With very little depth in the frontcourt, the San Antonio Spurs would benefit from adding another veteran big man in free agency to level the ship.
While it’s evident that there’s some crowding in the San Antonio Spurs backcourt, which is a good problem to have, there’s less certainty regarding the frontcourt. Though he’s aging like fine wine, former All-NBA big man LaMarcus Aldridge has only one year left on his contract and his future with the organization is partly uncertain.
Furthermore, the team’s only true center, Jakob Poeltl is a restricted free agent this offseason and considering how limited the free agency pool is going to be compared to next year’s stacked 2021 class, some team with cash burning a hole in its pocked might snatch him away.
Even if he does return, the team’s frontcourt is still pretty weak. It’s mostly unclear what the Spurs are going to get from their young players in Luka Samanic, Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks. Though he’s coming along nicely, forward Trey Lyles can’t be the end-all, be-all for this team. Using the mid-level exception (MLE) between $6-$9 million, the Spurs would be wise to explore a veteran center or power forward to help the team defend the basket and attack the boards.
Adding a veteran big makes sense no matter which direction the team decides to set its course on for the future. If they go young, they’d still be wise to have a veteran big to help them grab offensive rebounds and instill knowledge to the younger players. Some of their other options are better fits as rotation players to balance the lineup’s needs and roster composition.
Most of these players should be attainable in the MLE range and add something to the team’s culture through winning experience and all-around skill sets.
Next: Adding another Gasol brother
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
After years of terrorizing the Spurs as a member of the division-rival Memphis Grizzlies, wouldn’t it be nice to see Spanish center Marc Gasol in the silver and black?
Though he only played 36 games in an injury-ridden season, Gasol transformed the way he plays to fit the needs of the Toronto Raptors this season. Instead of playing in the post and clogging the lane like he did in his prime, Gasol transformed himself into a pick-and-pop menace. The 35-year-old shot more than half of his field-goal attempts from three-point range and drained 40.2 percent of them.
Gasol also matched his impressive career-average defensive rating at 104, which is tied for the best rating of players who logged at least 800 minutes for Toronto this season. He’s an influential shot-blocker and a smart, high-IQ defender who makes good reads and hustles despite being in the latter stages of his career.
Given his injury history through the last year, it’s likely that teams won’t be willing to pay him anywhere close to the $25 million he made this season. More likely than not, he’ll be playing for less than $10 million as a backup center and veteran leader for a team trying to establish its culture. Bringing in someone like Gasol would make for an easy transition in terms of culture and team needs because he’s a great person with a big heart and a lot of elite basketball skills.
Some Spurs fans might be having flashbacks to the end of his brother, Pau Gasol‘s run in San Antonio, but Marc is a more effective defensive player with better mobility and a more respectable outside shot. Head coach Gregg Popovich would love to have him in the locker room.
Next: Bringing the Congo to San Antonio
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Yes, I know, another Raptors player. San Antonio already has a handful of players who played in the North and I’m aware that I’m suggesting another one, but they have a great eye for talent! Ever since his days in Oklahoma City, I’ve been enamored by big man Serge Ibaka, whose defensive prowess and electrifying personality make him a great person to bring to any team.
Ibaka is probably going to be regarded pretty highly as an elite veteran with championship experience, but San Antonio makes a lot of sense for him. Being a basketball purist entering the second half of his career, Serge could extend his career by learning from the team’s trainers and coaching staff while getting one last sizeable payday.
For the Spurs, having that extra rim defender who can step out and his triples at a 39.8 percent clip would do numbers in the team’s pursuit of a playoff bid. He’s a smart rebounder who has averaged more than two offensive boards in each of the last two years, which is going to be essential for San Antonio moving forward.
Defensively, Ibaka is one of the league’s most dependable shot-blockers because of his instincts near the basket and knack for shutting down shots from the weak side.
Paying Ibaka somewhere between $8-$12 million per season would be well worth the knowledge he could bring to the table while shutting down shots in the paint and knocking down jumpers while playing off of his teammates.
