Other dominoes will need to fall before the San Antonio Spurs could make it work, but the team should make a play at SF Brandon Ingram in free agency.
Restricted free agency can be particularly tricky because it doesn’t give teams any guarantees, but there’s a world where the San Antonio Spurs part ways with their star player and manage to be in a better scenario for their future. This would require two specific events to take place: star wing DeMar DeRozan would opt-out of his contract with the team and they’d sign New Orleans Pelicans small forward Brandon Ingram to a max contract.
In the first All-Star season of his career, Ingram is averaging 24.3 points, 6.3 boards, 4.3 assists and a steal in 34.3 minutes per game. The 22-year-old has the best effective field goal percentage of his career (53.4 percent EFG) with 46.6 percent from the floor, 38.7 percent from three-point land and a career-high 85.8 percent from the charity stripe.
Since being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers in the infamous Anthony Davis trade, Ingram has undergone a complete resurgence. Once a meek, young player looking to find his way on a team led by the greatest player of his generation, Ingram is now the top-dog for an up-and-coming team in the hunt for the playoffs. He was recognized for his efforts with a trip to Chicago for the 2020 NBA All-Star game and is on track to be a top-three finish in the 2020 Most Improved Player conversation.
However, Ingram’s trust in the Pelicans organization was frayed when they opted not to sign him to a max contract extension earlier in the season. Ingram watched as his peers—including Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown and Spurs starting point guard Dejounte Murray—earned longterm deals from their teams. This is what Ingram said to journalist Andrew Lopez of ESPN:
“When we talked about the extension, of course, I’m human,” he said. “When I look at other guys, I’m like, ‘This motherf–ker got an extension? Oh my god. Man, we can lace up right now and play one-on-one to 15 and this motherf–ker won’t score.’ That’s how I looked at it as a competitor.”
That lack of a safety net played a big part in Ingram’s development this season. However, it left Ingram longing for trust and security that the team never provided him with. With that in mind, he might not want to stick around while franchise star Zion Williamson takes his role as the go-to guy.
Next: Letting the first domino fall
The move requires addition by subtraction
Saying goodbye to DeMar DeRozan is a real possibility for the San Antonio Spurs. The last two years have been full of highs and lows for the regularly stable organization and DeRozan was thrust into the middle of it against his will. While all signs point toward DeRozan having good relationships with the organization and the fanbase, there’s no telling where his mind is at. Even with that being the case reports have indicated that he’ll be testing his value in the free-agent market this offseason.
As we discussed here, former Spurs beat writer Jabari Young recently alluded to the possibility that DeRozan isn’t happy in San Antonio and could opt-out of his contract in the summer. Just days before, it was reported during the Spurs’ win over the Dallas Mavericks that DeRozan would decline his team option if he can’t come to terms on an extension with the team. This was from a reputable source: Chris B. Haynes of Yahoo and TNT.
All things considered, this final season of his contract has been rough in the Alamo City. San Antonio has fought and clawed to make something of their season with DeRozan leading the way and they cannot seem to find a consistent rhythm. It wouldn’t be totally surprising to see DeMar seek more money and greater opportunities elsewhere—especially after the plan he had laid out for the rest of his career was decimated in the Kawhi Leonard trade.
DeRozan declining his option would open up a heap of cap space for the Spurs to slide in and offer a maximum contract to restricted free agent Brandon Ingram. Besides giving him all of the money he wants, they can include clauses and incentives to boost his payout that might make the Pelicans uncomfortable with matching the deal.
Even though DeRozan is the better, more mature player right now, Ingram is right on his tail and continues to get better as he grows. Adding a budding star the small forward position who willingly shoots the long-ball, creates offense for his teammates and hustles on defense would transform the longterm outlook for the team.
Letting go of DeRozan wouldn’t be fun, but it would make the team better in this scenario.
Next: How does Ingram fit with the Spurs?
Brandon Ingram is everything the Spurs want in a free agent
The main aspects that San Antonio needs to focus on improving are as follows: Perimeter defense, athleticism, basketball IQ, attention to detail, two-way effort, playmaking and three-point shooting. Ingram checks off every one of those boxes and more at only 22, making him the perfect fit for this team in the long-run.
Pairing Ingram with the Spurs’ young trio of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker on the wing ensures four perimeter players who will hustle on every play and work with each other to be the best versions of themselves. Ingram has a similar mentality to the Spurs’ culture: Work hard and don’t let distractions get in the way of your goals. This is what made the Lakers an unideal fit for him and why he’s excelled with New Orleans.
Though quiet in his demeanor, Ingram absorbs knowledge and applies it to his game at every step of the way. His instinctual scoring ability 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and lanky frame is why he’s drawn so many comparisons to the great Kevin Durant, but Ingram is a very different player. At his core, Ingram is more of a playmaker than a scorer and will look to set up his teammates before taking the shot for himself.
The same can be said about a number of the Spurs’ young players, which is why he’d make such a great fit. The unselfishness and competitive drive that this group would share with the likes of Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic and Trey Lyles contributing would be reminiscent of the Beautiful Basketball Spurs from the early 2010s through the end of the Big Three era.
San Antonio needs stars who are willing to contribute to something bigger than themselves for the sake of winning, and Ingram would be a wonderful fit from a cultural standpoint.
Next: Giving Ingram the stardom he deserves
San Antonio and Ingram make sense for each other
Playing under head coach Gregg Popovich gives Ingram the best tutelage he could ask for, which is a standard that was set for him once he committed to playing for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University. Few basketball minds are going to invest in the player and person the way that San Antonio does, which follows a similar mindset as Duke does with its players.
Being a Spur doesn’t always come with the biggest spotlight or the most alluring endorsement deals, but it does emphasize humility above all else. When he was a Laker, Ingram was playing for a brand instead of a competitive team that truly cares about its players and in New Orleans, he’s always going to be in the shadow of Zion Williamson.
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With San Antonio, however, Ingram has the outlet to continue working hard without distraction while taking control of a team. Of course, LaMarcus Aldridge is going to remain in an integral role with the group and everyone else on the roster will get their shots as usual. This isn’t to say Ingram is going to walk into town and take control of the whole gameplan, but the team will work with and around him to make sure that he’s comfortable both on and off the court.
San Antonio is the perfect home for humble, hardworking players who just want to get better. This is why heartfelt players like Aldridge, Murray and DeRozan have been able to make themselves comfortable in the Alamo City. Once you’re a Spur, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It’s a journey that will always help you become the man and/or player that you aspire to become.
Working with a championship staff including Hall of Famers like Popovich, Tim Duncan and Becky Hammon would do wonders for a player like Ingram who has championship aspirations. Not only does this partnership benefit an organization trying to get back on track after being ruptured by an unexpected superstar, but it helps the budding star reach the heights he’s dreamt of.
Even though it’s not a likely outcome, the pairing between San Antonio and Ingram is feasible for both sides.