The Spurs currently hold the league best 27-4 record. With four losses coming from New Orleans, Dallas, Los Angeles Clippers, and Orlando, and having beaten each of the previously mentioned teams previously save Dallas, who they will play tonight. Obviously, we're doing something right. Gregg Popovich obviously has come up with something that is effective and gets the job done, changing the identity of the Spurs from the traditional grind-it-out defensive squad to a run-and-gun offensive nightmare. Tim Duncan, like his predecessor, David Robinson, before him, has ceded the keys of the franchise to his long-time partners Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, letting the game flow through them rather than himself. R.C. Buford has surrounded his Big 3 with a more than solid supporting cast, snagging young talent like George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal, as well as adding the veteran savvy of the likes of Antonio McDyess, and retaining the ever serviceable shooting of Matt Bonner. Richard Jefferson took the time to work in the off-season with the coaching staff, and looks completely rejuvenated and a stellar fit in the Spurs' new look with the same feel, another championship contender.
Is this enough though? Currently the Spurs have 13 players on their roster, and Pop is making fair use of all 13 of them due to injury troubles to George Hill, James Anderson, and earlier, Tiago Splitter. Typically, Pop has preferred, especially in playoffs, the truncated 9-10 man rosters. Essentially running a 3-4 man front-court and a 3-4 man wing rotation with a 2 point guard system. With the high performance of the young guns (Hill, Blair, Neal) it can't be said that the Spurs are lacking in depth. I, along with several other fans certainly cannot wait to see the emergence of James Anderson's full potential. It's true that we currently can't really add anything without taking away from whatever mojo is working for us now, but I can't quite get this nagging feeling out from the back of my head that we could be better. Granted, anyone we add now may simply be insurance, and perhaps Buford is holding off on tapping the ever generous pockets of the Holts until some kind of injury comes way, or perhaps quite simply there hasn't been anyone that fits well enough. Since pre-season we've already gone through the likes of Bobby Simmons, Garrett Temple, Alonzo Gee, and Marcus Cousin. Here's how the breakdown of the depth chart currently looks (presuming everyone is healthy):
PG - Tony Parker, George Hill, Chris Quinn
SG - Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal
SF - Richard Jefferson, James Anderson, Ime Udoka
PF - DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
Immediately, the first and second unit kind of take shape, and frankly, they look pretty good. The return of James Anderson will instantly put Ime Udoka out of anything except situational play, and it's hard to figure there will be any more playing time to the already highly regulated frontcourt, at least in terms of minutes. While I'm still not a huge fan of James Anderson at SF (though I admit, from the few times I've seen him play, he certainly has the strength and athleticism to make it work), Gary Neal has been playing too well to not have him play. Neal has easily taken the role of instant offense off the bench, in the molds of Jarren Jackson, Steve Kerr, Brent Barry, and/or Roger Mason, with his nice shooting touch, as well as his continually impressive overall play. In any given game 12 suit up, and on that list, currently, only James Anderson is not active, due to injury. However, when he recovers, as I previously stated, Ime Udoka no longer needs to dress for games. I know Pop always likes to have a backup-backup point guard option; Antonio Daniels behind Steve Kerr, Steve Kerr behind Speedy Claxton, Jacque Vaughn behind Beno Udrih, etc... and here, that's Chris Quinn.
So it appears to me, that we have a pretty nice roster, while the names themselves aren't as flashy as say the depth in Boston, you certainly can't knock the front office for any of these moves/additions. Given that, I think trading anybody is pretty much out of the picture if we were to make any moves. So, as much as I would like to see the likes of Andray Blatche, JeVale McGee, or Kevin Love in silver and black, it doesn't look like it's happening. Therefore, if we are to do anything, we are relegated to minimum contracts through free agency. Certainly, we don't want to jump the gun, but I like options, so even he doesn't even play, I think it's a good opportunity to add some quality pieces. Worst case scenario, we find a project and assign him to the Toros. Here's who I think we can take a look at in the free agency pool:
Joe Alexander (6-8, 230 lbs, 24 years old)
Alexander (not to be mistaken with Seinfield star Jason Alexander) is one of those potential projects I was talking about. An excellent physical specimen, there's no question about Alexander's athleticism. Boasting a max vertical of 38.5 inches, this guy can get off the ground. Unfortunately, teams have passed over him due to the lack of polish he has in his game. However, he has stellar work ethic, and is simply raw, only having played 5 years of organized basketball prior to his stint in the NBA. Unfortunately, no one has really taken the time or had the patience to work with Alexander on all the little things. Given his attitude and work ethic, I think he would fit well with the Spurs, adding a great amount of athleticism. Given how well one off-season sessions worked for the 30 year old Richard Jefferson, what if the Spurs staff took a little bit of time to develop a younger, equally athletic (albeit more raw) version of RJ? Sure, Alexander doesn't have the 3 point shooting touch that the Spurs desire in their wings, but that can be developed. It's there, and I think the Spurs would be a great place to tap this burgeoning talent. We've seen flashes, in 10 games in the D-League he averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks on 48.3% shooting.
Larry Hughes (6-5, 184 lbs, 31 years old)
Hughes kind of got a bad rep for playing so well in Washington then fizzling when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to such a lucrative deal. That being said, Hughes adds one thing in addition to his hot/cold shooting and occasionally brilliant offensive play; ball-handling. A lot has been said about Hughes's attitude, but how much of it was due to lockerroom leaders like Gilbert Arenas and LeBron James? How much is just how he is? Hard to say, perhaps it's enough to keep us away, definitely enough to keep us leery. Nonetheless, he has the tools to be a solid defender, and offensive initiator. He'd ultimately have a similar role to Ime Udoka, just a little more versatile though. Think Roger Mason plus, or a poor man's (real poor man's) Stephen Jackson. I'm not so keen as to whether Hughes can play the SF spot, primarily, can he guard the bigger stronger 3s in the league, but he would make a suitable George Hill-type 1-2 spot defensive stopper type backup.
Jonathan Bender (7-0, 219 lbs, 29 years old)
Boy, he retired early, but then, he had that mini-comeback with the Knicks last season. While he certainly hasn't been as great as people have wanted him to be, he's a shooting 7-footer that can guard 3 positions, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, There aren't a lot of 7-footers that can do that, Jared Jeffries maybe? but Jeffries has no offensive game. How effective Bender's defense is, I'm not sure, but I'm sure his length can cause difficulties for a lot of players.
While I don't relish the idea of pulling old legs, and would rather see us get some young talent, what's there is there. There is a high bar set for any role player on the Spurs, from the 3rd quarter heroics of Steve Kerr, to the amicable lockerroom presence of Malik Rose, to the clutchness of Robert Horry, to the intangible presence of Fabricio Oberto. The Spurs are known to do their homework and are good at seemingly pulling talent out of no where. It's an effective system, and it works. Maybe the 14th and 15th roster spots aren't important, maybe I'm overly concerned with the last player on the bench to suit up, to me, better safe than sorry.