San Antonio Spurs: Five impending free agents to watch in the NBA restart

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 19: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Miami Heat during second half action at AT&T Center on January 19, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 19: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Miami Heat during second half action at AT&T Center on January 19, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 19: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs and DeMar DeRozan #10 struggle with Meyers Leonard #0 of the Miami Heat for a loose ball at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 19: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs and DeMar DeRozan #10 struggle with Meyers Leonard #0 of the Miami Heat for a loose ball at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

They don’t have a ton of money to toy with this offseason, but the San Antonio Spurs should be keeping watch of the free agents inside the bubble.

There’s a different timeline from the one we’re living in with no pandemic, which means San Antonio Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan would’ve made his free-agency decision weeks ago. San Antonio would already know whether or not Jakob Poeltl courted an expensive offer sheet and fans would either rejoice or accept the fate that Bryn Forbes is back in town.

That’s not the timeline we’re living in and now. The NBA is set to return inside this infamous Orlando Bubble starting in about two weeks. With the rest of the league’s schedule pushed back, free agency isn’t for a few months now, so those guys have more than enough time to ponder what comes next. Right now, the focus needs to be on making the most of these minutes and fleshing out the Spurs’ rotation to fill the gaps in their frontcourt.

However, team scouts are going to be keeping a close watch of which impending free agents are using Orlando as a showcase for their talent. Eventually, the team will need to start doling out contracts for next season, and to be honest, it’s hard to tell which players are going to be worth giving deals in the 2020 class. The biggest name in the pool is DeRozan, who’s most likely going to stay put and make another $27.7 million next season, but nothing is guaranteed.

Between the mid-level exception and the hole of cash left by a DeRozan’s potential departure, the Spurs must make the most of this offseason. If they don’t, they’ll be doomed to remain directionless in a sea of mediocrity through the 2020-21 season.

Next: A borderline All-Star many times over

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fights for a rebound against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fights for a rebound against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

1. Danilo Gallinari (UFA), Oklahoma City Thunder

I can’t begin to imagine how many times throughout his career the San Antonio Spurs’ brass have looked at Danilo Gallinari and thought ‘How do we make this guy a Spur?’ A 12-year veteran from Italy, Gallinari is a 6-foot-10 sharpshooter who can put the ball on the deck, bang bodies down low and rebound exceptionally.

Once a natural small forward who kept up with the league’s best, the 31-year-old has become a more comfortable fit at the power forward where he can stretch defenses out and remain mobile enough to play on the wing or in the paint. He’s not a world-beater on defense and never has been, but made the Thunder 4.9 points per 100 possessions better this season.

Even though he’s not going to lock up the other team’s best guy, Gallo can do a lot for you as an underrated secondary playmaker who would thrive in the Spurs’ team-friendly offense. The jumper is no joke — he’s a career 38.1-percent shooter from deep with almost 1,200 made-triples and his most 3-point attempts per game this season.

San Antonio would benefit from sliding Gallo into the lineup as their starting four, with or without DeRozan. Even if he’s is gone, the Spurs need a reliable shooter on the wing to space the floor out for their young guns and Gallinari fits the bill.

Unfortunately, he’s probably going to garner more money than they can give him, but if the Spurs get crafty and move some contracts around, they could go after Gallinari later this year.

Next: A transformed interior presence

TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 22: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs hugs Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors following an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 22: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs hugs Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors following an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

2. Serge Ibaka (UFA), Toronto Raptors

Once revered as one of the game’s most tenacious shot-blockers, Serge Ibaka transformed his playstyle later in recent years. The veteran forward in his 11th NBA season has become one of the league’s most versatile role players with championship pedigree and intellect to match. Ibaka is a wonderful fit for the Spurs on the court, but he makes even more sense for the team’s culture.

Ibaka is a fun-loving, creative guy who thrives in competitive environments. He’s become a full-time center, but for the silver and black, he’d more likely fluctuate between the middle and the four-spot for minutes distribution. At this point, Ibaka is a 39.8 percent 3-point shooter who has his highest effective field goal percentage (EFG%) since 2013.

He’s racking in $23.3 million this season, which is bound for a significant decrease. Signing on a mid-level exception sounds unlikely unless it’s with a contending team. Some have speculated he’ll sign that to join a contender like the Brooklyn Nets, where his former teammate and comrade Kevin Durant is set to return.

San Antonio is the kind of environment that would help Ibaka thrive late in his career. He’ll be put in positions to get buckets, keep his efficiency up, and hopefully compete. Having a big-man rotation including Ibaka, Aldridge, Lyles, Samanic and Poeltl would make San Antonio one of the deepest teams in the league after being one of the most shallow this season.

