There is a strong possibility this is the last year we see the San Antonio Spurs play at an elite level. With an NBA lockout looming and the strong chance a season is lost due to a negotiation standoff, a lost year won't be kind to an aging core.
Another year for Tim Duncan's knees to age, another year for a 33-year-old Manu Ginobili's injury-prone joints to age. Antonio McDyess will retire after this season and as of right now there is no clear replacement. A lost year won't be kind to the Spurs and plenty of owners would see the year as a way to set themselves up financially. For example, NHL teams went through a lost season. The owners saw that losing a year was well worth it, as they got a deal that saved them from themselves financially and guaranteed them a profit every year. NBA owners would lose a whole season in a heartbeat if it guaranteed them this.
So what can the Spurs do?
Do they make a very un-Spur like big mid-season trade? Do they play it safe and comb the waiver wire and cross their fingers and hope they found a hidden gem?
As Project Spurs' Jeff Garcia recently wrote, one of the Spurs' few weaknesses and target areas is size. But in order to get size, the Spurs might have to give up youth.
The trade pieces most desired by other teams would be Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair as they are both young, talented big men with easily-tradeable contracts. Such a thing is coveted in the NBA and for obvious reasons. I'm not advocating trading either of these guys. I think both have a very bright future with the team and think it's possible in the next two years they will make up our starting front court.
But let's look at trade possibilities for players who could be available.
Why he would work - He's a very good defensive player. Has a great per 40 minutes rebounding rate and doesn't need to be involved offensively to make an impact. That would be great for a mid-season pickup as it's highly unlikely he would integrate to our complex offensive system quickly.
Why he wouldn't work - His salary is insanely high and the Spurs could find better, cheaper alternatives. There is no logical reason to do this trade given the options on the market.
Why he would work - He's a great weak side shot blocker and rebounder. This guy has been around the block and seems to have a thirst for a championship as he's rumored to only accept trades to contenders. He has a mid-range game and we could throw him in along side Timmy and he would get one on one's in the post.
Why he wouldn't work - His salary. Way too high for the Spurs' liking and it just simply wouldn't be practical. Like I said before, there are young cheap alternatives out there who play for teams with bad GM's.
Why he would work - He's young, smart and comes at a bargain (3.5 million). Gasol has a good post game and great size. His GM Chris Wallace (yes the same bonehead who traded Pau Gasol for 40 cents on the dollar) decided to give a max contract to Rudy Gay and Tony Parker money to Mike Conley. This leaves Marc in a uncertain situation heading into the summer without a contract. He could be scooped up for very little comparatively by a savvy GM.
Why he wouldn't work - Tiago Splitter would likely have to be given up in a deal for him. I don't feel comfortable with that, but a part of me wants to take the sure thing over a wait and see situation like Splitter. If that offer was on the table for RC Buford, it would be very tempting for him to take. Marc Gasol is arguably a top five center in the NBA. It's hard to pass a guy like that up when he's 25 years old.
The Spurs more than likely won't make any of these moves, but given the circumstances of an aging core and the possibility of losing a season to a lockout, there has got to be a real sense of urgency to not only the Spurs but to other teams as well.
The Spurs, Lakers and Celtics would be decimated by a lost season. There would effectively be a new world order in the NBA when games resumes and the trading action should be very interesting given those circumstances.