These four former San Antonio Spurs were all traded away too early
As far as NBA front offices go, the San Antonio Spurs executives have done a better job than most over the past 20 years in terms of shaping their roster. They’ve gotten lucky with a few drafts picks but have also made key moves that brought in undervalued players who then grew into significant roles with the team, helping them go on a historic run of playoff appearances as a result.
That said, the team’s history isn’t totally spotless. There are instances of trading away a player away only to see them blossom and thrive with their new teams. These cases bring up a mixed bag of feelings. On one hand, you’ve got to be happy to see a former Spur excelling with his new team, especially if they weren’t being properly utilized in San Antonio. On the other hand, there’s a little bit of resentment or wistfulness that they would have been able to thrive in a Spurs uniform.
As the team nears their return to play down in Orlando they find themselves at a crossroads. They’re one playoff appearance from setting a new NBA record for most consecutive postseason berths but also several games back of the 8th and 9th seeds and will be going into the bubble without star big man LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve got a hungry group of youngsters to build around too. Maybe it’s time to let the streak go and rebuild around their youth.
Going towards a full rebuild could call for trading off proven veterans like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldrdige in exchange for young players or picks. But as we’ve seen, making franchise-altering trades can be a double-edged sword.
It might seem like the right move at the time but could come back to bite the team later. Here are a few instances of when the Spurs moved on from a player too early.
Next: The big one
San Antonio Spurs trade Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to Toronto Raptors
Come on, you had to know this one was coming. It’s one of the biggest trades in the NBA over the past decade and drastically changed the fates of multiple franchises. In July of 2018, the San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick that would eventually turn into Keldon Johnson.
We’re all very familiar with how things shook out. The injury in the 2017 playoffs that started everything off, the gradual deterioration between Leonard’s camp and the Spurs, the meddling of one particular uncle who shall remain nameless, it all came to a head in 2018 when Leonard and Green were traded away for a fairly lopsided return.
Frankly, things didn’t turn out horribly for the Spurs. DeRozan has had two of his best seasons with the team, Poeltl has grown into one of the best defensive big men in the league and could be in line for a major role increase soon enough, and Keldon Johnson, while still raw, has shown flashes of being another steal for San Antonio near the end of the first round.
San Antonio has made lemonade out of lemons were always going to have that ‘what if’ factor with this deal. What if the Spurs had been able to salvage their relationship with Leonard and somehow convince him to stay in Texas? The Raptors never win the title, Leonard might not ever head west to Los Angeles, Paul George might’ve stayed in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul might not ever trade places, the list of hypotheticals that can all be drawn back to that one fateful trade between the Spurs and Raptors goes on and on.
It wasn’t the worst trade deal that’s been made and the Spurs did avoid the possibility of seeing Leonard leave as a free agent by pulling the trigger on this swap but it’s still entertaining to think about what the fate of the franchise could have looked like if he had carried the team forward like so many hoped he would.
Next: A draft-day mistake
San Antonio Spurs trade Goran Dragic to Phoenix Suns
The San Antonio Spurs do a better job than most at finding talent in the later parts of the NBA draft but that doesn’t mean they haven’t missed on their fair share of prospects. Their draft-day trade of Goran Dragic to the Phoenix Suns is a perfect instance of this happening.
The Spurs took Dragic with the 45th pick in the 2008 Draft and quickly traded him to Phoenix for the rights to Malik Hariston, who had gone 48th. Dragic played behind Steve Nash for a few years, was traded to the Houston Rockets, and then eventually returned to Phoenix for another stint before eventually signing with his current team, the Miami Heat.
Dragic has been named to one All-Star game, has received the Most Improved Player award, made the All-NBA Third Team, and has been a consistent near All-Star level talent for a while now. Meanwhile, Malik Hariston appeared in 62 games for San Antonio between the years of 2008 and 2010. It’s no secret who won this deal.
Draft day trades are tricky and it’s hard to fault the Spurs for trading away a player they had just selected but it’s hard to look back on this swap and not wish that they would’ve kept Dragic around for at least a season or two to see what they had.
San Antonio did already have another rookie point guard on the roster and pairing Dragic with George Hill might have seemed risky at the time but what could’ve happened if they had? After their win in 2007, the Spurs went five straight years without a Finals trip, their longest stretch since 2000 without an appearance up to that point, could Dragic have been the difference maker to help them break that streak?
It’s privileged to complain about the Spurs not making the Finals for five straight years, even more so given that they made it to the Conference Finals twice in that same period, but given the lopsided nature of the deal that sent Dragic to Phoenix, it’s hard not to think about how things would’ve shaken out if San Antonio had never made that trade.
Next: The biggest bungle in recent memory
San Antonio Spurs trade Davis Bertans to Washington Wizards
Out of all the trades we’ve covered, this one stings the most. With Leonard and Green, the Spurs had their hands tied, to a degree. With Dragic it was a draft-day trade of a late second-round player, those players hardly ever develop into a star on Dragic’s level so it’s hard to fault San Antonio. But in trading Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards the Spurs made a massive and unnecessary error.
It’s not totally the Spurs fault, they moved Bertans to Washington in order to make room for their expected signing of Marcus Morris. That never panned out and the Spurs were left holding on to DeMarre Carroll, who they would later waive.
While San Antonio was left holding the scraps they also had to watch Bertans flourish with his new team. He had always been a good 3-point threat but this year he put his name on the national radar as one of the very best in the NBA. He was in the top-ten in both 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made per 100 possessions.
In Washington, Bertans was used as more than just a spot-up shooter. He had a greater role in the offense, was putting the ball on the floor more than we had seen him do in a Spurs uniform, and looked incredibly comfortable with his new team.
The Wizards clearly view Bertans as a key part of their team long term. He’s sitting out the remainder of the regular season with the Wizards blessing in order to ensure his health and in preparation for what will be the biggest free-agency summer of his life. As an unrestricted free agent Bertans will get to choose his next team and the Wizards are sure to be near the top of the list.
Given their tight budget, it seems unlikely that the Spurs would be able to offer Bertans the level of deal that he can surely command. But if they can trade off some larger contracts perhaps they can recover from the poor trade of last summer by signing Bertans to a long term deal that will bring him back to the team that drafted him.
They’ve normally done well when they have made trades but the San Antonio Spurs surely wish they could have these three deals back.