Ball Don't Lie - NBA

I can see both sides of this.

After all, at his best, there might be no finer watch in this league than Manu Ginobili(notes). We know this guy, we like this guy, and there are things this guy does on a basketball court that other NBA stars simply cannot.

On the other hand, he misses games. If Ginobili plays the final five games in San Antonio's 2009-10 regular season run, it will mean he'll have played an average of 70 games a year in his NBA career. And a good chunk of those games came with Manu barely struggling to keep up, dealing with myriad nicks and scratches.

Our man turns 33 in July. He also becomes a free agent in the same month. Conundrum!

Not really.

You can't break the bank for Manu Ginobili, at this point. For a one- or two-year deal, perhaps, but signing him to an eight figure average for anything longer will just be killing your team. Especially when you consider that eight figures per year will represent probably a good fifth of the salary cap once the new CBA hits, and you'll be spending that on a guy in his mid-30s who couldn't stay consistently healthy in his prime.

I understand the push to pay him, though. On several fronts.

For one, the Spurs are in win now mode, and have been in every year of Tim Duncan's(notes) career save for the 2002-03 season, when they went ahead and won the title anyway. Keeping Manu around and in San Antonio means keeping the core together, and as iffy as the core has been at times in San Antonio this season, it's also looked pretty championship-worthy at times as well.

Like recently, when Ginobili has been tearing it up. He's averaging 22 points on 52 percent shooting in March, in 31 minutes per game, with a little over nine and a half combined rebounds and assists. Per-minute, that's as good as Kobe. That's probably better, with that shooting percentage.

In April? Just three games, but he's dropping over 30 a game. Ginobili's been blindingly good.

But there's a reason why he's not Kobe. It's because he played 44 games last season. It's because he shot 35 percent in November, struggled through chunks of December, and was awful in January.

It's because he plays in international competition nearly every summer. And even without playing last summer, it still took Manu until late in this season's second month to find his legs (before losing them again, shooting 36 percent in January). And those legs turn 33 in July, dog years for athletic guards like Manu.

He also tends to hit the floor a lot. For various reasons.

The pressure is on, though, because recently we've gotten to see a glimpse of what we fell in love with, with Manu. The type of player that might have been the best sixth man ever, two years ago. The guy we didn't get to see for a full two years after that spellbinding turn.

And the pressure's on, because he could play overseas next year. That's not him going to New York or joining the Thunder to give Oklahoma City some veteran leadership. That's leaving the NBA, and making it so 95 percent of the people reading this column won't have a consistent way to tune into watch Manu Ginobili a couple of times a week.

With that smaller schedule, that might be best for Ginobili. But it won't be best for 95 percent of us, so we want to spend other people's money to keep him around. We want to keep him in the NBA. And that's OK.

But we also have to be smart about it. The Spurs have to be smart about it, and any team that wants to break the bank and force Spurs owner Peter Holt to consider matching or topping a big deal (after paying the luxury tax this year for a team that might not even make it out of the first round, you couldn't blame him), has to consider their options.

Maybe a boffo deal for one year, something that hits before the new CBA takes hold. Maybe something for two that is front-loaded and featuring lots of incentives in 2011-12 for games played.

Maybe a pass on both?

Say Manu Ginobili signs with a team for 13 or 14 million next year, if only for a year or two. What is history telling you? What are you going to get?

A guy who, per-minute and when healthy, is just as good as Kobe Bryant(notes) and Brandon Roy(notes). The problem with that is this is per-minute, and when healthy. And history tells us that a 33-year old Manu might play 65 games, he's not going to be able to play a Kobe or Roy-level of minutes, and there's certainly no guarantee that he'll be healthy. Whether that means dragging his legs through games, or missing them altogether. That's not even factoring in the expected drop off because he'll be a year older.

And he is not worth the figures we're tossing around. Even Manu at his best -- a Kobe for 31 minutes per game -- isn't worth that sort of money.

Remember, this isn't a guy who has people tripping and falling into his legs. He didn't get up-ended under the basket. Manu Ginobili has nagging injuries. He's injury prone. He has the same little things happen to all sorts of parts within his wheels, all the time. Consistently, since the ankle injury that hampered him throughout his rookie season.

To expect anything else would be ludicrous. Unless he signs with the Suns and their medical staff and ...

Whoa. What if Manu Ginobili signed with the Suns? Imagine how cool it would be if ...

See? I'm doing it too. Which is why I can understand.

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