San Antonio Spurs: Three pivotal players who are free agents in 2020
Even though the San Antonio Spurs’ 2019-20 season isn’t technically over, it’s got us thinking about the most important players who could walk this summer.
This isn’t technically the 2020 NBA Offseason, but the league-wide hiatus leaves San Antonio Spurs fans to ponder what comes next for the storied franchise. All signs point toward a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, which would leave San Antonio out of the postseason for the first time since 1997.
After the draft, we’ll shift our focus to a free agency period that poses a lot of questions for the storied franchise. Despite the team trending younger with 11 players with less than five years of experience in the league, San Antonio’s historical values wouldn’t let the organization give up and accepting a rebuild instead of retooling.
There are six players on the 17-man roster entering free agency this summer including a few who play major roles for the team on both ends of the floor. It’s going to force first-year general manager Brian Wright and his staff to make difficult decisions concerning the team’s salary cap management and longterm plans for the future.
It’s not outlandish to suggest that certain players are more important to the team’s success than others, even if some of them offer more to the culture of the team. With that said, this Spurs team doesn’t seem good enough to vie for a playoff spot this year and there’s nothing to suggest next season will be much different.
Since most of the Spurs’ talent is homegrown, free agency isn’t usually as much about recruiting as it is about making the most of the players the team already has. That’s going to be a big theme of the 2020 offseason in San Antonio.
Next: 3. Bryn Forbes
3. Shooting guard Bryn Forbes
One of the most divisive players on the Spurs’ roster, 6-foot-2 guard Bryn Forbes is who he is. Undersized for his position and lacking as a playmaker or ball-handler, Forbes is best known for making miraculous three-pointers and mid-range jumpers through and over defenders.
He’s talented at what he does and has worked diligently to become the best version of himself, but the nature of his game combined with his build make him a liability on defense that San Antonio could replace with a handful of other players.
Coming off of a two-year deal that he signed in the 2018 offseason, Forbes has been the team’s starting two-guard through 143 of his last 145 games in the silver and black. He’s made 44 percent of his shots and 40.8 percent of his triples, but he has the team’s worst defensive rating at 118 and has a negative Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) this season and in his first two as well.
If that’s not enough of an indicator that the Spurs need to make a hard decision regarding Forbes’ future in San Antonio, the team is seven points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor. His Net Rating this season is a -10.6 in the third-most minutes on the team this year.
And yet, he remains one of the team’s top free agents. Letting him walk means giving up another homegrown player with distinctive corporate knowledge of the Spurs’ culture. This is a tough sacrifice to make, especially considering his strong relationships with head coach Gregg Popovich and Assistant Coach Becky Hammon, but it might be for the greater good.
Allowing Forbes to walk paves the way for Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson to assume more minutes next year, fulfilling that offensive gap while playing helpful defense.
Next: 2. Jakob Poeltl
2. Center Jakob Poeltl
San Antonio’s trickiest question this offseason is what to do with restricted free agent Jakob Pöltl, a fourth-year Austrian center who the team acquired in the Kawhi Leonard trade with the Toronto Raptors. The former Utah Ute was huge for the Spurs in the 2019 Playoffs, going toe-to-toe with All-Star Nikola Jokic and coming out alive on the other side.
Since then, Poeltl’s rise has been halted by a struggling Spurs team with odd roster construction that’s kept him on the end of the bench. His role has been largely the same as last year, which will surely need to change if San Antonio wants to keep him happy and invested in the team’s culture.
There’s a +7.4 point per 100 possession swing when Poeltl is put on the floor, undoubtedly making him one of the most important players on the team. His habitual shot-blocking is unlike any other player in the league with an astonishing 7.7 percent block rate with 4.2 blocks per 100 possessions. He’s lighter on his feet than before and his hands have been active away from the ball, helping him make steals and grab rebounds at every opportunity.
Given his restricted status, Poeltl is guaranteed to remain in San Antonio as long as he’s offered a qualifying offer just before the free agency period begins.
The market for Centers has been limited over the last few seasons and the NBA’s salary cap is going to take a dip due to the hiatus and issues with China over Houston GM Daryl Morey’s tweets in 2019. This is going to make teams think twice about throwing game-changing money in Poeltl’s direction, meaning he might be inclined to return on the one-year deal and enter the market unrestricted next year.
Either way, Poeltl is a great talent who the Spurs should prioritize moving forward. He’s a starting-caliber player and will be pried away from the team if they don’t give him his minutes and money.
Next: 1. DeMar DeRozan
1. Shooting guard/Small forward DeMar DeRozan
Without a doubt, the No. 1 question regarding the Spurs’ offseason is regarding the team’s leading scorer and passer in wing DeMar DeRozan. After being traded to the Alamo City in the Kawhi Leonard deal that neither party truly wanted back in the 2018 offseason, DeRozan bought into Spurs culture and embraced the teachings that Popovich offered him.
As a result, DeRozan has had his two productive, efficient seasons in the last two years. Now he has the chance to opt-out of roughly $28 million next year to chase a larger contract as potentially the most talented player in the open market. There’s no telling what he can earn or who would offer it to him, but DeRozan’s talent makes him an interesting candidate to sign a large contract with what most would consider an unsavory team, like the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons.
In theory, San Antonio could just extend DeRozan and prevent him from going to free agency at all, but that would put them in a tough all-around position moving forward. He doesn’t much fit the timeline of most of the team and many believe San Antonio could benefit from taking the ball out of his hands and putting it into the hands of its young players.
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That’s a tough idea to accept given he’s easily been the team’s leader this year, averaging 22.2 points, 5.6 boards, 5.6 assists and a steal on career-best 52.6 percent shooting from the floor. He’s not a three-point threat, is a moderate defender and doesn’t always show up in big moments, but he’s got a ton of talent and that cannot be denied.
DeRozan’s decision regarding his next steps are the most influential of any player on this roster for the next handful of years. If he decides to walk, that makes the team’s chances of trading other veterans like former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and forward Rudy Gay much higher. If he stays, that could potentially lead to some youth getting traded off for win-now pieces.
I highly doubt DeRozan ever thought his decisions would play such a big part in the future of a dynasty like San Antonio’s, but fate brought these two parties together and now the choice lays in his hands.
Regardless of how it plays out, DeRozan will always have the respect of Spurs fans everywhere.