San Antonio Spurs: One free agent to watch in every Western Conference first-round series

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Montrezl Harrell #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks to shoot in between Trey Lyles #41 and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Staples Center on February 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Montrezl Harrell #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks to shoot in between Trey Lyles #41 and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Staples Center on February 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 23: Patty Mills #8, Rudy Gay #22, and Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs react against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 23, 2019. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 23: Patty Mills #8, Rudy Gay #22, and Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs react against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 23, 2019. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Playoff performers tend to make a major impact over the course of a regular season and the San Antonio Spurs might be able to sign some in this postseason.

Usually, the San Antonio Spurs are in the thick of their first-round playoff series by this point in the season. Head coach and mastermind Gregg Popovich is making adjustments to give his team a fighting chance as they combat all that the Western Conference has to throw at them. This season is a little bit different for the silver and black as Pop’s “summer vacation” began early.

The Spurs’ first losing season this millennium gives them a nice portion of time to evaluate talent both internally and externally. These 2020 playoffs feature many players on the final year of their contracts looking to find some regularity in the chaos of the looming offseason. Players and their agents have less time than ever to figure things out, but it goes both ways. Teams will scramble to make decisions, which is why it’s imperative that San Antonio’s front office pays attention now.

We’ve already covered four free agents from the Eastern Conference first-round that San Antonio should keep an eye on. Now it’s time to turn attention toward the competitors. Drawing free agents away from other teams in the West bodes better for the Spurs’ chances of knocking these teams out of playoff contention next season.

This isn’t a rebuild for San Antonio — There’s more than enough talent and infrastructure to build based on the talent they already have. It’s more of a retooling period for the silver and black. Part of getting back on track is fleshing out their squad with capable players who can contribute on either side of the ball and fill roles with the Spurs’ young lineup.

Next: No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes the ball in the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during their game at Moda Center. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes the ball in the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during their game at Moda Center. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

A veteran Carmelo Anthony isn’t a terrible option for the San Antonio Spurs.

As of this season, the Spurs are using Marco Belinelli as their backup small forward off the bench. He’s a stunning marksman whose defense is dreadful and shot selection gives fans headaches. Still, they need someone in the second unit not named Rudy Gay to buy a bucket every so often and launch catch-and-shoot threes.

Belinelli is on an expiring deal and they should really be looking to upgrade that spot. There are a few different directions they can go before heading in this direction, but filling that spot with former All-Star Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Preconceived notions and mismanagement by Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets cast a shadow on Melo’s NBA career, but he’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and should be respected as such.

Carmelo Anthony last 3 games

26 PTS – 7 REB – 10/17 FG20 PTS – 7 REB – 6/13 FG21 PTS – 7 REB – 8/15 FG

"WaShEd" pic.twitter.com/srmBmCeaSx

— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 12, 2020

For the Portland Trail Blazers, Melo has been a steady scoring presence who knows his role and executes it well. He’s not being asked to do too much for the first time in his career, which has allowed Melo to focus on being a better defender and spot-up shooter. That would be huge for a second-unit in San Antonio that needs those things in short bursts.

Even with the team trending young, there are going to be times when the up-and-comers make mistakes. Popovich may be inclined to pull the youngins and deploy a lineup of veterans to level the scoring load. Anthony’s strength and veteran savvy serve him well on the court — Especially if he’s in as good of shape as he’s been in the Orlando bubble.

Carmelo has never had the chance to play for a coach quite like Popovich in the NBA. It’s a pairing that could be dynamic while adding a seasoned leader to set the tone for the Spurs’ younger counterparts.

Next: No. 2 LA Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 29: Montrezl Harrell #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 29: Montrezl Harrell #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

If the San Antonio Spurs want to invest in their frontcourt, Montrezl Harrell fits.

Re-signing center Jakob Poeltl has to be a priority for San Antonio this offseason so long as his contract is reasonable. If an opposing team wants to throw a Bismack Biyombo/Timofey Mozgov-Esque contract his way then the Spurs need to let him walk. If that ends up being the case, LA Clippers center Montrezl Harrell could be just what this team needs at the center.

While undersized for the five, Harrell is a premier pick-and-roll partner whose hustle, physicality, rebounding, finishing and verticality make him a tremendous player. His gritty approach to the game brings some “nasty” to the team, as Pop would put it. This Spurs team is many things, but tough isn’t one of them and adding someone like Harrell could help that situation.

