Superteams are bound to form inside the Orlando Bubble and the San Antonio Spurs will have lots of cap space to allocate in years to come.
The NBA is the league of team-ups and for the first time in franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs are in a position to form one through free agency instead of building it from the ground up. In 2021, the San Antonio Spurs owe just $24.8 million to four players — Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson.
While inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble, players are bound to talk. The Spurs are living at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort along with five other teams; the Wizards, Suns, Kings, Pelicans and Trail Blazers. The team-ups that may form aren’t as enticing as some that may form at the Coronado Springs Resort or the Grand Floridian Resort, but there are still some extremely talented players hanging around the Yacht Club.
San Antonio isn’t the same destination as New York or LA, but they’ve got the space to pursue some top talent, an incredible coaching staff, some of the best fans in sports and no income tax. Therefore, the Spurs might be players as a destination for guys eyeing a team-up.
Even if the Spurs aren’t the destination for these team-ups, there are a few player combinations inside the bubble that make too much sense to pass up. Whether it be from pre-existing relationships, great on-court fits, or connections that they never knew existed, players are going to get to know each other and find that playing together is the best-case scenario.
These picks are going to go in order from the least to most likely, though there’s a significant chance that the eventual duo that forms is one we never would’ve expected. That’s just how it goes in this league.
Next: Silent killers who let their games do the talking
San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray and New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram.
Two gems from the 2016 NBA Draft class, Brandon Ingram and Dejounte Murray are both passionate, hard-working and let their game do the talking for them. Neither truly mean to be flashy, but it comes naturally by their playstyles and skill levels. Most of all, both Ingram and Dejounte are very laid-back individuals.
Having that combination of swagger and humility is extremely rare, which leads me to believe that they’d gel very nicely. Considering Ingram is headed into restricted free agency this offseason, we may see the Spurs make a run at the former No. 2 pick or even aim for a sign-and-trade. Even if this doesn’t come to fruition now, maybe its something that San Antonio can pursue down the line.
There’s less to point toward this pairing than the other two combos on this list, but Ingram and Murray complement each other’s playstyles very well. While Ingram is more of a perimeter, based player on offense who creates shots for himself and others, Dejounte is at his best when he’s slashing to the basket for buckets. Ingram is an extraordinary playmaker for his position, which bodes well for Murray, whose passing is more forced than instinctual despite his team-first mentality.
All it takes is a little bit of crossover. What happens if Murry and Ingram cross paths by the pool on an off day and get to talking? If they formed a relationship that blossomed into friendship, Murray could recruit Ingram to silver and black. If there’s any member of the young core that’s going to convince other players to join the Spurs in free agency, it’s going to be the leader
Next: Finding common ground through nationality
Phoenix Suns center DeAndre Ayton and Sacramento Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield.
Selected No. 1 overall in a draft class that included Trae Young and Luka Doncic is always going to put a target on Suns center DeAndre Ayton’s back. He was the guy that Phoenix went all-in on with two second-year All-Star starters going shortly after him and ended up with a franchise that’s been historically bad over the last decade. Fair warning, I think the Suns are trending in the right direction under new management, but the stigma remains everpresent.
Ayton has made Arizona his home since he went to college in Tucson and moved just a few hours north after being drafted, but he’s a Bahamian at heart. Born in Nassau, Ayton holds his roots dear to his heart. The seven-footer donated $100,000 to relief when Hurricane Dorian ravaged his home, matching the league’s only other Bahamian — Sacramento Kings two-guard Buddy Hield.
Buddy is amongst the very best sharpshooters in the game, but his role is in question with the Kings. He was benched in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes this year despite getting a long-term contract extension in the offseason. Sacramento’s front office and Buddy had tensions that boiled over in that time, which leads me to believe he’ll get put on the trade block once again if the Kings can’t figure out what comes next.
That could lead to an eventual team-up with Ayton, who’s skilled both in the post and as a screener. Ayton’s jumper makes him a great pick-and-pop threat, but his massive frame and surreal athleticism allow him to dominate as a roll-man or on post touches. With Ayton setting screens and Hield jacking threes with space he’s provided, that tandem could do some serious damage in the long-run.
Whether that’s with the Suns or elsewhere is undetermined, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bahamas’ two best basketball players considered teaming up to represent their home and promote the growth of the game in the Caribbean.
Next: Southern California's finest
New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday and San Antonio Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan.
From the perspective of an NBA player, looking around at the other players from their draft class is not only a great way to keep track of their growth, but it adds a level of sentimentality that only they could understand. This is why lots of the best team-ups have been with players who were drafted in the same range — namely the ‘Heatles,’ who were all part of the historic ’03 class.
Two Southern California natives who were drafted within eight picks of each other, Jrue Holiday and DeMar DeRozan are at similar stages of their careers. They mirrored each other in college with DeRozan at USC and Holiday at UCLA, starring for premier college basketball programs based in L.A. Each at 30-years-old with player-options coming up on their respective deals, they control their future and if these two landed on the same team, it’d be a deadly pairing.
DeRozan is a dominant offensive presence who can use the threat of his scoring to open up the floor for his teammates. Holiday doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective and thrives as a secondary or tertiary scoring option while remaining a perennial All-Defensive team candidate. If they were to team up somewhere, Holiday and DeRozan could do some serious damage — especially if they ended up in the Eastern Conference.
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Each of these players has participated in big games and knows that their legacies are on the line. Holiday never ascended to the rank of All-Star after the 2012-13 season with hardship in the form of injury and personal issues getting in the way of his ability to compete. When he’s been on the floor, which he has consistently over the last few years, Holiday has lived up to every expectation you could set for him.
Just a short while ago, I suggested the Spurs attempt to trade for Holiday to create this pairing with DeRozan. This was a part of our ongoing “One offseason trade with every team” series, which you can check out by clicking here. If Holiday is put in a system that caters to his skills like San Antonio’s with usage higher than what the Pelicans can offer him, he could get back to that All-Star level.
I can envision a DeRozan/Holiday backcourt that rivals any of the league’s best. While 31 might seem a bit older, as that’d be the more likely age when they could team up, neither of these players relies on their athleticism to produce.
Of the three pairings listed, I believe this one would be the most realistic to come true. If not in San Antonio, I could see it happening with Jimmy Butler in Miami or with an up-and-coming team like Atlanta, Orlando or Chicago.