Air Alamo Hiatus Roundtable: The San Antonio Spurs are set to return, so what comes next?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs talks with players Pau Gasol #16, LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 on the bench during an NBA game against the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs talks with players Pau Gasol #16, LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 on the bench during an NBA game against the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 help Trey Lyles #41 up after a one and during second half action (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 help Trey Lyles #41 up after a one and during second half action (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

We’ve gathered the Air Alamo staff to go over the next steps for the San Antonio Spurs now that they’re set to return in Orlando, FL in July.

Whenever a major event takes place, we here at Air Alamo like to rally the troops and gather differing opinions on the team we study: The San Antonio Spurs. Now that there’s an official plan in place for the team’s return, we thought it was necessary to get everyone back on board to discuss the series events that come next, starting with the potential play-in game set for teams if there’s a tie for the eighth seed at the end of the irregular season.

THE SPURS ARE THE 12 SEED LET’S GO BABYYYYYYYYYYYYY 2020 CHAMPION SAN ANTONIO SPURS https://t.co/1XQCfeCOOd

— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) June 3, 2020

How do you think the San Antonio Spurs would fare in a play-in game with the new 22-team format for the 2020 NBA Playoffs?

Ethan Farina: I like their odds more than most. I think even with the difficulties that they’ve had on the floor this year, the one thing that the Spurs have going for them more than the other teams in that bottom tier of the Western Conference is their experience.

Between Patty Mills, DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs have quite a few guys who have already played in big games. If you look at the other teams fighting for that eighth seed, only Portland can say the same thing in terms of experience.

New Orleans is counting on young players and rookies, Memphis is doing the same and Sacramento is trying to make the playoffs for the very first time. The Spurs’ future isn’t as bright as those other teams, but in this lone season’s potential playoff tournament, the Spurs veterans are going to give them the edge.

Matthew Farner: It will be an uphill battle for the Spurs if they are to make it back into the playoff picture. Their eight games include Denver,  Memphis, New Orleans, Utah, Utah, Denver, Sacramento and New Orleans.

Is it possible they will make it into the eighth spot? Yes. Likely? Probably not.

Not only do they have to likely win a minimum of 5-6 games, but they will also have to hope the three teams ahead of them (Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento) lose at least 5 or 6 of their contests as well. Of the five teams they play, they have beaten four of them. With the way the regular season went for the Spurs before the NBA was suspended, it’s really hard to predict what will happen.

Matias Weilmann: You have to keep reiterating how difficult it is to predict what this return to play is going to yield for teams. We don’t know who the Spurs will play yet because there are complications all around. Obviously, they have to play teams that will be in Orlando, but what if their 5th game would be a team’s 9th game? It’s going to be chaos until the NBA releases all the details, which are still coming out.

The Spurs are 5-4 against the teams they would theoretically play: Denver twice, Memphis (who has a four-game lead on the spurs for the eighth seed), New Orleans twice, Utah twice (Bojan Bogdanovic will miss the rest of the season, by the way), and Sacramento. Every game is huge because of the hole they already find themselves in. The Spurs have a better win percentage versus teams over .500 this season than Memphis, Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento, so I’m staying cautiously optimistic.

Pablo A. Dávila: All one could have hoped for was an invitation to the big dance. Now that we’re in, let’s make the most of it.  If the Spurs can find a rhythm, they could make 8th/9th seed. Unless DeMar spent his time watching the Last Dance and comes back with a win at all costs mentality, the invitation to Disney World will be short-lived.

Dylan Hunter Carter: I’d like to come out and be an optimist, but given what I’ve seen up to this point in the season, I don’t have faith that the Spurs are going to end up in the playoffs this year. Too many other teams have more to gain from the extended time off and quite frankly, this group hasn’t proven to me that they’ll be able to get it done. We’ve seen DeRozan crack in high-pressure scenarios too often for me to confidently believe that unless Dejounte and Derrick turn up, the Spurs can get past a single-elimination play-in game.

With that said, they’re the Spurs. Anything is possible.

Next: Gauging the impact of the hiatus on the summer

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Bryn Forbes #11 react after an Oklahoma City Thunder basket AT&T Center on January 2, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Bryn Forbes #11 react after an Oklahoma City Thunder basket AT&T Center on January 2, 2020 (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Do you think the hiatus impacts the San Antonio Spurs’ offseason plans?

