Tony Parker trade prospects

The NBA rumor mill is swirling.

After being thoroughly dominated by the surging Suns in a four-game second-round playoff sweep, the Spurs may be contemplating a change.

Father time seems to have caught up to the Spurs. The entire starting unit, save for soon to be 28-year old point guard Tony Parker, will be in their 30s to start next season. Every game is a grind for Tim Duncan at this point, dragging around an ailing right leg. Every part of Manu Ginobili’s body has failed him at some point. Richard Jefferson seems to have forgotten how to jump in his worst statistical season as a pro. The Spurs desperately need an injection of youth into its aging core.

San Antonio is apparently optimistic about its ability to convince forward Tiago Splitter to leave the European game to come to the NBA starting next season. The Spurs drafted Splitter in the first round of the 2007 NBA Daft, with the 28th draft pick overall. However, Splitter signed a two-year contract with TAU Cer¡mica one month prior to the draft that kept him in the Spanish League through the 2009-10 NBA season. The contract allowed the Brazilian to make 8 times more than the NBA rookie scale would have allowed him to make with the Spurs. The Euroleague All-Star could earn up to $1.0 million with the Spurs next season.

But the 25 year-old, 6’11.5″ Splitter doesn’t seem to be enough to change the fate of a team whose better days are seemingly behind it. Tony Parker has taken notice. His comments to friends that he’s unsure about his future in the Alamo City have sparked a wave of speculation that the All-Star could be on the move.

The Spurs are in a difficult position. They are no longer the elite team in the Western Conference that has compiled four championships over the past eleven seasons, but they can’t exactly tear everything apart and start over yet either. After all, they’re still perennial 50-win basketball team. Plus, they are somewhat hampered financially. Last month, general manager R.C. Ruford locked up their Argentine fan favorite, Manu Ginobli, with a three-year extension that will pay him approximately $39 million. Tim Duncan remains under contract for two more seasons, to the tune of $40 million. And the failed experiment that is Richard Jefferson will cost the Spurs another $15.2 million next season.

The Spurs will need to fork over a $9 million luxury tax check at the end of the season. With a payroll of $66 million from just seven players – excluding Splitter – so far next season, it’s looking like they’ll need to fork over another big one next year.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that something be done with Parker’s expiring $13.7 million contract. The Spurs have a more than capable reserve in George Hill, who will make just $1.5 million. Parker is San Antonio’s most appealing trade asset.

In many ways, Parker is a more intriguing version of Monta Ellis. In fact, his offense production is very much the antithesis of Ellis. Parker is a highly efficient scorer whose ability to penetrate the paint and finish at the rim is rivaled by only the game’s elites. And while he is not what you’d consider a pass first point guard, he turns the ball over remarkably little for somebody who goes to the basket so much.

But the lightening fast guard is not without his warning signs. Parker battled injuries all season long, including two ankle sprains, food poisoning, a hip flexor, plantar fasciitis, a broken hand and most recently a shoulder injury. He’s also not a floor spacing guard, shooting just 31% from beyond the arc for his career.

Even still, the Heat would be foolish not to take notice. He would be a very good addition.

The question is whether Miami would have any pieces of interest to the Spurs.

San Antonio would perhaps attempt to attach Jefferson if possible. But I can’t imagine that there would be any takers for a $29 million Parker/Jefferson combination, certainly not the Heat.

Beyond that, the Spurs – in my estimation – would otherwise require youthful talent in return for Parker in areas of particular need, namely small forward or a center. Miami has only Michael Beasley to offer. Between Duncan, Splitter and DeJuan Blair, power forward would hardly seem to be a position of first need. It should also be said that Beasley doesn’t seem to fit within Gregg Popovich’s coaching philosophy. Popovich encourages all his players to stay humble and to look at the bigger picture of team success. Beasley’s on-and-off court distractions would not be ideal. Further, Beasley would be something of a questionable fit to defend the power forward position in the West, against the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, etc.

At the end of the day, my bet would be the Frenchman plays out his contract in the city in which he was drafted.

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