-- Who will be the San Antonio Spurs' starting point guard next season? Do they need Manu Ginobili to return?
Our 5-on-5 crew debates and predicts San Antonio's offseason.
1.?Fact or Fiction: The Spurs should trade LaMarcus Aldridge.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider:?Fact, although I'm not particularly sure what kind of return they can get coming off the worst postseason of his career. I never felt like he was a good fit for them defensively (although he has definitely outperformed my expectations), and his reluctance to play center has limited how good he can be offensively. With the Spurs being the ultimate "next man up" system, I have to imagine that they can more than make up for his lost offensive production.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider:?Fiction. I'm not in love with his game, but the criticism lately has gone a little overboard. He dropped 34 points and 12 boards in the clinching Game 6 massacre against the Houston Rockets and then followed that up with 28 points against the presumptive 2017 NBA Finals favorites in Game 1. Yes, he has struggled to be "the guy" with Kawhi Leonard out against an all-time great team. So what? So would just about every player in the NBA. Keep him.
Michael C. Wright, ESPN.com:?Fiction, for now. Aldridge has received plenty of criticism for his play in the Western Conference finals. But he had a difficult assignment against the best team in the league with Kawhi Leonard out of the picture.
Should the Spurs look to trade Aldridge? Maybe. For the most part, the Spurs have been pleased with what they've gotten from Aldridge over the past two seasons (with 128 regular-season wins). But it's time for San Antonio to decide the brand of ball it wants to play moving forward. With Leonard and Aldridge, the Spurs have become more of an isolation team instead of playing "the beautiful game" of years past. If the Spurs want to get back to that style of ball, then yes, they should look to move Aldridge, as plenty of teams would be interested.
Jeremias Engelmann, ESPN Insider:?It depends on what they'd get. Aldridge wasn't great this season -- he was the 28th-ranked power forward in real plus-minus (RPM) -- and he makes the most money on the Spurs. Problem is, I don't really see any team being interested in trading for a 32-year-old who shoots primarily long 2-pointers, makes more than $20 million a year and plays average defense.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider:?Fiction. I'm not totally clear what the market would look like for Aldridge this summer. The same reasons the Spurs would consider trading him -- his age and declining production -- might also make other suitors wary. Unless San Antonio can land a star free agent who would better complement Kawhi Leonard and needs to clear salary, I don't see much point to trading Aldridge for minimal return.
2. Who should be the Spurs' starting PG next season?
Haberstroh:? Patty Mills. The Spurs can re-sign him using Bird rights, which seems like the sensible move while Tony Parker rehabs from his quad injury. My feeling is that Kawhi Leonard's handle and playmaking are getting so good that the Spurs won't need Mills to dominate the rock anyway. Dejounte Murray has shown promise, but it's probably too early to hand over the keys to the 20-year-old.
Wright:?When Tony Parker got hurt against the Rockets, the first thing that came to mind was he'd probably never be San Antonio's starting point guard again. But I'd like to see how Parker recovers from this injury before making a call here, because just before he went down, the veteran was starting to catch a groove. Gregg Popovich said Parker had finally rounded into shape after so many injuries throughout the season had him in and out of the lineup.
If Parker isn't sufficiently recovered by the start of the season, or if he's not playing at the same level, it's time to move toward the future with Dejounte Murray, who has all the tools to develop into one of the steals of his draft class. Murray has played more minutes due to Parker's injury, and he has gained plenty of confidence along the way, which bodes well for his future.
Murray really needs to work this offseason to improve his shooting, but given the acumen of shot doctor Chip Engelland, there should be some optimism on that front. In a perfect world, Hill would return for a reunion with Popovich. But it doesn't appear San Antonio will have the cap space to make that happen.
Elhassan:?Absent an absolute home run free-agency heist of? Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry, Dejounte Murray should be handed the reins. He gives the Spurs much-needed length and athleticism, and the sooner he gets minutes the quicker he can develop to closer to what his ceiling will be.
Pelton:?No matter the risk giving him a four-year contract, I don't think you'd pass on Chris Paul if he were interested. Kyle Lowry probably isn't quite enough of a sure thing in the short term to say the same. Of the other free agents, I think Jrue Holiday is the best fit with Kawhi Leonard's timetable. If I couldn't sign one of them, I'd probably look to sign a point guard (possibly Mills) to a one-year deal to maintain 2018 flexibility and give Dejounte Murray room to grow.
Engelmann:?If Patty Mills can be signed to a reasonable price, something close to $20 million per season, it should probably be him. Tony Parker hasn't been very good for a while now, and the quad injury won't make things better. If Mills signs somewhere else, Utah free agent George Hill, whom the Spurs once traded for Kawhi Leonard, would be a tremendous fit.
3.?Fact or Fiction: The Spurs need Manu Ginobili next season.
Pelton:?Fact. Need is a strong word there, as the Spurs can certainly win without Ginobili making contributions -- they did so most of the series with the Memphis Grizzlies. To be their best, however, they still need Ginobili playing well. His performance during Leonard's playoff absences has shown Ginobili is still one of the few San Antonio players capable of efficiently creating his own offense.
