December 15th is a significant day in the NBA calendar. That is the first day that free agents signed in the offseason can be traded. For the San Antonio Spurs, that means it's the first day Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Tim Duncan (ha ha!) can be traded. According to ESPN, Danny Green can't be traded until January 15th because he was signed using the Spurs' Early Bird Rights.
There has been a ton of chatter on Twitter the last few days about whether the Spurs should make a trade despite having the second best record in the league. It seems silly that a team that is top five in offensive and defensive efficiency would need to make a trade, but the Spurs aren't without their warts. The defensive numbers look great, but the Spurs could still use an athletic big for pick and roll defense purposes. The problem there is athletic bigs are really tough to come by.
So that's the dilemma with a team like the Spurs making a trade. You don't do it unless you're going to upgrade your team, but you don't upgrade your team without surrendering an important part in return. Specifically for the Spurs, is there a deal out there that could help this team without too severely rocking the boat? It's tough because this Spurs team is such a well oiled machine offensively but there is a deal or two out there that in theory could work for the Spurs.
There are several players the Spurs should not deal before the offseason. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter should be off limits (unless you're giving up Tiago to get Anderson Varejao back and that's unlikely). Stephen Jackson has a big, expiring contract but how many teams are capable of handling the complexities that come with coaching Captain Jack? Here's a couple I like.
Matt Bonner and Gary Neal for Derrick Williams: Last year's number two pick overall is young, athletic and can play either forward spot. He also shoots 38 percent from three, is a good rebounder and has shown to be a good pick and roll defender in admittedly limited chances. He doesn't fit in to Minnesota's plans because he does a lot of what Kevin Love does and it's really tough to play them together. What Minnesota does need is shooters. Another thing to consider is Neal's trade value might not be any higher than it is after his stint as a starter. He's in the final year of a really reasonable contract, so the Spurs would also be able to get something back for him before having to pay him this summer. Williams would be a good addition to the Spurs' lineup for this season and beyond, as he and Leonard could become the beginnings of a very promising core for the Spurs' future.
Cory Joseph for Gustavo Ayon: Sam Bunnell of Pounding the Rock touched on this trade last month, and I thought it as ridiculous until I saw how little Ayon is used by Orlando. After averaging six points and five rebounds in 20 minutes per game for New Orleans last season, Ayon is lost on Jacques Vaughn's bench, averaging just 2.6 points and three rebounds in just 11 minutes per game. You may remember, the Spurs also had interest in Ayon last year before he signed with the Hornets. The Magic have a lack of point guard depth and Vaughn has experience working with Joseph and he could like having a young point guard to groom.
That's it, that's the only deal that seems feasible when you take in to account how well they're playing now, how many athletic power forwards are actually available via trade and the fact that the Spurs can't take on much extra salary. Just this week, Gregg Popovich said whether the team keeps James Anderson will depend largely on the luxury tax. We can safely assume that this theory applies to any trade that would be made. According to Sham Sports, the Spurs payroll is currently stands at $69.1 million, about $1.2 million below the lowest the luxury tax can dip, so there's a smidge of wiggle room, though I'm guessing the Spurs would like to stay as far below that line as possible.
Right now I'd call a trade midseason unlikely, but there's a long time between now and February's trade deadline. Obviously the health of Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, as well as the continued of Tiago Splitter will all factor in to any deals between now and February.