Grizzlies are a blueprint for how the San Antonio Spurs must rebuild
By Ethan Farina
With their moves at the trade deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies laid out the last few maneuvers in a rebuild blueprint that the San Antonio Spurs should follow.
In the midst of a barrage of Woj bombs on Thursday afternoon, one team laid out the final few steps in one of the quickest and most impressive rebuilds in recent memory. In just two years the Memphis Grizzlies swiftly and decisively slammed the door on their past and leaped forward into a new era. The San Antonio Spurs would be wise to follow in their footsteps.
Through well thought out drafting, smart trades and a bit of luck, the Grizzlies transitioned from the Grit N’ Grind years into a fast-paced group lead by two of the most exciting young players in the league. Looking back at their last few years you can see how they navigated difficult decisions with an eye on the future.
It wasn’t easy to send off Memphis legends like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley but it netted valuable assets in return. It wasn’t fun going through back to back lottery years but if the results are Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. can you really complain?
The San Antonio Spurs are approaching a crossroads similar to what the Grizzlies went through just a few years ago. It wasn’t surprising that San Antonio didn’t get in on the madness during yesterday’s trade fiesta but it does have consequences. After declining to make any moves at the trade deadline the Spurs leadership have set themselves up for a massively important summer for the franchise.
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge don’t carry quite the emotional weight in the Alamo City like Gasol and Conely did but their impact on the court and stage in their careers are quite similar. How Brian Wright and Gregg Popovich decide to handle the looming decisions around their two stars will set the tone for the next few years in San Antonio.
DeRozan has a player option this summer and it’s anyone’s guess as to how he will handle it. He could opt-in and be on the Spurs payroll for another year, netting himself a smooth $27.7 million or he could decline the option and test the market in what is an otherwise underwhelming 2020 free-agent class. It’s hard to speculate on what DeRozan may do because, as he told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News, he’s not even thinking about it right now.
“Honestly, I just concentrate on practice. That doesn’t even cross my mind, honestly, unless somebody brings it up to me or I see it. That’s not my main focus. My main focus is to get ready for this game tonight.”
DeRozan has been a great player for San Antonio this year. He’s been a borderline All-Star and the engine of the Spurs offense. Over the past month, he’s really been one of the most consistently great offensive players in the league. Were it not for him the Spurs wouldn’t be even close to the playoffs. But this summer it’ll come time for Wright and Popovich to admit what we’ve all known for some time. You cannot win a championship with DeRozan as your best player.
Other teams were interested in DeRozan at various points throughout the year. Both the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat were rumored to be interested in the Spurs swingman. If DeRozan does decide to pick up his player option this summer the Spurs should look heavily at a sign-and-trade situation which can get DeRozan the long term deal he surely wants and nets the Spurs young players or draft picks in return.
LaMarcus is in a similar position. He had his contract for 2020-21 guaranteed earlier this year and has, seemingly overnight, turned himself into one of the premier three-point threats in the league. His consistent low post game, combined with a refined three-point stroke, has made him quite the appealing player. Like DeRozan, Aldridge was rumored to be garnering interest from the Miami Heat earlier this year.
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This summer Aldridge could be to another team what Marc Gasol was to the Toronto Raptors at last year’s deadline, a seasoned veteran to take a team from good to championship level. If Miami fails to make the Finals this year they could be interested in coming to the table. Boston and Portland would be two other teams to watch.
Getting Aldridge and DeRozan off the books would free up cap space for San Antonio to do what Memphis did this past summer. Take on a hefty contract like the one Andre Iguodala had, demand a first-round pick as payment, then flip the player for a young asset and another pick. Now I know it’s not that easy but tying up cap space on players who clearly cannot take you to where you want to go is a fruitless endeavor.
Aldridge and DeRozan aren’t the only ones who could be on the move. After this year Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will be on expiring deals as well. They’re both less attractive to other teams than the Spurs stars but should by no means be considered untouchable. San Antonio needs to do something. Opening up the books in order to take on bad contracts plus picks is the one way this team can get better.
Tanking is not the Spurs way so let’s not call this tanking, it’s would be a strategic rebuild. With Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson, and Quinndary Weatherspoon working in the G-League there are plenty of players who would bring excitement to the Spurs teams of the next few years. Would you rather watch DeRozan and company battle for the final seed in the playoffs or would prefer to see the young Spurs playing fast together? Personally, that seems like a no brainer.
The San Antonio Spurs two decade-plus run of consecutive playoff appearances looks like it will be coming to a close. It’s a tough pill to swallow but languishing in mediocrity won’t make it any easier. The team needs to fully embrace a rebuilding process similar to what the Memphis Grizzlies just did if they want to start another long run of success.