The Spurs are gauging trade interest in Tony Parker, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. That’s exactly the sort of thing San Antonio should be doing — and not because of some flip comments the point guard made after the season about the end of the Spurs’ run as contenders.
The Spurs gave Parker and Manu Ginobili long-term deals over the last year with an eye toward seeing what the venerable Parker/Manu/Tim Duncan nucleus could do in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the final year of Duncan’s contract. A first-round loss to the Grizzlies makes last season feel like a failure, but that’s shortsighted. This team won 61 games, and it may well have gotten by Memphis — a terrible matchup for San Antonio — had Duncan not lost a bit of rhythm thanks to a late-season ankle injury and had Ginobili not sustained a fluky elbow injury in the regular-season finale. That’s not excuse-making; that’s reality. In the NBA, and especially in the ultracompetitive Western Conference, the line between advancing and losing in six games is that thin. And if the Spurs get by Memphis, who beats them?
But the Parker and Ginobili extensions did not change the fact that San Antonio is in a transitional phase. Seeing what they might be able to get for Parker is a smart way to accelerate that transition. The best front offices can do things at once without really contradicting themselves. Trading Parker could make the Spurs a player in the free-agent market a year from now if they get the right kind of contracts in return.
Parker is still a fantastic player, even if his lack of three-point range mucks up the offense now and then. The Spurs scored much less efficiently with Parker on the floor both during the playoffs and the regular season, though the opposite was true as recently as 2008-09, according to Basketball Value. But the combination of George Hill, Ginobili and Gary Neal might be able to cover for Parker in San Antonio’s motion-heavy, drive-and-kick system.
The Spurs want a lottery pick in this draft, and they’ve talked to Toronto (No. 5) and Sacramento (No. 7) about Parker deals, according to Yahoo!. It doesn’t really matter which prospect they’re targeting, though Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas is the early popular choice. The Spurs clearly have their eyes on someone who would be both cheap and a key bridge to the post-Duncan era.
The “cheap” part of that is not trivial. Remove Parker’s deal, and the Spurs have only $34.5 million committed for 2012-13, not including salary for future draft picks and other trivial charges. The Kings are far enough under the cap that San Antonio could send them Parker without taking on any salary in return, other than money attached to that lottery pick. The Kings, of course, would look to unload one of their less desirable deals (Beno Udrih or Francisco Garcia), but both players makes about half of the $12.5 million per season Parker is set be paid through at least 2013-14. The Spurs may even want Omri Casspi.
Nabbing Parker would allow the Kings to experiment with Tyreke Evans off the ball and guarantee that all the cap room they’ve carved out does not go to waste. Parker, by the way, is a really good cutter capable of playing off the ball for stretches, so acquiring him would not necessarily remove Evans as something of a co-lead ball-handler.
The Raptors are over the cap, so any deal with Toronto would include approximate matching salary going back to San Antonio. (The remaining portion of the Chris Bosh trade exception is not large enough to swallow Parker’s deal.) Still, the Spurs could save themselves some long-term money by taking on Leandro Barbosa’s $7.6 million expiring contract and a smaller deal to make the math work. The Raptors could obviously use Parker to run the point. Jose Calderon is a nice offensive player, but he’s a massive liability on defense and might be better suited as a backup. Jerryd Bayless has not proved that he can run a functional NBA offense.
Adding Richard Jefferson’s awful contract into any Parker trade changes the calculus dramatically, and Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that the Spurs would prefer to do that. If that’s true, it will make it very difficult for the Spurs to achieve significant long-term cost savings, even if the team that acquires Jefferson might be able to wipe his contract away via an amnesty clause in the new collective bargaining agreement. (The Spurs could do the same if such a clause makes it into the CBA.) As wonderful as that amnesty clause sounds, teams are not exactly going to line up for the right to help the Spurs and pay Jefferson $30.4 million (the amount remaining on his deal) to go away.
If the Spurs can include Jefferson, obtain a lottery pick and net major long-term savings, then it’s time to start considering R.C. Buford for the next Executive of the Year award.
That’s not a slight at Parker. He’s an elite player, one of the truly great in-the-paint scorers in the league, a one-man transition attack and an ace on the pick-and-roll. He’s playoff-tested, and he just turned 29. Even if Parker has the sort of quickness-dependent game that may not age well, he should still be quite productive for the length of his contract. Losing a player this good would hurt any team. It is a gamble, especially because Ginobili is not up to playing 40 minutes a game. But it’s a gamble San Antonio might be well positioned to make, given the versatility of its remaining guards, the possibility of trading for another ball-handler and the upside of a lottery pick.
A Parker deal remains unlikely because any trade involving a star is unlikely, and the Spurs will be justifiably cautious in shaking up the team like this. But they are on point for considering it, even if doing so might hurt Parker’s feelings.