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Did Spurs make a grave mistake not taking Okongwu from Hawks?

Onyeka Okongwu
Onyeka Okongwu / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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If the San Antonio Spurs' deal with the Atlanta Hawks went a little differently, they could have had 21-year-old Onyeka Okongwu on the roster ahead of the 2022-23 season.

As the two sides worked to get a deal done that would work for both, Spurs insider LJ Ellis reported there was a variation that included the 6-8 center as part of the deal. "The Spurs were given the option of receiving Onyeka Okongwu in place of one of the unprotected first-round picks," he said. "San Antonio deliberated but decided to decline."

In the end, the Spurs sent Dejounte Murray and Jock Landale to Atlanta for Danilo Gallinari (who was waived), a protected 2023 first-round pick, unprotected first-round picks in 2025 and 2027, and a 2026 pick swap. It was one of the first of several later trades made in the NBA to include a plethora of draft picks.

Did the San Antonio Spurs make the right call here?

This really comes down to whether Okongwu is worth a potential lottery pick. He's still barely going to turn 22 this December, so he certainly fits the Spurs' extremely young timeline. Through two seasons in Atlanta, he's started in 10 total games out of 98 and has battled some injury issues throughout.

The most severe injury that hit the young center was a torn right shoulder labrum last year -- one in which he had to have surgery and miss the first 28 games of the 2021-22 season. When he's been available, he's shown flashes of that monster inside game that made him such a promising prospect out of Chino Hills High School.

Unfortunately, there just hasn't been a lot of consistency in Onyeka's game so far despite his intriguing flashes. In the Hawks' five-game loss to the Miami Heat in the 2022 Playoffs, he averaged just 5.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game.

The fact that the Spurs reportedly deliberated on taking Okongwu over one of the picks shows they see some promise in him too, but it's hard to fault them for wanting an unprotected pick instead. After all, the Hawks followed up their Eastern Conference Finals appearance by barely putting up a fight in the first round last season.

Even with Dejounte Murray being added to the mix, the Hawks still have to contend with several Eastern Conference powerhouses like Boston, Milwaukee, and Boston going forward. Considering San Antonio has picks from Atlanta spanning the next five years, there's a decent chance at least a couple of those picks could yield something valuable in return.

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By opting out of including Okongwu, the front office is relying more on their drafting prowess than his ability to improve and stay healthy. Only one of those things is a surety so far, so Brian Wright should be able to rest easy that he got this one correct for now.

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