The streets of San Antonio are cluttered with residents mourning the loss of Tim Duncan.
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Faces glum, they toggle their social media accounts, posting various tributes and memories of the Big Fundamental, before numbing the pain of his departure by spending hours playing “Pokemon Go”. According to Jalen Rose, it seems the Spurs faithful are desperate to fill the legacy void Duncan left behind – desperate for trades to compete with the stacked Golden State monolith presiding over the Western Conference.
The Warriors are that beefed-up Pokemon that took over the gym at the local Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, and the Spurs are the team willing to pay real US currency for some Pokeballs.
It’s picking the gym battle before the user has proper training; the move is desperate, and a not a great idea.
Kevin Durant recently said that Russell Westbrook is part of the problem. As per Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:
Their partnership produced four conference finals appearances, and one trip to the Finals, in the last six years. It also produced a simmering frustration that, in essence, paved the way for his exit.
Durant wanted an offense that kept the ball moving and provided him easier scoring chances. The Thunder fired coach Scott Brooks, brought in Billy Donovan, and still the offense stalled out at key moments, often with Westbrook dribbling into oblivion. The Thunder led the NBA in blown fourth-quarter leads last season, despite their firepower.
“Ultimately he got frustrated and felt that they had plateaued,” said a person with insight into Durant’s thought process. “[Donovan] came in,and he still had the same issues that he had with Russ under Scotty. The offense didn’t change much. He still had to take a ton of contested shots every game; and that’s when he had the ball at all.”
Gregg Popovich’s system is one based on facilitation – being as unselfish with the ball as possible.
Usually when Westbrook gets the ball, the ball dies in his hand, launching an average of 17.3 field goal attempts per game compared to 18.1 last season; Kawhi Leonard is the closest at this tally with 15.1 per game, but he’s less erratic with his shot (50.6 percent from field and 44.3 percent 3-point compared to Westbrooks 45.4 percent and 29.6 percent from 3-point last season).
What would this acquisition mean to Leonard’s progress as a potential MVP candidate? Steph Curry garnered 131 first place votes last season, and Leonard was runner-up; Leonard has only progressed each year since he was drafted.
Granted Durant won MVP with Westbrook in tow, and made a Finals run, but as Westbrook improved, there was obviously a wrestle of power in how got their paws on the rock in the waning seconds of regulation.
Westbrook’s looks – and ball hogging tendencies – would disrupt the rhythm of a Spurs team that ranked fifth in assists per game (24.2), and take away from the supporting offensive cast.
May 28, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts before the game against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Who would be on the trading block if San Antonio made the move? In the video, Rose balks when asked who San Antonio would trade for, instead opting to list other teams Westbrook could be shipped to.
Danny green would be a no-brainer. The shooting guards numbers are their lowest since his playing days in Cleveland, and he’s proven to be a liability on offense. But, are in a position where Green is the only true starting shooting guard on the team; there are adequate swingman that can fill the void, and Jonathon Simmons is decent as a backup albeit not a starter, but none that fill the position defensively quite like Green.
Popovich could go to a small-ball tactic, and it’s not like OKC was really struggling in the backcourt with lackluster players at the two guard. In the last several years after James Harden left for a fat contract in Houston, OKC had Thabo Sefalosha, Anthony Morrow, and Dion Waiters at starting shooting guard. Not exactly All-Star caliber players. Even then, Westbrook was an aggressive floor general to compensate at the lack of depth at the two and monitor the entire backcourt.
Who else? Whispers are an LaMarcus Aldridge/Westbrook swap could be possible, which is asinine since it would completely compromise the front court. Anyone on the bench would puncture a hole in the teams depth – losing Boris Diaw and Boban Marjanovic to make room for Pau Gasol was sacrifice enough.
San Antonio could wait for free agency next season. Already the Spurs are tight with the salary cap after acquiring Gasol, and forking over big bucks to Leonard and Aldridge last season. San Antonio is currently over the cap by $10 million, and will pay a luxury tax of nearly $4.8 million next season.
The salary Westbrook would demand probably would kill any San Antonio bench development for the future. The cap space will be more open with Ginobili, Patty Mills, Simmons, and possibly Kyle Anderson off the books next season.
Is a basketball star hungry for the big market spotlight the right fit for a team that would rather linger in the shadows backstage?