Jul 31, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in a huddle before a game against the Kings at Visa Athletic Center in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
There’s a path to tremendous success for the San Antonio Spurs so long as they trust the organization and build off of their current infrastructure.
Establishing a clear path for the future needs to be the primary focus of the San Antonio Spurs organization. Though a glimpse into the future arrives early with the Orlando restart, the team is set to return next season with all of its players ready for action. This means a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge making his impact, Gregg Popovich leading the charge and the young guns showing up from day one thirsty for more NBA action.
The version of the San Antonio Spurs that we see next may look very similar to one we already know on paper, but it seems like a new iteration was unlocked in Orlando. For the first time, we got the confirmation we needed to know that the young guns can carry a greater workload and lead the team to victory. With that in mind, this is going to be the most crucial offseason in years.
That’s why I’ve laid out what I think is a realistic five-step plan to handle this offseason. First off, let me address the elephant in the room: I did not make any fake trades as a part of this plan. Obviously, the outlook changes dramatically if an offseason trade is made by the San Antonio Spurs’ front office. If you want to check out some hypotheticals, click here.
However, the San Antonio Spurs haven’t made a crucial offseason trade in years so I’m going to operate under the assumption that they won’t break the mold now. Without further adieu, let’s get into it!
Next: Step No. 1: Handle the draft
Jan 25, 2020; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; NBA Draft prospect Devin Vassell (24) celebrates after a play against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half at Donald L. Tucker Center. (Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports)
Step No. 1: San Antonio Spurs draft Devin Vassell at No. 11.
The possibilities with this No. 11 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft are endless but ultimately, I can’t help but come back to Devin Vassell as a fit for this team. When push comes to shove, the Spurs need two things to help improve their overall roster: Defense and 3-point shooting. This is the absolute baseline of Vassell’s game, making him an ideal fit for the silver and black.
It’s a significant possibility that Vassell is already gone by this point in the draft, in which the Spurs pivot and pick the best available player. Ultimately, the reasoning behind picking Vassell is the same reason why many mock drafts see Aaron Nesmith or Saddiq Bey landing in the River City: Their team needs are plain as day.
San Antonio’s star player, who we’ll get to shortly, is a non-shooter. Their starting point guard, Dejounte Murray, is still trying to fulfill that part of his game. For the first time in his career, Aldridge is trying to be that guy. Instead of trying to force square pegs into round holes, they might as well go out and find a guy who can address this specific area of the game that they so desperately lack on this roster.
The closest thing to a 3-and-D player on the Spurs’ roster is either Derrick White or Keldon Johnson and that phrasing doesn’t do justice to either of their playstyles. The same applies to Vassell, who has the makings of a future All-Star if everything breaks right, but the core of his game that will be the baseline for his success is exactly that — 3-and-D.
Next: Step No. 2: Bring DeMar back
Aug 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles against Memphis Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks (24) in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
Step No. 2: DeMar DeRozan picks up player option for San Antonio Spurs.
If you weren’t already convinced that bringing DeMar DeRozan back to the San Antonio Spurs was the right idea before the hiatus, he certainly convinced you during the restart. For as much ranting and raving that we could do about the San Antonio Spurs developing talent, 22/5/5 guys don’t fall off trees and when they do, they don’t bring nearly as much character and selflessness.
DeRozan is a wonderful fit for the team’s culture and even if they end up trading him midway through the season, having DeMar in silver and black to start the year is the right way to go.
As we enter October, keep in mind that all player/team option and non-guaranteed dates agreed upon in June are now invalid. The league and PA will set new dates based on the start of free agency. A player like DeMar DeRozan originally had a Oct. 13 opt-in date for his contract.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) October 1, 2020
From the team’s perspective, there’s not much out on the free-agent market that they would be able to target if he walks. Instead, it’d leave them with a void in the rotation and in the cap sheet that could force them into multi-year contracts that interfere with future cap space. If DeRozan plays out his final season in San Antonio, the two parties can walk away saying they’ve reached the end of their partnership amicably and DeRozan’s story with the Spurs can close on his terms.
Regardless, the San Antonio Spurs are going to compete next year just as they do every year. Tanking isn’t an option for this organization, so even if they commit to youth, they’re not going to do it without DeRozan to help guide them in the right direction. If Gregg Popovich is the captain of this ship, DeMar is the Chief Mate and that bodes well for their 2021 postseason hopes.
Next: Step No. 3: Manage free agency
Apr 25, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris (14) moves the ball against the San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Bryn Forbes (left) and Jakob Poeltl (25) at AT&T Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
Step No. 3: Make smart decisions with the San Antonio Spurs’ free agency
Do not, under any circumstances, screw up the cap space in 2021. Besides DeMar, who’s already accounted for in this equation, the No. 1 priority must be RFA Jakob Poeltl. However, if it’s not done right then I’d rather it not get done at all. Overpaying another role player and limiting financial flexibility for the future would be detrimental for this San Antonio Spurs team.
