If Tim Duncan does in fact retire after a legendary career spent with the San Antonio Spurs, the team is going to have to determine who they’re going to start at center next season.
Perhaps they try to stay in-house and promote either Boban Marjanovic or Boris Diaw to the starting role.
Marjanovic showed glimpses of the player he can one day become with the proper development. Only Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge scored more points per 48 minutes for the Spurs than Marjanovic. Although he’s raw, Marjanovic has the talent and playmaking skills that are extremely uncommon in any NBA player, let alone a guy listed at 7’3.
Marjanovic is scheduled to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and he’ll likely draw interest from other clubs. How the Spurs view him in their future plans will go a long way in determining whether they match any offer sheet a team signs him to. Restricted free agents are largely at the mercy of their current team, but it’d be hard to envision the Spurs not making every effort to keep this intriguing prospect.
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If the coaching staff wants to give Marjanovic more time to develop before thrusting him into starter’s minutes, they may opt to promote Diaw as a place-holder until Marjanovic is ready. Diaw is a fantastic passer and offensive facilitator, especially at the center position. Although he’s a greater asset off the bench than as a full-time starter, the Spurs could definitely do worse than starting Diaw at the 5.
Diaw has also become a solid defender and has decent range at the center position. He brings a unique skill set, and the Spurs have a talented enough supporting cast to not have to expect hefty point totals from Diaw as a starter. Despite Duncan’s strong defensive performance this season, he was a virtual non-factor on offense, and the Spurs were still able to win 67 games.
The Spurs will likely pursue a center in free agency. They’ve been linked to Pau Gasol, but Gasol is going to be 36 by the time next season rolls around, and he’s not a long-term solution at center. Perhaps they end up signing Gasol to a short-term deal to serve as a temporary mentor to Marjanovic, assuming that they’re able to re-sign Marjanovic.
Marquee centers around the league like Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Joakim Noah, Hassan Whiteside, and Zaza Pachulia are unrestricted free agents. The Spurs can set their targets on any of those guys to sufficiently upgrade the center position.
Aldridge also has the versatility to slide over and play center, freeing up the opportunity for a guy like Kevin Durant to be signed to start at power forward. Other free agent options at power forward include Josh Smith, Ryan Anderson, and Mirza Teletovic.
David West has a player option to return to the Spurs, and he could be a possibility to start at power forward with Aldridge at center.
If Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire, enough cap space will clear up to allow the Spurs a lot of options in free agency to possibly address their need for another big man.
Their success with late draft picks over the years is encouraging, and they could invest in a post player with their 29th overall pick. At this stage of the draft, though, he’d likely be a project who isn’t ready for meaningful minutes in the NBA.
If the Spurs miss out on Durant, then the next best option to improve their front court is probably to go after Whiteside. He’s an elite interior defender who also provides 15 points per game and 12 rebounds per game.
Whiteside is arguably the best center in the NBA right now. It’s certainly exciting to envision Whiteside and Aldridge starting down low for the Spurs, with Marjanovic, Diaw, and West providing depth.
As sad as Duncan’s retirement is, it’s also important to point out that his best days were far behind him, and now the Spurs have a wide variety of options to pursue to strengthen their team.
It’s going to be a fascinating offseason to see which strategy the Spurs chase to try to improve their team. Do they promote from within? Or will they look for outside help via free agency or the draft? Or some type of combination of both?