Woj mentioned talks about Josh Howard and Caron Butler, given that we only really have the mid-level exception to spend, those are some decent names. Butler and Howard are both coming off of injuries, both looking to finish off their careers with a championship and I can't say that the Spurs are a BAD place to go for that, they have as good a shot as anyone else. Granted whoever the Spurs sign will have to likely split time between Leonard and Manu given how much Pop likes playing small ball now, but hey, I think you've got a good shot at it. Woj also mentioned Butler being more interested in playing in Chicago, where he would likely start at the SG spot where Chicago is greatly lacking.
Now Butler and Howard are all well and good, but the question we have to ask isn't necessarily who the best available free agent is, but rather, what exactly are we looking for. With RJ gone, and Timmy, Manu, and TP all a year older, it seems to me that Pop is looking for a more versatile wing defender. I'm still of the mind that most of the offense will continue to run through Manu, Timmy, and TP, so ultimately I think we're looking to improve defensively without losing a huge amount offensively. Sort of a stopgap while Engelland does his thing with Kawhi Leonard. So given that consideration, we basically go back to something of a Bruce Bowen blueprint, maybe with a little more offense. Realistically, I suppose it would be something between Bowen and RJ talent wise. Additionally, MLE is important, because that's all we have to pay, I don't think there are many big hot-shot superstars right now so I think we're okay on that front, but it's something to be noted. Some of these choices are obvious, but let's see who's out there.
1.) Tayshaun Prince
Prince, I think, has felt somewhat under-appreciated as of late in Detroit, especially with the changing of the guard to a younger team. Granted, I don't know if he will settle for just the MLE, but he sort of ideally fits everything that we're looking for. Generally quiet and hard-working, Prince averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year on 47.3% shooting and 34.7% from beyond the arc. They're not gaudy numbers, but they're not bad. Some of the older Spurs fans may have a very clear recollection of Prince from the finals in 2004 and 2005. He's kind a solid blue-collar working type, he doesn't get much hype, but at 6-9 he's a long and able defender. He looks super skinny and has that awkward looking lefty shot, but he seems a good fit. The question for Prince (at age 31) is less of will he fit, because I believe that he would fit almost anywhere, given his skillset, but rather, will he settle for the MLE?
2.) Shane Battier
Naturally, when you talk about defensive specialists in this generation, you cannot fail to mention Shane Battier. Battier averaged 7.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game last season, but we also have to remember that he was traded to Memphis after 59 games with Houston for Hasheem Thabeet. Being 33, we know that Battier knows his window is closing, and I'm certain Battier wants to win as much as anyone. Since the playing field is pretty level with the MLE, unless some team decides to over pay Battier, the question is a matter of where Battier thinks his chances are better. Memphis wants him to re-sign and play with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph while Miami wants him to play behind LeBron James. Where does starting next to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili rate on that scale?
3.) Josh Howard
The primary difference between Josh Howard and Richard Jefferson is mindset. If Josh Howard is serious about coming back to the NBA, and he's able to regain a good amount of his game from when he was playing in Dallas, then I'm all for it. He's a solid defender, and able to score off of the primary pieces of the offense. San Antonio may not be a bad place for him to try to make his career comeback.
4.) Jared Jeffries
As much of an offensive disaster Jeffries is, he is a 6-11 stopper on the wing. I'm sure Knicks are interested in trying to keep him, but I don't know how hard they'll try. Certainly he's not the most ideal candidate, but he is a solid and very long defender. If Jeffries is our option, then let's hope that Tiago Splitter has improved a bit.
5.) Grant Hill
Hill has sort of made his comeback in Phoenix after being declared the second coming of Jordan in Detroit and then Mr. Glass in Orlando. Hill is hardworking and has proven that he still has a lot of game even with his age. Hill is actually a pretty ideal candidate and I think would fit into the Spurs system well. While I don't think he'll command more than the MLE I also think he has sort of found his niche in Phoenix. Of course Phoenix does also have a glut of perimeter players in Josh Childress, Mickael Pietrus, and Jared Dudley. So you never know.
6.) Al Thornton
Al Thornton would be higher on my list if it weren't for the stated fact that he wants to be in the spotlight (or would rather have more playing time on a bad team than less playing time on a contender). Obviously he doesn't really have the talent to be the go-to guy and he'll probably be platooning a bit of time, but the amount of playing time here in San Antonio is a good chunk, particularly given how Pop treats his rookies (with the exception of Duncan). We know he can score, and he's a very physical, tough defender. Does he have the mindset of a Spur? Well, maybe not, but maybe the lockerroom in San Antonio could be a good influence for him.
7.) Caron Butler
Why is Butler so low? Because frankly, I was very disillusioned with Butler after he was traded from the Washington Wizards. Not that I'm looking for Butler to drop 24 a game anymore, he's not the go-to guy anymore. Nonetheless, I don't think Butler's that great of a defender (I could be wrong) and he's a fairly inefficient scorer as we saw on the Mavericks. If that's the case, I don't know that he'd be a significant improvement over Richard Jefferson other than the contract, and frankly, I think we can do better.
8.) Dominic McGuire
Why is San Antonio so great? It's because it's where are these random no-namers (i.e. Matt Bonner) can make a name for themselves. Dominic McGuire is a tough, long, athletic SF, the question, like it was for Jared Jeffries is whether or not he can hit a shot. I like McGuire a lot, but I see him more as a developmental project than an immediate fill to our need, and frankly, with the development of Kawhi Leonard, is not something we need. Additionally, with the shortened season, it's not really something we can afford either. However, that being said, I wouldn't be opposed to a player like McGuire on the roster.
9.) Jamario Moon
What ever happened to the feel-good story of 2008? Well Moon, if anything is a solid defender and a decent shooter. After a short stint of his Cinderella year at Toronto and a disappointing showing at the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, Moon just kind of fell of the map. Given his history, I think Moon is of the hard working ilk, and that always rings true with Spurs fans as well as the front office. Can he contribute at a starter level? Dunno, looking at his history, it seems that he's taken progressive steps backwards, but given that, he's seen his playing time nearly cut in half as well. Starting for the Raptors he did average 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1 steal, and 1.4 blocks per game in about 27 minutes of play. 27 minutes sounds about right for the amount we're looking to play him. Of course it's been like 3-4 years since then, so we wonder if he can still pull it off. Still, maybe we can get him as the Ime Udoka replacement.
10.) James Jones
If the Heat land Shane Battier, James Jones becomes somewhat expendable in Miami. He's probably not the most stalwart defender that we'd hope for in our SF but he's a 6-8 three point specialist and we all know how Pop loves his three point specialists.
Of all the remaining free agents I personally don't think we can get any of them. I intentionally disregarded RFAs because I'm pretty sure that the teams would just match, particularly for players like Luc Mbah-a-Moute and Jonas Jerebko. This is my take on who we should take long hard looks at, but I'm not in the front office. Of course, I trust RC, so I'm sure he has a good reason for getting whoever he ends up getting. Hopefully, whoever it is, he'll be the difference maker this year.