With a team full of young talent, 30-year-old DeMar DeRozan’s player option this offseason puts the San Antonio Spurs in a precarious situation.
It’s undeniable that San Antonio Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan has been stellar in his time with the team. He’s often criticized for his inability to propel this team in the win column, but his individual output has been outstanding as one of just four players to shoot at least 52 percent from the floor on a minimum of 15 shots per game. He’s averaging career-highs in both field goal percentage (52.6%) and Offensive Rating per 100 possessions (117).
Even so, this team isn’t constructed for someone like DeMar who soaks up shots and fails to make an impact on the defensive end of the floor. His shot selection is methodical and his talent is indisputable, but the average age of the 16 players on this roster is 25.6 years old and a multitude of players on the higher end of the age range won’t be under contract for much longer.
San Antonio’s culture makes sense for DeRozan and he makes sense for it too. He’s a sensible, down-to-Earth player who likes to keep his head down, work hard and have fun playing the game that he loves. Unfortunately, the timing just isn’t right for DeRozan and this ballclub that hoped to replace the presence of an MVP-caliber player in Kawhi Leonard when they traded him to Toronto.
In that trade, San Antonio also picked up soon-to-be restricted free agent Jakob Poeltl and the draft pick that became Keldon Johnson at No. 29 in 2019. This gave the Spurs a chance to pivot toward a younger core and build for what comes next as opposed to what’s immediately in front of them. Having another year of DeRozan at $27.7 million isn’t going to help the team unless they start shipping off young assets to build a win-now team.
There are three possible courses of action regarding what comes next between DeRozan and the Spurs: He opts out and leaves for another team, he returns to San Antonio or they find a mutually agreeable sign-and-trade deal out on the free market. We’re going to explore all three of those options.
Next: What happens if he opts in?
What does it look like if DeRozan stays?
This is a layered question because it implies that he’s either on a one-year deal or has signed an extension with the team. If DeRozan returns on a one-year, $27.7 million deal by opting into his current deal then the Spurs are pretty much set for next year. Aside from the aforementioned Poeltl, a linger Bryn Forbes and the obvious team-option on Derrick White, the roster isn’t going to change much aside from some rookies and a free agent or two.
San Antonio would run through a season with this group one last time and open up enough cap space to sign multiple max free agents in the loaded summer of 2021. Having DeRozan opt-in wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would certainly delay the youth movement by another year and force players like White and Lonnie Walker Iv to consider how high their ceilings can be with DeRozan soaking up some of their playing time. That may also force the Spurs into making win-now deals to try and capitalize on the final year of their DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge pairing.
Everything changes if DeRozan signs a multi-year extension with the ballclub because then, the Spurs are committed to a win-now situation that would make it more feasible for them to trade off young assets like Walker or Johnson. Having too many players at the same position creates a jumble and stunts the development of young players like that, so if the Spurs do sign DeRozan to an extension, their cap flexibility takes a huge hit and then it becomes feasible to start shipping off young assets for the current-day.
If the Spurs roll out the same lineup next year, they should expect similar results to what they got this year, which is why the following scenario might be more enticing to a team in flux.
Next: If DeRozan opts out, a new era begins
What does it look like if DeRozan walks?
That player option gives DeRozan the option to walk right out the door without ever looking back, which is a very likely scenario if the Spurs aren’t willing to pay him what he’s planning to earn. Even with this being the case, the stigma around him might force him to take something less than a max deal as he pushes to the final stages of his career and his athleticism begins to dwindle.
Regardless, the Spurs would give him a resounding round of applause for the time he put in for the team and pivot toward what comes next. If DeRozan leaves, the youth movement is on and head coach Gregg Popovich will be forced to rely on some of the younger players instead of prioritizing the star power at his disposal.
If DeRozan opts out, it becomes more likely that players like Rudy Gay and Aldridge get dealt along with him because there’s less of a need for an aging All-Star if there aren’t other marquee veterans to help make a playoff push. Still, those two players are great for the team’s culture and are on expiring deals anyway, so a trade is not for certain.
Opening up $27.7 million would allow the Spurs to target some restricted free agents like Brandon Ingram, which I discussed in detail here, or Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Sacramento Kings. It’d also be a nice opportunity to flesh out some frontcourt depth and extend White for the future.
More so than anything, this route provides the Spurs with a level of flexibility that they haven’t had in more than 20 years. It’d be interesting to see what they could do with a massive amount of cap space and a promising group of young players in 2021.
Next: The sign-and-trade is back in action
What does a sign-and-trade look like?
Ah yes, the sign-and-trade; one of the trickiest maneuvers in professional sports. This is the option where everyone gets what they want—DeRozan gets his financial security, the Spurs get something else in return for a player who was walking anyway and the team DeRozan’s traded to gets a surefire scorer to help them set course for their next steps.
There are a lot of moving parts in a sign-and-trade, but we saw it come back in full effect during the 2019 offseason when Kevin Durant, D’Angelo Russell, Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier and DeMarre Carroll were all signed and traded to their new destinations; most of which have worked out for the best for all parties (Obviously it didn’t work out too great for the Spurs, but that’s not their fault).
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Most importantly, the Spurs get to use DeRozan’s contract to bring in replacement players and/or draft compensation to give a clearer direction as to what comes next. Earlier in the year, I discussed the Brooklyn Nets as a sign-and-trade destination for DeRozan because they’re a win-now team with some fantastic young players potentially looking to add a third star. They make a ton of sense in this scenario as they pursue a championship with Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan all in the latter stages of their pro careers.
Another team that might be interested is the Orlando Magic, who have been linked to DeRozan numerous times since he has donned the silver and black. They need some reliable perimeter scorers to help balance out a defensive-minded roster that can’t seem to get past the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. We’ve seen DeRozan be the best player on a playoff team in the East and he’s a much better version of himself as a player today, so it’s plausible for him to do it again.
With both of these teams, the Spurs would seek some young assets who can assimilate to the team’s culture and fit in with the timeline that they have in place. With the Nets, it might be someone like Caris LeVert or Nicolas Claxton and with the Magic, it’d be players like Aaron Gordon or Mohamed Bamba.
Of every option listed, the sign-and-trade is the one that I think would leave Spurs fans the happiest since it prioritizes the young core and adds to it in the process.