San Antonio Spurs: Reviewing 6 players that left in free agency
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Years after leaving the San Antonio Spurs, what are these players up to in their careers?
The San Antonio Spurs lost two players in 2017 NBA free agency: Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons. They left for the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic, respectively.
Players leaving in free agency is nothing new to the process, especially for the Spurs. They previously lost top contributors on the open market, including those who helped with past NBA championship teams.
After leaving the Spurs, some players found success while others never recovered. Who falls into what category from previous players to step into the Black and Silver?
At age 26, Gary Neal broke into the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. He went undrafted after coming out of Towson College, but made a good enough impression to join the team for the 2009-10 season.
From 2009-13, Neal played for the Spurs. He averaged 9.9 points on 38 percent shooting and represented a steady bench piece for Gregg Popovich. It was a model of consistency for a seventh or eighth man, but did that success remain beyond San Antonio?
In the 2013 offseason, Neal left the Spurs for the Milwaukee Bucks. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal to fill a similar role to that in the Alamo City, except in a way to cash in.
Neal only survived 30 games in Milwaukee, before getting traded by the February Trade Deadline. It saw the Charlotte Bobcats acquire him in a multi-player deal and stay there until the middle of the 2014-15 season. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.1 points in Charlotte, but only on 38.5 percent shooting.
From there, Neal bounced around the NBA. He played 11 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves, 40 with the Washington Wizards, and just two with the Atlanta Hawks. This came over the past three seasons combined.
Neal is now a free agent, with his NBA career potentially in jeopardy. Will he get the opportunity to make another roster?
Next: DeJuan Blair
DeJuan Blair was a touted prospect coming into the 2009 NBA Draft, but dropped due to concerns about his knee. That led to the San Antonio Spurs selecting him at No. 37 overall in Round 2.
Upon debuting, Blair played a significant part off the bench. He appeared in all 82 games of the 2009-10 season (starting 23) and averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. It all came in just over 18 minutes per game, so it looked like Blair had intriguing upside as a full-time starter in the NBA.
However, Blair’s rookie season was arguably his peak year. His numbers slightly increased in 2010-11, but with three more minutes per game. It even came in 127 starts across his sophomore and junior seasons in the league.
By the time Blair left the Spurs in 2013, he was reduced to just 14 minutes per game and 5.4 points. He joined the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, but only received a one-year deal for $1.4 million. There, the Pittsburgh product provided 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Blair then went to the Washington Wizards where he played just 58 games across two seasons, averaging 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds. After a trade-and-waive with the Phoenix Suns, he wasn’t seen in the NBA again.
Next: Cory Joseph
In the 2011 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs traded George Hill to get the No. 15 overall pick. They used this to select Kawhi Leonard, and the rest was history.
However, the Spurs had a second pick to use. At No. 29, point guard Cory Joseph was selected, seemingly as a depth replacement for Hill. He came in at just 20-years-old and looked to fill in as a point guard off the bench.
It took until Year 3 for Joseph to establish himself as a backup point guard. This saw him play in 68 games, averaging 5.0 points and 1.7 assists in 13.8 minutes. It wasn’t a large dose of time for a backup, but enough to spell Tony Parker.
By Year 4, Joseph was able to play 18.3 minutes, shoot 50 percent from the field and average 6.8 points. This landed him a four-year deal with the Toronto Raptors, paying about $30 million. Not bad for someone who never averaged more than 20 minutes per game.
In Toronto, the Texas product put up two consistent years. He received more playing time than ever (25.3 minutes per game) and averaged a shade below 9 points.
However, in the 2017 offseason, to clear cap space, the Raptors sent Joseph to the Indiana Pacers. He has two more years left on his deal.
Next: Boban Marjanovic
Boban Marjanovic has freakish size for an NBA player, standing at 7-foot-3 and nearly 300 points. This got him to the NBA at age 27, signing a short-term deal with the San Antonio Spurs to play a backup center position.
In 54 games, Marjanovic played just 9.4 minutes. There were limitations to his game, like athleticism, that kept him on the bench, along with more experienced players to fill in at power forward and center. His abbreviated numbers couldn’t be overlooked, though.
In just one year with San Antonio, Marjanovic averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game — in 9.4 minutes. It left him with an absurd Per 36 Minutes line of 21 points and 13.7 rebounds.
So, in the 2016 offseason, the Detroit Pistons signed the Serbian big man away for three years, $21 million, hoping to capitalize on this potential. While the Pistons saw similar production from Marjanovic, he played in just 35 games and never started, only filling in on occasion in a very limited role.
There’s plenty of time left for Marjanovic to succeed, but for the Pistons to pay $7 million per year for just a handful of production, it hasn’t looked like a worthwhile investment yet.
Next: Aron Baynes
Another mid-20’s signing came in the form of Aron Baynes, who debuted at age 26. He followed Marjanovic and Neal’s footsteps, but initially saw a minor role with the San Antonio Spurs.
Baynes played in just 69 games through two seasons as a second or third-string backup center. It came in 9.1 minutes per game, with 2.9 points and 2.4 rebounds. So not much came from his production, but that changed in the 2014-15 season.
After the Spurs won the 2014 NBA championship, Baynes saw him playing time nearly double at 16.3 minutes. He took on a full-time backup role at center and put up 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds.
In 2015, Baynes left on a two-year, $13 million deal with the Pistons. There, his playing time stayed the same with numbers that were status quo from Year 3 in San Antonio. It wasn’t anything noteworthy, but consistent.
Now, Baynes is part of the Boston Celtics. He’s on a one-year, $4.3 million deal to provide a big man presence off the bench. This was done in San Antonio, so will he succeed in Boston?
Next: Marco Belinelli
Marco Belinelli is already 10 years into his NBA career. He never played more than two seasons with any team, but arguably found the most success with the San Antonio Spurs.
In the 2013 offseason, Belinelli signed a two-year, $5.6 million deal. He replaced Gary Neal who played a bench scoring role as a shooting guard.
Upon arrival, Belinelli put up the best single season stats of his career. This saw him score 11.4 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 43 percent from beyond the arc. These remain the highest totals of the Italian guard’s time in the NBA.
Belinelli’s 2013-14 contributions also had him be part of the NBA championship team. He didn’t get a major role in the playoffs, but still shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line, which helped the Spurs space the floor against teams like the Miami Heat.
Belinelli played one more season in San Antonio, seeing his numbers dip but at a respectable rate (42 percent shooting; 37 percent from 3-point range). So he looked to cash in with the Sacramento Kings, getting a three-year, $19 million deal in 2015.
Since the Kings signing, Belinelli has been traded twice. He went to the Charlotte Hornets for the 2016 season and, most recently, went to the Atlanta Hawks in the Dwight Howard deal.
Next: Top 10 first-round picks in Spurs history
Belinelli hasn’t regressed or improved since leaving San Antonio. Will he provide steady production with a fourth team in four years, however?