The San Antonio Spurs have stayed active in the 2018 offseason, and there’s plenty to like about their moves.
The 2018 offseason has become one of the most unusual in San Antonio Spurs history. From the trade of Kawhi Leonard to the departure of Tony Parker, everything turned sideways for a usually calm franchise that’s used to clean, successful summers.
Despite the circumstances, there are still reasons to appreciate what the organization has accomplished this offseason. The front office handled team needs and closed a season-long saga, so productive results came about, even if they are not perfect.
The Leonard trade ended the drama that started before the 2017-18 season, when the Spurs announced his quadriceps injury, being ruled out for the preseason and into December 2017. After a one-month return, the organization shut him down and he never returned to the court. Moving him, and the reports of fractured communication, led to the mid-July trade.
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Kyle Anderson, an unheralded change in the offseason, went to the Memphis Grizzlies on a four-year, $37.2 million contract. The Spurs chose not to match this offer sheet, but it’s not among their most notable moves of the summer.
The Spurs also re-signed Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans, two of their younger bench players. Neither rank among the team’s top moves of the offseason, but they keep some continuity in an otherwise wild four weeks.
Aside from some of these, there are five moves to appreciate the most from San Antonio since July 1. All of them move towards roster improvement and to potentially move up in the Western Conference.
Next: Much needed depth
5. Much needed depth at power forward, center
The San Antonio Spurs entered the 2017-18 season with frontcourt questions, as Joffrey Lauvergne acted as the only true center or power forward depth for LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. This did not succeed after Lauvergne played just 9.7 minutes per game and dealt with injuries.
This time around, the Spurs acted on their power forward and center depth, and will not just rely on Rudy Gay to play as a stretch four; Dante Cunningham was signed and Jakob Poeltl arrived via trade, and both should fill these roles.
Cunningham may work as an undersized center on rare occasions, but at 6-foot-8, is better suited as a backup power forward or even depth at small forward. As Pounding the Rock noted, he can defend and hit some outside shots to stretch the defense.
Poeltl should receive backup center minutes in his first season in San Antonio. After 1.2 blocks per game in just 18.6 minutes for the Toronto Raptors, there’s upside for a rim-protecting five that patrols the paint and works next to Aldridge. The two-year man’s offensive game may make or break how far he goes.
Even Chimezie Metu, the team’s second-round pick that has yet to sign, can provide insurance if needed at center. So, there are options, and insurance, behind the starters.
Next: Moving on from an icon
4. It was time to move on from Tony Parker
After 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker walked away for two years, $10 million (with the second year not guaranteed) to sign with the Charlotte Hornets. It was the first time anyone from the “Big 3” era moved on to another NBA team.
The Spurs wanted to bring Parker back, so they did not exactly let him go. With a potentially gaudier offer and role with the Hornets, it’s a better opportunity for the Frenchman at this stage of his career, and to play with former San Antonio assistant, James Borrego.
Maybe it was time to move on, however, from the Silver and Black’s perspective.
Dejounte Murray took the reins at point guard from Parker and flashed the athleticism and defensive upside that the latter lost, with age and injuries as a precursor. So, it’s a younger direction for San Antonio to commit to, especially if major minutes are planned for the Washington product this season.
Statistically, Parker’s numbers fell to back up this decline. He averaged a career-low 7.7 points per game in 19.5 minutes and shot just 27 percent from three-point range. Along with this, his Defensive Rating tanked to 109 in each of the past two seasons, and it’s possible everything could continue to tumble in Charlotte.
The Spurs may not have let Parker go, but it’s an offseason move that should allow younger guards to flourish and to give the backcourt a different look.
Next: Improved three-point shooting
3. Marco Belinelli stretches the floor
The San Antonio Spurs led the NBA in three-point shooting in the 2016-17 season at 39.1 percent. A career year from Kawhi Leonard led the way, but, without him for most of 2017-18, and the weaker outside production from other players, the Spurs tumbled to 26th in the league at 35.2 percent.
Even though recent incarnations of Gregg Popovich’s teams have found success at stretching the floor, outside shooters were needed to improve this aspect of the team. To fulfill this, Marco Belinelli returned on a two-year, $12 million deal.
This may be pricey for Belinelli, but he brings a consistent outside-shooting option to San Antonio, with a career 37.7 percent mark from behind the arc; this fell in line perfectly in the 2017-18 season, at 37.7 percent with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers.
Belinelli can work as a backup shooting guard to DeMar DeRozan and work as an undersized three in some cases, given the small-ball lineups other teams throw out there. That allows space to separate from LaMarcus Aldridge’s low-post work and have him kick it out to the arc.
Will Belinelli be the answer? Maybe the not whole thing, but at least part of it. He at least takes San Antonio’s three-point shooting in the right direction, on paper, however.
Next: A needed return
2. Rudy Gay’s return keeps a scoring presence around
While the Marco Belinelli signing may prove worthwhile for the three-point needy San Antonio Spurs, he’s not a top scoring option. Rudy Gay is, though.
In an odd season in San Antonio, Gay became the No. 2 scorer behind LaMarcus Aldridge. He put up 11.5 points in 21.6 minutes as a sixth man, as well as missing two months of the season with a heel injury.
When Gay re-signed for one year, $10 million, it re-positioned him as the No. 2 guy again, even before the Kawhi Leonard trade, since it was inevitable that a move would happen. The return from the Toronto Raptors brought back DeMar DeRozan, a capable top or secondary scorer for the Spurs, so it placed Gay in a role with less pressure, which should have been the case for 2017-18.
Gay can settle in as the sixth man, again, or join the starting lineup, as he did in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. This takes a scoring option off the bench, but boosts the team’s production to open games.
18 months after a ruptured Achilles, let’s see if Gay continues to shake off the rust and return to how he performed with the Sacramento Kings, something around 13-18 points per game. Leonard’s presence is no longer there, so no one else remains to view over the shoulder.
Next: An All-Star return
1. An All-Star for Kawhi Leonard
About one month after Kawhi Leonard asked for a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, he and Danny Green went to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
DeRozan, the prize of the return package, brings his All-Star pedigree to the rotation, with five consecutive seasons of at least 20 points per game. This included a career-high 27.3 points in the 2016-17 season.
With the inevitable loss of Leonard, and, as proved last season, the Spurs needed another primary scorer to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge. The team often went into scoring droughts when Aldridge struggled, rested on the bench or missed games with injuries.
Now, with someone that’s locked into San Antonio’s roster, it has a legitimate one-two punch to lead the way and an improvement over Aldridge, a recovering Rudy Gay and an aging Pau Gasol as the leading three.
Sure, the perception of leading the league in two-pointers is there, but it’s two dynamic scoring presences to captain the Spurs through a Western Conference that features improved teams from top to bottom. The better the scoring options, the likelier chance the team from the Alamo City stands up to the conference’s elite.
The Spurs have new faces in town, and the return of old members should help the Spurs towards another successful season. How will they fare in the 2018-19 season?