One week removed from the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline, we list some of the ideal moves that the San Antonio Spurs could make to spice things up.
What a rollercoaster ride of a season it’s been for San Antonio Spurs fans. When returning starting point guard Dejounte Murray, sixth man Rudy Gay and a few new role players and rookies, it felt like the previously seventh-seeded Spurs were on a fast track for improvement in the rigid Western Conference.
Obviously that’s not the case, as San Antonio lays on the outside looking in at the 2020 Western Conference playoff race. Now with a 21-26 record, 2.5 spots outside of the eighth seed, the Spurs can’t seem to get a grip on what comes next.
They most recently held firm over the four-seeded Utah Jazz for a home victory but dropped three straight games prior. Two of those losses came against teams with records below .500.
The Spurs are in limbo for the first time in this Millenium and it seems like they’re settling for it. Head coach Gregg Popovich has been relatively consistent with his rotations, and it took until midway through the season for him to give in and delegate a portion of wing Marco Belinelli, one of the most egregiously negative defensive players in the NBA, to rising star Lonnie Walker IV.
San Antonio has very little direction at this point, and that’s the worst place to be for an NBA franchise. Teams get stuck in this abyss of self-doubt, combining players who should be on winning teams with up-and-comers trying to find their way in the landscape of this league. The Spurs wanted so badly to blend the two into a successful team, but they’re trying too hard to rush the process and as a result, they need to start swaying one way or another before it’s too late.
The 2020 NBA Trade Deadline is on Thursday, February 6 in the early afternoon, and if the Spurs let it pass without making a move, they’ll be allowing themselves to slip into mediocrity.
Next: 1 - Get Rid of Dead Weight
1. Get rid of DeMarre Carroll
I’m not going to linger on this point for long, because I recently dedicated an article to it, but wing DeMarre Carroll joined the Spurs on a three-year deal worth approximately $21 million this summer. He was thought to be a good addition to the team for his secondary ball-handling, unselfishness, floor spacing and defensive grit.
However, Popovich refuses to integrate the 33-year-old into the rotation and now, he’s soaking up a roster spot and cap space. This calls for immediate action by the first-year general manager Brian Wright that signed him in the offseason.
Carroll was originally meant to be a two-year stopgap for a team hoping it could contend until it’s stars got older and moved on or extended their contracts with the Spurs on less lucrative contracts. Obviously, this isn’t working out the way they had hoped and now Wright must remedy the situation by moving off of the veteran’s contract.
Quite frankly, the return doesn’t matter anymore. It would preferable to return a young player or a draft pick as compensation, but at this point, even cash considerations would be better than wasting a roster spot. After the trade deadline comes the buyout market and shedding Carroll’s deal to make way for a new contributor late in the season can at least help the team establish more depth, preferably on the wing or at center.
I also believe he’d make a solid trade chip in a larger deal. Getting off his money would be an incentive in any deal, especially a two-for-one to acquire a high-caliber role player or an expiring contract.
No matter what, the DeMarre Carroll experiment isn’t working and pivoting would show the fans that Wright isn’t afraid to own his mistakes.
Next: 2 - Play the field for big names
2. Explore the market for serious talent
No one is expecting the Spurs to make some huge splash and acquire an All-NBA talent at the deadline; It’s just not how they generally operate as an organization. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asking around to see who’s available and what it would take to get them.
One name comes to mind first and foremost: Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. He’s been a frequent name amongst the rumor mill with multiple teams showing interest, and no player in NBA history has been as dominant a rebounder as he as, with classic madman Dennis Rodman being the only real contender.
Drummond has a player-option for this offseason and despite recently saying he loves Detroit and wants to stay there, he’s also never truly been part of a winning culture. The Pistons haven’t been a winning organization since the days of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace; Not to mention they’re sitting 3.5 games out from the Eastern Conference eighth seed without much hope moving forward.
Detroit could get desperate and move their franchise center in hopes of jumpstarting a rebuild as former-star Blake Griffin soaks up their cap space.
This isn’t the point of this slide though, he’s only one name to explore. Guys like Kevin Love, Otto Porter Jr., Myles Turner and others could be snatched away from their teams for the right price and it wouldn’t be smart for the Spurs to go through this offseason without exploring all of their options.
At the very least, it’ll give Wright the chance to introduce himself to the league’s general managers and build relationships to key on in the future. What could possibly be wrong about asking around and making sure all of your bases are covered?
Next: 3 - Gauge interest in your top talent
3. See who’s interested in your star players
Though LaMarcus Aldridge’s time in San Antonio has been very successful on the surface level, he’s never been able to take this team over the hump. Aldridge’s playstyle is predictable and effective with very few players in NBA history boasting this level of size and confidence on the block and as a jump shooter.
