The San Antonio Spurs have been more active on the trade market than ever before, jettisoning fan favorites like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl over the last couple of seasons to kickstart a full-blown rebuild. Josh Richardson also found his way out of the 2-1-0 as the front office sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans at the deadline for Devonte' Graham and four future second-rounders.
With the Silver and Black looking to free minutes for young players and their divisional adversaries gearing up for a late-season playoff push, this seemed like a win-win deal when the two sides shook hands. Richardson supplied the Pelicans with a valuable 3-and-D presence to reinforce their backcourt rotation. And San Antonio received a veteran sharpshooter and draft capital to add to their hoard of assets.
More than two months have passed, the dust has settled, and the Spurs seem to be the undisputed winners of another lopsided transaction.
Even after adding Richardson to their second unit, New Orleans fell short of their postseason goals, going 13-13 over their last 26 games and losing in the first round of the Play-In Tournament. While the eight-year veteran was less efficient and productive for the Pelicans than he was in the 2-1-0, their mediocre performance had more to do with Zion Williamson sitting out the final three months of their schedule.
Richardson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, meaning he could sign with any team and leave the Pelicans empty-handed. Should he ditch the Big Easy, they essentially forked over a tolerable veteran contract and a handful of picks for a player that averaged 7.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. Though that isn't horrible roster management, it was a steep price for a lackluster half-year rental.
As for the Spurs, Graham offered their depleted club some much-needed spacing and pull-up shooting. The 28-year-old guard fell out of favor with Willie Green, but he earned regular minutes under Gregg Popovich. He put his marksmanship and passing on full display with San Antonio, recording 13.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists while draining an applaudable 35.6% of his 7.4 three-point attempts per game.
One concern from acquiring Graham was whether the Spurs could yield long-term worth from an undersized floor general with two years left on his contract. But he played well enough to restore his trade value, which could help San Antonio move him for additional draft picks. Or they could use him as an insurance policy if Tre Jones walks in free agency. Either way, the final season of his deal is only partially guaranteed for $2.85M.
As discussed several times in recent pieces on Air Alamo, the Spurs have a surplus of draft capital. Though the quartet of second-round picks they fetched from the Pelicans may not hold much weight individually, General Manager Brian Wright could package them to entice contending teams to part ways with their late first-rounders, giving them another chance to hit the draft jackpot with an overlooked youngster.
While the Spurs set themselves up to bolster their rebuild, New Orleans is short four picks, a flippable veteran contract, and no closer to contending for an NBA championship. San Antonio is winning this trade, and there are very few ways to spin this to favor the Pelicans.