With a player option for the final year of his contract, San Antonio Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan could be on his way out in the 2020 offseason.
Ever since the NBA season came to a screeching halt, one of the pressing questions pondered by the San Antonio Spurs fanbase has been regarding how the team should proceed with soon-to-be free agent DeMar DeRozan. With a player option on his contract worth $27.7 million for the 2020-21 season, the course of his immediate future is up in the air.
It was originally presumed that DeRozan would opt out and vie for a lucrative long-term deal backed on what’s been a spectacular statistical season. He’s exceeded all expectations for a team that’s stuck between a win-now core of veterans and an indisputable young group asking to be unleashed.
DeRozan has gone above and beyond since becoming a Spur, wearing that jersey proudly and assimilating to team culture with relative ease. On the flip side, his game is commanding and doesn’t necessarily align with the modern game.
Head coach Gregg Popovich has tooled with his lineup repeatedly, attempts to suit his best player. DeRozan himself has tried to make his game fit the team’s needs, but it remains an uncertain fit. San Antonio, unless bailed out by this final stretch of games, is lottery-bound for the first time in this millennium despite the most efficient season of DeMar’s career.
There are serious advantages to keeping DeRozan on deck, but most of them are going to force the team to take a different direction than it’s currently trending. Re-shaping the roster to cater to a single player who wasn’t able to lead them to the postseason seems short-sighted, which is why many are calling for the Spurs and DeRozan to part ways.
One way to make this work is with a sign-and-trade in which the Spurs extend DeRozan and then swap him with a team that has assets and a need for his talent. It’s the best possible situation for all three of the parties involved. Even if DeRozan comes out and says he wants to remain in San Antonio, the organization ultimately can move him.
Therefore, they must weigh all of their options and one of the best ways to do so in an organized and strategic fashion is by creating a pros and cons list.
Next: Pro: Allocating shots elsewhere
Pro: Young players could get more shots with DeRozan on a new team
Earning your keep is essential in the Spurs’ culture and each young player has to go through a certain set of obstacles before getting the role they yearn for. It’s a strategy that’s worked excellently to this point, putting rookies in the G-League and having them work out the kinks and adjust to professional competition before getting thrust under the bright lights of an NBA stage.
However, many of the Spurs’ young players have already paid their dues and are tired of waiting for their opportunity to come. Starting point guard Dejounte Murray has made it clear that he wants to take on a greater role and play alongside Derrick White, who’s going to be eligible for his rookie extension beginning this offseason. Meanwhile, sophomore Lonnie Walker remains an auxiliary piece despite showing potential as a team-leading scorer when put in a position to do so.
DeRozan is a great person and everyone seems to get along with him, but he’s in the way of these young players. His deficiencies as a shooter force head coach Gregg Popovich to structure his lineup differently than he may with DeRozan off of the team.
The scoring wing averages 15.7 shots per game this season, ranking No. 1 amongst his teammates. For reference, he takes more than two times as many shots as White does (7.6) and over three times as many as Walker (5.0). For as talented as a scorer as he is, there’s a case to be made that the team would be better off without him.
San Antonio is 4.5 points per 100 possessions worse with DeRozan on the floor. The team’s defensive rating is 1.3 points worse with him on the floor, placing him 11th of 16 players. Whether it’s his fault or the front office’s, the Spurs have a lot of players playing out of position, and DeRozan isn’t fit to defend anyone that’s not a natural two-guard. There’s a legitimate chance of addition-by-subtraction here.
Next: Cons: Readjusting without a go-to guy
Con: San Antonio has to adjust to life without a go-to scoring wing
For as exciting as putting the ball in the young player’s hands may be, it’s also a big risk. At least with DeRozan, we know for a fact that he can handle the ball well and score at ease. He’s a proven veteran with multiple All-NBA selections to his name, though he hasn’t neared that level of recognition since joining the silver and black.
Still, DeRozan averages 22.2 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field. Very few players in the league average over 22 points on such a high shooting clip and most of them are big men. Granted he only shot 30 triples all season, it’s still an impressive scoring average.
