As the San Antonio Spurs claw at the Western Conference eighth seed, a three-way trade with their competition can viably help their cause.
There’ve been very few signs to indicate that San Antonio Spurs general manager Brian Wright is going to embrace a tank for the ninth-seeded ballclub. Boasting a high ceiling for a budding young core, the Spurs are stuck between a rock and a hard place with win-now veterans holding marquee positions in the lineup.
If the Spurs want to make it back into the playoffs, it might take some creative maneuvering from the front office. They aren’t the only team in the West struggling to find their way and could take advantage of the circumstances surrounding two prominent inner-conference foes: the LA Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Ever since taking on former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala’s one-year, $17 million contract, they’ve looked to offload it in exchange for a first-round draft compensation. Given Iggy’s decision to sit out and preserve his body instead of suiting up for this season, the Grizzlies have very little leverage in getting the asset they’d hope for and will probably need to take on some bad contracts to achieve that goal.
The Spurs just so happen to have some bad contracts themselves with two veterans—DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli—who make a combined $12.8 million this season with very little positive impact on the team right now. Moving off of these players, including a three-year deal for Carroll, who head coach Gregg Popovich refuses to play, could be huge for the team in need of some youth and energy.
Enter the LA Clippers—a team chock full of high-energy players and two-way dominance. They’re third in the West and have a strong foundation in place led by former-Spur Kawhi Leonard and All-NBA wing Paul George. However, everything’s not as peachy as it seemed in Clipper-land, as interior bickering has generated an unprecedented dialogue for this group.
Montrezl Harrell lit into his own team postgame – “We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team… I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”#Clippers pic.twitter.com/NEMjdIlYzV
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 4, 2020
These comments by LA forward/center Montrezl Harrell sparked some backlash from head coach Doc Rivers, according to Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic. Though the on-court results have been largely positive, the Clippers’ chemistry is in question, and it’s been pondered whether this team will return the 26-year-old Montrezl in free agency.
Furthermore, the Clippers could use this three-team deal to add another championship-caliber player in Iguodala, who they’ve been linked to since he was sent to Memphis in the summer.
There’s a deal in play that could benefit all three sides with the Spurs returning a haul on-par with that of the Clippers despite giving up a decent bit to facilitate it.
Next: Breaking down the prospective trade
Breaking down the prospective trade
For the Spurs, adding an exciting interior presence like Montrezl Harrell transforms the team’s rotation for the season. Though he’s come off the bench for the Clippers, and for the majority of his career, Harrell is worthy of playing starting minutes for a team contending for a playoff spot.
Harrell is a wonderful replacement for Poeltl. Though he doesn’t boast the same size, standing at 6-foot-8, he more than makes up for it with effort and energy. He’d make an excellent pick-and-roll partner for the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray while providing a rebounding ability on-par with the exiting Poeltl.
In 28.7 minutes per game, Harrell is averaging career-best numbers in points and rebounds with 19.3 and 7.2 respectively. He’s taking the most shot attempts of his career with 13.8 per contest with the majority coming from rolls to the basket and putbacks.
Poeltl is an excellent player, and as I mentioned recently in a piece for Air Alamo, he should be a part of the team’s future, but that’s not a guarantee. Popovich has shown a hesitancy to increase his role with the team, and he enters restricted free agency this summer. He provides the size that the Clippers require, and Harrell would easily replicate his production and more.
Harkless is in his eighth NBA-season, first with the Clippers, and has managed to expand his game with each passing year. He’s a versatile defender who wears his heart on his sleeve, taking on any defensive assignment and hounding them for four quarters.
He can space the floor as a league-average 36% three-point shooter and has footwork that even DeRozan could appreciate. He’s not the most exciting player, but he’s got the versatility and two-way effort that San Antonio needs to be a legitimate playoff team.
More so than anything, this move would be about resisting stagnation for the Spurs. Instead of simply allowing this team to be sub-par and moving on, Wright would be implementing two players with both physical and mental toughness. Though the No. 1 driving force behind San Antonio’s success has been the execution of strategy over the 22-season playoff streak, the aspect of that game that’s assisted them in keeping it going has been their underappreciated toughness, and they’re sorely lacking that this season.
This deal makes sense for LA in both the longterm and short-term. Now that Harrell is butting heads with Rivers, the team may want to find someone that fits Doc’s temperament and ideology better. He’s also a candidate for a decently-large payday this summer that they’ll want to avoid with Leonard and George’s massive contracts headlining the payroll.
Returning Iguodala gives them another perimeter defender, floor spacer and blue-collar champion to make a push for the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.
As for Memphis, this helps the team add two experienced veterans in place of one who refused to suit up for them, as well as an expiring contract in Belinelli. Iguodala is rotting on their cap sheet, soaking up money and going on press runs. It’s not helpful to a team trying to figure out its identity with the Rookie of the Year frontrunner dominating the competition.
Next: Pushing the Spurs back into contention
Pushing the Spurs back into contention
Let’s be brutally honest here: No one is taking the Spurs seriously anymore outside of the fanbase. Coaches always give their respect, saying they can’t count them out despite their record, but those coaches end up walking out of the AT&T Center with a prideful win.
Aldridge is getting older, DeRozan has a losing reputation despite a career full of regular-season success and for the first time in my lifetime, people are legitimately questioning Gregg Popovich’s decision-making. If Wright wants to course-correct and ensure that San Antonio sets the all-time consecutive playoff streak record at 23, he really needs to jumpstart this group.
Mid-season trades are few and far between for this organization, but that’s because they generally don’t need to make moves to be a playoff team. Even last year, when they dipped out of the playoff picture, they buoyed back up into the picture and held firm before pushing the No. 2 seed to seven-games.
This year, that isn’t the case with the Spurs losing to sub-.500 teams on a consistent basis. They don’t have the same fight in them as they once did, and they need to make a change in order to produce a winning product.
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By making this deal, the team sheds some of the older players that have held them back (*cough cough BELINELLI cough*) while embracing a win-now culture.
Harrell and Harkless are each 26 years old, aligning much better with the Spurs’ timeline than these vets. By the time they reach their respective primes, the young core of Murray, White and Lonnie Walker IV will be fully acclimated into their NBA careers and project to be a deadly trio for the new acquisitions to mesh with.
Harrell provides White with a devastating pick-and-roll partner, and Harkless alleviates some of the pressure from Dejounte as the sole plus-perimeter defender of the starting five. They bring spunk and athleticism that the Spurs need to fulfill their potential.
Parting with a future-first is definitely not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world when considering the return. Getting off of Carroll’s contract, which looks horrible at this point, could be positive for the team’s cap sheet moving forward.
If the Spurs make this deal, they resist stagnation and fight for their playoff streak instead of allowing themselves to fade further into irrelevancy for the first time since the nineties.