San Antonio Spurs: Grading the free agency, trade departures
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs lost players in free agency and trades. Were these wise moves?
Through an unusual offseason, the San Antonio Spurs have walked out of the majority of July with a new roster, including DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and Marco Belinelli as some of the acquisitions. Though, it meant the departure of familiar faces, most of whom spent more than four years in San Antonio.
It was a unique amount of turnover for a team that usually stays consistent within its core. So the next incarnation of this roster will look different next season.
The Spurs have seen five players leave in free agency or trades this summer. How do they all grade out as decisions for the organization? Let’s take a look:
Joffrey Lauvergne joined the Spurs as a backup center in 2017 on a one-year deal. It contained a player option for 2018-19, however, and after an underwhelming season with injuries, it opened the possibility of a return next season.
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However, before free agency started, Lauvergne opted out of his $1 million-plus salary, left the NBA and signed a lucrative deal with Fenerbache. Given his lack of statistical success domestically, it would not be a surprise to see him stay overseas.
Lauvergne’s spot was replaced, via trade, by Jakob Poeltl, an upgrade at both ends of the floor. The Austrian big man is a rim protecter, unlike Lauvergne, and flashed upside as a capable scorer under the hoop.
Poeltl’s arrival happened weeks after Lauvergne’s decision, and San Antonio found a younger center with potential to work as a backup or starter at center. The impact should be seen on the court in 2018-19 and will not make the team miss the Frenchman’s production.
Next: Tony Parker
Perhaps the shocker of the summer, the San Antonio Spurs lost Tony Parker to the Charlotte Hornets on a two-year, $10 million deal. It closed his 17-year career in the Alamo City and created an opening for veteran leadership on coach Gregg Popovich’s team.
Parker played just 55 games in the 2017-18 season due to recovery from a torn quadriceps and injuries that accompanied him along the way. This led to career lows in minutes, points, rebounds and assists, as well as a continued decline on the defensive end.
Perhaps the most important part of the modern-day NBA, Parker’s shooting ability tailed off. His 27 percent from three-point range was the third lowest mark of his career, and his effective field goal percentage was 47.2, another drop from previous highs.
While it’s unknown what the Spurs offered for Parker, is the team better off with a change? He was a valuable part of the organization for nearly two decades and still would have been if he opted to stay. But with regressing skills at point guard, was it for the best that San Antonio did not match what Charlotte offered?
In Parker’s place, Dejounte Murray will confirm his starting point guard spot for the 2018-19 season. Patty Mills and Derrick White should assume backup duties behind him and be open for new opportunities.
Next: Danny Green
Danny Green opted into his $10 million salary for the 2018-19 season. At the time, it was for the San Antonio Spurs. That changed on July 18, when they sent him and Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
Green supplied a presence at both ends of the floor for eight years in San Antonio, including All-NBA Defensive Second Team honors for 2016-17. He slightly tailed off defensively last season, but still provided the necessary perimeter presence for the team in a starting role.
The Spurs did not find a defensive replacement on the perimeter, however. While DeRozan joined the team as an offensive force, his game at the opposite end lacks, given how he played in Toronto. If the Silver and Black can improve this, then Green’s loss will not be felt as much. That’s even with multiple years of shooting below 40 percent.
Green still stretches the floor as a consistent three-point option, and the Spurs will miss that, with a team that finished near the bottom of the NBA from the outside. The Raptors will benefit from this, and the Spurs must look for answers elsewhere.
Time will tell how much San Antonio will show glaring signs of no Green, but there’s downside to his departure, for now. It was done to send Leonard out and receive an All-Star in return, so let’s see if it pays off.
Next: Kyle Anderson
Kyle Anderson became the only restricted free agent to depart from the San Antonio Spurs this summer, but it was on a lucrative four-year, $37.2 million to join the Memphis Grizzlies. It proved too much for the Spurs, who used their cash to re-sign Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and sign Dante Cunningham in free agency.
Anderson took over Kawhi Leonard‘s spot in the lineup and produced his best season of his four years, with 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals on 52.7 percent shooting. On top of that, he kept up an excellent 101 Defensive Rating, the most accomplished part of his game.
San Antonio will miss Anderson’s defensive versatility, with the ability to guard forwards and even the center in certain situations. He’s not the most mobile player, but is agile enough to keep up with more athletic players of his size.
With the money given, however, Anderson will likely start for the Grizzlies in the 2018-19 season. On the Spurs, that would not be guaranteed, and a high price for a player that broke out, but is not highly regarded on the offensive end.
Instead, the Spurs brought back Rudy Gay and gave Cunningham a minimum deal. Will either player defend like Anderson? Probably not. Gay brings more to the offensive table, though, and Cunningham is a cheap, low-risk deal as a rotation replacement. So, there are downsides to this, but the team avoided paying someone that still has something to prove in the NBA.
Next: Kawhi Leonard
The Kawhi Leonard saga may have picked up near the end of the 2017-18 season, but it began in September 2017, when the San Antonio Spurs officially announced his quadriceps injury. This lasted into December; he played for one month, but subsequently shut down for the rest of the season to rehab and seemingly wait for a five-year, $221 million contract extension.
Well, that never happened. Leonard requested a trade in June and, one month later, went to the Toronto Raptors in the aforementioned multi-player deal.
Obviously, the Spurs were unable to fix their situation with Leonard, who wanted to go to Los Angeles. Clippers or Lakers, that must wait until a mid-season trade or 2019 free agency. So, the organization received what they could for him, in a problematic situation where they had to relinquish a superstar.
What team would not want to keep its top player? Leonard developed into one of the league’s best two-way players before the quad ailment that sidelined him for most of the past season. If he returned, the potential was there for a return to 60 wins.
Changes happen in the NBA; recently, it’s the superstars that are on the move and want to link up where they desire. Toronto was not it for Leonard, but it’s the place, for now, until he receives the chance to go to Southern California.
The Spurs were backed into a corner with their would-be face of the franchise, so it’s difficult to grade this decision. They received capable talent in return, though, if it means anything.
Five players left the Spurs, but the organization’s decisions on these players will resonate until the season starts. Which player did they make the right call on, whether it was in free agency or the trade?