As the trade market opens up should the San Antonio Spurs make moves to improve their roster or go all-in on a rebuild?
We’re just over one-quarter of the way through the NBA season and teams are falling into more defined tiers. There are the championship contenders like the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers, those who are destined for the lottery like the New York Knicks, and somewhere in the middle are the San Antonio Spurs.
As of today, trade restrictions have lifted on players who were signed to new deals over the summer. This means that up to 90 percent of the league could be traded, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. The trade market is wide open and teams can now start making moves to improve or start a rebuilding project.
San Antonio’s uncharacteristically slow start to the season has been difficult to come to terms with but despite their struggles, the Spurs are only a game out of the playoffs. Making a trade for a quality wing defender or three-point specialist could be enough to push San Antonio back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
On the other hand, even if San Antonio were to make the playoffs they would almost certainly have a matchup with one of the teams from Los Angeles or another top tier team. Is making a move to make the playoffs only to be knocked out in the first round really the best path forward for the Spurs?
The Spurs have quietly amassed a nice group of young players. Lonnie Walker, Derrick White, and Dejounte Murray give San Antonio a nice stable of young guards to build around. Jakob Poeltl could very well be the most important player on the team through the first quarter of the season. And you can’t ignore the promise that the Spurs rookies have shown in the G-League this year. Should San Antonio punt on this season and focus on building around their young guys?
With trade restrictions in the rearview mirror, Gregg Popovich and R.C Buford are free to shape the rest of season, and the foreseeable future, how they want by making a midseason trade. Here are a few options that San Antonio could explore.
Next: Starting a rebuild
Sending LaMarcus Aldridge to South Beach
You can’t pin all of the Spurs struggles this year on LaMarcus Aldridge but he certainly could be playing better. He’s consistently putting up respectable stat lines, but it’s not leading to Spurs wins.
San Antonio has a -8 net rating when Aldridge is on the court compared to +4.6 net rating when he sits. LaMarcus is still one of the Spurs’ best players to be sure, but it’s getting to the point where the Spurs have to consider moving him if they can get a nice package of players in return.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat were always going to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Adding Aldridge to the mix would put them at the same level as the Milwaukee Bucks as threats to make the Finals.
Aldridge and Carroll would give additional depth and versatility to a Heat team that is a bit shallow in the frontcourt right now. Bam Adebayo is playing at an All-Star level and giving him another talented frontcourt partner to play with would only help Miami.
The main attraction of this deal for the Spurs is Justise Winslow. When he’s at his best, Winslow is a fascinating player, capable of running the offense at times and playing hard-nosed defense on the other end.
Moving on from Aldridge and Carroll would also open up minutes for both Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic. Both have shown promise in the G-League and could use some playing time agasint stiffer competition.
Next: Bringing another star to San Antonio
Acquiring Kevin Love from Cleveland
The Cleveland Cavaliers are open to hearing offers for their star forward Kevin Love. Blowing it up and going for a full rebuild has never been the San Antonio Spurs preferred route so it wouldn’t be shocking to see them make a move to bring Love to the Alamo City.
Love has flown a bit under the radar since LeBron James left for Los Angeles but he’s still playing at a very high level. The Spurs got a front-row seat to witness what Love can do this week when he put up 30 points and 17 rebounds on them earlier this week. If you can’t beat ’em, trade for ’em.
It would be difficult to trade away one of the most beloved San Antonio Spurs but the size and the pending expiration of Patty Mills’s contract mean he would almost certainly have to be included in this deal. He’s been a great mentor to the Spurs young guards and would fill that same role in Cleveland for Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
The Cavs are asking for a first-round pick in any deal that sends Love out of Cleveland. The Spurs own their first-rounders for the next three years and would have to include at least one of them in any deal that brings Love to Texas.
To be clear, this would not be a great move by the Spurs. As good of a player as Love is he doesn’t fix San Antonio’s most pressing issues and it’s doubtful that they would beat either of the Los Angeles teams in a seven-game series even if they made a trade for him.
Next: Bringing in more young talent
LaMarcus Aldridge goes to Phoenix
Before he signed with the San Antonio Spurs back in the summer of 2015, LaMarcus Aldridge did heavily consider signing with the Phoenix Suns. Now, years later, trading Aldridge to Phoenix would bring back several young assets that the Spurs could use to help speed up their rebuild.
Phoenix has been one of the worst teams in the NBA over the past few years but they’ve been one of the surprises of the season. They currently sit in the eighth seed in the West and adding Aldridge would only help them solidify their chances of making the playoffs. The Suns last made the playoffs during the 2009-10 season, making this deal would go a long way towards breaking that drought.
Mikal Bridges is exactly the kind of three-and-D player that the Spurs could use right now. His three-point shooting has taken a bit of a dip in his second season in the NBA but he’s always been solid from outside so there’s no real cause for concern there.
His ball-hawking on the defensive end is what really makes him intriguing. Through his young career, he’s averaged 2 steals per 36 minutes. A future lineup of Lonnie Walker, Dejounte Murray, and Bridges would be a dangerous defensive trio.
Dario Saric is a solid forward who would help San Antonio return to the ball-movement focused style of play of years past. He’s one of the better passing big men in the league and can also help space the floor to open up driving lanes for the Spurs guards.
The San Antonio Spurs don’t typically make big moves in the middle of the season but you always have to expect the unexpected in this league. They’re within striking distance of the playoffs but could just as easily build around their young guys. It will be very interesting to see which direction the Spurs go in as the season moves along.