With the NBA Trade Deadline less than a week away, the San Antonio Spurs have the option to make one of these trades to embrace their youth.
Embracing a tank doesn’t sound like the San Antonio Spurs even though there’s a solid case to be made that it’s the right way to proceed. Sitting at the ninth spot in the Western Conference with a strong young core in place and all of their future draft assets intact, the future is seemingly bright. For the most part, the team’s cap space is wide-open after next season and what comes next lays in the hands of franchise architect Gregg Popovich and general manager Brian Wright.
Though it doesn’t seem likely for the team to go all-in on the future instead of taking advantage of what they have in place now, it’s not out of the question. With three young guards – Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV – carrying a large portion of the two-way workload for the Spurs, the writing is on the wall for San Antonio’s youth to take over soon.
The February 6 NBA Trade Deadline is full of possibilities, and players become available that you may not have ever expected to come out of the woodwork before. Teams become desperate and careful decision-making gets tested against the pressure of an impending time-limit.
There are lots of teams throughout the league that have been stuck in rebuilds for years, trying to claw their way back into the playoffs to no avail. Either their player development hasn’t panned out, injuries derail their plans or their front offices and coaches simply fail to meet the industry standard.
Whatever the reason may be, young guys become available sooner than some may think and the Spurs need to pounce on those opportunities. If San Antonio plays its cards right, it could end up with a decent return on one of its aging stars in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Here are three deals that could potentially get done in the next week to help the Spurs get younger.
Next: Amending a fractured relationship with the Knicks
Amending a fractured relationship with the Knicks
For years, the New York Knicks were tormented by DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division. Heck, they’re still nagged by the reigning champions, but at least they don’t have to deal with DeRozan’s onslaught of mid-range jumpers and acrobatic layups anymore.
This is an opponent that’s become extremely familiar to them and quite frankly, it’s becoming clearer that the Knicks have no direction. Acquiring a player like DeRozan would help them stabilize their team and win a few more games for the poor New Yorkers filling into Madison Square Garden with the expectation of disappointment.
DeRozan instantly becomes the best player the Knicks have had since prime-Carmelo Anthony, and all of the sudden they’re fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He’d make a great mentor for their star rookie, R.J. Barrett, whose playstyle is extremely similar to DeRozan’s in many respects, and they’d add a solid wing presence in DeMarre Carroll to help combat their defensive woes.
In return, the Knicks would part ways with big man Julius Randle, who they signed to a three-year contract in the offseason. He’s been their best player this season, but the Knicks also signed three other power forwards and drafted a promising shot-blocker in Mitchell Robinson last year, so getting rid of Randle opens minutes up for him while putting the rest of their signings to use.
They’d be getting rid of big man Taj Gibson’s expiring contract while affording the Spurs another quality rim presence and would add in former lottery pick Kevin Knox as the cherry on top. After a poor rookie year, Knox is, unfortunately, regressing after a promising freshman campaign at Kentucky. The 6-foot-7 forward is only 20 years old and the Knicks notoriously have mediocre player development, so the young wing could certainly fulfill his potential in the silver and black.
Maybe the Knicks would be giving up quite a bit, but they’re a desperate franchise and this would be one way to take advantage of that. Plus, they’ll have the money to pay DeRozan moving forward and could look at the free-agent market to find him a running mate this summer.
Next: Aiding Monty Williams’ pursuit of the playoffs
Aiding Monty Williams’ pursuit of the playoffs
Former Spurs assistant coach Monty Williams is a down-to-Earth tactician of the game and a truly humble man. He’s been an incredible influence on the Phoenix Suns after nearly a decade of mediocrity and slowly yet surely, he’s helping All-Star snub Devin Booker get a team into the playoffs for the first time in his career.
However, it’s becoming more and more obvious that they’ll need a push, and adding an All-Star-caliber big man like LaMarcus Aldridge could be the surge they need. Williams most recently referred to him as the most underrated player in the NBA, and the Suns were linked to Aldridge before he decided on the Spurs in 2015. He seriously considered going there before coming home to Texas and donning the silver and black.
In my opinion, the draw of this deal is bringing in 23-years-old Bridges. With a humble demeanor and hardworking attitude, Bridges is finding his way in the NBA as an immense two-way talent, floor spacer and secondary ball handler.
He’s at 51.6 percent shooting from the field and 32.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, but the product of Villanova is up to 56.1% from the floor and 37.2% from deep in his last 18 games. Getting acclimated to Coach Williams’ style took some time and the Suns heavily-reduced his role from last year, so he started off poorly, but the future is bright for Bridges and he’d make an excellent fit with the Spurs in both a culture standpoint and as an on-court fit.
San Antonio would also benefit hugely from the rookie, Cam Johnson’s shooting stroke and size. Though he’d likely be sent out to Austin, Williams has found Johnson mature enough to earn some playing time in his rotation and could surprise a lot of people in the near future.
Phoenix gets a veteran running-mate to pair with Booker and teach last year’s No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. His floor spacing would prove important to the Booker-Ayton dynamic, and his ability to control both pace and paint defense makes him an amazing fit for just about any team.
Next: Getting Trae some actual help
Getting Trae some actual help
This one is a bit farfetched, I’ll admit that from the jump. The likelihood that the Atlanta Hawks would part with forward De’Andre Hunter after moving up to draft him fourth in the 2019 NBA Draft is a bit of a reach, but it’s also worth it to acquire a talent of DeRozan’s caliber.
It’s obvious that sophomore point guard Trae Young is ready to take the next step, even just one and a half years into his NBA career, but the Hawks could jumpstart the future by trading for DeRozan and pairing him with both Young and big man John Collins. Both Young and DeRozan are wildly unselfish and control the gravity of the basketball court without really even trying – it’s just the nature of their playstyles.
As Young would draw defenders to the perimeter, DeRozan would draw them back inside and the team’s plethora of floor-spacers would set up to take jumpers as need be. The Hawks could easily become one of the league’s best, most efficient offensive units without sacrificing all that much in the process.
Like in the previous DeRozan trade, DeMarre Carroll would get tacked onto this one so the Spurs could open a roster spot and shed themselves of that contract. They’d take on the last few months of Chandler Parsons’ contract as he rehabilitates from a recent car accident, and would get two exciting young players in the process.
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Hunter is playing roughly 31 minutes per game for the Hawks and for as much good as that’s done for helping him figure out the NBA, it’s not helping the Hawks win many games. He’s only at 41.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from deep, without racking up many of the defensive stats that he was projected coming out of Virginia.
The 22-year-old could definitely use more time to develop his NBA skillset and discover his identity as a player before assuming such responsibility, so the Spurs’ development staff would work wonders for him.
San Antonio would also get some frontcourt depth with Damian Jones, who Atlanta acquired from Golden State in the offseason. Jones is a strong rim defender and interior presence, He’s wildly athletic and has great shot selection, hitting 69.1 percent of his shots this season.
At only 24 with plenty of winning experience under his belt, Jones could become an exciting player with time, patience and consistent effort.