San Antonio Spurs: Top 10 targets in 2018 free agency
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs will not enter the offseason with much cap space, but who could they still target?
On July 1, 2018 NBA free agency will start. It’s the opportunity for the San Antonio Spurs and the other 29 teams to verbally agree with players on contracts for the 2018-19 season and beyond. They can officially sign deals later in the month.
With each free-agent period comes top targets, the ones teams identify as the players they want. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it may be LeBron James. The Spurs will hold a different position, however, especially if Kawhi Leonard leaves.
The offseason goes beyond Leonard, and San Antonio must address needs on the open market. Who should they target? Let’s take a look.
10. Tony Parker
It starts with Tony Parker, a former franchise cornerstone of the San Antonio Spurs. He stayed effective for most of his 17 years, but a clear decline in production started over the past two seasons. This became more apparent over the past nine months.
Parker suffered a torn quadriceps in the 2017 playoffs, which caused him to miss the first month of the 2017-18 season. He returned with limited athleticism and struggles defending more athletic point guards, contributing to a 109 Defensive Rating.
Dejounte Murray also replaced Parker in the starting lineup, signaling a changing of the guard. It pushed the latter into a full time backup role, a unique spot for someone that started most games he played in since 2001. No complaints followed this, as he let Murray take the ball distributor role and the main minutes.
At this point, Parker might not start on any team, but he makes for a quality backup point guard. The Spurs can use him back, behind Murray, in the 2018-19 season, and will probably be expected to hand out a loyalty deal, similar to Manu Ginobili. However, the Frenchman has not hidden his desire to continue to play if San Antonio does not want him, with the intention to reach 20 seasons. Will that happen somewhere else?
Next: Seth Curry
9. Seth Curry
Without much cap space, barring a trade of an expensive contract, the San Antonio Spurs might need to hand out cheap deals, especially around the minimum. Whoever that may become, any low-cost guard can fill this role, whether it’s at the end of the bench or as a backup.
Seth Curry fits this bill, the brother of Golden State Warriors star, Stephen Curry.
Curry is unlike his brother, but still a quality shooter that flashed upside with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016-17. That included 48 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from 3-point range. He had career-highs in points (12.8), assists (2.7) and rebounds (2.6) in 70 games and 42 starts.
However, a stress fracture in Curry’s leg took him out for the entire 2017-18 season. Without the established track record, it likely makes his open market value limited.
The Spurs can use Curry as shooting guard depth, whether it’s to replace Brandon Paul or Bryn Forbes, who can become a restricted free agent. Manu Ginobili’s retirement status remains in doubt, as well.
Plus, San Antonio’s outside shooting never came around to an elite level last season. Curry would at least provide a secondary option for this behind the starters, and on the veteran’s minimum for the 2018-19 season.
Next: Jan Vesley
8. Jan Vesely
A blast from the past, Jan Vesely increased his stock with a return overseas, playing for Fenerbache and winning a EuroLeague title. Yes, it’s the same player that flamed out of the NBA in just three seasons.
Vesely joined the NBA as a 21 year old in the 2011-12 season, as the Washington Wizards made him the No. 6 overall pick. Expectations were high for a mobile big man that profiled as a forward, but nothing came about for him after an uninspiring run, including just 4.7 points per game in his rookie season. Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic were among the players that went after him.
The Wizards sapped Vesely’s playing time in 2012-13, starting just four games and averaging 11 minutes. Paltry numbers that continued into 2013-14, when he went to the Denver Nuggets in a multi-player trade. Nothing changed there and he left the NBA that summer.
Will another go-around be different? The San Antonio Spurs can use inexpensive big-man depth behind Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge‘s expensive contracts, even if it’s just for one season. Vesely, after his struggles, might only need a cheap, short contract to “prove it” at the next level. Maybe it’s another team that takes a chance, but he should receive some consideration from the Spurs this summer.
Next: Mario Hezonja
7. Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja represents another low-cost option for the San Antonio Spurs, but also a player that failed to live up to expectations in the NBA and did not receive a fourth season with the Orlando Magic, who selected him in 2015.
With a look at Hezonja’s frame, his 6-foot-8 stature as a small forward should represent a mismatch advantage with the way the NBA has trended. That never happened, though, with inconsistent shooting and subpar defensive skills, even with a career-high 30 starts and 9.6 points per game.
Hezonja never became a knockdown shooter to offset the poor defensive play, so for now, he’s nothing more than a big body to play at small forward or power forward in small-ball lineups. It might not lead to a marquee contract, either, even as a 23 year old, unless teams see something more in the Croation forward.
The Spurs could make Hezonja a depth piece at small forward, as a back-end option, if Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay both do not return next season. It’s not an exciting option, but someone with size and average shooting ability is enough to take a flier on. Maybe San Antonio can tap into defensive potential, if there is any to find.
Next: Rodney Hood
6. Rodney Hood
Rodney Hood acts as somewhat of a younger Jeff Green, except he displayed more offensive upside and 3-point shooting ability with the Utah Jazz and sporadically for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the playoffs did not help Hood’s status.
At one point, Hood opted to not enter a playoff game for Cleveland. Obviously, anyone who does that will be painted in a poor light and not receive a “team player” label. That’s along with a paltry 16.7 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Hood received a qualifying offer from the Cavs, but it’s unknown if they will match whatever offer sheet he signs. The San Antonio Spurs are not in a position to overpay to sign a restricted free agent, but he would still represent an intriguing option for their rotation.
