Not everyone is going to make their return to the San Antonio Spurs for the 2020-21 season and these are the players most likely to move on this year.
Continuity is key for the San Antonio Spurs, but times are changing and the trajectory of this team has shifted dramatically from what it was only two years ago. Instead of being in the heat of the playoff race, the San Antonio Spurs are on the outside looking in with their first lottery pick since 1997 on its way.
This is going to play into the offseason one way or another and even though most players are signed onto the roster for next year, not everyone’s going to make it. Now more than ever, San Antonio is inclined to make a trade to either move up or establish a clear direction for the future. Plus, there are key free agents who may look for new opportunities with different teams.
On the flip side, the San Antonio Spurs may feel like they have better options than some of these players. Five players on the roster have various routes to free agency, whether it be through player options, team options, or non-guaranteed contracts for next year. Since loyalty is a prevalent aspect of the way San Antonio operates, one would expect that most of these players get a shot to run it back again next season.
In other cases, the writing is on the wall for a departure from the San Antonio Spurs. These are the players most likely to make their exit this offseason.
Next: Number Three
3. San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Bryn Forbes
Now at the end of his contract, starting shooting guard Bryn Forbes has reached a crossroads that most San Antonio Spurs role players do at one point or another. It’s more of an internal line of questioning within the front office that answers the questions ‘Have we exercised all we can with this particular player and are they worth bringing back?’
Most fans would answer that Forbes’ run with San Antonio should end here as the two parties go their separate ways, but the coaching staff could feel very differently. Forbes’ 3-point percentage regressed considerably and his defense remains abysmal, but it’s not unlikely for Bryn to stay with the San Antonio Spurs. The difference is that he’d be accepting a lesser role since the organization will look at prioritizing some of the young guards ahead of Forbes.
Without him during the Orlando restart, San Antonio won five of seven games before letting the young guns loose and resting veterans in the season finale against Utah. They were a competitive team that ranked near the top of the bubble in Net Rating with a cohesive defensive scheme in place and an efficient offense.
Forbes’ value is easily replaced with this team — Even if it means others need to shoot more threes than ever before. When Forbes is out there, he’s only hitting his triples at a moderate rate compared to what’s expected of him, making his role with the San Antonio Spurs nearly obsolete. Still, the loyalty is real and Forbes has a better chance of returning than most fans want.
Next: Number Two
2. San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Marco Belinelli
Love him or hate him, Italian marksman Marco Belinelli has more experience with the San Antonio Spurs’ system than almost anyone on the team. He’s one of two players on the active roster with championship experience from San Antonio’s 2014 NBA Finals run and his corporate knowledge runs deep. For that, Belinelli may return to the River City on a cheap deal.
Still, his on-court value has plummeted in recent seasons. Don’t look at what the on/off-net ratings show you — They’re skewed by garbage-time stats and the Spurs’ deceptively talented bench unit which outpaces the opposition. Belinelli is a detrimental defensive player who doesn’t pretend to try anymore. His -2.0 defensive box plus/minus ranks second-to-last behind Forbes on a Spurs team that’s sorely lacking a defensive identity.
There’s a common theme with these San Antonio Spurs: Their designated shooters aren’t shooting the ball that well. Like Forbes, Belinelli way underperformed as a 3-point shooter this season, posting his worst effective field goal percentage since 2016. Belinelli has never seen a shot attempt that he didn’t want to take and while some of them ended up falling, Marco’s minutes would be better spent on someone like Keldon Johnson.
Don’t count Marco out from next year’s roster, but it’d be in the team’s best interest to move on.
Next: Number One
1. San Antonio Spurs center Tyler Zeller
Signed as an insurance policy after the San Antonio Spurs announced LaMarcus Aldridge would miss the NBA restart, center Tyler Zeller is a goner. Even in his limited playing time, Zeller proved to be exactly what many expected he’d be when the Spurs helped him make his NBA return: A limited player whose defensive awareness was in the gutter.
Zeller played hard in limited minutes and might be able to have an impact somewhere in the NBA, but it doesn’t seem like it’d be with the San Antonio Spurs. Playing a total of four minutes, the On/Off per 100 possession numbers make Zeller look like Wilt Chamberlain. That’s why you can’t rely on numbers alone, people! The statistics mean nothing without proper context and in the flow of a game, Zeller isn’t giving anything the Spurs can’t get in tenfold with their other options.
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If they were to bring Zeller back next year, it’d more than likely mean that center Drew Eubanks is no longer with the team. His two-way contract expired at the culmination of this season and if the Orlando restart is any indicator, head coach Gregg Popovich trusts Eubanks quite a bit. This makes sense considering Eubanks has been groomed within the Spurs’ system since going undrafted two years ago.
Defensively, it doesn’t seem like Zeller can make an impact for the Spurs and that’s where they’ll need him the most. Should restricted free agent Jakob Poeltl walk, they’ll need to find someone with size who can protect the rim — That’s certainly not Zeller, whose specialties are the baby hook shot and an occasional flash of rebounding.
For a team without any size needing a play to battle on the boards, he could be a great asset for very cheap. Chances are, he’s not getting anything more than a veterans minimum to remain in the NBA.
At this point, it’s more likely that Zeller lands overseas than it is that he returns to the San Antonio Spurs next season.