As per usual around the time of the All-Star break teams are starting to consider if any roster moves are necessary to make that improvement to take things to the next level. Gregg Popovich is already thinking ahead with his benching of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in their last game against Portland and gave the younger guys some burn, with Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and T.J. Ford all still out with injury we were looking at a rather limited rotation of Cory Joseph, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, James Anderson, Danny Green, and D-League call-up Eric Dawson. Super. However, given the frenetic pace of the compact season, it seems that teams are thinking twice before pulling the trigger on any major moves. Some free agents have returned from China and J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin have both signed with the Knicks and the Clippers respectively. Wilson Chandler is expected to return and sign a deal with the Nuggets given that FIBA clears him.
While the decision to rest Tony Parker in his All-Star play and the new found youth in Tim Duncan's legs may have snapped our win-streak at 11 on the Rodeo Roadtrip, it was to be expected. We've seen Pop start to take fewer chances with his stars in order to have fresher legs come playoff time. That being said, the bench has been playing very well together and despite an extended injury to Manu, the Spurs role players have been coming together and making the Spurs one of the hottest teams in the league. However, despite that, the concern that is to be had given our frontcourt rotation is still, well, just that, a concern. Currently, Pop typically starts Blair next to Duncan, and brings in Splitter and Bonner in off the bench, however, the issue that is to be had is that Blair and Splitter cannot coexist on the floor at the same time, which somewhat limits Pop's rotations. While there have been great improvements, their defensive limitations do make a frontcourt pairing of Bonner and Blair somewhat questionable. So, what are we looking for? Well, ideally, we'd like someone that can play next to both Duncan and Splitter, as those two, I believe will be the key pieces to any run in the playoffs.
While we can take something of the 2005 Championship frontcourt rotation route as a model, we need to remember that Duncan is 6 years (and thousands of basketball minutes) older, and while Tiago Splitter looks to be way better than Nazr Mohammed, Matt Bonner is no Robert Horry. So who is available? Well, that question is difficult enough as it is, but the question that we need to understand before that is who do we have to offer? This is presuming a trade scenario presents itself. Generally speaking, the offense is still largely based around Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, and the key role players have been Leonard, Splitter, Neal, Bonner, and Green, which means who do we have available to trade? Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, James Anderson, and Cory Joseph. More the latter three as I don't know that anyone really wants Jefferson's contract. In total, Anderson, Joseph, and Blair probably sum up to around $2.5 million in salary, so we'd have to get something comparable back.
With that, who are we looking for? Well, if we're considering someone that can play next to Duncan AND Splitter the immediate players that come to my mind are Splitter's Brazilian teammate Anderson Varejao, Tony Parker's French teammate Ronny Turiaf, or maybe the Birdman Chris Andersen. However, I don't know that we can make anything work. While the Nuggets are suffering through some major injuries, requiring the minutes of Birdman, they also already have a high energy big in Kenneth Faried, thus making Blair not very attractive in a package. While they are decimated by injuries the return of Wilson Chandler may make the wings unnecessary as well.
Honestly, I can't say I've been doing my homework in paying attention to what's going on this season, but from a cursory glance, it doesn't seem that we can find someone to work with, I personally think Ronny Turiaf might work if Washington is just looking to shed salary, and he's slated to return from his injury soon as well. With the crowded frontcourt of Andray Blatche (also due to return from injury), JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, and Jan Vesely it's hard to imagine that a veteran role player like Turiaf would find a lot of time in there when Washington is looking to develop its youth. However, with that youth I don't know that we'd be able to package anything that would be attractive to the Wizards as well.
James Anderson might be the biggest trade piece available, and with the development of Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels it's possible that Varejao is the most available, especially with the wings at Cleveland being hit hard with injuries, James Anderson might be able to find a chance there to show his stuff, however, that being said, there's no guarantees there either. It's been said before that it's hard to make a trade in the NBA, and that's true, particularly in this shortened season where healthy big men seem to be at a premium. I could probably putz around for something that would work, but honestly, there's not much that I can think of that would be appealing to another team. It's not that the package we have would be bad, it's just that it's actually a little redundant to the rest of the league. Maybe something I haven't thought of will come up, I trust Buford, and this little thought exercise was just a way to consider things down the line. With injuries mounting, it may not be the best idea to shop around, but rather to stick with what is working, and maybe I'm being pessimistic about our chances in the post season, but hey better safe than sorry. I mean, it's not like the Lakers would just give Pau Gasol away.