Ethan Farina: Brian Wright is going to have his work cut out for, him that’s for sure. From the NBA Draft lottery on August 25, the Draft on October 15 and free agency starting just three days after, he and his team are going to be flying through those few months.

We know that this off-season is going to be incredibly important for the Spurs with deciding what to do with players like Bryn and DeRozan, and making their highest draft pick in ages. I hope they’ve used this pause in the season to do more long-distance scouting on draft prospects and at least narrow down who they’re going to have their eyes on. They’re going to have much less time than normal to scout and work players out so making sure they’re using that time wisely and focusing on the players they truly believe in will be key to making the right pick.

Matthew Farner: It may impact the decision of DeMar DeRozan, which in turn will directly affect the Spurs’ offseason plans one way or another. DeMar may see that given the salary cap hit due to the NBA suspension, opting into his $27 million deal may be his best option right now. If Demar does decide to opt-in, that will drastically change the Spurs; plans for the offseason.

Without the cap space to pay any new free agents, they will have to hold off on any big offseason acquisitions until next season.

The No. 1 play of the 2019-20 season so far according to @SportsCenter

? @DeMar_DeRozan ? @redbullhoops | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/WzyB7TFTeS

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 17, 2020

Matias Weilmann: No, I don’t think it’ll affect it. There’s not that much going on that the Spurs can control besides Poeltl’s restricted free agency, which they don’t completely control. DeRozan would be off his rocker to not pick up his player option for next season, which would pay him over $27M. DeRozan may opt-out to try to secure a long term deal now, but I still think he picks up the option

If the hiatus were to affect free agency plans for the Spurs, it would be because the cap is expected to drop from missed play. Assuming DeRozan opts in and the cap is $6M lower than what it would have been originally (John Hollinger’s prediction), then the Spurs would essentially have to choose between Jakob Poeltl (and whatever offer sheet he receives), and Trey Lyles, who only has $1m of his $5.5M contract guaranteed anyways.

Pablo A. Dávila: If anything, they’ve had a lot of time to scout players for the upcoming draft. Here’s hoping Coach Chip has been doing conference calls with players to work on their shooting

Dylan Hunter Carter: More so than this impacting the Spurs’ plans, I think this changes what DeRozan does this offseason dramatically. The NBA’s cap was already going down because of the issues in China, so a complete absence of fans is going to do damage to the free-agent market and I think DeRozan is going to opt-in. We could see him and the Spurs seek a sign-and-trade that gives him financial security without leveraging the team’s cap sheet moving forward.

I also think this is going to force teams to be more open to making trades. San Antonio hasn’t done much of that in recent years, so that might change this offseason.

Next: Tweaking the rotation

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Al-Farouq Aminu #2 of the Orlando Magic and Trey Lyles #41 of the San Antonio Spurs fight for control in the second quarter at Amway Center (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Al-Farouq Aminu #2 of the Orlando Magic and Trey Lyles #41 of the San Antonio Spurs fight for control in the second quarter at Amway Center (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)

What adjustments do the San Antonio Spurs need to make to compete for the eighth seed in Orlando?

Ethan Farina: Play Dejounte and Derrick together. This is something that we’ve been harping on all year long and if there ever was a time to finally buy-in on it, it would be now. They’re the team’s best two perimeter defenders, solid and developing shooters, can both play on or off the ball, and it’s really in the best interest of the team’s future.

If we’re being honest, the Spurs’ chances of making the playoffs are slim. They might as well use these final eight games of the regular season to experiment with something that could help them win and is also going to help them down the road.

Matty Farner: Simple: More Lonnie, Keldon, Derrick and Dejounte lineups; Less Bryn Forbes and Marco lineups. Versatility on the perimeter would drastically improve the team’s defense. We may not see those changes happen, however. In a time of uncertainty, familiarity may be something the players will benefit from.

So while Spurs fans would love nothing more than to see this second chance as an opportunity to give the young guys some run, it will be more likely the coaching staff decides to go with more familiar lineups in an attempt to not disrupt any chemistry built up before the hiatus. That chemistry wasn’t the best however, after all, the lineups used for most of the season got them exactly where they are, nine games under 500.

