Prior to the trade deadline, there weren't many players who appeared more likely to be dealt than DeJuan Blair. Blair's role with the Spurs this season had diminished, his contract was set to expire at season's end, and his modest $1.05MM salary made it palatable for the team to move him for a draft pick without taking any salary back.
The Spurs didn't end up trading Blair though, and the club turned down the 23-year-old's buyout request a week later, concerned he would join a rival playoff team. Still, while Blair remains a Spur for now, it's unlikely that the two sides will continue their relationship beyond this season.
Blair had been a regular part of the Spurs' rotation for the past few seasons, starting 127 of the team's 148 games in 2010/11 and '11/12. However, with Tiago Splitter emerging this year and Boris Diaw in the fold for a full season, Blair's minutes per game have been reduced from 21.3 to 13.4, and he's been displaced from the starting lineup. Blair's production has slipped a little as well — after recording a PER of 17+ in each of his first three seasons, the 6'7" forward is down to 14.9 in '12/13.
Speaking to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich acknowledged that his handling of Blair, who has also played limited minutes during the team's playoff series, has probably been frustrating for a player facing unrestricted free agency.
"Think about it," Popovich said. "Not just this season, but the whole time he’s been here, this is a guy who’s started during regular seasons, and then I’ve sat him during playoffs. I might be wrong, I might be right, but I was looking for certain things and made certain decisions, and that’s tough on a player…. This is his contract year, and I’m sure he’s getting some advice from other places that is a little bit different from the advice we’re giving him, let’s say."
Noting that Blair has averaged 15.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG in the 24 career contests when he's played 30+ minutes, Monroe suggests that players posting those numbers "typically have six-figure salaries." Since Blair is already making seven figures, I assume Monroe actually means "eight-figure salaries."
A $10MM+ annual salary figures to be an unrealistic goal for Blair when he hits the open market this July, but he should be in line for a decent raise, despite not truly being able to showcase his value in San Antonio this year. I could see plenty of contenders having interest in adding Blair, whether it's a team like the Heat (with the taxpayer MLE) or perhaps the Warriors, as a potential Carl Landry replacement.
A lottery club with cap space, like the Bobcats, could also enter the mix. Charlotte missed out on power forward targets like Kris Humphries, Antawn Jamison, and Landry last summer, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the 'Cats outbidding rival suitors and offering a longer-term deal to a younger option who is seeking an opportunity to play more.
Within Monroe's piece, Popovich praises Blair's work ethic, noting that the big man's attitude has stayed positive whether he has been playing or sitting. However, Blair's desire for a buyout last month suggests to me that at this point in his career, playing time is his top priority. As such, when he starts talking to teams in July, I expect Blair to lean toward clubs that will give him a chance at an expanded role, even if those situations won't necessarily provide his best shot at a championship.