Dec 31, 2019; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) and center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) celebrate after the Spurs defeated the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
With the draft behind us, we’ve only just dipped into the 2020 NBA offseason and new trade targets may emerge for a thirsty San Antonio Spurs team.
Now that free agency is nearly behind us, the San Antonio Spurs must assess their current outlook and the potential trade candidates available around the league. Teams went into a mad-dash between free agency and the 2020 NBA Draft, making signings and deals left and right to gear up for one of the most competitive seasons we’ve ever had. There’s a case to be made for every Western Conference team to make a push for the postseason tournament but five teams from each conference will be cast aside when it’s all said and done.
Do the San Antonio Spurs feel strongly about being in one category or the other? Well obviously, this isn’t the type of organization to blatantly tank, but they have been known to reach acceptance in the past. When franchise cornerstone David Robinson got injured and the team sunk in the 1996-97 NBA season, they sought after the prized No. 1 pick Tim Duncan in that draft.
If there’s ever a time to accept a rebuild, it’s right now. As every team zigs, the San Antonio Spurs could zag by moving some of their more established veterans or maybe even a draft asset to bring in a player who fits their timeline. As of now, this team isn’t going to win anything significant barring a complete breakout campaign for multiple players and a stroke of good luck in the health department as well.
Meanwhile, all of the movement of these last few days has left certain organizations curious about their fit in the grand scheme of things and the San Antonio Spurs should capitalize on that.
Next: 1. Addressing the Atlanta Hawks' clogged frontcourt
Mar 6, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins (20) shoots against the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter at State Farm Arena. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs need to inquire about John Collins.
If you’re a consistent reader of our work here at Air Alamo, you’ve probably heard me beat this drum before, but the signs have become even clearer that the Atlanta Hawks probably aren’t going to keep John Collins around for much longer. Listed at 6-foot-9 with a near-7-foot wingspan, Collins is one of the best athletes at his position with a wealth of skills to match.
The 23-year-old’s workload has increased with every season of his young career and the productivity is rising with it. Despite missing a significant portion of the season for a PED suspension, Collins played 41 games for the Hawks and posted a 21.6-point, 10.1-rebound per game average on fantastic shooting splits (58.3/40.1/80%).
Hawks have now traded for Clint Capela, drafted Onyeka Okongwu, and signed (as had been rumored/expected) Gallinari. They played Hunter a fair bit at PF last season. A lot of other teams are wondering what this all means for John Collins. https://t.co/KNrBMZYhhk
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) November 21, 2020
Atlanta’s recent moves would suggest that they don’t value Collins’ looming contract extension the way other teams might. They traded for Rockets center Clint Capela mid-season, relegating Collins only to the power forward spot, then drafted PF/C Onyeka Okongwu at No. 6 and signed Danillo Gallinari to a 3-year deal after spending 98% of his minutes at power forward in OKC.
There’s not enough space for each of these players and it seems as if the remainder of their cap space will go to RFA Bogdan Bogdanovic to fill the SG/SF positions. Extending Collins doesn’t seem to be a priority, so the team should strongly consider moving him for a player that fits their needs and timeline a bit better. San Antonio has depth at nearly every position, most-importantly on the wing, and the assets to make a trade for Collins work. He brings athleticism, floor-spacing, rebounding and defensive upside that San Antonio needs direly from its next great big man.
At the very least, general manager Brian Wright should be having a conversation with the Hawks.
Next: 2. The Knicks are gonna Knicks
Nov 23, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) shoots over San Antonio Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and guard Derrick White (4) at Madison Square Garden. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs can unlock Julius Randle’s skillset.
Quite frankly, this was a productive yet under-the-radar offseason for the New York Knicks organization. There are plenty of questions about No. 8 overall pick Obi Toppin, but we know there’s explosive potential and upside for 2020’s Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year. Although they didn’t make too many free-agent signings despite being attached to plenty of names, the team racked up assets by facilitating deals and added solid vets to its core.
