Spurs center Tiago Splitter is in the midst of his best NBA season so far and certainly appears to have found a groove in San Antonio's system. While the big man says that he's happy with the club, he told Brazilian outlet Estado.com that he plans to test the open market this offseason, according to Jeff Garcia of ProjectSpurs.com.
"I spoke to my agent that I wanted to take a break, and not think about it during the season, and wait for the end of the season to see what are my options, what's best for me. But surely, I am very well here in San Antonio. I will look at all of my options," Splitter said.
In his third season with the Spurs, the 28-year-old is averaging 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest while shooting 73% from the free throw line and 57% from the floor. The Spurs can make Splitter a restricted free agent by extending him a $4.93MM qualifying offer this summer. Given his play this season, it seems likely that he'll be in line for a raise from his current $3.9MM salary.
As ESPN.com's Chad Ford noted in his chat this afternoon, the Jazz are one of the league's most close-to-the-vest teams, which may explain why we haven't heard a ton of rumors about trade candidates and soon-to-be free agents Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. However, according to Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops, one team has emerged as a frontrunner to acquire Jefferson: the Spurs.
Sheridan points out that various members of San Antonio's and Utah's front offices used to work for the other club, strengthening the relationship between the two teams. As one source tells Sheridan: "Those teams are practically incestuous, they are on such good terms internally."
The Spurs don't have a ton of obvious trade assets, but Stephen Jackson's $10MM+ expiring contract could be used in an offer for Jefferson, who makes $15MM. From there, Sheridan suggests that a package including Tiago Splitter, Patrick Mills, and the rights to European prospects Erazem Lorbek could make some sense for both sides, though he cautions that he's not sure whether that specific deal has been discussed. Like Jefferson and Jackson, Splitter will be a free agent after this season, while Mills has a 2013/14 player option for a modest $1.13MM, so the Jazz wouldn't be giving up much future flexibility in that hypothetical trade.
Some reports have suggested the Jazz would prefer to move Millsap rather than Jefferson, while others have indicated the team would be fine with simply standing pat and keeping both big men. Given the club's secrecy when it comes to trade talks, we likely won't know for sure what Utah's intentions are until a move is made or the deadline passes.
Of the 10 NBA teams in action tonight, eight are currently in position to make the playoffs, while one of the remaining two is a shorthanded Lakers squad trying to claw its way back to .500. As we look forward to what should be an entertaining evening slate, let's round up some miscellaneous updates from around the Association....
Two-time MVP Steve Nash made his first trip back to the city where he enjoyed his greatest success, but his Phoenix return has been overshadowed by the first major trade of the year. It's been quite a busy evening, with Rudy Gay heading to the Raptors, retirement talk surrounding Kevin Garnett, and another weapon in the quiver for the Lakers. Here's even more from the Association:
About to enter his 17th season with the Spurs, Gregg Popovich has already amassed four NBA championships and two "Coach of the Year" awards, with his last and only losing season having occurred during 1996-97 as a first-year head coach. After falling just two wins short of an NBA Finals berth in June, Popovich appears determined to regroup for next season. Here are a few noteworthy tidbits from his Q&A with fans on Spurs.com:
Regarding Kawhi Leonard and his future in the NBA:
"I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he’s coachable, he’s just like a sponge. When you consider he’s only had one year of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he’s going to be something else."
When asked about Patty Mills' role on the Spurs after his performance in the Olympics:
"Well, I didn’t need to see his Olympic performance to know what he can bring, it’s just that he came to us so late last year it was really hard to incorporate him into what we were doing. But he’s an aggressive, fiery, offensive player. He can shoot the three and really score, and that’s what he looks to do when he comes in the game. So he’ll be a game-changer in that sense, at the offensive end. And defensively he’s kind of like a pest—he’s not very big but he’s really a game. He’s got great courage and he gets into people, trying to really bother them and get them off their game. So his competitiveness and offensive skills are what we’re looking forward to mostly."
On defense as a priority for upcoming training camp and how he plans to adjust against teams that have remarkably improved:
"You know (defense is) always a priority with us, but you know we’re never going to reach the level that we were at five, six years ago defensively. It’s just impossible to do that for a variety of reasons. But it still has to be an emphasis, we can get better and we have to if we want to compete with these guys that, as you said, added so many players to their team...What other teams do is not in our control, so we'll worry about, as I said, incorporating Kawhi into the program more since he wasn’t here very long. Boris, Patty Mills, look for improvement in Danny Green, work our big guys. Tiago and DeJuan Blair I think are going to have very good seasons for us. So we’ll concentrate on that and what we need to do as a group, and we’ll see how we stack up."
With only four games on the schedule for Saturday, the first two matches provided a wealth of excitement in an overtime battle and a shocking upset. The Nets stunned the Derrick Rose-less Bulls thanks to stellar play by Kris Humphries and Deron Williams. By knocking off the Clippers in overtime, the Spurs notched their 10th win in a row, but not without paying a hefty price. Let's take a look around the league to see what's going on with All-Star Weekend less than one week away: