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San Antonio Spurs: Samanic’s growth making Gay a prime trade asset

San Antonio Spurs Luka Samanic Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs Luka Samanic Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
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I’m old enough to remember when some San Antonio Spurs fans were calling Luka Samanic a bust. After not proving himself to be NBA-ready in 48 minutes of action in his rookie season, some were ready to throw in the towel and call it. What a mistake that would have been.

After dominating the G-League bubble throughout February, Samanic was one of the young players the Spurs called up to the NBA to help bolster a roster depleted by players working through COVID-19 protocols. Since then he’s done nothing but impress us.

Luka’s last four games haven’t been otherworldly, mind-bending performances. But they have been gentle reassurances that what we saw from him with the Austin Spurs wasn’t a fluke and that he’s ready to take on a consistent role in the Spurs rotation even when they’re back to full strength.

If San Antonio wants to make Luka a permanent fixture in their rotation, it could open up some interesting possibilities for what they want to do with Rudy Gay. All of a sudden he’s looking like one of the best trade assets on the market.

San Antonio Spurs can trade Rudy Gay without worrying about their frontcourt

Let’s be upfront about one thing – this isn’t a call for the San Antonio Spurs to trade Rudy Gay. He’s been a valuable second unit contributor, a key member of one of the deadliest lineups in the NBA, and is one of the few veterans on the team with playoff experience. There’s no doubt that having him around can help the Spurs win games.

All of that said, Luka’s steady improvement lately has made trading Gay an easier situation to accept, if it comes to that.

The biggest areas of focus for Samanic coming into this season were his outside shooting, becoming more physical when he was on the court, and maintaining an engaged, positive attitude no matter what was happening. So far he’s done all of those things.

Luka’s shot has been a work in progress this season. He shot just under 30 percent in the G-League but has improved in the NBA. No longer functioning as the engine of his team’s offense, Samanic has had more time to get his shot off.

The extra space has helped him improve as a shooter and has also opened up driving lanes for Luka to fly down. He’s always preferred to get his points near the rim and that’s been his primary method of attack this season.

Even when he hasn’t had things going his way near the rim, Luka has stayed aggressive. He had a quick charge called in the contest against the Knicks but that didn’t stop him from driving back into the teeth of the defense on his way to a season-high 14 points.

His physicality shined through again in his defensive efforts. Even when he was matched up with a much stronger player in Julius Randle, Samanic didn’t back down. He kept his nose in Randle’s business and it was clear his physicality was bothering the first-time All-Star.

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Most importantly, his attitude and level of engagement have been outstanding. On offense you can always see him cutting, hustling to set screens, or repositioning himself around the arc to get open for a three. On defense he’s been locked in, giving 100 percent effort and remaining engaged even as he makes the mistakes that are part of the learning curve for any young NBA player.

Put it all together and you have a player that looks ready for a consistent role in an NBA rotation. And that makes Rudy Gay the most expendable player on the Spurs. If San Antonio wants to cash in on a veteran trade asset, now would be the time.

There’s no doubt that Gay would draw interest from teams around the league. He’s been rumored to be a player of interest to the Miami Heat and other contenders would likely kick the tires on what it would take to acquire him.

But if the future of the Spurs frontcourt rests on Samanic’s shoulders, and it certainly looks like it does, should the Spurs really be delaying the inevitable, especially if they plan on letting Gay walk in free agency this summer? If they reach a point in the decision-making process where it becomes clear that this is Gay’s last season in San Antonio it would make sense to get assets back for him while they can.

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Frankly, I’m perfectly fine with whichever path the San Antonio Spurs go down. Gay’s been a solid veteran who has helped them grind out games, if the Spurs continue to lean on him past the trade deadline I wouldn’t be upset. If they decide to part ways and give a larger role to Luka, that’d be a fine alternative. At this point, no matter how you look at it, it’s hard to feel too down about the future of the Spurs.

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