We gathered the Air Alamo staff to discuss the San Antonio Spurs and the many decisions they’ll face in the 2019 offseason.
Although they’re not always the most likely team to make a big splash in free agency, the San Antonio Spurs remain active throughout the Summer. General manager R.C. Buford is always prepared to pick gems at the NBA Draft and meet with exciting prospective free agents shortly thereafter.
The offseason has become increasingly interesting as the Big Three Era in San Antonio came to a close. Buford transitioned toward LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan as the All-Star leaders of this franchise for the time being while he continues to add building blocks for the future.
San Antonio has a chance to address roster concerns with three picks in this year’s draft, a handful of additional assets and enough cap flexibility to return their marquee free agent while adding another serviceable rotation player. This offseason provides Buford and Gregg Popovich with an opportunity to build their roster around it’s current construction as opposed to last Summer when Kawhi Leonard officially requested his trade.
Approaching an offseason without the burden of a disgruntled star is relieving for this fanbase. As a matter of fact, the 2018-19 Spurs seemed to really enjoy working and playing with each other. It was a great testament to this team’s culture and attitude.
The Air Alamo staff gathered to answer some of the most important questions of the 2019 offseason.
Next: What does an ideal offseason look like to you?
1. What does an ideal offseason look like to you?
Andrew Ites: I think San Antonio’s main objective this offseason should be to add talent that can make up the core of the next great Spurs team. We’ve seen promise from Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Jakob Poeltl over the last couple of years, and Lonnie Walker should take a leap in year two as White and Murray both did. With two first round picks the Spurs can add to that young core in the draft, and they should also be looking at locking up younger players long-term with their limited financial flexibility this offseason. I think we know there’s a ceiling on the DeRozan and Aldridge era, but the next group of Spurs will be looking very bright if San Antonio can continue to build that young core this summer.
Kendall Garriss: Call me crazy, but the Spurs don’t need to re-invent the wheel over the off-season. Yes, the season ended in disappointing fashion, but it was far from the letdown most anticipated considering the lowly expectations the team had coming into the year. An ideal off-season goes as such: draft well, sign some solid contributors in free agency and, most important, get healthy.
Currently, the team’s primary focus should be optimizing their three draft picks, including two first rounders, in the upcoming draft in June. This is a relatively weak draft class but expect the Spurs to do what they do best and identify a couple of promising players to develop into key contributors. San Antonio doesn’t have a ton of cap space to play around with but if they can sign a reliable shooter, preferably a stretch-4 or 5, that would do wonders for a team that attempted the fewest three-pointers in the league (25.3 per game) a season ago.
Do all of those things and I genuinely believe that the Spurs can firmly be in the thick of it in the Western Conference. With the return of Dejounte Murray, the emergence of Derrick White and Bryn Forbes as well has DeMar DeRozan having a year under his belt to get comfortable in a new system, there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Spurs fan.
Ethan Farina: For me the ideal offseason is focused more on the recovery and development of the Spurs young players and less on the draft and free agency. First and foremost an ideal offseason would see Dejounte Murray have a flawless recovery and come back with a rebuilt jumper and better understanding of the game.
Building off of that, I’d like to see the coaching staff quickly figure out exactly how they’re going to stagger minutes between the Spurs three lead guards. Will Murray and Derrick White start next to each other with DeMar DeRozan playing small forward? Will White come off the bench and make a push for Sixth Man of the Year next year?
Both are viable options. You also have to think about how Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills fit into the equation. San Antonio suddenly has a log-jam at the guard position. Not a bad problem to have but a problem still. Figuring out exactly how to resolve this log jam is the first step to an ideal offseason and should be priority numero uno for San Antonio this summer.
Alan Torres: The ideal offseason for the San Antonio Spurs does not require a lot of trades or signings, the most important thing the Spurs can do is develop and invest in their young players. The Spurs have spent the last 4 years trying to develop the next big 3. With San Antonio’s small market disadvantage when it comes to attracting big free agents, a home-grown product is their best chance.
Dylan Hunter Carter: The ideal offseason in San Antonio won’t come through the draft or free agency, but instead in gyms throughout the country where the young and developing Spurs will expand their skill sets and prepare their bodies for the 2019-20 season. This is geared mostly to the recovering Dejounte Murray as well as Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Bryn Forbes. For the Spurs to regain some playoff stature and improve from the results of these last two seasons, San Antonio needs its young players to continue growing.
Besides this, it’d be nice to see the R.C. Buford bolster this roster with some wings and bigs. I’d like to see the Spurs take one center and one small forward in the first-round while allocating cap space to a 3-and-D frontcourt player with their mid-level exception. It’d also be preferable to see Rudy Gay return on a team-friendly deal.
Next: Which prospect should the Spurs target with the 19th pick?
