San Antonio Spurs: Three trade targets to fill the need at small forward

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 21: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on December 21, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 21: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on December 21, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 2: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Rudy Gay #22 during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 2: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs speaks with Rudy Gay #22 during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

With zero small forwards guaranteed for the 2019-20 season, the San Antonio Spurs could make a few calls and try to trade for one this Summer.

General manager R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs has some roster flexibility to play with this offseason. Consecutive first-round exits in the playoffs could put the team in position to trade some assets to plug holes in their rotation. The most blatant need for the team at this point is at the small forward position.

San Antonio has three players at the small forward on expiring contracts this offseason: Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter. All three fit nicely with the team’s culture, but none of these players truly push the envelope for the team as currently constructed.

Signs point toward the Spurs returning Gay to the lineup, especially given the early bird rights available that would enable them to sign the veteran without dooming their cap space. Gay is a versatile scorer and lovable locker room presence, but there is space for improvement with him as the team’s best player at that position.

Trades aren’t frequent for this organization, but they’d be welcomed by a fanbase that wants to see its team push back into title contention. Acquiring a young defensive-minded wing could be the next step in returning this team to their former glory, especially when considering the training and development staff in San Antonio.

Without breaking the bank or throwing away priceless assets, the Spurs may be in position to acquire a new small forward, but what players should be targeted?

Next: Timberwolves SF Robert Covington

MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 30: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 30: Robert Covington #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Timberwolves SF Robert Covington

Few players embody grit and grind in the modern NBA like Minnesota small forward Robert Covington, a 6-foot-8 lockdown defender with the range and IQ necessary to be one of the best 3-and-D players in the sport. Going undrafted in 2013, ‘RoCo’ grinded his way through the G League in Houston before making his way to the processing Sixers in 2014.

During his time in Philadelphia, Covington excelled as a two-way forward with the pass perception and defensive instincts of a player well beyond his years. He received All-Defensive selection for the 2017-18 season alongside Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray while making roughly 37 percent of his triples.

Covington was eventually processed away by the Sixers and shipped to Minnesota in a package for All-Star Jimmy Butler. Although injuries kept him off the court deep into the regular season, Covington seemed to excel with a larger role with the Timberwolves.

Through 22 games in Minnesota, he averaged 14.5 points and 5.7 rebounds with some truly spectacular defensive stats. Had he remained healthy, Covington would garner some DPOY buzz for his 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in 34.7 minutes per game. His inflated playing time was a result of Tom Thibodeau’s coaching style and produced some inflated stats compared to those he’d generate in San Antonio, but the defensive menace would fit perfectly in the Alamo City nonetheless.

Minnesota has a long term commitment to former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who shares the small forward position with Covington. Although it’s unlikely that they’d shop him this early into his tenure with the team, Minnesota might be willing to part ways with Covington for the right price.

As Rudy Gay enters the unrestricted free agency market this Summer, the Spurs surely need to address the small forward position. Minnesota could be enticed by a package with the 19th pick and an expiring contract.

Some Spurs players that could peak newly-appointed President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas are Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli and Derrick White. Attaching Patty Mills to the deal would certainly favor the Spurs, but the Timberwolves are already stuck with Jeff Teague’s $19 million price tag for next season and wouldn’t benefit much from another veteran point guard.

With a new regime at the helm, Minnesota may want to shake things up. Covington singlehandedly plugs a lot of the holes in San Antonio’s roster and would fit in perfectly with the franchise’s culture on a team-friendly deal.

Next: Hawks SF Taurean Prince

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – MARCH 26: Taurean Prince #12 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – MARCH 26: Taurean Prince #12 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Hawks SF Taurean Prince

What do the Atlanta Hawks and Primrose Everdeen have in common? The odds were most certainly not in their favor.

Atlanta was one of the biggest losers at the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery, slipping to the 8th pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The top three prospects in this class are viewed as highly as any group in recent memory; Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett have spectacular upside with legitimate superstar potential coming out of college. Atlanta hoped to land a star to pair with Rookie of the Year contender Trae Young going into next season, but will pick from the middle of the lottery instead.

There were already signals being shown that Atlanta wanted to move on from small forward Taurean Prince at the trade deadline. Now that they’ll be selecting from the lottery and likely targeting another wing, Prince may be on the chopping block.

The San Antonio native would be a welcomed addition to this iteration of the Spurs. Standing at 6-foot-7 with a near seven-foot wingspan, Prince is a palpable defender with the capacity to work within a team system to lock down the perimeter. At 25-years-old, Prince fits with the Spurs’ current timeline nicely while contributing some much-needed spacing and defense to this unit.

Atlanta seemed to lose sight of Prince’s helpfulness this season, but he continued to improve his shooting percentages as has in each of his three seasons in the league. Coming out of Baylor, Prince was seen as an exciting prospect with a good head on his shoulders. That’s carried into his professional career in spite of his team’s possible lack of faith in his potential.

Playing 28 minutes per game, Prince averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 boards and a steal this season. He posted career bests in three-point percentage (39.0) and effective field goal percentage (54.5) as the dynamic of the Hawks shifted around him.

Spurs fans have been eyeing Prince for quite some time now and the Hawks have shown that they’re willing to make trades, so there seems to be a tangible route for R.C. Buford to take in securing the hometown talent at a position of need.

Next: Phoenix SF TJ Warren

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 22: T.J. Warren #12 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during the second half against the Washington Wizards (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 22: T.J. Warren #12 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during the second half against the Washington Wizards (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Phoenix SF TJ Warren

While the Spurs try to figure out the plethora of guards at their disposal, the Phoenix Suns have a logjam at the small forward position. With Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, TJ Warren and Kelly Oubre all occupying minutes at the 3, GM James Jones will likely seek a trade this offseason that’ll open up that position and secure complimentary pieces for their young stars.

One highlight of the Suns’ worrisome 2018-19 season was the breakout campaign of Warren, who notched career-bests in both three-point and free throw percentages. Standing at 6-foot-8 with a stocky frame, Warren has become an efficient three-point threat after years of struggling to extend his shooting consistency past 15-18 feet from the basket.

Related Story. Should the San Antonio Spurs trade for Josh Jackson?

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Warren shot 42.8 percent on 4.2 three-pointers per game through 47 games last season and established himself as a leader amongst the youth ladened throughout the Suns’ roster. He showed off a newfound versatility by shifting out to the power forward position, proving that he can defend a wide range of players from shooting guards to small-ball fours.

Phoenix would likely hope to acquire Dejounte Murray or Derrick White in any deal, but the Spurs hope to build around their dynamic guard duo. R.C. Buford would be more inclined to attach a player like Patty Mills to a pick in any deal with Phoenix, but could also consider moving the expiring deals of Bryn Forbes or Davis Bertans in the swap.

Joining a team with the succinct pedigree of the Spurs could unlock something special in Warren, who has spent the entirety of his five-year career exposed to losing basketball. A change of scenery and coaching could propel the 25-year-old to the next stage of his development in the pros while giving the Spurs additional wing scoring.

Next. Frontcourt Prospects for Spurs in 2019 Draft

Buford is precise in his decision-making and isn’t likely to give up more than a player is worth, but this could be a great opportunity for all parties involved.

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