Even before the season began, pundits have already marked the 2021 NBA free agency as a wide field of player movement that figures to shift the NBA landscape. However, with many of the league’s stars already signing extensions and taking themselves off of big boards, franchises with ample cap space may find the summer quite stale, especially the San Antonio Spurs.
Dubbed as the “summer of Giannis”, the Most Valuable Player for the past two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, bannered an ensemble class of free agents in 2021. However, to the chagrin of big markets, the Greek Freak signed a max extension with Milwaukee.
Several other big names have also decamped from the FA table, such as Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, LA Clippers’ Paul George, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, and of course, LA Laker’s LeBron James. Even Jrue Holiday has recently agreed to a gargantuan extension just days ago.
As a result, most of the glimmer surrounding the summer of 2021 has dimmed. This is not ideal for the San Antonio Spurs, who is one of the only three teams (aside from the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder) with a projected cap space north of 45 million.
We had once believed that all of that cap space and the assortment of free agents would let the Spurs use this summer’s class as a springboard to put themselves back into the top of the Western Conference. That dream seems to be fading fast.
San Antonio Spurs won’t be saved by free agency this summer
The Spurs have the cap space to remake their team but who will they be able to bring in? Here are the notable names left in the updated free agency big board, per Yahoo! Sports.
- Player Options: Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Norman Powell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Will Barton
- Restricted Free Agents: Lonzo Ball, John Collins, Duncan Robinson, Lauri Markkanen, Jarrett Allen
- Unrestricted Free Agents: Mike Conley, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, Evan Fournier, Andre Drummond, Dennis Schroder, Kelly Oubre Jr., Richaun Holmes, Derrick Rose
In foresight, the Spurs may be even more limited with who they can and want to pursue. Kawhi Leonard is KAWHI LEONARD. Paul is setting a winning culture in Phoenix and may opt-out to secure a last big contract with the Suns. Portland traded for Powell with hopes of re-signing him. Dinwiddie’s skillset overlaps with San Antonio’s young core. The same goes for Barton and Ball. Robinson is a taller Patty Mills. Conley is not leaving Utah as much as Oladipo is not leaving Miami.
Those mentioned are mostly in the guard positions. The San Antonio Spurs are pretty well set in the backcourt. PATFO may then pivot to snagging frontcourt players to clear up positional logjam while not compromising the development of the young core.
The most intriguing fit for the Silver and Black is Atlanta’s John Collins, whose athleticism meshes well with the open court style of the Spurs. However, the young forward has already declined the Hawks’ offers in pursuit of a max contract. Collins has yet to show that he is worthy of a max contract, but his promise of being a nightly 20-10 threat is enticing for rebuilding teams in need of ammo in the PF spot.
To pry him away from The Big Peach, PATFO may have to offer him a max contract to prevent them from matching. To beat out other suitors, a compensatory sign and trade, a la Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana in 2019, is a possible direction if the Spurs are desperate to get him.
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Another hot name among Spurs circles is Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish big man is a modern-day floor spacer who has loads of promise, though his development with the Bulls has been inconsistent. At 7″0, he has a smooth offensive arsenal, although his defense leaves a lot to be desired. However, with Jakob Poeltl and San Antonio’s army of pesky perimeter threats, Markkanen may find himself fitting perfectly in the Alamo City.
The financial maneuver to get him is also similar to Collins. The San Antonio Spurs may have to overpay him in their offer to discourage the Bulls from matching. Again, this depends on if the front office and the ownership are willing to give out booming contracts to make a splash.
However, if PATFO wants to be more conservative, there are options. Richaun Holmes is very efficient in the pick and roll and may serve as a superb back-up at the 5, or even at the 4. Montrezl Harrell, while undersized, is a snug fit with the personality and tempo of the young Spurs. The best thing is that they will cost less to pry away from their current teams.
Maybe the Spurs hold onto DeRozan, though extension talks are seemingly stymied at the present. It is doubtful that the team will offer him a long-term contract, but something in the tune of a 2-year max extension may not be out of the woods, and for good reason. That being said, his willingness to stay in the Alamo City will be the deciding factor. My guts tell me that this will depend more on him wanting to stay than the Spurs wanting him back.
Though the 2021 free agency class is not as golden as it once seemed, the San Antonio Spurs are in a unique position to acquire talents to match with their young core to accelerate the rebuilding phase of the franchise. That being said, PATFO will have a lot of options, as well as hard decisions to make, to ensure that the Silver and Black does not lose ground in moving forward towards contention in the future.