Next: Taking a chance on a magnificent athlete

MIAMI, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 08: Derrick Jones Jr. #5 of the Miami Heat in action against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of the preseason game at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 08: Derrick Jones Jr. #5 of the Miami Heat in action against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of the preseason game at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

3. Derrick Jones Jr. (UFA), Miami Heat

Playing the most minutes of his career, Miami Heat wing Derrick Jones Jr. has historically been remembered for his high-flying antics. While his dunks are superb and his athleticism is off the charts, there’s hope that Jones is on the track to being something much more.

At 6-foot-8 with a lengthy wingspan and spectacular leaping ability, there’s raw potential for Jones to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. That’s been the area where he’s thrived the most in his four NBA seasons. While his deep-shooting numbers are pretty atrocious, he tried to take more of them than ever before and somehow posted a career-best 60.9 percent true shooting mark.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1248063402020306944

Since Jones is only making $1.6 million this season, he’s probably going to leave Miami in pursuit of a better payday. There are few organizations better suited to help Jones reach his potential than San Antonio since their coaching staff can drill fundamentals into his brain and help him grow what’s already a spectacular defensive repertoire. By my estimation, he can be had for less than the full MLE, which bodes well for a Spurs team that doesn’t have much money to spare.

Replacing someone like a Belinelli or Forbes with Jones Jr. puts the Spurs one step closer to being a relevant team since it addresses their horrid defense and highlights the youth movement.

Next: A sure-fire perimeter scorer

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic looks for an opening against the San Antonio Spurs in the second quarter at Amway Center. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic looks for an opening against the San Antonio Spurs in the second quarter at Amway Center. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

4. Evan Fournier (Player-Option), Orlando Magic

I’m not sure how French wing Evan Fournier pulled this off, but after making $17 million in each season since 2016 and now, he has a chance to opt-out to explore the market. Give that man’s agent a round of applause, because in the 2016-17 season, Fournier made $17 million for on a mediocre EFG% of 50.8 percent.

Anyway, Fournier is a walking bucket. He’s not going to dazzle you with anything else in his skillset — he’s a below-average defender, mediocre passer and doesn’t rebound all too well, but if you need a guy to stand out on the wing and get shots up, Fournier is as reliable as they come.

He can play either the shooting guard or small forward, which bodes well for a Spurs team that’s still trying to figure out its identity. You can think of Fournier as a supercharged version of Forbes. They’re both around for scoring purposes only, but Fournier can maintain higher efficiency with greater volume without being a complete detriment on defense.

If DeRozan opts out, I could 100 percent see the Spurs signing him to a 1+1 contract to fill their cap sheet and supplement the loss of DeRozan’s scoring presence on the wing. He’d probably fill in at the two-guard, leaving way for someone like Lonnie Walker to start at small forward. Bringing Fournier in to play next to DeRozan isn’t likely, so this is a contingency plan in case DeRozan walks and better options are long-gone.

Next: A floor-spacing, hard-nosed center

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Meyers Leonard #0 of the Miami Heat shakes hands with assistant coach Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Meyers Leonard #0 of the Miami Heat shakes hands with assistant coach Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

5. Meyers Leonard (UFA), Miami Heat

Few players embrace the grind like Heat big man Meyers Leonard does, which is why he’d make an interesting fit with the San Antonio Spurs. The pure seven-footer is in his eighth NBA season and knows his role in this league: Enforce the paint, orchestrate the defense, grab boards and rain triples on opposing defenses.

I’d go as far as to say that Leonard is an underrated player because he does all of the little things that don’t show up on the box score. While he lacks the athletic ability to go swat a ton of shots, Leonard positions himself near the basket to alter the opponent’s layups and make other bigs uncomfortable roaming in the paint. He’s an excellent communicator, which is key for a backline, roaming big in the modern game.

More from Air Alamo

Given the current state of the NBA, I’d think Leonard’s $11.3 deal from this year is going to come down a bit. He’s a player who could easily be had for the mid-level, though I’d imagine his priority is to remain in Miami long-term as they pursue a championship with the team as constructed. However, I wouldn’t doubt that Pat Riley wants financial flexibility to go after Giannis next offseason, which is why I think some of these role players will have to find new homes shortly.

Leonard is extremely efficient, hitting 52 percent of his takes including 42.9 percent of his threes. While he only plays 20 minutes per night, Leonard is the type of player who always seems to have an expanded role in the playoffs and he usually thrives. In 25 playoff games, Leonard has hit 54.6 percent of his shots and a whopping 48 percent of his threes.

He’d make a great insurance policy for Poeltl and can play off of any of the Spurs’ bigs pretty well. With that range, floor-spacing and team-first mentality, Leonard could help San Antonio get back to its winning ways by pushing his teammates to be better and giving his all on both sides of the floor.

Next. Goals for the most important Spurs in the bubble

Having a big who can space the floor and play off of any combination of players makes Leonard one of the most intriguing options for the Spurs this offseason.

facebooktwitterreddit