2. Which prospect should the Spurs target with the 19th pick?
Andrew: With the Spurs’ history of developing international players, I’d like to see what they could do with French forward Sekou Doumbouya. He could develop into a switchable defender that would help make San Antonio’s young core elite defensively alongside White, Murray, Walker and Poeltl. If Doumbouya can develop an outside shot with shooting coach Chip Engelland, he could be a great fit in San Antonio.
Kendall: I’ve written about Kentucky’s PJ Washington on a few of occasions and actually predicted he would end up in the Silver and Black in a mock draft. Washington tested the waters after his freshman season but opted to return for a second year, allowing him to further develop as a player and grow as a leader.
Washington made major strides during his sophomore campaign, increasing his scoring average from 10.8 to 15.2, leading the team with 7.5 rebounds per game and boosting his three-point shooting percentage from 23.8 percent to 42.3 percent. PJ also recorded 1.2 blocks per game, racking up the second-most on last year’s Kentucky squad.
With Rudy Gay hitting free agency again, the Spurs’ frontcourt depth outside of LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl is virtually nonexistent. As such, drafting a 6’8″ forward like Washington would be wise for a number of reasons. Washington can address three major needs: rebounding, defense and three-point shooting.
Washington could provide great energy off the bench, serving as an aggressive rebounding presence that’s not always there when LMA isn’t in the game. Further, I can envision Washington joining an already stout defensive unit consisting of Murray, White and Poeltl and adding his own style of pressure to help make San Antonio’s defense elite once again. And although he’s not a sharp-shooting marksman, Washington can knock down the three-ball in catch-and-shoot situations, which would add another dimension to this Spurs offense.
Ethan: There are a lot of prospects who could possibly be available for San Antonio at the 19th pick. KZ Okpala, Rui Hachimura, Bol Bol, and Charles Bassey are a few names that come to mind. The best prospect could be Bol Bol. He’s one of the riskiest prospects in the entire draft but the upside. Oh my good gosh, the upside. Bol Bol could end up as the ultimate stretch five. A player capable of pulling up from 30+ feet and protecting the rim at an All-NBA level.
He would have to add serious muscle and there are some lingering concerns about his ability to take the beating that comes with being an NBA big man. But if he’s there when the Spurs are on the clock, I think you have to take him. Yes, there is a chance that his foot problems linger throughout his career and he ends up being a complete wash. But he would fit so well with the Spurs guards and could elevate the team back to championship contention in the next couple years if all goes well.
Alan: With the 19th pick in the NBA draft, the Spurs have a shot at drafting a good player that fell back a couple of spots. My favorite draft prospect for the Spurs is French forward Sekou Doumbouya, coming in at 6’9 ft, 230 lbs. The 19-year-old is a physical phenomenon that looks and plays like a new age NBA athlete.
His downside is that he is still learning how to play basketball, lacks some body mass and tends to be clumsy under pressure. These qualities are nothing that a Spurs team can’t fix.
Dylan: A few of the players that I originally hoped for the Spurs to land in the draft have shifted on Mock Drafts with increased attention from the public and media. Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Nassir Little each have high ceilings and fill team needs for San Antonio, so any of the three would be great selections if they slip to 19.
Next: Should R.C. Buford make any trades this summer?
3. Should R.C. Buford make any trades this summer?
Andrew: Yes, I believe Patty Mills should be dealt this offseason. His contract is hampering the Spurs’ financial flexibility, and it will be extremely difficult to find playing time for him next year in a backcourt that has a healthy Dejounte Murray alongside Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and an emerging Bryn Forbes. If San Antonio could swap Mills for a young player with some promise like Josh Jackson, that would be an ideal move.
Kendall: The Spurs usually aren’t in the trade business. Last season was an exception, given the circumstances surrounding the Kawhi Leonard situation. But I don’t anticipate the Spurs making any trades this off-season.
However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see one. Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley outlined a potential trade that would send LaMarcus Aldridge back to Portland. The prospective homecoming Buckley proposed had Aldridge and Marco Belinelli being sent to the Trailblazers in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless and the 25th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
If this were a legitimate offer, I think this would be the perfect way for the team to continue getting younger while still receiving great talent in return. LMA, who will turn 34 this year, has been the heartbeat of the Spurs after a rocky first few seasons, but the opportunity to unload an aging star for an up-and-coming stud like Nurkic, who’s just 24, would be huge. The contracts the Spurs would be getting are also team friendly. Harkless is on an expiring deal for the 2019-20 season and Nurk is scheduled to make roughly $12 million for the next three years, with the third year being non-guaranteed, which feels like a bargain considering the way he’s been playing in Portland prior to his devastating leg injury the ended his season prematurely.
Also, LMA has made it known that he would be open to a reunion with Portland, to finish his career alongside Damian Lillard.
San Antonio isn’t known for making splashy moves or deals but if there’s mutual interest between both parties I think this could be a major win for the Spurs.