Hood is a shooter with size that stretches the floor, which the Spurs need to supplement play near the basket. The only ones that provide this may leave the team, too, so this theoretically makes sense as a target.
Will Hood want to play for a contender and not have a guaranteed starting spot? He needs a place to gain value, despite his talents, and may want to take a lucrative, multi-year deal that provides playing time.
Next: Alex Len
5. Alex Len
The Joffrey Lauvergne signing did not make a mark for the San Antonio Spurs last season, as he dealt with injuries and never found effectiveness on the court. That left the Silver and Black without a consistent option behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Though Davis Bertans played as a stretch four when needed.
Even with the direction the NBA has taken, teams need rim protectors. Alex Len is a younger option for teams interested, despite the injury concerns.
Len went in the top five of the 2013 NBA Draft, as a 7-footer with long arms and sound rebounding ability. This translated in spurts, but injuries kept him off the court for parts of his five years in the league. He never received extended minutes as a starter, either, beyond 20-25 in all five seasons.
Len does not offer outside shooting, but he does enough to warrant a backup role for an NBA team. Given his youth and size, someone could make him a multi-year deal to start at center, but it’s possible in a potentially underwhelming market that he lands a one-year deal; it’s another “prove it” situation.
The Spurs can try Len in a limited role for one season. There’s still some upside to tap into his physical tools, so it might be worth the risk.
Next: Nerlens Noel
4. Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel had the chance to become the top pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, but a torn ACL in college derailed this possibility. But the Philadelphia 76ers still took a chance in the top 10, with the start of “The Process,” the term dubbed for the Sam Hinkie era that also produced Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, with various levels of success.
Noel flashed elite rim-protecting skills to start his career, starting 71 games and averaging about 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. The upside seemed high for the Kentucky product, but he fell into lineup issues with Okafor and lost time when Embiid finally reached the court in 2016-17.
The Sixers sent Noel to the Dallas Mavericks at the 2017 trade deadline, and he had the chance to sign a lucrative multi-year deal, but turned it down. It proved costly, as he played in just 30 games in the 2017-18 season and failed to average more than 20 minutes.
At this point, Noel’s value is low and he needs a season to restock it, if any is left. A team may still see an immediate return and ink him to a multi-year deal, but a short-term landing spot can work with the San Antonio Spurs, as they need the aforementioned depth at center.
Noel has the athleticism to add to the rim protecting, but there’s no outside shot in his game. Will the defensive upside be enough to take a risk on?
Next: Jeff Green
3. Jeff Green
For years, Jeff Green showed the ability to play as an athletic mismatch at forward, but a lack of aggressiveness never helped him reach the full potential ever sought in the 2007 NBA Draft. That turned him into a journeyman over the past decade, including a recent stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Green’s use comes into play as a stretch four in small-ball lineups, something the San Antonio Spurs can use with or without Kawhi Leonard. That’s as a replacement for Rudy Gay, who opted out of his contract, and played a sixth man role and took a spot next to LaMarcus Aldridge in smaller lineups.
The Spurs staff can seek out the long lost potential in Green’s game, using him as a versatile offensive option that can stretch the floor. He offers little to no defense, though, which also makes him a frustrating player. Maybe this can be tapped into, but that’s easier said than done since this part of his game has looked consistently poor upon arrival.
Green may only need another short-term deal, after a lackluster playoff performance with the Cavaliers. The Spurs can fit him in on an exception-level contract and use a player with size as bench depth.
Next: Trevor Ariza
2. Trevor Ariza
Trevor Ariza played a wing role on the Western Conference’s top team, record-wise, the Houston Rockets. He became one of the NBA’s best in this spot, as a player to supplement James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela.
Ariza had a rough final act in the playoffs, but he still provides quality 3-point shooting and perimeter defense; It’s the typical “3-and-D” player. He finds ways to grab rebounds and average double-digit points, making him a quality asset for a contender.
Without a title, Ariza might chase one somewhere else, as the Golden State Warriors need depth behind Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. The Los Angeles Lakers may be an option, as well, if they acquire superstars and need pieces around them.
With the San Antonio Spurs, however, Ariza has the chance to start at small forward or come off the bench. He would provide size, defense and outside shooting, all of which this team needs. The price will be something to watch, though, after playing on a contender and putting up respectable numbers, unless he title-chases.
There are ample minutes available for Ariza in San Antonio. Whether they show interest remains to be seen, but he makes sense as someone who might not be a bank breaker this summer.
Next: Rudy Gay
1. Rudy Gay
The top target is the player that opted out of his contract, Rudy Gay; he provides plenty of what the San Antonio Spurs need with or without him: Size and outside shooting. Along with mismatch problems for the opposition as a small forward or stretch four, a reunion makes sense.
Gay left $8.8 million behind in the second season of a two-year deal, after signing with the team in 2017. He followed it up with 55 games played and a main scoring role off the bench, which turned into a starting spot in the postseason.
Why Gay opted out remains to be seen. He missed two months with a heel injury, but is also nearing his mid-30’s and could have one last multi-year deal in store. Plus, with the uncertainty around Kawhi Leonard, it’s an unstable situation in San Antonio, one that will not be expected to compete for a title in 2018-19.
The Spurs need Gay back, though, to take some scoring pressure off LaMarcus Aldridge, in a No. 3 or 4 scoring role. He may not be expensive, either, but that depends on if there’s a desire to earn more money this summer. Though, the Silver and Black can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.
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Without Gay, and if San Antonio does not find secondary scorers in free agency, it could be an even more problematic year on offense. Will they be able to get him back?