In a survey to the Air Alamo staff, I asked them one simple question: Should the Spurs tank or compete for the rest of the season?
I intentionally left the question open to interpretation. Tanking can take many meanings, including sitting guys out with "nagging injuries" or playing bizarre lineups. In the case of a team like Oklahoma City, it's all of the above. Here's what everyone said in response, along with their reasoning.
1. Will Eudy - Compete
"The Spurs have enough picks to move up and take whoever they want in the draft. It's better to compete for play-in with it being a close race and favorable schedule down the stretch."
2. Roberto Araiza - Tank
"The task here is is to choose between tanking and competing, so being that I'm more or less forced to choose here, I'll go with the tank. In reality, though, I think this is more of a spectrum than a black-and-white issue.
Do I think the play-in tournament can be beneficial for a team on the cusp of success? Sure, and I think the bubble Phoenix Suns are a perfect example of that. Their young core of ceiling-raising players in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges got their first taste of what playoff basketball looks like. Then the team went on the market and got their very high-level connecting piece in Chris Paul along with some good role players.
Since then, they’ve reached the NBA Finals and are now the #1 seed in the West this season. I don’t like watching the Spurs lose -- and I never will -- but they also aren’t at a point where participating in a play-in tournament would make a significant difference going forward. The team generally does not look good as a unit on defense, they’re still lacking a consistent second scoring option to close games next to Dejounte Murray, and even a high-level connector piece likely will not propel them to a deep playoff run, let alone the NBA Finals.
The unpleasant fact is that the Spurs need more star power and more switchable frontcourt defenders at the very least. If they can’t find and lure those players in free agency, which I don’t think they’ll be able to, then they have to find them in the draft. I’d like for the Spurs to make a playoff run and have a high draft pick at the same time, but they can’t have their cake and it eat it too.
Building a championship team is all about bringing high-ceiling cornerstone players together, putting good complementary pieces around them, and timing the group’s peak correctly. In my opinion, there is much more work for the Spurs to do in the draft before they can make a worthwhile Finals push."
3. Jonah Kubicek - Compete
"There are two reasons for the Spurs to compete and try and win games as the season winds down, and both of them reflect poorly on other teams. First, it would be incredibly satisfying to beat the Lakers in a play-in game, so much so that doing that alone is worth missing out on a top-tier draft pick.
Second, look at the teams currently behind the Spurs. The Kings, Pacers, Magic, and Pistons are all terrible at drafting, so being behind them means plenty of talent will still be on the board when the Spurs are called to the podium.
In addition, by making the playoffs after routing the competition in the play-in, the Spurs will still have a top 16 pick, two other 1st round picks, and a ton of money. They'll have proved they're only a piece or two away from legitimate contention. It would suddenly make S.A. the most attractive small market free agent destination in recent memory."
4. Cal Durrett - Tank
"The Spurs have little left to play for this season, so they should take their foot off the gas. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little difference between the Spurs tanking and competing since both routes are likely to end with a loss.
So the Spurs should begin resting Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl down the stretch to maximize their pick and possibly put them in a position to land a top four pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Doing so would be a game-changer, and even the chance of that is better than competing for the play-in tournament."
With four staff members down, we're tied at two apiece. Let's see how the final three answered.