San Antonio Spurs: Three directions to move the franchise forward

SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 help Trey Lyles #41 up after a one and during second half action (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 help Trey Lyles #41 up after a one and during second half action (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 30: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs talks with players Pau Gasol #16, LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 on the bench. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 30: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs talks with players Pau Gasol #16, LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 on the bench. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)

At this point, the San Antonio Spurs sit at a crossroads in the franchise’s path. It won’t be an easy decision, but it’s one that’s necessary to make.

We can start being honest with ourselves — This is not the same San Antonio Spurs group that established itself in a 22-year run. Organizational figureheads remain in place with Gregg Popovich steering the ship and R.C. Buford in a position of power, but the dynamic has changed.

Buford is no longer the team’s general manager with Brian Wright assuming the role. Now, Buford oversees operations for the cooperation, Spurs Sports & Entertainment on a greater scale. He’ll still be involved, but from a basketball perspective, he’s not in direct control as he once was. Popovich remains the head coach and exerts the most he can from his players, but it’s simply not enough for the team to be a playoff threat anymore.

Following wins by the Grizzlies and Suns, the Spurs have been eliminated from the postseason for the first time since the 1996-97 season.

That snaps a streak of 22 consecutive seasons in which the Spurs made the playoffs, tied for the longest streak in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/ljawkK6XLD

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 14, 2020

Their best players are in peculiar situations. Wing DeMar DeRozan has a player option for next year that’s worth more than he’s expected to make in a single season moving forward. After having his final season fully guaranteed, former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge will return on a $24 million deal before coming off the books in the 2021 offseason. There’s a route for this team to have a major overhaul of talent one way or another.

The youth movement was prevalent in the Orlando restart with the Spurs’ young guns taking a more prominent role on both sides of the floor. Therefore, there’s no roadmap for how to proceed as the Spurs move into a new era. As I see it, there are three ways to move ahead: The patient approach, the rebuilding approach and the all-or-nothing approach. Granted, the complexities that come with the state of the world right now will have an impact, whether we like it or not.

However, we’re going to see the San Antonio Spurs like never before starting this offseason.

Next: The patient approach

DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets battles for position with Derrick White #4 and Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 10: Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets battles for position with Derrick White #4 and Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs at Pepsi Center. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs’ patient approach.

Ostensibly, this is the most likely outcome for the San Antonio Spurs heading into the 2020-21 season. There’s truly no telling what the salary cap looks like considering fans haven’t been in the stands since March and the cost of operations in the Orlando bubble is astronomical. These factors, combined with the uncertainty of next season and a poor economy make an extremely complicated situation that’s not for us fans and bloggers to figure out.

Without clarity, the San Antonio Spurs will likely be patient with their next steps. They’ll talk it out with DeRozan to decide how each side hopes to proceed. Under the patient approach, they’ll be more than happy to have him back next season whether it be on his player option or a short extension.

Maybe they’ll make some smaller moves here and there, but the Spurs will look largely the same next season if they remain patient. There’s no evidence to suggest San Antonio will do anything differently than they have in the past. During next season, they’d ask around about potential deals to maximize their assets, but they’d most likely keep the same roster from the beginning of the season to the end.

Doing this gives them a chance to evaluate what the team looks like now that some of the younger players have had the chance to play in expanded roles. If this puts them back into postseason contention then great, but if not, they’ll take their lottery pick and move on. Being patient is the option that will give them the most opportunity to make a splash in 2021 free agency with a loaded class and plenty of free agents.

While this is the most likely outcome based on historical context, there are two alternative options that would shake things up tremendously.

Next: The rebuilding approach

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – JULY 31: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs huddles with his teammates before a game against the Sacramento Kings at the Visa Athletic Center. (Photo by Kim Klement – Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – JULY 31: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs huddles with his teammates before a game against the Sacramento Kings at the Visa Athletic Center. (Photo by Kim Klement – Pool/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs’ rebuilding approach.

Writing has been on the walls for the Spurs since the Kawhi Leonard saga starting with his injury in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Competing without a true star in today’s game is more difficult than ever, especially considering the depth of talent in the modern NBA. You can make a case for every single Western Conference team to make a run at the playoffs next season, which is why the San Antonio Spurs could opt for a full-blown rebuild starting this offseason.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: There’s a cap on how good a San Antonio Spurs squad Starring LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan can be. The modern game doesn’t cater to their playstyles and for two consecutive years, the Spurs have found ways to be better without them on the floor. That’s a bit skewed considering the team’s depth versus other team’s bench units, but the point remains that Aldridge and DeRozan aren’t an ideal tandem.

Trading these players, as well as other veterans like Rudy Gay and Patty Mills could ultimately be the best option for the silver and black. These are players who still have value and contribute to their team, but they’re not pushing San Antonio into postseason contention any time soon. Injuries played a factor in the Spurs’ troubles last year, but not so much so that you can adequately blame them for the team’s shortcomings.

Moving off of these players, investing in higher draft picks and accepting the rebuild is an honest way to approach this roster. It’s not perfect for Popovich, who would likely retire should the team trend in that direction, but perhaps that’s for the best after all. This shouldn’t be considered a likelihood — Especially with the new draft odds that disrupt tanking teams.

It’s the least likely option for the San Antonio Spurs, though it could have the greatest payout.

Next: The all-or-nothing approach

SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 28: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates with Rudy Gay #22 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 during a time-out against the Pistons at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 28: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates with Rudy Gay #22 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 during a time-out against the Pistons at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs’ all-or-nothing approach.

Leveraging the future to make things easier, for now, is an approach that many teams find themselves taking when they have a structure they like without the pieces to finalize their roster. It’s an option that’s got to be on the table for the San Antonio Spurs with so many trade chips including a rotation of young players and the No. 11 pick.

If a star-caliber player enters the trade market, the Spurs have what it takes to get a deal done. Unfortunately, that means parting ways with a ton of players the organization is invested in. For example, teams are certainly interested in Keldon Johnson after what they saw in the Orlando restart. His intensity and progression in such a short period are on another level compared with his peers, making him a player that’s easy to market in a trade.

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However, that means letting go of this player who could turn out to be something very special for someone who’s more ready to compete now. For example, Dejounte Murray and his contract are solid assets to throw into a deal, but that means giving up on the San Antonio Spurs’ starting point guard. It doesn’t feel very “Spursy” and quite frankly, isn’t responsible in the long run.

Still, all of that goes out the window if an All-Star requests a trade and the team moving him wants young pieces in return. That No. 11 pick isn’t just a sign of hope — It’s an investment in the future. San Antonio Spurs fans are more excited about this NBA Draft selection than they’ve been in the team’s prospects throughout the season.

Ultimately, the organization has the trust and devoting of its fanbase in place. No matter which approach the Spurs decide to take, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt as the organization with the best winning percentage in the entire NBA.

Next. Ranking the Spurs' best draft picks since 2014

That has to count for something.

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