No one on the Spurs draws as much attention as DeRozan does, opening up lanes for his teammates to drive to the cup every time he’s on the floor. Fans look at DeRozan and see a black hole when it comes to ball-handling duties and shot selection. He’s not much of a modern player in a league where adapting is the only way to survive.
However, that portion of the fandom underrates the value of having an experienced on-court leader in the prime of his playing days commanding the offense. DeRozan has been through more playoff series than most of the young core combined, bringing Toronto through the Eastern Conference playoffs throughout his long and fated career up north.
Addition by subtraction comes with massive risk. He’s not much of a two-way player, but DeRozan brings a ton to the table for this team offensively and in terms of leadership. Allowing him to walk would force someone else to step up and right now, it’s not clear who that might be.
Next: Pro: Spurs' cap sheet is wide-open
Pro: The Spurs can allocate their money elsewhere
Especially in the current climate of the league, cap space is going to be a rare and necessary commodity in paving the future of this team. Opening up nearly $30 million in cap space gives the Spurs more flexibility in re-signing their players and pursuing someone new to fill the gaps in their roster when free agency rolls around later this year.
If the Spurs re-sign DeRozan to a longterm contract extension, they’re effectively leveraging their future and eradicating the major gap in their cap sheet that’s anticipated for the 2021 offseason. Furthermore, re-signing DeRozan ensures that the team needs to let go of some of their more exciting, young prospects like Walker, White, or rookie Keldon Johnson, who’s shown flashes of great promise in his limited time around the league.
The last chip in transitioning from the former era of Spurs basketball to the future is DeRozan. If he opts in, the Spurs can accept their current core for one more season before going all-in on 2021 as the time to transform the roster. They can throw offers at teams with restricted free agents, or better yet, extend DeRozan to trade him elsewhere, bringing in young talent in the process.
Letting DeRozan leave on any terms provides clarity for the Spurs’ next steps. The majority of the money on their cap sheet is going to expire after next year and parting ways with DeRozan this offseason only expedites that process. However, should he opt-in for the final year of his current deal and remain with the Spurs, they could play it out and open up two max contracts next offseason. DeRozan is a great player, but the allure of cap space for a franchise that’s not used to having that may outweigh the impacts he’s left in his two short seasons in the River City.
Next: Cons: Spurs lose a player that's good for culture
Con: DeRozan is a great fit for San Antonio Spurs culture
There’s only one thing that the Spurs value as much as winning and that’s character. During his time with the Spurs, DeRozan has very clearly been a wonderful fit for what the organization looks to model itself as beyond basketball. Famously, DeMar is a worldwide leader in progressing the conversation about mental health in both athletes and people as a whole.
"It's about how you deal with it and wanna overcome it."#TBT to @DeMar_DeRozan's discussion about mental health with a group of local teenagers earlier this season. #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/wE9rfRjxTR
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 21, 2020
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Though he’s a fun-loving guy who has built strong relationships with many of his teammates in silver and black, he’s also a hard worker who leads by example. Ever since joining up with the championship organization, DeRozan has assimilated to team culture and added his own swagger to it, bringing a bright light to the Spurs’ locker room through the reinvigorate of old friendships and the creation of new ones.
Team chemistry is the highest it’s been in years off the court in spite of some questionable fits on it. Having DeRozan around makes for a fun time and makes the job of someone like Coach Pop much easier through his attitude and approach to the sport. Without his demeanor and dedication to the craft of basketball, the Spurs wouldn’t be anywhere near to playoff contention this season.
Replacing something like that is very difficult and continuity has been one of the more underrated aspects of winning organizations in recent years. Then again, this is a league driven on star power and as soon as a star switches teams, those organizations flip into overdrive, making the pieces fit and propelling themselves to the next tier of contention as swiftly as possible.
Is it possible that letting DeRozan go could benefit the team in the long run? Assuredly, but there’s no telling what it might do for the immediate future.