3 San Antonio Spurs position battles to watch over the summer
By Ethan Farina
With several big free agent moves coming up, the San Antonio Spurs roster could look drastically different in the coming months
In the coming months, the San Antonio Spurs will have to make a series of decisions that will drastically change the future of the franchise over the next few years. Even if the league was not navigating uncharted waters, wrestling with how to best resume play, and struggling to quantify the financial impacts of COVID-19 on the NBA, the Spurs would still have been in some of the most crucial months of their year.
When the season was suspended San Antonio sat outside the playoffs looking in. It’s an uncomfortable position for a franchise that has made making the playoffs an expected result over the past two decades.
If the NBA is unable to return to play before the 2021 season the Spurs historic streak of playoff appearances will endure, but it will have an asterisk next to it. That asterisk is significant, it means that for the first time in a long time, the Spurs need to seriously reevaluate the makeup of their team.
Lacking a true superstar the Spurs will need to get the absolute most out of every player on the roster if they want to get back to the playoffs. That means making sure that everyone is in the best position possible in order to help the team succeed. With that in mind, here are a few potential position battles to keep your eye on as San Antonio works their way through the summer.
Next: Starting Center
Starting Center: Jakob Poeltl or Trey Lyles?
After an impressive first season with the San Antonio Spurs, Jakob Poeltl saw his role changed this year with the arrival of Trey Lyles. Poeltl had started 24 games for the Spurs in his first season, occasionally filling in for Rudy Gay or LaMarcus Aldridge. But this season the Spurs trended away from playing Poeltl and Aldridge together in favor of starting duo of Lyles and Aldridge.
Viewed as a low risk, low reward signing when he was inked to a 2-year deal this past summer, Lyles quickly made his way into the starting lineup thanks to his outside shooting presence and embracement of his role on the team. Throughout the year he continued to prove his value to the team by knocking down open looks from behind the arc and moving the ball smoothly through the Spurs offense.
This summer the Spurs will have to make a crucial decision regarding Poeltl’s future with the team. The big Austrian is approaching restricted free agency for the first time in his career and San Antonio is going to have to decide how much he is worth to them. He’s proven to be one of the best rim protectors in the league, is an advanced stats darling, and is debatable the most important defender on the team.
Players with Poeltl’s offensive limitations are being increasingly devalued in today’s NBA. Even though Rudy Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year his albatross of a contract is going to hamper the Utah Jazz for years to come. Now, Poeltl isn’t going to see anywhere near the $25 million per year that Gobert is but the constraints that massive deals for offensively limited players have put on other teams around the league might give the Spurs pause to pay up what Poeltl may ask for.
San Antonio could sign Poeltl to a four-year deal with the assurance that he and Lyles are the frontcourt of the future once LaMarcus Aldridge moves on. They could decide that Lyles is the better value for the team right now and roll with him and Aldridge again, or they could go for a more defensive focused frontcourt and try to play Aldridge and Poeltl together.
With a bargain player like Lyles and defensive force like Poeltl the Spurs can’t go wrong with whoever they decide to play at center, it just comes down to which direction the team is trying to go in.
Next: Starting Shooting Guard
Starting Shooting Guard: Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, or Bryn Forbes?
A continuing subplot for the San Antonio Spurs throughout the season was an increasing frustration with the sub-par defense from Bryn Forbes. The fourth-year sniper is one of the Spurs’ most consistent 3-point threats but his defensive lapses had fans pulling their hair out from the first game of the season.
Compounding the frustrations was the proven defense that Derrick White had played along with the immense promise that Lonnie Walker had shown in Summer League. Over the summer the Spurs coaching staff is going to have to decide which one of the three they will name the starting shooting guard for next season.
The first decision the team will have to make is what to do with Forbes. He’s approaching unrestricted free agency and stands to see a sizeable raise sometime soon. Even with his defensive issues, he’s a proven shooter and those guys tend to get paid.
As much as it might pain Spurs fans to hear it, giving Forbes a long deal and returning with him as the starting shooting guard is a real possibility. He’s a career Spur and is trusted by Gregg Popovich, that carries some weight and could land him a starting job in the Alamo City for next year.
After starting 55 games in his second year with the team, White took over the role as the leader of the second unit and started just 13 games this year. Even though he and Dejounte Murray had expressed their desire to play together, the coaching staff rarely indulged them.
Together, Murray and White have the potential to be one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. Murray is a steal generating machine and White is one of the best shot-blocking guards in the NBA, together they could give opposing guards fits on a nightly basis. If the Spurs do offer White a contract extension this summer the size of the deal could give us an indication about how the team views White’s role going forward.
Then there is Lonnie Walker. The most exciting of the three, Walker was a fan favorite from day one. His youthful energy, eye-popping athleticism, and pure joy for the game endeared him to Spurs fans right away. He looks like one of the few players on the team who has true superstar potential and taking over the starting shooting guard role could be just the opportunity he needs to take a leap.
Next: A 3-point specialist
3-point specialist: Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli, or a free agent?
Another possibility for Bryn’s future on the team could be that the Spurs decide to sign him to a more modest deal to bring him back as a pure shooter. Frankly, it’s a move the team should have made ages ago. Using Forbes as a microwave shooter off the bench in a role akin to what Lou Williams has with the LA Clippers could be the best way to maximize his talents.
Another alternative if Forbes gets an offer that is too good to refuse from another team is that the Spurs could bring back Marco Belinelli on a short one or two year deal. Like Forbes, Belinelli has his defensive limits. But at the end of the day, he’s still a proven shooter who has saved the team’s skin on more than one occasion. If San Antonio is looking for just a 3-point specialist they could do a lot worse than Marco.
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San Antonio could also have the option of going free agent hunting. There are quite a few proven shooters on the market this summer but they could be out of the Spurs price range. A lot of it comes down to how DeMar DeRozan handles his player-option.
If some cap room does open up for the Spurs, they would be wise to go after Davis Bertans. Bertans went off for a Washington Wizards this season. He was in the top-ten in the league in 3-pointers attempted, 3-pointers made, and 3-point accuracy. He’s as dangerous of a long-range weapon as the Spurs could find. But all of that success is going to land him a much-deserved payday. If DeRozan opts-in that’ll all but close the door on a Bertans-Spurs reunion.
Other names to watch are Joe Harris, Bojan Bogdanovic, Even Fournier, and Marcus Morris. All are consistent threats from behind the arc and each one of them could be a good fit in San Antonio under the right circumstances.
They’ve got a lot of work to do to get back to the playoffs but if they can get the most out of every player on the team the San Antonio Spurs should be able to pull it off. In any case, their activity this summer is going to be a must-watch for Spurs fans.