Ethan: I think R.C. Buford should make a trade to unload Patty Mill’s contract this summer. Mills is a Spurs fan favorite. He was on the 2014 Championship team, is beloved in the community, and is a veteran presence in the locker room. It would be hard to part with the last remaining member of the Big Three era, but it would have to be done.
There is no room for sentimentality in the NBA and the fact of the matter is that Mills simply isn’t worth his contract at this point. After Derrick White and Dejounte Murray went out with their injuries Bryn Forbes emerged as a viable option at point guard. DeMar DeRozan proved he can handle more playmaking responsibility. San Antonio simply cannot justify paying a third-tier backup point guard $12.5 million a year, no matter what he’s done for the franchise in the past.
Alan: When it comes to trades, the Spurs should try to keep their core as intact as possible, the team has developed great chemistry and going forward it will matter greatly.
Dylan: R.C. is extremely calculated in his decision-making, so I trust that any trade he actually accepts will have been well thought out. I wouldn’t mind if he explored the trade market for either of the team’s two stars, although I think the Spurs should at least have Aldridge play out his contract in San Antonio. There’s really not much of an indication about his future, but rumblings about a reunion with Portland concern me.
I wouldn’t mind if Buford attached a pick and a player like Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, Patty Mills or Marco Belinelli to acquire a starting-level talent or higher draft pick. From a team culture standpoint, trading Patty Mills is a concerning idea but his on-court value doesn’t justify the burden he puts on the team’s finances.
Next: Which free agents should the Spurs offer deals to?
4. Which free agents should the Spurs offer deals to?
Andrew: This is a tough question. I think Brook Lopez is the best fit among the free agents that should be available for less than $10 million, but the Spurs’ frontcourt would get a little crowded and I don’t want to stunt the growth of Jakob Poeltl. Thus, I’d like to see San Antonio’s player development staff get their hands on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Spurs desperately need a wing defender, and MKG is still one of the best in the league. If he can develop a jump shot with Chip Engelland, Kidd-Gilchrist could be a major steal in free agency.
Kendall: I’ve been going back and forth between Brook Lopez and Marcus Morris, but I think I’d rather have the Spurs ink Lopez this off-season if they can swing it. Lopez, who played last season with the Milwaukee Bucks, made the Lakers look very foolish for not re-signing him. Only making a grand total of three 3-pointers through his first eight seasons, Lopez has adapted to the modern NBA landscape. Over the last three years Lopez has knocked down 134, 112 and 187 three-pointers, respectively.
Lopez averaged 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game on 45.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent from downtown. Similar to the traits I liked about selecting PJ Washington, Lopez also provides defense, rebounding and three-point shooting with his game.
Although Coach Pop has his qualms with the new trend of three-point shooting, the addition of a big like Lopez who can stretch the floor introduces a new wrinkle to the Spurs offense, ultimately making them that much harder to match up with.
However, Lopez isn’t without risk. The 11-year veteran will turn 32 next season, so it will be interesting to see how his game ages. Further, the signing of Lopez would most likely relegate Poeltl to the bench for the foreseeable future, which could potentially stymie his development. All in all, I think a savvy vet like Lopez would be a great match for the Spurs.
Ethan: My ideal free agent signing given the Spurs attractiveness and financial limitations is Jonas Jerebko. Jerebko could come to San Antonio on the cheap and would instantly provide another stretch four option for the Spurs.
I firmly believe that San Antonio should select a wing or big man with both of their first-round picks. Bringing in Jonas would give San Antonio a cushion to send one or both of their new players to Austin to spend most of their rookie years in the G-League. It’s a strategy that has worked for them in the past. It’s also looking more and more like Golden State will walk away with another title. Bringing in a veteran player fresh off of a championship run could bring valuable knowledge to the Spurs locker room.
Dejounte Murray hasn’t been shy about his desire to bring another title to the Alamo City. Having another veteran in his ear telling him exactly what it takes to do that could help the young guard get one step closer to achieving that goal.
Alan: The salary cap for the Spurs is a bit tight, Jabari Parker is a forward whom I think the Spurs could bring in at a decent prize to play valuable minutes while letting other forwards develop.
Dylan: Anticipating how the Spurs use their limited cap space this Summer has been one of the most exciting aspects of the offseason thus far. I’m going to operate with the assumption that the Spurs bring Rudy Gay back at a similar $10 million value as he made last season.
With roughly $9 million to play with, I think the Spurs should target either Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez or Marcus Morris. My emphasis is on floor spacing, defense and physicality for these selections because I think this team needs to complement their best players a bit better.
If this team is going to function around DeRozan and Aldridge, it needs to have reliable defensive playmakers, athletes and straight up dogs. Finesse and elegance are great on the court, but some toughness would go a long way for this roster.