San Antonio Spurs: Top 3 biggest free agents that got away

Shane Battier
Shane Battier / Christopher Trotman/Getty Images
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Okay, San Antonio Spurs fans. We all know free agency has officially started, with teams and players talking and recruiting behind closed doors, especially during an Olympic year. However, with the NBA Draft over and the open season officially underway, I thought there's no better time than the present to revisit some Spurs' trading and free agency close calls of years past.

Specifically, I wanted to focus on the free agents that the Spurs missed out on that ended up hurting the team in significant ways and, more often than not, became major thorns in the Spurs' side.

Hopefully, this article can serve as a bit of a cautionary tale to remind us all that certain players are worth fighting for and that letting key free agents go can bite the Spurs back in the future. Let's get started.

San Antonio Spurs
Shane Battier / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

San Antonio Spurs miss no. 1: Shane Battier

This is not the flashiest name, but probably the biggest regret I've seen since I've been a Spurs fan was not signing this guy right here, Shane Battier. Why do I feel this way, other than the mean Karaoke events Shane throws for charity each year appropriately called Battioke? Where do I even begin?

For starters, the timing of when the Spurs planned to sign Shane would have been absolutely game-changing for a franchise already steeped in success. Battier was most heavily linked to the Spurs 10 years ago in the summer of 2011.

The team had been searching for a true replacement for Bruce Bowen after his 2009 retirement, with guys like future Spurs coach Ime Udoka and Keith Bogans falling short and a failed Richard Jefferson experiment backfiring on both ends of the floor.

What's more, the Spurs had just been swept by the 8th-seed Memphis Grizzlies featuring Shane in exactly the same Bruce Bowen role. Playing a bit more Monday morning quarterbacking, the 2011 free agency period came after the NBA Draft, which means grabbing Shane would not have cost the Spurs the chance to trade for Kawhi Leonard. So in the short term, Shane could have filled the void filled by Bowen.

But Shane is just as much about the intangibles as he is as a basketball player, and his character gives this near-miss a much deeper dimension. While it's probably naïve to think Shane's mentorship was the missing piece to get Kawhi to stay, saying Kawhi would have become a superstar even faster with him is no understatement.

Kawhi would have had the opportunity to learn from one of the absolute best on how to hone his defense and shooting at the same time. For those thinking Kawhi's ultimate evolution into a starter would have made Shane less valuable, think again. Not only was Shane always willing to sacrifice shots and minutes for the ultimate goal of winning, but the Spurs also could have used him as a stretch big that could guard perimeter players too, a concept Shane confirmed the Spurs had pitched to him years before Miami actually executed it.

That brings us to the last reason Shane not signing with the Spurs hurts so much. Shane followed up upsetting the Spurs' top-seeded team in the playoffs with the Grizzlies by later going to Miami. And by going to Miami, I mean being a pivotal piece toward their success.

The locker room talks that allegedly turned a talented but disjointed Miami team into a true contender? Shane was there. Spacing the floor while guarding the toughest matchup at either wing and sometimes center or guard so LeBron could focus all his energy on offense? Shane was there.

Guarding Duncan in the final possessions of a Game 7 heartbreaker while hitting clutch three after clutch three? Shane was absolutely there. That's why this one hurt the most.