It's been written for what feels like two years now that the San Antonio Spurs need a mobile big man that score and play some defense. After seeing some of his highlight reel, a lot of people thought 2010 second round pick Ryan Richards could, in time, be that guy. Then, when Richards turned up on the Spurs Summer League team in July, people thought that time could be sooner rather than later. Richards had his ups, downs and meh's, mostly meh's, but enough ups to maybe get an invite to Spurs training camp.
Yet, here we are a day away from the start of camp and Richards' name is nowhere to be found on the Spurs' roster. Instead, their are undersized, mobile forwards like Derrick Brown, Tyler Wilkerson and Josh Powell. So what's the hold up? Did the Spurs not see enough in Richards to give him an invite? Even if he isn't good enough to make the Spurs' roster wouldn't the Austin Toros be the perfect place for him to go? The short answer is yes, but it's not that simple.
Sending a guy to Austin but keeping his exclusive rights is what the Spurs might want to do with Richards, but it's actually a tricky process to get him there and make sure no one else can get to him without giving him an NBA contract (and roster spot). As Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside wrote last March, the Oklahoma City Thunder went through a similar process with second round pick Ryan Reid in 2011. The Spurs can't invite Ryan Richards to camp without giving him a roster spot because if he's cut, they lose his rights.
Schroeder laid out the alternatives with Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell. First, they could have Richards enter the D-League draft, assuming they get a high enough draft pick to take him. That still might be too risky. Alternative number two is to wait until after the draft and have him sign a D-League contract when the Toros are at the top of the waiver wire. Then the Spurs would keep his NBA exclusive rights.
Schroeder and I also talked briefly about this during Summer League and he told me that there's nothing to keep Richards from working out at the Spurs' practice facility up until training camp if the team is serious about keeping him in the program. That may or may not have happened, we don't know for sure because Coach Pop won't let us use any of old CIA surveillance equipment to monitor the practice facility. Just don't think the Spurs have given up on Richards, they probably haven't. Short of signing him to a guaranteed contract, there just isn't a quick, clear cut way of getting him to Austin without risking another team plucking him from the Spurs' system. So patience friends, you could be hearing more about Richards as the leaves begin to change colors in the coming months (figuratively of course, since leaves in South Texas don't really change colors).