NBA minds far and wide consider the San Antonio Spurs front office to be the best in the league since the late 90s. But ask any tried and true Spurs fan and they'll always point to the one that got away. Luis Scola.
Regardless of the Spurs front office being able to handpick international talent like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter and Nando De Colo, making gutsy moves to bring in key players like Kawhi Leonard or turning under-the-radar free agent signings into role players like Danny Green, trading away the rights to Luis Scola to Houston will always be unforgivable to some fans.
But according to a recent column by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs' hand may have been forced to trade Scola after they received advice to sign free agent Jackie Butler in 2006 from former ESPN scribe and stat geek John Hollinger, who is now the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, who recently traded away forward Rudy Gay.
Levien is making these deals based largely on the recommendations of John Hollinger, a statistician who worked for a cable sports company. The San Antonio Spurs once used him as a consultant and regretfully took his advice to sign a free agent named Jackie Butler. It was such a disaster, the Spurs had to attach Luis Scola to a trade to get Butler out of town.
Getting past the burn scars from Wojnarowski's statement, Hollinger did "help" several teams back then and he was always very high on Butler.
Back in 2006, Express-News columnist Buck Harvey talked to Hollinger about helping teams, including the Spurs, but Hollinger declined to comment on whether or not he was paid. However, that didn't stop Hollinger from singing the praises of the move he may have been responsible for making.
"For the Spurs to get a young player of this quality this cheaply was highway robbery. All they were missing were the ski masks," Hollinger wrote in a preseason column before the 2006-07 season.
As we all know, Butler was signed to a three-year contract worth $7 million and seen as a long-term project who would be brought along slowly. The Butler project never quite worked out. The Spurs made conditioning a focus for Butler, who once pointed reporters to a pool of sweat where he was on the practice floor and said it showed how hard he had been working.
"He's someone who has to continue to work on his conditioning because he's not going to be able to do what he's got to do if his body won't allow it. But he's on the right track," Popovich said then to the Express-News.
While Butler was considered a work in progress and was even given tapes of Moses Malone, who he had been compared to, it must have been clear early that the long-term project needed to be cut short as he was sent to Houston, along with the rights to Scola for Vassilis Spanoulis and a second round draft pick. Spanoulis never made it to San Antonio.
While it may be easy to put the blame on Hollinger for the Spurs wanting to rid themselves of Butler and his contract bad enough to trade Scola, there were always reports that the Spurs tried several times to bring Scola stateside, but buyout issues and the danger of going over the luxury tax kept that from happening.
Now, Butler is a distant memory for Spurs fans and Tiago Splitter is getting closer and closer every game to getting Spurs fans to not forget Scola but take some of the sting out of losing the chance to have him in silver and black lined up next to Tim Duncan.