San Antonio Spurs: How did departed 2017 free agents fair elsewhere?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks to Jonathon Simmons
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks to Jonathon Simmons /

How did the players that the San Antonio Spurs let go of in the 2017 offseason perform this season for other teams?

It’s rare that an NBA team keeps the same roster from one year to the next. Even if it’s just one player, there’s usually some type of turnover. This goes for the San Antonio Spurs, who, despite a model of consistency over the years, have made a handful of changes to their roster in free agency and the draft.

In 2017, aside from the selection of Derrick White and the signings of Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne and Brandon Paul, San Antonio let a handful of players walk in free agency. All of them were contributors on a 60-plus win team and had to seek work elsewhere.

How did these players perform in different situations? Let’s take a look.

David Lee

David Lee opted out of his contract for the 2017-18 season, which made him a free agent. This resulted in a multi-month wait on the open market, before the 2005 draft pick announced his retirement from the NBA. 

The Spurs never quite replaced Lee’s big-man presence off the bench, unless Gay as a stretch four counted towards this. Although, the game has shifted away from almost any player that can’t stretch the floor, sans a few rim protectors.

Jonathon Simmons

Jonathon Simmons was maybe the most surprising decision of the Spurs offseason. A restricted free agent at the time, the organization let Simmons go without a deal that went beyond a qualifying offer, after he performed as one of the top bench pieces in the 2016-17 season.

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The three-year, $20 million deal that Simmons signed with the Orlando Magic turned a few heads, as well, with the question of why the Spurs did not pay to keep him around? Especially with the third year only guaranteed for $1 million before July 1, 2019, according to Basketball-Reference.

Though, this opportunity became Simmons’s grandest yet. He played a career-high 29,4 minutes and started 50 games — 40 more than the two seasons in San Antonio combined. This resulted in 13.9 points per game, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 46.5 percent shooting and 33.8 percent from 3-point range. These were also career-high marks.

However, this Magic squad finished 25-57 and were in the bottom half of the NBA in defense. That included a 115 Defensive Rating from Simmons, the lowest of his three seasons. It’s a far cry from his premier perimeter defense in the two years prior, but might be the effect of a team-wide problem.

Either way, the Spurs missed an athletic presence off the bench that provided some perimeter-size at shooting guard or small forward. They acquired Brandon Paul as a low-cost option, and while he filled part of this role to start the season, the coaching staff mostly kept him at the end of the bench.

Dewayne Dedmon

Like Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon left the San Antonio Spurs for a better starting opportunity. Also, like Simmons, Dedmon joined one of the NBA’s worst teams, record-wise, the Atlanta Hawks.

The USC product started a career-high 46 games, averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Somewhat surprisingly, with the increased minutes from 17.5 to 24.9, his final blocks average stayed the same at 0.8 and the 1.2 blocks in Per 36 Minutes was a career-low.

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The Hawks were also 21st in Defensive Rating and Dedmon dealt with a stress fracture in his left tibia, so those could be two of the reasons for his 10 fewer blocks in 200 more minutes played.

However, even though Dedmon might not be the long-term center in Atlanta, especially if Jaren Jackson Jr. is the pick at No. 3 in the 2018 NBA Draft, he can still provide decent production in a paint-clogging role for the upcoming season. That’s if the five-year man exercises his player option.

Did the Spurs miss Dedmon? Maybe not the player specifically but they lacked a rim protector off the bench, with a 37-year old Pau Gasol as the primary guy. Joffrey Lauvergne came in as a low-cost center, but he had no experience as someone to alter shots at the rim and mostly settled into the background.

Next: 2018 NBA Mock Draft: After the lottery

Aside from Lee’s retirement, Dedmon and Simmons found larger roles elsewhere. Will this become the case for any of San Antonio’s 2018 free agents?