By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Jun 26 2009 8:01PM
NEW YORK -- Tony Parker likes the trade for Richard Jefferson. A whole lot.
"It was great for us," Parker said earlier this week. "It's going to help. That's what we wanted, is to get somebody younger, very athletic and is going to make stuff happen."
The Spurs didn't make much happen in the Playoffs this past season, bowing out uncharacteristically in the first round against bitter rival Dallas. Not having Manu Ginobili had plenty to do with the five-game loss, but so did San Antonio's lack of depth beyond their triple threats.
Contenders can often overcome injuries, especially in the early rounds, and move on. The Spurs didn't compete against the sixth-seeded Mavericks with Manu out, illustrating the gaping holes on the roster. Matt Bonner and Roger Mason Jr. and George Hill were nice stories all season. They just weren't 20-point scorers.
Duncan, Ginobili and Parker together can make up for the scoring deficiencies of those around them, yet if either is out, which has become a common occurrence lately, the Spurs struggle. While Jefferson won't be asked to score 20 a night, like he did with the Bucks or in New Jersey, the 29-year-old slasher will ease the burden on his new teammates.
Parker and his fellow All-Stars were kept abreast of the Jefferson dealings throughout the process. "They tell us what they're thinking," Parker said of management, "and then they call us when it happens."
Manu should benefit most by likely returning to his sixth-man duties, as Gregg Popovich monitors the minutes of the soon-to-be 32 year old who's finding it harder to get through a season unscathed. After playing on iffy ankles last season, having a less-taxing role could increase the Argentine's effectiveness and efficiency.
And having another weapon to play off also helps Duncan and Parker. Teams can't double three guys at once.
"I'm very happy that we're adding talent," Parker added. "You don't want to go back and have the same team every year. I think it's going to help.
"We'll see what happens because everybody is loaded in the West."
As much as Jefferson would have helped against Dallas, the real target of the upgrade is the newly-crowned champs. San Antonio, even before the trade, was as good as any team in the conference outside of the Lakers if everyone came back healthy. Parker believes Jefferson gets the Spurs right up there with Kobe's crew.
"Now you have to prove that on the court," he said.
San Antonio isn't the only title hopeful beefing up this week thanks to a loaded deal. (The Spurs gave up three expendable vets in Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas.) The two squads that battled for the East crown went Olympic, with Shaq joining LeBron in Cleveland and Jefferson's old Jersey running mate Vince Carter headed home to Orlando.
The Spurs aren't done, though they won't be part of the great free-agent chase of 2010. The $29 million left on Jefferson's deal eliminates any shot at a big-ticket item next summer, and Pop and general manager R.C. Buford are OK with that.
There's no one out there, Pop said, that makes more sense than Jefferson in Bowen's old spot. Ron Artest and Shawn Marion are intriguing this summer, but the Arizona-ex is a better fit in San Antonio's team-first system. Spurs fans will hearken back to Sean Elliott, another Wildcat, when Jefferson races out for an easy dunk or spots up for a corner 3.
The focus now is up front. Bonner and Ian Mahinmi are the only other bigs under contract, besides Duncan. "They got to get some help for Timmy," Parker said. Rookie draft pick DeJuan Blair may turn out to be option. Popovich is certain a quality backup power forward could be had for the mid-level exception.
"I don't think we're finished," Parker said. "I think we're still going to make something happen. We have to improve. Everyone in the West is very talented."
The Spurs, at least for now, more than most.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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