Next: The best of the Plumlee clan
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Though oftentimes forgotten because he’s playing behind a star player in Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets backup Mason Plumlee is a pretty dependable player with all things considered. Ever since beginning his career with the Brooklyn Nets, Plumlee has been a reliable rim-runner and shot-blocker with a decent post game to match.
Signing Plumlee creates an insurance policy in case someone signs center Jakob Poeltl to a big deal, ensuring that the team has someone to take his place and fill that role as a backup center who attacks the glass and creates extra opportunities for his team.
Quietly, Plumlee is posting the highest Box Plus/Minus (2.2), Total Rebound Percentages (17.4%), Assist Percentage (20%) and Player Efficiency Rating (19.1) of his career. Those stats are going to earn him a nice contract that the Nuggets aren’t going to be willing to pay him, so chances are he’ll be moving on in the coming summer.
If the Spurs are able to hold on to Poeltl then Plumlee doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since their skills are pretty redundant. However, he’s someone that would make a cheap, reliable replacement for the young center if someone offers him a hefty contract that exceeds what San Antonio deems worthy of matching.
Seeing as how his current $14 million contract is worth way more than his value, I could see San Antonio nabbing him on a low-risk, high-reward contract this offseason.
Next: A top-notch rebounder off the pine
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Though considered taboo for his place in the tabloids away from basketball, center Tristan Thompson is a very effective NBA center. Though slightly undersized at 6-foot-9, Thompson is one of the game’s most tenacious rebounder, averaging 10.1 boards per game despite the addition of all-world glass cleaner Andre Drummond joining his team this season.
Cleveland’s decision to trade for Drummond made it clear that Thompson’s future with the team isn’t a priority to them. For the first time in his career, he’s going to be looking at a fresh start away from an organization that’s been carried by LeBron James since 2003.
Based on what they’ve seen from Thompson when Cleveland was in the limelight, many would think that he’s a limited offensive player whose importance will only come based on shots near the rim and rebounds. However, he’s developed quite nicely over the last few years, improving as a jump shooter and has the second-highest PER of his career this season at 16.1.
Interestingly, Thompson began exploring his outside jumper this season and made 9-of-23 threes for a 39.1 percent clip. Though he’s not expected to be a volume shooter from outside, Tristan is proving that he can hit the outside jumper when he’s left open and San Antonio expert shooting coach Chip Engelland can help him become consistent in that department.
While he’s logged plenty of NBA minutes, Thompson isn’t actually too old. He just turned 29-years-old in March and has plenty of time to continue developing into a better all-around player. He’s double-double machine who has averaged four offensive boards per game in the last two seasons, which as I mentioned in regards to Ibaka as an essential area the Spurs need to work on.
If he’s interested in staying out of the limelight and focusing on his professional career and personal life above all else, San Antonio is the right place for him to be.
Next: A three-point threat manning the middle
Kelly Olynyk, Miami Heat
Seven years into his NBA career, power forward/center Kelly Olynyk continues proving himself as a hard-nosed, gritty defender with an exceptional outside jumper and a high basketball IQ. Olynyk is shooting a career-high 64 percent true shooting, which accounts for all aspects of his shooting including three-point percentage and free throw percentage.
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Efficiency and consistency are key to making your impact on the Spurs and Olynyk seems to have what it takes. San Antonio could use his three-point shooting as a compliment to its many slashers like DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV.
All signs are pointing toward the Miami Heat eyeing 2021 Free Agency as an opportunity to add to its core with star wing Jimmy Butler leading the way in his first year with the team. Center Bam Adebayo is having an incredible season, making his first All-Star game on his way to, at the very least a top-three finish in Most Improved voting. It wouldn’t make sense for them to commit money to a player at the same position when they’re already loading up at that position.
With that in mind, Olynyk might be looking for a new opportunity to take a step in his own progression after being cast aside by both the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. He’s averaged double-digit points in four of his seven NBA seasons despite fluctuating roles and inconsistent minutes being allocated in his direction.
Providing some stability for Olynyk could prove to be useful for both him and the Spurs, which is why he should be on the team’s radar in the upcoming free agency period.