Engelmann:?Fact. Believe it or not, Ginobili was the second-best shooting guard this season, according to RPM. He is the main driving force behind the Spurs' bench being just about the best in the league season after season, he isn't showing too many signs of age and he's one of the few shot creators on the Spurs.
Wright:?Fact. He has said on multiple occasions that he feels good and isn't experiencing any of the aches and pains you'd expect from a player his age. We've seen that Ginobili still has plenty left in the tank, and his teammates rave about his leadership skills. "Warrior" is the word most of the Spurs use to describe Ginobili, and you can't have enough warriors in an NBA locker room.
Elhassan: Fact-ion. It depends on what other roster moves they make this offseason. But if they return essentially the same roster and Manu still wants to play, then there definitely is a role for him to perform.
Haberstroh:?Fiction. Jonathon Simmons' development has made this an easy call for me. That doesn't mean Ginobili shouldn't be brought back, but Ginobili isn't irreplaceable on the roster anymore. Just put him on ice until March and then get him ready for the postseason. At 40 years old, he's good for about one or two games a week, and that's totally fine come playoff time. Dude can still play.
4.?Which of the following should be priorities?
A. Re-sign restricted free agent Jonathon Simmons, no matter what it takes
B. Re-sign free agent Dewayne Dedmon (if he opts out)
C. Re-sign free agent Pau Gasol (if he opts out)
D. Re-sign free agent David Lee (if he opts out)
E. Sign Kyle Anderson to an extension (this offseason)
F. Another move
Wright:?A and B. San Antonio's brass might try to convince Simmons to take a hometown discount, which might prove difficult given he, at 27, wants to get paid now. If they envision him as a starter down the road, that might be the best way to entice him to stay for less than what he'll be offered on the market.
Davis Bertans, the 24-year-old Latvian rookie, has arguably the sweetest stroke on the squad, and he's sneaky athletic and fearless. The Spurs need to figure out a way to get him more minutes. Bertans probably needs to bulk up and improve his defense, but San Antonio has a gem here.
Pelton:?D, C, B. I'm definitely not willing to pay whatever it takes to re-sign Simmons, who seems likely to be overpaid on the basis of a playoff run that was out of line with his mixed regular-season track record.
Which of the bigs to bring back depends on the market, but Lee looks likely to be the best value, especially coming off his patella injury, while Dedmon's inability to win Gregg Popovich's trust during the playoffs makes him a question mark going forward. I don't see a compelling reason to extend Anderson, particularly given his small cap hold as a restricted free agent next summer.
Engelmann:?B and E. Dedmon, despite his anemic offensive abilities, was the 12th-ranked center in the NBA because of his elite defensive impact (defensive RPM of 3.8, behind only Rudy Gobert among centers). Similarly, Kyle Anderson ranked as the second-best defensive wing in the NBA. Defensive specialists tend to earn less than their more offensively gifted counterparts, despite the same total impact, so these two are likely to be bargains.
Elhassan:?F.?Re-signing Simmons should be a priority, but at some point the Spurs have to have a drop-dead price point where it's not worth it. A Kyle Anderson extension would be advisable as well, if there are savings that can be realized. Finally, re-signing Dedmon (at the right price) would be a nice retention move.
Haberstroh:?A, B and E. As long as Pop is around, they'll be a destination for veteran big men looking to revive their careers and win a championship. David West (two years ago), Pau Gasol and David Lee are nice pieces, but those guys will always be there, knocking on Pop and GM R.C. Buford's door. It's not easy to find players in their prime who are willing to be role players, but Simmons, Dedmon and Anderson should continue to blossom around Leonard. Back up the truck for them.
5.?How many Western Conference finals appearances will the Spurs make in the next five years?
Elhassan:?Two. They are incredibly well-disciplined and have shown an ability to plug-and-play different personnel while keeping the machine humming?throughout the Popovich era.
Haberstroh:?Three. As long as Popovich and Leonard are on the floor, they'll be there. Parker and Ginobili ranked sixth and 10th in team minutes this regular season and they still grabbed 61 wins. The future is bright with the 25-year-old Leonard, who keeps eliminating weaknesses like they're feeble malware.
Wright:?Two, if they're lucky. But San Antonio's front office, led by general manager R.C. Buford, has a track record of prudent decisions. The key for San Antonio is placing the right pieces around Leonard, and making a decision about Aldridge's future sooner rather than later, as he can opt out of his deal after the 2018 season. Maybe the best move is to keep Aldridge in place, add a role player or two and expand roles for some of the younger players.
Engelmann:?I'd put the over/under at 2.5. The Spurs are always one of the best teams in the league and it helps that there's just one other clear-cut elite team in the West. Still, the West playoffs can be incredibly tough, as the Spurs have found out in making the conference finals only once in the past three seasons.
Pelton:?My assessment is two as the most likely number. That seems preposterous given how successful the Spurs have been, but remember that they've been to the conference finals just three of the past five years despite winning an average of better than 60 games in that span. With the Golden State Warriors around, the rest of the West is playing for one spot in the conference finals for the foreseeable future.