SAN ANTONIO -- One spot, five players fighting to secure it; that’s the situation the San Antonio Spurs plan to resolve by Saturday’s league-mandated deadline to finalize the roster, which already contains 14 players on guaranteed contracts.
The team’s revelation Friday that Danny Green will miss approximately three weeks due to a left quadriceps injury perhaps further complicates the decision-making process, as coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford compare and contrast several promising players with varying -- and in some cases, similar -- skill sets.
“You’ve got to choose, and it’s subjective, just like the draft,” Popovich said. “You make choices, and sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t. It’s not just one factor. You talk about similar skill sets. Well, to me that means two guys shoot it really well. Which one are you gonna choose? Or two guys play defense really well. Which one are you gonna choose?”
Those are just a couple of components the brass plans to weigh in dissecting the conundrum it faces in finalizing the roster. Five players -- Argentinian guards Patricio Garino and Nico Laprovittola, as well as Bryn Forbes and Ryan Arcidiacono along with veteran 34-year-old center Joel Anthony -- entered training camp with partially guaranteed contracts. It’s expected one of them will land the final roster spot unless Popovich and Buford decide to go with just 14 players on the roster, which they’ve done in the past, but is unlikely, according to a league source, or the club is willing to part ways with a player who owns a guaranteed deal.
Should the Spurs decide on the latter, or if they opt to bring aboard two of the five players competing for the final roster spot, the most likely player with a guaranteed deal the club could waive would be rookie forward Livio Jean-Charles, a first round-pick in 2013, who is guaranteed $2.4 million over the next two seasons. That’s an unlikely scenario, but the club could find difficulty in deciding between Forbes, who appears to own a slight edge over the other candidates, based on his preseason performances, and Anthony, a veteran with NBA experience and intangible attributes Popovich likes.
Forbes scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, in the team’s 114-99 win Friday over the Houston Rockets in the exhibition finale. Forbes scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone.
Forbes connected on 50 percent of his 3-point attempts during the first five exhibition games, but size (6-foot=3, 190 pounds), ball handling and defense could be concerns for the Spurs. Laprovittola, meanwhile, appears to be slightly behind Forbes among the guards in contention for the final roster spot.
Laprovittola plays with Manu Ginobili-like flair, with similar ability to facilitate, judging off his 14 assists through the first four games of the preseason.
Laprovittola recently received his European Union passport, enabling him to play in European leagues, which means it’s unlikely he’d be amenable to a trip to the NBA Development League, should he fail to make the cut. Garino, according to a source, is prepared to begin the season with the Austin Spurs, San Antonio’s D-League affiliate, and isn’t eyeing other options.
Interestingly, Garino possesses a similar three-and-D skill set to Green, though it’s not as refined.
“He’s a real solid player who knows what his skills are,” Buford said during training camp. “He’s a tough-minded young man, a very good athlete and somebody who just needs to grow, confidence-wise. But Pop saw Nico [Laprovittola] in Las Vegas over the summer. They were over there for Olympic preparation as well. We followed Pato [Garino] during his time at GW [George Washington] and Nico during his time in Spain. But I think Manu’s relationship, and the belief that Manu has in them surely influenced our process, as have other guys in the past. Our players know what works here and who they want to play with. When you get that strong of a recommendation from Manu, it has a huge impact.”
Still, the Spurs expect to strike a balance between performing due diligence to make the best final decision (as their thinking has gone back and forth throughout this process, according to a source), and making moves quickly enough for parting players to find other teams. Popovich said that in close calls between players, the team goes beyond physical attributes to make a final decision.
NBA rosters don’t have to be trimmed to the regular-season limit of 15 until 5 p.m. ET Monday, but players must clear the 48-hour waiver process by that deadline in order for the Spurs to avoid additional salary obligations. If San Antonio wants to directly assign players to its D-League affiliate, those cuts must also be made by Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.
“You look at their character. Can the guy shoot or can the guys who can shoot play any defense? How aggressive are they? How competitive are they? What kind of team player might they be?” Popovich said. “You add all those factors before you make a choice. Then, you hope you’ve made the right one.”