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Up and Down, Round and Round…

By Jeff Koch on July 4, 2009.

…the free agency carousel spins on.

But first, a look back at the draft. I don’t really follow college basketball closely, so outside of the top prospects, I have limited and uninformed opinions on the players being chosen. Especially in the second round, when the Spurs tend to select. So imagine my surprise when the Spurs drafted not one but two potential impact players in the second round. Picking up DeJuan Blair was a coup. There is a lot of concern about his long-term potential due to his lack of ACLs. But when you look at it in terms of picking up a solid rotation player who rebounds like a beast for about as little money as possible, it’s a no-brainer. Is he a long-term building block for our post-Duncan team? Maybe, maybe not. But can he contribute immediately these next few years? Of course.

I’m also pretty high on Jack McClinton, who is being billed as an Eddie House who can defend. I doubt he’ll contribute right away, but maybe he’ll surprise us and be a streak shooter off the bench for us. Lord knows we certainly need somebody on the bench who knows how to shoot.

But free agency is where the real juice is. For a supposed down year, there’s been a lot of activity. A lot of teams are trying to clear cap space, either for the 2010 free agency class, or because they’re bleeding money and would like to stop the hemmoraging. But there’s a small group of teams who see a potential to steal a title while everyone else is cutting back or biding time. For these few teams, it’s certainly a buyer’s market. Luckily for Spurs’ fans, we’re one of those buyers.

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting moves thus far:

–Shaq goes to Cleveland for a couple expiring contracts and a bag of balls. I’m indifferent on this move. I don’t know what Shaq can do or how he’ll fit in with “The King”. I’ve always enjoyed Shaq’s career as a nice counterpoint to Duncan’s. While Shaq has been the floater, drifting from contender to contender, Duncan has been a rock, staying on one team for his whole career. While Shaq has been a media jokester, Duncan has eschewed any limelight. While Shaq has been inconsistent, perhaps lazy, usually coasting until the playoffs, Duncan has been the model of consistency, the Big Fundamental, the most reliable player for the last decade. And they both have 4 rings, each seeking to break the tie with the other one. I do think it’s interesting that if Shaq gets a ring in Cleveland, he will have played with arguably the 3 best wing players of this generation in Kobe, Wade, and LeBron.

–Orlando trades for Vince Carter. Again, indifferent. I guess moves in the East don’t really excite me as much because they have less bearing on the Spurs. Carter is tough player to get a handle on. He has all the skill in the world, and is seemingly a good guy. Yet he has a stigma on him that will probably never come off. He is perceived as lazy, as a quitter, as a choker, as selfish, as unable to make a team great. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But I will say I’m glad that we didn’t trade for him. The interesting part of this move as it more or less guaranteed that the Magic we’re going to lose Hedo and Gortat. Is Carter worth that? I’m not sure. I think both have great value to that team, especially Gortat. What little I saw him play in the playoffs really impressed me. Especially the way Howard picks up fouls, the back-up center might be one of the most important positions on that team.

–Artest goes to the Lakers; Ariza goes to Houston. This works out to essentially be a trade. At first blush, this looks like a steal for the Lakers, picking up one of the best players in the league and adding it to one of the most stacked teams out there. Upgrading from Ariza to Artest seems like a no-brainer. And ultimately, it is. But count me in the group who wonders how long the honeymoon will last in LA for Artest. Artest loves to have the ball, and he loves to freelance, and he loves to shoot. These are three things that do not fit in the triangle offense. When the Spurs are playing a team with Artest, I’m always happy when he makes a couple of shots, because that means he’ll keep shooting. By all accounts, Artest is a great teammate, and he led Houston deep into the playoffs. But I don’t know how he’ll fit alongside Kobe, Pau, and (presumably) Odom.

Ariza leaving LA also makes me happy as a Spurs fan. He was the one defender they had that could really put the clamps on Parker. Now I don’t see who on that team guards Parker. Kobe? The Lakers are still the team to beat in the West, but I’m no more scared of them then I was a few days ago.

–Turkoglu commits to Portland, reneges, agrees to terms with Toronto. This is hard to figure. I guess money talks, and Toronto was offering the most. Portland would be a good fit for Hedo, as they were desperately in need of a 3, and someone who could handle, shoot, and drive. He can do all of those very well. There’s a lot to be confused about here: Why did Orlando let him go so easily, when he was arguably their most important player last year? Why did he commit to Portland only to back out? What does Portland do now? I’ll be watching this story develop, as the Blazers are my #2 (and hometown) team.

There are still plenty of big free agent names out there. At the top of the list is Rasheed Wallace, who the Spurs are wooing, despite Boston throwing a parade in his honor the other day. Rasheed is a controversial figure, and comes with a big risk. But he is the prototype of what we need. A big, long post player who plays good defense, can stretch the offense, and doesn’t mind playing a role. Look, I know the knocks on Rasheed, and I’ve seen him melt down more times than I care to remember. But when he’s playing for a well-respected coach and on a winning team, he can be a great contributor. I watched him play for a few years here in Portland. He was always a fan favorite (still is), and always very active in the community (though he deliberately does his charitable work away from the cameras). He’s a good person, a great player. He is passionate, and he loses his cool often. But he also values winning above all else, and this is at the core of what the Spurs look for. Find your three stars, then surround them with players who will run through a wall to win. Count me in the pro-Rasheed camp.

That’s about it for now. I’ll be very interested to see what the Spurs continue to do in the offseason. They’ve already made a big move and had a great draft. But there’s still lots of work to be done to catch LA. But with a healthy Ginobili and a yet-to-be-determined big man, I like our chances.

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