I'd like to believe that as a player DeJuan Blair has gotten better over the summer. His free throws look super smooth, and he looks lean and in very good shape, but if we look at his numbers:
He's getting more minutes, more shots, and missing more. Sure, he gets a whole steal every game now, but his rebounding numbers remain the same while his scoring numbers have dropped drastically. Sure he's shooting 30% better on his FTs but he's getting to the line less than half as much as he used to. From what I've seen, Blair is a better basketball player than he was last year, but still, he's performing worse? You can argue that he has been moved to the starting lineup where he's playing next to Duncan more... so... Tim Duncan is causing him to miss almost 15% more of his shots? Is this a case of Blair performing better off the bench than as a starter? If we look at last season...
As a starter:
Off the bench:
Sure, it's only Blair's second year so we have a very limited sample size, but across the board his numbers are pretty much down with the exception being steals, even from being a starter last season and I'm pretty sure most of those were next to Duncan too, in fact only 4 of his 23 starts were not next to Duncan, and that was because Duncan didn't play those 4 games. Did Blair's off-season training fail? Is he just hitting his sophomore slump early? No and maybe. As it has already been pointed out, Blair has been working on developing an outside jumper, one that he doesn't have, so despite his improved free throw form, whatever he's developed off-season isn't translating in game. As people have mentioned, the fact that he's shooting a worse percentage and not getting to the line means either he's not getting calls, he's getting blocked, or he's just not making shots.
I'm always speculating on random trades, and my point is simply this; can we afford to wait until DeJuan Blair fits in? Maybe. It's a risk either way, and I'm not adverse to exploring the risk of trading Blair for someone else. Am I bailing on Blair? If that's what that's called, the fine, yes, I'm bailing on Blair. He's not going to magically develop a jumpshot halfway through the season, especially if all offseason hasn't worked. To me, variable minutes isn't player development, it's Pop figuring out what will work to win the game (and the next), because that's what he's paid to do. If that means I have no idea what I'm talking about in regards to player development, then paint me ignorant, but from what I've seen of Pop, you get pulled because something's not working (unless it's a blowout).
While I think DeJuan Blair can be a good, even great basketball player without ACLs, you also have to consider the risk that is involved without a balancing mechanism in an up-and-down sport as intense as basketball. Does it decrease his shelf-life? Maybe. Granted it's a risk you take with every player, but I'd rather "plan for the worst, hope for the best". What can we get for Blair? I don't know, but that doesn't mean I'm going to not consider the options. Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker? It's an intriguing notion. We're all biased when we come to this, if you don't like Randolph, you're going to think that if he hasn't been able to develop into Lamar Odom in 3 seasons then it's never going to happen, or rather, DeJuan Blair just has more upside, and brings more positive impact. I've never met any of these people so I can't say whether or not the Spurs environment might be exactly what Randolph needs to tap that potential we saw. Which can beg the same question: can we afford to wait for Randolph to develop? Also legitimate, and maybe that will be the nix on this trade. I personally find that Randolph mitigates a lot of the defensive liabilities that Blair brings to the table off the bat, so in some sense yes. Is Randolph better than Blair? Will he become better? Hard to say, they're both brimming with potential, but what they bring to the table here and now is important too, and regardless of the ceiling that each player has, Randolph's defense is a better fit than Blair's offense. Here's a per 36 comparison of their rookie years for you stat junkies:
Even with these trade speculations we are somewhat shackled by the bounds of reality. I think Blair can become a stud, given time, even on the Spurs, unfortunately, time isn't exactly a luxury we have a lot of. With Duncan seeing fewer and fewer minutes and adding more and more mileage onto those knees of his, too much has to go right with frontcourt pairings any two of Blair, McDyess, Splitter, and Bonner to compensate. Let's find a way to mitigate that. If Blair's play pans itself out, and he ends up being the answer, awesome. If it's Splitter adjusting to the game and putting Blair on the bench, awesome. If it's trading Blair for someone else (doesn't have to be Randolph), it is what it is, and hopefully, it pans out and we get better (and win another championship).