Now that he’s willing to step outside and hit the triple, he’s tied with historic sharpshooter Kyle Korver for 10th amongst qualified players in three-point percentage at 42.9 percent on the season, his stock is rising and teams would be more enticed to take on his two-year deal.
On the flip-side, wing DeMar DeRozan has been the better player this season and has truly entered his prime as a member of the Spurs. Though he may not earn that coveted All-Star selection due to competition and national misconceptions about his game, DeRozan is playing well-above most of the players he competes against and is posting stat lines that only the great Michael Jordan has ever done before.
DeRozan may not be valued by fans, but he’s respected and admired by his peers and by many opposing coaches. His value is also trending all the way up in a contract season, and he could be a valuable trade chip for a team looking to take a step to that next level of playoff consideration.
I’m not saying to blow it up and get rid of your stars because they’re playing well – that’s a ludicrous thought process to follow – but Wright should be asking around to see what he could get in return. I’m not talking about returns including other players at their level either, because they may as well keep this tandem together if that’s the goal.
Instead, Wright should see what kind of young players and draft capital the Spurs could garner by trading their star players. Don’t make any miscalculated decisions and run everything by the likes of Pop, Spurs CEO R.C. Buford, and franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan before shipping off star talent.
With that said, exploring the market and dangling these players out there is in the team’s best interest.
Next: 4 - Work to balance the roster
4. Play the market for help in the frontcourt
The Spurs have way too many guards and not enough players in their frontcourt, which means it’d be in their best interest to look for other teams with too many forwards and centers that could use some perimeter help. A floor-spacing player would be preferable despite the best efforts of Aldridge, Gay and Trey Lyles.
Still, Lyles is shooting only 26.5 percent from deep in January and Gay, who has missed a few games, is at 30.6% this month himself. It doesn’t help when the guys who are supposed to step out and stretch the floor aren’t actually strong threats from that range, so it would be in the Spurs’ best interest to find someone to fill that role.
Some players of interest, in my opinion, are Christian Wood, Omari Spellman, Larry Nance Jr. and Robert Covington. Each of these players has some solid combination of athleticism, floor spacing and defensive presence in the frontcourt. Each of Spellman, Nance Jr. and Covington have shot at least 36 percent on a minimum of 15 three-point attempts since the start of 2020, and Wood boasts the size and defensive presence to make up for his worse shooting.
They can swap any number of players in their backcourt, but the most ideal trade assets are Belinelli, starting shooting guard Bryn Forbes and the aforementioned Carroll.
Of the group, I think Nance Jr. makes the most sense because of his experience and work ethic. He’s an exciting role player with a proven talent for passing on a team that doesn’t have much reason to keep him around beside his father’s legacy as a Cleveland Cavaliers legend.
The logjam at guard has pushed both DeRozan and Lonnie Walker IV to unnatural positions at the small forward and pushed Gay down to the four spot. Putting players back at their natural positions, and giving the Spurs an advantage with both size and strength, could put the defensive woes in check and help the team push back into the playoffs.
Next: 5 - Don't Settle!
5. Please, just do something!
This is the most important aspect of the trade deadline: Doing something! Even if it’s a small role player swap or a salary dump, just make a trade! Staying pat as a struggling ninth seed sends the message that the Spurs are okay with what they have right now, and quite frankly, the fans are not!
For those of you active in the Spurs community, there’s never been as much disappointment and frustration with a season as there’s been this year: And that’s including the year that Kawhi Leonard sat out all but nine games before forcing a trade. For whatever reason, it feels like the fans are more in touch with what’s wrong with the team than the actual team itself, and the feeling of stagnation is more frustrating than ever.
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Neither DeRozan or Aldridge scratched the surface of the 2020 NBA All-Star fan vote, because Spurs fans aren’t encouraged enough to vote either of them in. Quite frankly, there’s a good argument that this team doesn’t deserve recognition in the All-Star game this year since they’re a middling group scrapping for something to believe in.
Making a move at the deadline, no matter the size sends the message that the fans are being heard and that the Spurs have a plan in place for the future – even if that means embracing a tank and letting go of plus-players in order to contend for a higher draft pick.
Whether it’s a positional upgrade, a swap of role players, a blockbuster move or a simple roll of the dice, I think Spurs fans would be more than satisfied if their team simply did anything at the deadline instead of standing pat.
Maybe that made sense in the past, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s time to embrace that this is a new era of Spurs basketball and mediocrity isn’t acceptable for the legendary Spurs organization.