When the San Antonio Spurs acquired Ray McCallum from the Sacramento Kings, the common response was that the five-time championship-winning franchise made a clever move at the expense of a rebuilding team.
San Antonio has a history of resurrecting players or kick-starting careers, and McCallum—a 6’3″ point guard—fits in the latter category and is viewed as the team’s next project. At worst, the coaching staff can develop him into a rotational piece for when Manu Ginobili retires, perhaps following the 2015-16 season.
But if McCallum steadily improves, the Spurs must also be prepared for the third-year guard to become a valuable commodity when he becomes a free agent next summer.
The Detroit-Mercy product broke into Sacramento’s starting lineup when Darren Collison sustained a season-ending injury and performed reasonably well, though it wasn’t at a level where he was a highly sought-after piece.
McCallum tallied 11.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds during his 30-game stretch with the first unit, shooting 34.3 percent from three-point range and 45.2 percent overall. He even scored a season-high 20 points against the Spurs.
According to Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs view McCallum as a potential replacement for Tony Parker if the French point guard is sidelined.
“While they don’t think McCallum will be the defender Cory Joseph is,” Harvey said, “they see him as someone who can run a team. If Tony Parker suffers injuries again, McCallum could be a key to the season.”
What if that happens? Parker is on the shelf due to a long-term injury, and McCallum enters the rotation—perhaps the starting lineup if Gregg Popovich wants the second unit to remain intact. After all, McCallum is more similar to Parker, a pick-and-roll artist who is neither a tremendous shooter nor a defensive threat.
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Plus, few NBA teams offer a better place for a complementary piece to shine than the Spurs. McCallum would be tasked with fitting a particular role, one that hides a couple glaring weaknesses yet encourages his potential strength on the offensive end.
And if he thrives in that position, McCallum—who is entering the final season of a three-year rookie deal, per HoopsHype—will find multiples teams pursuing him as an unrestricted free agent. Although the Spurs will likely be able to afford McCallum thanks to the rising salary cap, they rarely engage in a bidding war for backups.
San Antonio breeds players, but there’s a price that comes with the success.
Sometimes, as the 2015 offeseason showed with Joseph, Aron Baynes and Marco Belinelli, that price is too much for the Spurs. It could be the case with McCallum, too.