Robert Williams and San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Like the rest of the NBA world, many San Antonio Spurs fans have been caught up in the NBA trade hype. Even if your team is playing well like the Spurs are, trade season is always a time filled with juicy rumors, and an opportunity for teams to improve upon their weaknesses heading into the next portion of the season and playoffs.
But more often than not, trade talk is nothing more than just that — talk. Look no further than the fact that there are about 30 NBA teams right now, including the Wizards, who think they are getting Bradley Beal right now without trading any of their core pieces to make that happen.
That’s why at Air Alamo, we’ve focused on realistic trade opportunities focused on what the Spurs would actually give up and the value would actually receive for giving up those pieces. Ethan Farina has covered how it might be time (or past time even) to pull the plug and trade LaMarcus Aldridge, and Josh Paredes tackled how Rudy Gay might be the most logical Spur to move and the value trading him could yield.
But there is another truth Spurs fans might not want to admit to: no one in the NBA is untouchable. To get valuable returns, you have to give up value in return at the end of the day.
If the chance comes, the San Antonio Spurs should take it and make a deal
That doesn’t mean the Spurs shouldn’t continue to remain the most loyal franchise in (arguably) all of sports. Just to be realistic — if the Spurs were hypothetically offered a Giannis or an Anthony Davis for (insert most untouchable Spur of your choosing currently on the team), the Spurs, of course, are taking that call.
That’s why, in a season where the Spurs are still in the middle of the pack at 16-11 and in playoff contention but not championship contention, it could be worthwhile for the Spurs to find trade partners based on team needs, not just who the team is okay with giving up.
Next: What the Spurs Need
Addressing the San Antonio Spurs’ needs
We’ve already talked this year about the Spurs’ lack of frontcourt rebounding and defensive struggles resulting from the Spurs sacrificing strong perimeter defense to compensate for lack of consistent interior defense aside from Jakob Poeltl, who is posting elite defensive numbers.
We’ve also touched on how the Spurs need to find more minutes for Devin Vassell and Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills’ increasing prominence, and the implications of returning Derrick White. See where I’m going with this yet, Spurs fans? The team is log-jammed at guard and on the wings and barren in the frontcourt.
That simple truth compounded that one of the team’s true bigs, Aldridge, is allowing his opponents to score on 49.4 percent of their field goal attempts, including a whopping 63.4 percent on shots taken at the rim, it’s easy to see what the Spurs need to do.
Quality costs quality, so to truly offset the Spurs’ problems, the Spurs need trading partners with a surplus of bigs looking to improve their backcourt and on the wings. This focus should rule out most teams in the NBA as trade partners. A team is rarely looking to give up exactly what one team needs and is looking for exactly what that team is willing to provide.
This means teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, who both have a surplus of bigs but no real need for more perimeter players, likely wouldn’t be willing to partner with their guys unless it was for a game-changer like Beal.
Since these teams consider themselves in contention, it means that anyone even remotely contributing for them is unlikely to be swapped back in return. Conversely, the teams that would benefit from trading for some of the Spurs’ perimeter talents with no frontcourt to send back are distractions. These are teams the Spurs shouldn’t focus on talking to ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
Instead, they should look at these four teams.
Next: Trade Partner No. 1
San Antonio Spurs potential trade partners: The Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics make a great trade partner for the Spurs because Boston is actively looking to compete. When I think about them this year, my thoughts immediately go to four things: One, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the future. Two, Kemba Walker is an amazing leader, but his injury frequency makes him tougher to rely on as a consistent third star. Three, the Celtics have no bench.
Four, and most importantly for the Spurs, the Celtics went all-in on a two-big lineup that hasn’t managed to live up to expectations. This means that while there is no way the Spurs are getting Tatum, guys like Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson, and Robert Williams III suddenly become available in talks.
Each of these guys is intriguing in their own ways, starting with all of their abilities to defend multiple positions. Theis is the best shooter of the bunch, Thompson is the best rebounder, and Williams has the most potential of all three. If any of the three become available, the Spurs should strongly consider calling up the Celtics and trying to broker some sort of deal, assuming GM Danny Ainge’s requested return price is reasonable.