Like Atlanta, there’s now a logjam in the frontcourt that needs to be assessed and it might be time to move on from big man Julius Randle. While his skill and physicality make him an impactful offensive player, his skill-set makes no sense for the Knicks as currently constructed. They got decent value on a three-year contract with Randle in the 2019 offseason, but the fit doesn’t make sense anymore and maximizing his value would be the next logical step.
For the San Antonio Spurs, Randle serves as a bit of a project whose skillset pairs well with the team as constructed. The traits this team is lacking most from its frontcourt are strength, physicality, rebounding and athleticism. These are exactly what Randle brings to the table while consistently displaying upside as a faceup four who can get a bucket or play within the confines of a team-system.
To be honest, I have no idea what it’d take to pry Randle from the Knicks, but San Antonio would do a great job of maximizing Randle’s potential as an NBA starter or possible sixth man.
Next: 3. Chicago could use a tune-up
Dec 15, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs SF DeMar DeRozan (10) drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls PF Lauri Markkanen (left) and C Wendell Carter Jr. (34) defend at AT&T Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
Could the San Antonio Spurs deal for Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr.?
Like New York, the Chicago Bulls drafted a power forward for a team whose best, young prospects in the frontcourt are power forwards by most accounts. There were rumors that Wendell Carter Jr. and the fourth pick would be used to move up to the Golden State Warriors’ pick, but that came and went. Obviously, Chicago’s new regime liked what they saw from Patrick Williams and now they must figure out how he works into their team’s timeline.
The more likely of the Chicago Bulls bigs to be on the outs is Finnish power forward Lauri Markkanen. Totally underutilized and underappreciated within ex-head coach Jim Boylen’s system, Markkanen took a major step back from his early returns during the 2019-20 season. When you add the fact that Williams was picked with the Bulls’ highest selection since Derrick Rose, the writing is on the wall for a Lauri Markkanen departure.
Carter may be the more skilled of the two players with a versatile defensive repertoire and a wide range of skills from the 4/5 spots, but he’s also likely the more difficult player to trade for. There’s a decent chance he’s worth whatever it takes to move for him, but there’s also a decent chance that he’s not. Each of these bigs comes with calculated risk — Now it’s up to the San Antonio Spurs’ front office to evaluate their trade value and their long-term fits with the team.
In a year like no other with a plethora of veterans on a team trending young, the San Antonio Spurs need to look in the direction of up-start players like these to re-frame their outlook.
Next: 3. Retooling Charlotte for the LaMelo era
Feb 1, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham (4) drives past San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in the second half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
If Devonte’ Graham is available, the San Antonio Spurs shouldn’t hesitate.
You’re probably not going to like this one based on name value alone and I can’t blame you for being skeptical, but Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham just put together an unprecedented sophomore stretch. In the blink of an eye, the 25-year-old point guard jumped from a modest rookie season within the confines of a limited role to a pure volume shooter and facilitator.
In only his second NBA season, Graham averaged 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and a steal per game on fascinating shooting splits. During his college years at Kansas, Graham was a surefire two-way guard with a great feel for the game and solid scoring upside. His time in Charlotte helped him transform into a daunting offensive threat who uses his size and quickness as an advantage.
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Of the San Antonio Spurs’ young core, there isn’t a single player to feel comfortable with a high volume 3-point shooting role. The closest would be Lonnie Walker IV, who took five or more 3-pointers in only five games in his sophomore campaign. In today’s game, a volume 3-point scorer is nearly a necessity and with a slashing team like the Spurs, someone like Graham on the perimeter is more valuable than ever.
Graham is one of three players who shot better than 37 percent on 9+ 3-pointers per game in the 2019-20 season, joining only Buddy Hield and Dame Lillard himself. Beyond that, Graham is more of a natural facilitator than almost anyone on the Spurs’ roster with the exception of Derrick White.
San Antonio shouldn’t actively be looking to offload quality players to make way for Graham, but a conversation is worth having. This is a team that signed Terry Rozier to a sizeable, lengthy contract to be a starting guard for them before drafting a non-factor on defense in LaMelo Ball. From a defensive standpoint, Graham and Ball are nearly unplayable together, so trading Graham and capitalizing on his great season makes a decent bit of sense.
Like with most of these players, it’s worth having a conversation — Even if a deal never materializes.