As it seems the entire San Antonio Spurs squad from last season minus James Anderson, but plus Nando De Colo is set to report to training camp for the 2012-13’ NBA season, there’s an interesting topic developing within the team, what are the Spurs supposed to do with disgruntled power forward DeJuan Blair?
There are three moves the Spurs could choose to do regarding Blair: keep him, trade him, or release him.
Blair is set to make an estimated 1.1 million for the 2012-13 season, but his contract isn’t fully guaranteed. If the Spurs decide to keep Blair, they’ll basically be keeping an extra body on their bench in their frontcourt.
When the Spurs were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, Blair found himself last on the bench in minutes per game amongst the players in the Spurs’ frontcourt.
Though he had a good regular season (9.5 points per game, 53% Field goal percentage), it was the addition of Boris Diaw and a game against the Los Angeles Lakers that made Blair fall further behind in the rotation. Blair is 6’7; Diaw is 6’8”. Blair’s strengths are finishing in the pick-and-roll and getting quick points in the open court. The problem is Diaw has both of those skills, plus he can shoot from outside, attack the rim on his own, and pass from anywhere on the floor. Diaw can also provide a body with more weight defensively to hold his own against bigger athletes with size like Andrew Bynum, and he has the quickness to defend versatile power forwards like Dirk Nowitzki.
Blair was an easy mismatch on defense to both Nowitzki and Bynum. With the Spurs having Tim Duncan, Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner still on roster, Blair will once again find himself out of the rotation.
For those that argue Blair should get more minutes than Bonner, here’s why that doesn’t work in the Spurs’ system. The Spurs’ system is built for one main post player and four perimeter skilled players. In the starting lineup you have Duncan (traditional post player) who can either hit a 17-foot jumper or post his defender alongside Diaw, a player who can hit from mid-range or outside as well. Off the bench you have Splitter (traditional post player) and Bonner. Splitter’s the guy who sets screens and attacks, while Bonner floats around the perimeter. Since Blair doesn’t have a consistent outside shot, he finds himself as the lone big man out of the rotation with Diaw in the fold.
Keeping Blair as an extra body means the team could use him in games where the frontcourt gets into foul trouble, or head coach Gregg Popovich could use Blair in situations where Duncan were to rest a game. Blair staying with the Spurs would be more of an insurance policy for the frontcourt.
The day before the NBA draft, the Spurs were rumored to be shopping Blair, though no deal or trade partner was ever publicly known. Blair on the trading block means the team could try and use him as a sign-and-trade chip for a free agent. My idea on Tuesday was to trade him to New Orleans for a sign-and-trade package involving Chris Kaman. The Spurs have little money to throw at Kaman since they are expected to sign their five players soon, so throwing Blair in a deal could help a possible deal get done if Kaman were willing to accept less money. The Hornets might not want the deal though because they already have some power forwards in Ryan Anderson, Lance Thomas, and Al Aminu. Exploring this idea is still worth a shot.
Even if Blair isn’t traded before training camp, one would expect his name to stay on the trading block up until the February deadline. The problem is there may not be many takers as Blair’s deal would be completed after next season, which means he’d be more of a rental package for a team, unless they’re fine with that method.
Should the Spurs need to cut a contract for salary reasons, Blair’s would be an obvious one because he’s currently on a non-guaranteed contract for this coming season. Being on a non-guaranteed contract means the team has until a certain date (Usually a date in January) to decide if they will keep and pay the player, or release him without having to pay for his full season.
Come January, if the Spurs still aren’t finding any suitors for Blair or he doesn’t have a meaningful role on the team, they could just elect to release Blair in order to free up some salary. The risk in this move would be an injury later in the season to any of their frontcourt players, as
Blair can easily be a viable substitute off the bench.
For Blair and the Spurs, this summer and coming season will be an interesting time to see whether he makes more of a stride and makes the rotation next season, gets traded, or is released to sign elsewhere. Will the “Beast from the East” play his final season in the silver and black? Only time will tell.