Next: Trade Partner 2
San Antonio Spurs potential trade partners: The Cleveland Cavaliers
Speaking of Tristan Thompson, his old team is, at least on paper, the perfect trade partner for the Spurs right now. Sporting a loaded frontline including Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen, JaVale McGee, Larry Nance Jr, Thon Maker, Marques Bolden, and Dean Wade, the Cavaliers seem more ready to duke it out with the 80’s Bad Boy Pistons than modern contenders with more speed and shooting.
This leads to about exactly what you’d expect: typically, no more than two of these eight players are on the floor at once, and certain matchups even dictate that the Cavaliers’ larger wings like Cedi Osman and Taurean Prince get minutes at the four.
With the price tag on what the Cavaliers are paying both Drummond and Love, you’d have to imagine the Cavaliers would be open to better returns on their investments, especially if they make the team more competitive at the same time.
Enter the Spurs. Bolstering all the perimeter talent the Cavaliers lack in depth, the Cavaliers can help complement Collin Sexton and Darius Garland while also offloading some of their limited-use frontcourt players to help support Jakob Poeltl on the Spurs frontline in a more meaningful role.
Drummond and Love are obviously the biggest names of the Cavs eight forward-centers, but guys like McGee, Nance Jr, and Jarrett Allen might be the better fits for the Spurs. McGee is a surprisingly mobile defender for someone his size, so while a lack of shooting makes it unlikely he and Poeltl would be able to play together, he would give the Spurs a true two-headed monster at the five that could consistently get stops inside and still get out and contest when necessary.
Nance Jr. is the most versatile player of the eight and could suit up for the Spurs at multiple positions, even next to Poeltl. Jarrett Allen is the most unlikely piece for the Spurs to be dealt, given the Cavs only acquired him as part of the Harden trade several months ago, but he splits the difference between McGee and Nance Jr. He’s a better shooter than McGee and more of an interior presence than Nance Jr.
He’s also the youngest of this trio and likely has the largest upside in which the Spurs could invest. If the Cavs make any of these three available, the Spurs would be wise to make a move, depending on the asking price.
Next: Trade Partner No. 3
San Antonio Spurs potential trade partners: The Denver Nuggets
I’d be remiss not to talk about just how much the Nuggets and the Spurs can help each other. There’s no way around it, the Nuggets are Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray’s team, and rightfully so. This means if the Nuggets have an Achilles heel, it’s a lack of talent and depth on the wings.
Will Barton Jr. and Gary Harris are both tremendous players, but neither has quite lived up to expectations this year. This truth, and the simple fact that this team goes as far as Jokic can take them, means that Isaiah Hartenstein, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, and even Bol Bol and Michael Porter Jr are essentially competing for one starting roster spot at power forward.
Jeremi Grant knew this, took his talents elsewhere, and is experiencing the pay off of betting on himself. Naturally, the Nuggets have tried to mitigate these concerns with a bunch of really big lineups, including playing both Porter Jr. and even the 7-3 Bol Bol on the perimeter. Still, those lineups have yet to materialize into anything promising on either end, so here we are.
Enter the Spurs, who could give the Spurs a quality perimeter player they know they could rely on to close games out, all for the price of guys who aren’t playing consistently in crunch time anyway.
Next: Trade Partner No. 4
San Antonio Spurs potential trade partners: The Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies might be the most intriguing trade partner for the Spurs right now because of just how lopsided they are at the wings (and I mean wings because NONE of what I say applies to Ja Morant, who is a bonafide star). With all due respect to the Grizzlies’ perimeter talent, and especially Dylan Brooks, who’s had a fantastic year, I bet Ja would love to throw a lob to Lonnie Walker IV right about now or dunk on a pass from Derrick White (just to think of a few dream hypotheticals.)
While the Spurs would undoubtedly have to trade better players to the Grizzlies, the returns would also be super bright. Jonas Valanciunus, Brandon Clarke, Gorgui Dieng, and dare I say it, even Kyle Anderson could help the Spurs this year.
The key piece to this all would be Jaren Jackson Jr, who helps the Spurs by either being the absolute perfect piece assuming he is healthy or what is more likely, the Grizzlies commitment to him means that some of these other frontcourt pieces become available due to their need on the perimeter superseding their need for five bigs.
While the Spurs are hitting their stride, there’s no harm in always looking to improve that little bit more. The trade deadline this season will be March 25th at 3 pm ET.