With 22 percent of the 2020-21 season under their belts, it’s still unclear whether the San Antonio Spurs have enough to earn a postseason spot. They showed they can hang with elite teams with their impressive L.A. road trip while also dropping one to a Rockets team that barely dressed enough guys to play.
Inconsistency has been one of the only constants for the Spurs so far this season, which is evident in their record hovering around the .500 mark for much of it. Another issue that has been plaguing the team more than anything has been their frontcourt deficiency.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s production has dropped off a cliff on both ends of the floor, leading to the rest of the team having to pick up the slack. While he’s had his shining moments on offense (including last night), those are becoming more and more sporadic while his defense has consistently remained just plain bad.
Jakob Poeltl, on the other hand, has been a defensive force inside while remaining mostly a black hole on the other end of the court. With each passing game full of guards beating bigs to the hoop, it becomes more clear that the Spurs need to pursue someone with better lateral movement and rim protection abilities sooner than later.
The big question facing the San Antonio Spurs
Can San Antonio secure a top-eight seed without making any roster changes? Of course. They still have Derrick White waiting in their wings to join the team’s blossoming young potential. It’s hard to see them going much further than that, however.
If the Spurs decide to make a rare in-season trade, Rudy Gay is likely the piece that will be on the move. Although he’s had an efficient season so far, the fact that his position is loaded paired with his expiring contract should tempt the Spurs to test the waters to see what value they can get for the veteran.
Here are some avenues San Antonio can explore as the March trade deadline approaches.
Next: Trade No. 1
1. San Antonio Spurs trade Rudy Gay for Larry Nance Jr.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a scoring problem, in that, well, they’re not doing much of it. Through 14 games, they’re dead last in offensive rating and 29th in points per game at 102.9. Still, their third-ranked defense, along with the emergence of Collin Sexton, has managed to keep them at .500 for the time being.
The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, are in desperate need of more athleticism and lateral quickness in their frontcourt. Allowing 49.1 points in the paint per game, San Antonio is the eighth-worst in the NBA in that regard, which has led to several tough losses.
By adding Larry Nance into the mix, the Spurs would have an athletic forward capable of not being completely blown by on a regular basis, as is happening now. Like most of the NBA, San Antonio is increasingly shifting to a smaller lineup that gets by on strong team defense rather than one rim protector. At 6-7, Nance wouldn’t be swatting shots left and right, but he also wouldn’t be allowing a parade to the hoop.
In Rudy Gay, the Cavaliers would be getting an offensive boost from a veteran with plenty left in the tank. At age 34, Rudy can still put up 20-plus on any given night with his wide array of offensive skills. Cleveland is in dire need of scorers right now, and Rudy Gay has made a living out of doing just that for over 14 seasons.
Next: Trade No. 2
2. San Antonio Spurs trade Rudy Gay for Kelly Olynyk
Back in July 2017, Miami Herald writer Barry Jackson revealed the Miami Heat had decided to sign Kelly Olynyk over Rudy Gay for three reasons: “1. It considered Olynyk the better player. 2. It had more concerns about its power rotation than small forward. 3. It had some questions about Gay, including whether he would be a good fit and his January ruptured Achilles.”
These reasons were perfectly valid at the time, especially considering how difficult it is to recover from such an injury. However, in the years since, needs have changed for Miami. Bam Adebayo has achieved All-Star status to pace their frontcourt while Meyers Leonard, when healthy, has been a solid center as well.
Rudy Gay has had plenty of practice playing small-ball center in San Antonio, a skill which would help a Miami team currently being decimated by injuries and COVID protocol sit-outs. Not only could he play multiple positions on an increasingly positionless team, but he’d provide another offensive weapon on a team full of them.
Kelly Olynyk, meanwhile, would provide the Spurs with another true center capable of knocking down the three-ball (Aldridge is currently 15-of-51). Olynyk is also having the best shot-blocking season of his career. While he’s not exactly the most athletic big around, trading Gay’s expiring contract for his wouldn’t be that much of a gamble if San Antonio wants to shake things up.
Next: Trade No. 3
3. San Antonio Spurs trade Rudy Gay, 2021 first-rd pick for Clint Capela
Off the bat, I’ll say this one is closer to a pipe dream than a possibility, especially since the dude just posted a 10-block triple-double. Beyond that, Clint Capela is a reliable 14 points and 14 rebounds per night in an Atlanta system that relies on his shot-blocking to keep them in the top 10 in the NBA defensively. Still, there would be long-term benefits for Atlanta in dealing Capela.
Shipping Clint would save the Hawks over $35 million in long-term salary and give them an expiring contract to work with instead. John Collins will be looking to get paid this offseason, as will Trae Young after next season.
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Although he’s rarely seen the court for Atlanta because of their depth at center, there’s a reason they drafted Onyeka Okongwu sixth overall. He’s a project that the Hawks are planning to have as an important piece going forward.
Sending off Capela would undoubtedly mean more minutes for him and guys like Bruno Fernando.
The Hawks, however, are in win-now mode, so they’d only bite on a deal like this if their season is torpedoing by mid-March.
They’re currently in the playoff picture with an 8-7 record, but they have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the league.
A move to shed Capela for an expiring guy in Rudy Gay would be strictly a decision to boost their future possibilities.
For San Antonio, it’s a no-brainer that they’d want a guy like Clint Capela, who’s been a nightly double-double for the past four seasons. His presence inside wouldn’t just help the Spurs clog the lane as they so badly need, but he’d give their potent offense more opportunities with his work on the glass.
It’s time to start rooting against the Atlanta Hawks and pray they get desperate by the trade deadline. It’s a longshot, but hey, we can dream.