For one reason or another, each of these impending free agents should be avoided when the San Antonio Spurs seek fresh faces in the offseason.
Despite the temptations they provide, the San Antonio Spurs cannot pounce at any and every player who becomes available this offseason. Making sure it’s the right fit for team culture and the current core in place has to come first as general manager Brian Wright assumes full responsibility during an offseason for the first time. If you don’t recall, Wright took over after SS&E CEO R.C. Buford had already completed a handful of transactions in 2019.
This is why it’s crucial that Wright proves he can dictate the Spurs’ immediate future. With boatloads of potential embedded throughout the lineup, San Antonio cannot get too hasty or leverage their financial flexibility heading into next year unless they can go after a game-changer. Even with that being the case, there aren’t many game-changers left with a shallow free-agent pool and no signs of major stars hitting the market in the near future.
If star forward DeMar DeRozan opts to pursue the next stage of his career elsewhere, Wright may be hasty to fill his position and cap space on the roster with someone from this free-agent class. However, doing so on a long-term deal isn’t the right way to compensate for that possible loss.
Spurs fans seem to forget that DeRozan could become an unrestricted free agent, meaning the team gets nothing in return for him via trade. That leaves them with a blatant hole in the rotation, which could be patched up by currently employed Spurs, and a short-term signing here and there.
However, these players aren’t the ones to pursue — Even if the team becomes desperate.
Next: An RFA from Sacramento
1. The San Antonio Spurs shouldn’t overpay to draw Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Unless they pursue a sign-and-trade, which is highly unlikely, the San Antonio Spurs would have to pay exorbitant amounts to bring along Sacramento Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic. A crafty 6-foot-6 shooter with solid handles and killer instinct, Bogdanovic is one of the low-risk, high-reward restricted free agents in his class. As these situations tend to go, drawing Bogdanovic from Sacramento would likely cost more than this team could reasonably give up.
While Bogdanovic certainly fills a position of need if DeRozan walked, he’s not going to separate this Spurs team from its competition. Instead, bringing him along will take the ball out of the young players’ hands and put it in someone else’s. That will stunt development and cap space for years to come, effectively putting San Antonio in a worse position moving forward.
Still, certain numbers might suggest that Bogdanovic is the right kind of player for these young Spurs to pursue. He’s 27, so he matches the timeline set by Derrick White, and he’s improved every year of his NBA career. In 2019-20, Bogdanovic became a full-time starter and averaged 15.1 points, 3.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game on a career-best 56.5 percent true shooting.
Zach Lowe: “Bogdan Bogdanovic who is good and going to have an enormous number of suitors…” pic.twitter.com/qsRgK5QzUa
— Richard Ivanowski (@ivanowskinba) October 27, 2020
He was one of two players on his team to log over 1700 minutes and still hold a positive net rating on the season — A feat for the disappointing Sacramento Kings that nearly reached the postseason in the previous season.
San Antonio’s biggest area of need comes on defense and Bogdanovic doesn’t make much of an impact there. His defensive rating has been 113 for three seasons in a row now, which is slightly worse than the team’s average on the year. He’s not going to get stops on defense and he’s undersized for the small forward.
If the San Antonio Spurs are to use an undersized small forward who can score in boatloads, it should be their homegrown talent, Lonnie Walker.
Next: A misleading defensive center
Feb 6, 2020; Portland, Oregon, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) has his shot blocked by Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside (21) in the first half at Moda Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
2. Hassan Whiteside cannot dupe the San Antonio Spurs into signing him.
On paper, one might think that Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside is a defensive menace with his high-volume shot-blocking skill. In some regards, he’s a serviceable defender who could be integrated within a system and properly utilized as a paint defender and rim-runner. However, that shouldn’t be with the San Antonio Spurs for a handful of reasons.
First and foremost, Whiteside isn’t actually a very good on-ball defender. His basketball IQ is lower than his stats suggest, which is why Erik Spoelstra essentially banished him from his rotation in Miami. The only reason why Portland went after the big man is that their own starter, Nurkic, was injured and out until March (which became July, due to the pandemic).
The numbers will tell you that Whiteside was an incredibly impactful defender and in many regards, he was. Portland’s long-time head coach Terry Stotts is known for putting his players in positions to succeed, exemplifying their positive traits and masking their negative traits. However, the team sorely lacked true defensive playmakers or game-changers, leaning fully into its offensive firepower and keeping in games by outscoring opponents. Their offensive rating of 113.7 ranked third in the NBA while finishing 28-of-30 in defensive rating.
Though Whiteside could be an impactful player on a tempered contract, the cost to bring him in would be much higher than what’s acceptable for the Spurs to pay for him. This, above all, is why the silver and black need to steer clear if he declines his player option and hits free agency.
Next: A center who gets played off the court
Mar 31, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) warms up prior to the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
3. Enes Kanter is a no-go for the San Antonio Spurs.
Should he opt out of his current deal and seek a new one, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter should be avoided by the San Antonio Spurs at all costs. Don’t let his strong rebounding and interior scoring fool you — Kanter is the exact opposite of what the Spurs need these days.
While his rebounding would help, Kanter is nearly a non-factor on defense. He’s unable to keep up in pick-and-roll situations, leading to easy buckets for the opposition on most occasions. If the Spurs are going to target a center, it’s because they either traded LaMarcus Aldridge or lost Jakob Poeltl to restricted free agency. There’s also a significant chance that San Antonio drafts a big man who could fill in some of these minutes instead of a free agent like Kanter.
Ultimately, the Spurs need to target a center that brings something fresh to the table. More versatile, modern bigs like Serge Ibaka, Christian Wood, Aron Baynes or Meyers Leonard are better options for a San Antonio team looking to step into the future. Maybe none of them become available, but it’d be more beneficial to fill that spot in the draft or with current young players than it would be to add Kanter to the rotation.
Rebounding is important, but it’s not hard to find these days. There’s a premium on defensive versatility and floor spacing from the center position — Two areas of concern for the silver and black.
Next: A forward who never panned out
Nov 16, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Mario Hezonja (44) brings the ball up the court in the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Antonio Spurs can’t afford to take a swing on Mario Hezonja.
When the San Antonio Spurs are winning games and falling into the postseason without a doubt in their minds, they can afford to take on reclamation projects. Taking on players with untapped potential looking to expand their skillsets is an easy choice — Especially since winning usually comes with an overbooked cap sheet.
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This isn’t the case for the Spurs anymore, so they cannot afford to try to rebuild the career of Portland Trail Blazers forward Mario Hezonja. Formerly a top NBA Draft prospect who went fifth overall to the Orlando Magic in 2015, Hezonja has bounced around with three teams in the last three years. Every stop he made resulted in a failure to reach his potential despite showing brief flashes of excellence along the way.
Hezonja is decent at most things and excels at nothing. He’s not a positive defender but manages to make huge defensive players every once in a while. He’s a career 31.9 percent 3-point shooter who’ll randomly pop for a hailstorm of 3-pointers off the bench. Ultimately, Hezonja is a worst-case scenario for every European prospect who showed flashes while they were overseas.
In another timeline in which the San Antonio Spurs are legitimate playoff contenders, he’d make sense as an end-of-bench player on a prove-it deal. There’s still a decent possibility that he becomes a viable role player for a solid team in the future, but he hasn’t gotten to that point yet. San Antonio’s development staff could help him get there with the proper time, attention and analysis of his game.
Instead, they need to shift their focus on the young core that’s bursting at the seams with potential.