Patty Mills’ career year prompts hard decision for San Antonio Spurs

Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) during the game at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) during the game at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

At age 32, Patty Mills is having his best professional season in the NBA, fortifying an almost decade-long run of being one of the league’s best bench catalysts and a San Antonio Spurs fan favorite.

Career years are normally celebrated in the NBA, especially when the one peaking is a role player. Booming contracts and spread-eagled interest across the association usually accompany such prowess in the hardwood, ensuring longevity and prosperity in the business-driven league.

True to his word in channeling “FIBA Patty” in San Antonio, the Aussie guard has so far recorded career-highs across the board to the tune of 13.3 points per game on 45/40/93 shooting splits, becoming a critical piece in charging the Silver and Black towards its rather surprising start.

So why is his peaking performance possibly a source of dilemma for the Spurs brass?

San Antonio has always been a franchise rooted in loyalty and continuity. From the Big Admiral to the Big Three and even to its treasured role players, the Spurs are known to stick to their guns while rewarding them handsomely.

However, this iteration of the Spurs figures to veer away from that Popovich-ian custom. A few years away from its last championship contention, San Antonio is verging on a complete rebuild centered around its young core, who continues to impress even with withdrawn opportunities. The key question is, what role does Patty have in that rebuild?

How does Patty Mills fit into the future of the San Antonio Spurs?

This is where the dilemma comes with Mills. While his play on the court this season has been nothing short of stable and galvanizing, the opportunity that he gets is only directed towards the short-term goal of winning games. “Bala” has won the Spurs games here and there thanks to his flamethrower shots off the bench, but if anything, this presents the front office with a quandary to which no easy answer can be found.

Mills will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Given the customs of the Spurs PATFO, they are bound to reward him with another substantial contract as the on-court leader of the second unit. However, this presents two question marks that lie passively in his brilliance.

First, with the bevy of backcourt talents in the Alamo City, does he still have a resounding reason to stay instead of heading to a contender? Aside from their troika of guards in Derrick White, DeJounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker, not to mention their wings in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, Popovich and co.’s recent draft decisions give them sufficient leeway to absorb a potential Mills departure.

His successor looks ready to assume a prominent role in the NBA already. Tre Jones has been lighting up the G-League and could be ready to take over as the leader of the bench as soon as next season. Quinndary Weatherspoon should be able to contribute sufficiently next season as well.

Second, Gregg Popovich will almost surely do everything in his power to keep corporate knowledge in-house. Mills easily has the most experience in the storied Spurs system. However, is the front office ready to trump the soaring offers that other teams may present to pry him away from San Antonio? They probably are, but in essence, they should not.

If Patty settles on a bargain and is willing to accept a player-coach role a la Udonis Haslem in Miami and play in short spurts when needed, then the Spurs should absolutely lock him up for a few more years.

But, if his impressive play garners the attention of contenders around the league looking to add another veteran ball-handler to their team, there is a price that the Spurs should be unwilling to pay. If a contending team is willing to pay Mills more than the Spurs while also giving him a chance to capture another title, it would be unfair to expect Mills to accept a pay cut to stay in the city he’s called home for the last decade.

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Patty Mills has been a quintessential Spur in his long tenure with the organization. Still, San Antonio Spurs fans need to prepare themselves for the possibility that Patty ends up playing for another team next season.