Matias Weilmann: This answer is simple: they just need to play consistently. There is a very small margin for error when they come back. They’ve played three games less than Portland, two fewer games than Memphis and one game less than both Sacramento and New Orleans. There’s no way to sugar coat it—it’s gonna be a dogfight and San Antonio can’t afford to drop more than maybe two games. Remember, they have to be within four games of the 8th seed to trigger the play-in.

It’s hard to predict because no one knows how well teams will play after a long hiatus. If you’re a Spurs fan, you pray that Denver is locked into their playoff spot for the second meeting and don’t play 100 percent and that you can win both games versus Utah. Portland will have Nurkic and Collins back and Memphis will have Clarke, Jackson Jr. and Winslow back. At one point, you have to beat the teams that would otherwise take your spot. It’s that simple.

Pablo A. Dávila: Play faster.  the Spurs may not have a closing five that can contend for a championship, but they do have a deep roster. Play up-tempo and use that deep roster to tire out teams.

Dylan Hunter Carter: Take Forbes out of the starting five and insert Derrick White. The Spurs don’t need Forbes on the floor as I’ve eluded to in articles over the last few days. This was a change that should’ve been made a long while ago and this transition to a cutthroat end-of-season scenario gives them a legitimate shot at toying with the Murray/White combo.

Also, Keldon Johnson was coming along really nicely before the stoppage of play. Get him and Jakob on the court more often!! It’ll bode well, I swear by it.

Next: Looking ahead to the draft

TALLAHASSEE, FL – FEBRUARY 15: Patrick Williams #4 of the Florida State Seminoles defends the ball during the game against the Syracuse Orange at the Donald L. Tucker Center (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE, FL – FEBRUARY 15: Patrick Williams #4 of the Florida State Seminoles defends the ball during the game against the Syracuse Orange at the Donald L. Tucker Center (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Who is one under-the-radar draft prospect you think the San Antonio Spurs should have their eyes on?

Ethan Farina: He might be too good for a true ‘under the radar’ label, but Daniel Oturu is a very intriguing prospect to me. He led the Big Ten in blocked shots and rebounding, has a developing face-up game, has shown an ability to hit from outside when necessary, and has a nice bag of back to the basket moves.

Conditioning is going to be key for him. He could afford to cut some weight if it will help him move up and down the floor better. If he commits to that, he should be a fine reserve center, but he often looked really worn out after his time on the floor while at Minnesota.

He doesn’t fit the mold of the floor spacing center that we’re seeing most teams go for right now, but he’s a talented player and fits an area of need for the Spurs. He could back up Jakob Poeltl for the foreseeable future and really round out the Spurs’ frontcourt.

Matty Farner: Patrick Williams of Florida State. A young prospect just 18 years old, Patrick has a lot of upside and could add in some depth to the frontcourt, which may need it in a few seasons. While he has a lot to work on his game both offensively with his jump shot and defensively with his footwork and positioning, he is a great system player that could thrive under the tutelage of someone like Coach Pop.

More from Air Alamo

Matias Weilmann: There are a lot of intriguing prospects for the Spurs and a lot is going to depend on what pick they end up with and what DeRozan’s plans are. I don’t hate the idea of drafting Onyeka Okongwu or maybe Precious Achiuwa. Either way, the Spurs need help in the frontcourt, ranging from the 3 to the 5. I don’t think they’re under-the-radar, but they’re right around where the Spurs are projected to pick.

But a boy can dream. You want to ask me who I really want the spurs to be able to take? Give me Deni Avdija All. Damn. Day.

Pablo A. Dávila: Obi Toppin!  Not an under the radar player, but for Spurs to land him that seems like a long shot. If Spurs don’t make playoffs, they still have a shot at getting a top-four pick.  Whether or not Toppin is the best value pick amongst the top four is debatable, but having a top-four pick does give Spurs’ brass more options than No. 11 pick they are currently projected to have.

Dylan Hunter Carter: It’s hard to determine who’s under the radar these days. At one point Florida State forward Devin Vassell fit the bill, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. There are two guys that come to mind: Maryland’s Jalen Smith and Argentinian wing Leandro Bolmaro. You can check out my evaluation of Bolmaro here and heads up, I’ll be writing about Smith soon!

He’s got a lot of fun qualities that teams will look for out of a modern big that could help take the Spurs to the next generation of silver and black.

Next. 5 current NBA players that feel like future Spurs

Thanks for checking out our roundtable! Keep it locked to Air Alamo to hear from all of us and others on all things San Antonio Spurs!

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