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On Missed Opportunities


In 1994 the current Spurs’ Brain Trust came under the employ of the Black-n-Silver. Since then they have garnered a reputation as one of the best Front Offices in the League. Given the four championships they’ve won since 1999, that reputation is somewhat understandable. But on closer look, so much of that success and reputation is based on three events. [ ED. -  Bdiddy might be over or under stating things here, depending on how you want to look at it, but we give him a long leash because for the most part he’s a good dog.]

The first should be obvious, given that Tim Duncan has been the face of the franchise for over a decade now. The second and third were the result of some excellent scouting, and should seem pretty obvious also. I’m talking of course of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The later of those two picks has earned them perhaps too much latitude and leeway (yeah, I know those are essentially the same thing, but I like redundancy) by the Spurs’ faithful.

Here’s what I mean. When you scout the heck out of the world, and find a player that later goes on to be an instrumental part of one Olympic Gold Medal winning and three NBA championship teams with the 57th pick in the 1999 draft (by the way, there were only 29 teams then, so that’s second from last) people tend to think that every “who’s that guy?” you select is going to amount to something more than 122 points, 57 rebounds, and 12 blocked shots.

So when, in July of 2005, David Stern did his best to tackle the pronunciation of the Spurs latest draft pick, everyone just assumed that Spurs knew something they didn’t. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t. The Spurs roster was pretty much stocked, they had just won the title and all things considered, one could argue that it was a worthwhile gamble.

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Things started off very well. In both the 2005 and 2006 seasons his development with Le Havre and Pau Orthez took the direction of a positively inclined line. So much so that a guy once considered a gamble and a project was signed to the team during the summer of 2007, despite an injury that decidedly reduced the Spurs’ ability to determine the what-for of their investment.

What happened next was a series of one missed opportunity after another.

Opportunity #1 – Rookie Season:
Ian was, as you know, assigned to the D-league that first year, which is where players go to develop of course. Given the relationship the Spurs have with the Toros the stars were still on their path towards perfect alignment. However, when you look at the success that DeJuan Blair or Goran Dragic had this year I think a case can be made for letting your young players play with the varsity team rather than in the small arenas and cities that span the NBDL. I’m sure most of you remember Mahinmi wearing the Silver-n-Black during the 2007-2008 season [ ED. – appeared in six games], but, what I would guess even more of you don’t remember is what player ranked just ahead of him on the games played list. Go ahead, wrack your brain, do a google search, whatever…If you can honestly say that Darius Washington was more important to the future of the Spurs that Ian Mahinmi was at that time, I have some Gulf Shore property to sell you.

Sure, sure, sure, Tony Parker was injured for the 18 games that Washington played, but between Jacque Vaughn, Brent Barry, and Manu Ginobili the ball handling duties could have been capably performed. So there was no need to take up a valuable active duty roster spot with a player that I’m not sure anyone knows where he makes his home now. Wouldn’t it have been better to have Mahinmi tagging along for most of the season and getting actual NBA reps? The duties of the center position were split that season by Oberto, Elson, Thomas, and Duncan. Wouldn’t five minutes a game from Ian been about the same as 5 minutes of either Oberto or Elson? If not, how exactly would it have hurt the Spurs? Would they have not made the Playoffs? I think not. Would the main players have been incrementally more rested for the Playoffs? I think so. Might Mahinmi been able to stop a lob or two from Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler? What difference would that have had? We don’t know and we will never know, but looking back it sure would have been nice to see what the kid could have brought.

Opportunity #2 – The Ankle:
The 2008-2009 season was a frustrating one all around as it pertains to Mahinmi. After injuring his ankle during the wind-up to the season, he never got the chance to get his wheels under him and ended up undergoing surgery in February to address the issue, which turned out to be a camera shy bone spur that was only found during the procedure.

Opportunity #3 – 2009/2010:
Developmental League eligibility exhausted, Ian spent this last season with the Spurs full time. Honestly, the prospect of finally getting to see him log some quality minutes had be excited. Problem is, the Spurs signed a plethora of big men during the summer: Haislip, Ratliff, McDyess, and Blair. Add in Duncan and Bonner and there just weren’t very many quality minutes to be had for the young Frenchman. But I’m not convinced that was the right decision. Beyond all of the advanced metrics, Bonner doesn’t bring much to the table, especially when his shot isn’t falling. Yes, Red Rocket did have a blazing start to the season from beyond the arc and a respectable finish, but in the middle months he was as cold as the weather (I know hand injury). Seems like Bonner’s broken hand presented a prime opportunity to give Mahinmi some burn, well more than 8.6 minutes of burn anyway.

By now my argument is started to sound a bit tired, but you can see what I am getting at. Well hopefully at least. What I’m trying to say is that Ian Mahinmi has shown enough make me want to see more. If the Spurs think differently, that is of course their prerogative. Besides they get to see a lot more of him than we do.

Opportunity #4 – Trade Deadline:
Given how much the league covets length, youth, and athleticism don’t you think there would have been at least one team interested taking a longer look at Ian via trade? What about the guy that discovered him, Sam Presti?

Mr. Miagi taught me this move

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So to wrap this up (man do I need a highly skilled editor to make my shit more sensible and less rambling), I’m hopeful that the Spurs resign Mahinmi this summer and then set about putting him to work. In every NBA game there are 96 minutes to be split between the power forward and center positions, were I Pop I’d divvy that time up something like this: 30 to Duncan, 24 to Splitter [ED. – big assumption there Brad], 20 to McDyess, and the rest to Blair and Mahinmi equally. Since I’m not Pop, just some random blogger that knows diddly about coaching, this won’t happen.

Here’s to making the most out the opportunities that may present themselves this offseason.

  • AnkleBones

    Pretty damn good write up. There have been some reports today (out of France) that Mahinmi has said he would like to come back to the Spurs, but not if it means he’s the 5th Big Man again. Can’t say I blame him.

  • http://airalamo.com mikesatx

    Very good write up man. Really enjoyed it.

  • bdiddy

    Hey Bones,
    There aren’t a lot of good teams Yawn could go to and not be low on the depth chart. As much as I want to see him on the court for the Spurs it shouldn’t be any higher than 4th big man.
    He could probably go to like the Clips, Grizz, Rockets (big maybe), Dallas (another big maybe), Atlanta, or other teams of that ilk and not curdle like milk waiting to play.