There are certain players going into the NBA’s Orlando Bubble with nothing to lose, but these San Antonio Spurs players are going into it with high stakes.
For as much of a daunting task as playing at the Walt Disney World bubble is for 22 NBA teams, it’s also going to provide a world of opportunity or many players. Ramifications from the leaguewide suspension earlier in the season are surely going to impact the league’s salary cap and in turn, the San Antonio Spurs.
For the majority of the team, playing in Orlando is just a way to participate in team activities and save the portion of their salary that would be withheld if they didn’t show up. However, there’s a small segment of the team playing for more than just pride. There are real stakes here including generational wealth, public perception, financial security and playing time.
There are players at all stages of their careers on this roster. We’ve got unproven young guns looking to make a name for themselves at the end of the bench. On the other side of it, there are veterans who want to squeeze as much success, experience and prosperity they can out of the final years of their playing career. In the middle are frustrated players who’ve been working their tails off to earn head coach Gregg Popovich’s trust and solidify themselves in this league.
Today, we’re going to look at the three players who are in the most important positions during the 2019-20 regular season resumption. Everyone’s got something to prove, but none more than these three Spurs.
Next: Playing for an extension
Derrick White can earn an extension from the San Antonio Spurs in the reboot.
There’s really nothing Spurs combo guard Derrick White can’t do. He’s a sneaky-good athlete who can keep up with the best on their side of the floor. Of players at his position, White is amongst the more crucial in terms of pick-and-roll playmaking, a mainstay in the modern game and the Spurs’ offensive system. His jumper is coming along nicely, he can rebound the ball and his basketball IQ is higher than most players on their rookie contracts.
I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Derrick deserves a contract extension, but his play in Orlando will be critical to the offers he’ll get from the San Antonio Spurs.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 16, 2020
Has White shown more at this point in his career than Dejounte Murray did when he got his contract extension last offseason? That’s debatable because Murray was robbed of a year and has the edge in career-accolades, but White was at least as productive as a starter as Murray’s been. But will the Spurs be willing to give him a similar four-year, $64 million extension?
Well if Derrick commands a larger workload or even steps into the starting five and excels in Orlando, his case will grow substantially. Even if his efficiency stays the same and his field-goal attempts and minutes grow, it’ll prove what Spurs fans already can vouch for — White belongs as a starter in this league and will only continue to improve.
For as much as he has to gain, there’s also a lot that White could lose. If he finds himself regressing after the league’s hiatus and his production falls, he’ll lose leverage. While he’s in a much more safe position than other individuals up for extensions since the Spurs are a family-minded organization, White is still playing to limit the variance on his contract extension.
Next: Playing for acceptance and a role
The San Antonio Spurs will turn to Jakob Poeltl, but can he handle the pressure?
Recently, Spurs center Jakob Poeltl noted that he might look to go somewhere that can offer him a bigger role in the 2020 free agency period. San Antonio controls his future as he’s a restricted free agent, meaning they can match any contract offer that Poeltl receives to keep him with their team. Still, returning in the Orlando bubble with LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles both out, Poeltl has a chance to prove that he worthy of a starting job.
In the past, Poeltl has become winded and exhausted playing upward of 19-23 minutes per game. With Aldridge dominating the center position, it was hard to justify getting the 24-year-old on the court all that often. The two lumbering bigs lack complementary skills or mobility to share the floor together, forcing Poeltl to sit on the sidelines, awaiting his opportunity.
That’s all about the change now that the Spurs’ starting big men are both out for the year. In those eight regular-season games and three scrimmages, I’d expect to see a lot of Poeltl at the center spot. He’s far and away the team’s best option at center right now with rookies, sophomores and Tyler Zeller, who was out of the league two weeks ago, as their options beyond him.
With extended minutes and a larger role, Poeltl can do one of two things: Establish himself as San Antonio’s starting center moving forward or build up his free-agent value so that he can leave the Alamo City in pursuit of a bigger role. After a certain cash value, the Spurs are going to have to let Poeltl walk. If someone’s willing to truly overpay him, he’ll get that larger role he seeks along with a big ‘ol salary to fill his pockets.
Now, we’re going to find out what Jakob Poeltl is truly made of.
Next: Playing to change his narrative
If the San Antonio Spurs make the playoffs and he thrives, DeMar DeRozan can change his narrative and earn a payday in free agency.
For as much as Spurs star wing DeMar DeRozan is playing to increase his value in the open market, he’s fighting against an ill-conceived legacy. After years of falling short in the playoffs and in big moments against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, there’s a notion that DeRozan can’t be a true leader. He’s choked too many times for the casual fan to let go of that idea and now, there’s concern about how he’s compensated in his next deal.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 16, 2020
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If by some insane turn of events, DeRozan could pop off and lead the Spurs back into the playoffs, people would have to start taking him more seriously. San Antonio could get swept off the floor by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, but the fact that he’d lead them past four other teams that are considered much better than the Spurs would catch some attention.
Even if the Spurs don’t make the playoffs but come somewhat close, DeRozan could recover from some of the bad press he’s taken in the past. This year, he’s been an amazing case study in transforming himself from a low-efficiency player to one of the most effective in the sport. He’s posting the highest field-goal percentage of his career while transforming himself as a passer, rebounder and on-court leader.
The DeRozan that joined the Spurs in the Kawhi trade in 2018 isn’t the same player as the one we’ve got playing in silver and black now. He’s a more thoughtful, careful and patient player who could seriously compete for a contending team. I don’t think DeRozan should be a No. 1 option, but he can certainly fit in somewhere in the league and make a major impact in the playoffs.
If he can prove that to the basketball world in Orlando, he might get a second chance at changing his reputation.