Bringing Poeltl back between $8-$12 million per year maxing out around $14 million in the latter years is acceptable based on the market value of centers these days. Even so, there isn’t likely to be a huge market for Poeltl this offseason, so the San Antonio Spurs should let him play the market before offering anything upfront.
The same applies to their other notable free agent, Bryn Forbes. If he comes back, it’ll be in a bench role at best after posting quite literally one of the worst defensive seasons in the NBA. This includes players of every position, experience level, and size. Forbes is a dud on defense and the Spurs were much better off without playing him in Orlando.
Alas, these are the San Antonio Spurs so they may bring him back, but it couldn’t be on much more than the minimum. Still, for a truly ideal offseason, they’ll let him and Belinelli walk to bring in solid rotation players on the mid-level exception. A few names to consider are Serge Ibaka, Justin Holiday, Aron Baynes and Jae Crowder.
Next: Step No. 4: Sign an extension
Feb 21, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) reacts after a fourth-quarter basket against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
Step No. 4: Extend Derrick White on four year deal with the San Antonio Spurs
There’s a decent case that extending guard Derrick White‘s contract is the most important key to the San Antonio Spurs’ offseason. DeRozan could walk and they could end up with a mess of rotation players picked off the market in his place but so long as they re-sign White, the San Antonio Spurs will have their future in place.
Eligible for his rookie-scale extension this offseason, White deserves to get paid a pretty penny. In no way, shape or form is White a max-money type of player at this point in his career, which is exactly why San Antonio doesn’t want him going into restricted free agency next year. If he does, another team could easily lure him away with a major payout that may be out of reach for a San Antonio organization that cannot afford to let him go.
That's it. That's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/1qOXLqHmRu
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 11, 2020
Former front office executive and current ESPN analyst Bobby Marks projected that White’s extension would be in the range of four-years, $54 million. This is even better than expected since last offseason, Dejounte signed to a four-year, $64 million deal. If White wants $70 million for four years, with his starting salary around $16 million per year, it’d be worth it to keep the two-way savant in silver and black.
With White and Murray signed, the backcourt of the future is in place. Not only are these two fair deals, but if things really never come together, each of those contracts is certainly tradeable down the line. Meanwhile, it affirms that the San Antonio Spurs are still all-in on everything that White brings to the table. If anyone on this team is going to get paid this summer, it should be him.
Next: Step No. 5: Balance the lineup
Jul 31, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli (18) celebrates with forward Keldon Johnson (3) after making an and-one against the Kings at Visa Athletic Center. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Step No. 5: Find the right balance in the San Antonio Spurs’ rotation.
Nevermind everything else — This is where the pressure gets put on Coach Pop. I’ve been watching this team for as long as I can remember and have been writing about them here at Air Alamo since January of 2017. In my time, I’ve never been as clueless about how to balance a rotation as I am at this point in the Spurs’ progression.
Certain things are obvious: Murray, White, DeRozan and Aldridge should each be starters. After that, everything is up in the air. This is where the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff is going to be forced into some tough decisions. Even though he played very well in spot-starts this year, we’re probably going to see a decline in playing time for Trey Lyles, for starters.
More from Air Alamo
- Analyst suggests Lakers are best fit for LaMarcus Aldridge
- San Antonio Spurs: 3 Trades to split up Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge
- San Antonio Spurs: Latest LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumor roundup
- San Antonio Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge agree to part ways
- Handing out Spurs player grades at the midseason point
Whether Forbes is back or not, his minutes need to be greatly reduced. There’s no excuse not to give Lonnie Walker decent minutes and by this point, the same applies to Keldon Johnson. Don’t get me started on Luka Samanic because for as disappointing as his rookie year was, that final regular-season game against the Utah Jazz helped me see the light for the No. 19 pick.
On top of that, there are established veterans to consider in Rudy and Patty who deserve to get some burn and can help this team. However, I cannot fathom how to properly balance the youth and the old way of the San Antonio Spurs without favoring one side over the other. Ultimately, Step No. 5 comes down to the same core value that Spurs fans have come to know for the last 25+ years: Trust Gregg Popovich.
The man is a damn basketball genius! He’s the ultimate empath who connected with people and uses that bond to help them improve as people and players. Mostly everyone who crosses his path endorses his unwavering knowledge of the game and how to put his players/team in positions to succeed. Trust that he’s going to do the same here in an unprecedented offseason.
So long as this comes true, the San Antonio Spurs will be on a path back to a winning culture.