Poeltl is oftentimes the tallest and strongest guy on the court, but he refuses to dunk the ball most of the time. He’ll try to use his soft touch to lay in a shot or float it in, which Harrell is capable of too, but Poeltl can’t finish through contact like Montrezl. What Harrell lacks in size at the five, he makes up with heart. His case for the Sixth Man of the Year award is amplified by his ranking at No. 2 on the Clippers in Win Shares this season.

Harrell makes the most of his shots with 18.6 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the field. He’s been vastly underpaid throughout his career and at 26-years-old, he’s only just scraping the surface of his potential. Again, Poeltl needs to be the priority at this position but if that doesn’t work out, Harrell fills areas of need for the Spurs.

Next: No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6. Utah Jazz

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 07: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz makes a three-point basket against San Antonio Spurs at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 07: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz makes a three-point basket against San Antonio Spurs at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This offseason, the San Antonio Spurs can bring Jordan Clarkson home to SA.

One of the few San Antonio-natives playing in the league, Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson is a walking bucket. After being traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through the 2019-20 season, we’ve finally caught glimpses of what it looks like when Clarkson is on a competitive team. He’s no longer a “good stats, bad team” guy as a valuable sixth man for the West’s sixth seed.

Clarkson isn’t going to push the needle for San Antonio defensively, as he’s about average in that area. However, his scoring prowess and deep range make him a viable candidate to replace starting shooting guard Bryn Forbes in the rotation. With two more inches and a lot of athleticism at his disposal, Clarkson took roughly as many 3-pointers as Forbes this season and finished within two-tenths of a percent of Sparty in effective field goal percentage.

“That is too good Jordan Clarkson.” pic.twitter.com/6q4fKP3rGQ

— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 17, 2020

This is significant because Clarkson brings a lot more to the table than just spot-up shooting. The 28-year-old is a creator who can facilitate offense for his teammates and provide a scoring punch from the perimeter when his team needs it. He’d be taking more efficient shots within Pop’s system, setting him up for great success as a tertiary ball-handler and scoring threat.

Depth is part of what kept the Spurs in title contention for so many years. Having guys who can play roles and step up in big moments made San Antonio a threat to do damage in the playoffs for 22 seasons and Clarkson can be that. Playing under Quin Snyder will have prepared him just a bit for what it’s like to play in a team-based offense.

Forbes and Mills aren’t going to last forever and at this point, Clarkson on a mid-level exception would be far more valuable than either of them. Even with his money coming off the sheet, Utah may not be interested in paying too much for Clarkson if they can find cheaper options elsewhere. Coming home to the Alamo City may give Clarkson the chance to reach his ceiling.

Next: No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs grabs a rebound next to Nerlens Noel #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during first half action at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 2: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs grabs a rebound next to Nerlens Noel #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during first half action at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Center Nerlens Noel can unlock hit potential with the San Antonio Spurs.

Being drafted sixth in the 2013 NBA Draft placed high expectations that center Nerlens Noel couldn’t reasonably fulfill during the early stages of his career. Neither Philadelphia nor Dallas utilized his skill as a rim-runner and defender properly, but a backup role in Oklahoma City suited him well for the past two seasons.

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Now entering unrestricted free agency once again, Noel is going to be looking for two things: An expended role and financial security. He’s not going to make a ton of cash, but a team like the Spurs looking to fill a Poeltl-sized gap might be interested in bringing the 26-year-old in. Should San Antonio’s restricted free agency pick up an offer sheet too big for them to match, the mid-level exception should be more than enough for them to test Noel for a year or two.

Noel’s play near the rim comes effortlessly, using his athleticism to play above the rim as a rebounding savant, shot-blocker and dunker. Any team that fails to box him out is going to pay for it as his putbacks and tip-ins would help any team increase their second-chance scoring margin. He can knock down a short jumper if given the space which is a certain upgrade from Poeltl, who isn’t a threat outside of five-to-nine feet from the basket.

One aspect of his game that San Antonio can unlock is his passing. Noel has shown signs of being a capable and willing passer, using the threat of his low-post scoring ability to draw defender’s coverage before finding an open man. The former Kentucky Wildcat still had the potential to fill a starter’s role in the right scenario.

Next. Free agents to watch in the Eastern Conference first round

The Spurs don’t need to go out of their way to bring Noel along unless one of Poeltl or Aldridge departs, but if that’s the case, this should be one of their first options.

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