It may be hard to fathom on the surface, but veteran center Tiago Splitter could play a pivotal role for two franchises this season in their respective quests to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next June.
The San Antonio Spurs shipped Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks at the beginning of free agency. Without the deal, the Spurs wouldn’t have been able to re-sign forward Danny Green and offer a max contract to All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.
The Hawks, an undersized unit that finished 28th in the league in rebounding last season, had the salary cap space to absorb Splitter’s $8.5 million salary for the upcoming campaign and desperately needed more size on the low block.
As a result, San Antonio enters training camp as one of the favorites to emerge out of the Western Conference while Atlanta looks to build on their Eastern Conference Finals trip last season.
Splitter admittedly was disappointed to be traded but he believes the subsequent addition of Aldridge makes San Antonio the team to beat out in the West.
“It’s a great squad,” Splitter told Basketball Insiders of his old unit in San Antonio. “On paper they are the favorites to win the title. They have David West. They have LaMarcus Aldridge. Of course, Tim [Duncan]. Just a great frontcourt over there. They are a very talented team. Of course you have to see how things work out for them on the practical side of the game, but on the interior they have a great team.”
In Atlanta, Splitter is still learning the nuisances of his new environment but the veteran has been reunited with head coach Mike Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant coach when the center first entered the league.
Splitter’s initial disappointment with being dealt faded quickly once he realized he would be playing under Budenholzer in a similar system, and for a team coming off of a 60-win campaign.
“It’s nice to be in an environment where you already know the coach,” Splitter said. “I didn’t know the players before I got here but as soon as I got traded Bud told me that I was going to be in a great situation with great teammates. He gave me a lot of confidence that this team is going to be great once again.
“I don’t think a [learning curve] is going to be a problem. When I’ve talked to Bud so far I’ve seen that he has his own tricks and personality in the system, but it’s the same system we ran in San Antonio.”
However, Splitter must stay healthy in order for the Hawks to reap the full benefits of his services. The big man has only played in more than 60 games once in five seasons in the NBA, falling victim to a variety of injuries.
The presence of a healthy Splitter would give the Hawks an experienced center with legitimate size. The Hawks already boast two All-Star big men in Al Horford and Paul Millsap, so Splitter will likely serve as the first frontcourt player off the bench.
Splitter is looking forward to working with Horford and Millsap, while adjusting to a reserve role in the rotation.
“I think I can help them get some fresh air and also help them improve the team defensively,” Splitter said, readily accepting his new reserve role. “I just want to help those guys with the experience I’ve had before, especially come playoff time. You want to be in a position where every game is very important and every detail is very important. I hope I can help the team with that.”
The Spurs were able to flip Splitter and ultimately sign Aldridge. The Hawks needed a big body that was ready to play from day one without an adjustment period.
Both teams entered training camp with legitimate shots to emerge out of their respective conferences – and Splitter’s imprint could be on both stories.
“My goal is to help this team be in the playoffs again and reach the Finals,” Splitter said. “This team wants to grow, they were in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and they want more. Bud is hungry, the players are hungry and we want to go one step more.”
Splitter has career averages of 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 56 percent shooting in 311 career contests. The center won a title with San Antonio in 2014. He is owed $8.3 million in the 2016-17 campaign.
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