if there is a trade for a significant player, it means that Pop and RC do not believe the team can win it all this season and are already thinking about next year and beyond. Given the way Tim has played, it is unthinkable to me that RC and Pop are willing to waste this season by blowing it up right now.
Josh Smith: A Spur or not a Spur?
So, the Josh Smith talk is interesting. He is super athletic and can be an amazing player on occasion. He also has questionable shot selection, has had numerous attitude issues, and has spent his entire career free-wheeling in an offensive system built around isolation. I do not think he is a high basketball IQ guy, but I have little to base that on other than watching years and years of Hawks teams underperform and go out in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Could he pick up the Spurs system in the middle of a playoff run? I suppose it’s possible, but there is nothing on his resume to inspire confidence in that idea. However, on ESPN and Twitter and other places, it is apparent that I undervalue Smith, compared to lots of people.
He is also an unrestricted free agent and I cannot imagine that RC and Pop see him as a max player. I don’t and I read that, as talented as he is, several others don’t either. Thus, it becomes really unlikely that the Spurs would resign him for what he wants, so why make trade for him if you are not prepared to meet his contact terms? Someone will offer Josh Smith a max deal. There are too many small market teams desperate to make the playoffs and he’s too talented not to entice one of those desperate GMs. But, in my opinion, he’s a pure capbuster – a guy who takes up way more of your space then the return you get on those dollars.
What Deals Might Be There?
In short, not much. If my premise about not blowing up the season is correct (and I think it is), then you are looking only at minor tweaks. In a total non-surprise, the most likely candidate is DeJuan, but I also think Patty, Neal, Bonner, or Cory Joseph could be part of a deal with DJB, if that plays out. The Spurs would take just about any pick to move Blair, if offered and Baynes would step in to those minutes immediately.
Tiago was mentioned prominently in the Al Jefferson rumors were hot a week or two ago, but I think that’s unlikely as well or it would have already been done. The Jazz can get a better point guard – which they need – for Al than what the Spurs can offer. However, Al is unrestricted at the end of the season and I suspect the Spurs might make a run at him for a reasonable amount in the offseason, depending on who they resign from their own roster. (Begin tangent: Personally, I’d rather have Al than Josh Smith, even though Al is no more athletic than Tim is. Al is less than a year older than Smith, although it seems like he’s been around forever, and if Josh would improve playing next to Tim, Al would certainly benefit from the same thing. End of tangent.) As for Tiago, I love the guy but I’m also realistic and not opposed to trading him. I think we’ve seen the best he will ever be this season, but he’s not a piece everyone will be clamoring for in trade. In the offseason, though, he may command an offer sheet that’s more than the FO will pay.
The only other likely candidate might be Jack, because of that large expiring deal. A team that needs the cap relief next year might be willing to take Jack on and if the player in question was decent, I think it would be hard for RC to say no. But it would have to be for a player – someone who could either help win a title this season or a potential building block for the future. I spent some time combing through the Trade Machine to see if I could figure out who that was. Here’s a list I came up with: Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte (interesting, sort of); Andrea Bargnani, Toronto (who would make an interesting stretch 4); Nene or Emeka Okafor, Washington (which would require other Spurs and I can’t imagine WAS doing it); Javale McGee, Nuggets (would Pop retire if RC did that?) and that’s about it. There are potentially some others at smaller salaries, but it would require 2 or 3 more Spurs, which I think would be too disruptive for the FO to consider. And of the list above, who would you really want? Bargnani might be the most interesting one on the list but you have to think Toronto wants more than Jack’s expiring deal. In other words, the best rapper in the NBA will likely still be wearing Silver and Black come Thursday night.
It might be an interesting few days in the NBA-land for trades and such, but I suspect it will be pretty quiet in San Antonio. Unless DeJuan gets sent to Orlando for a pick. So, my advice for the next few days? Use Twitter like you would use a conversation with your used car dealer: sparingly and with great skepticism.