San Antonio Spurs Rumors

The Spurs' Jakob Poeltl conundrum: to trade or not to trade

Jakob Poeltl - San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers
Jakob Poeltl - San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers / Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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The case for the Spurs trading Jakob Poeltl

While I'd love to continue talking about 'the good,' unfortunately, the case to part ways with Poeltl before the trade deadline is almost just as strong, which is why so many conversations have been sparked around this topic in the first place.

Poeltl's skillset is more unorthodox than it is modern

I consider Poeltl's skillset to the one of the most unique in the league for a big. His combination of playmaking, shot-blocking, and rebounding make him of of very few bigs to be a realistic triple-double threat on any given night. But even so, his skillset errs more on the side of unique or unorthodox rather than modern. He isn't particularly switchable on defense, doesn't have much of a jump shot outside of his impressive floater game, and isn't athetic enough to be a consistent lob threat.

If you're asking me, as great o a player as Poeltl is, I'd prefer that he's able to check at least one of those boxes. But already being 27 years old, Poeltl may already be coming close to tapping his ceiling. While I think the Spurs will be very hard-pressed to find another center that's as impactful as Poeltl is right off the bat--particularly if they aim to find a center in the draft--finding a center with a more modern skillset could equate to a "getting worse before getting better" situation.

Even if the Spurs were to miss out on the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, which is far more likely than unlikely, Duke's Dereck Lively and Oregon's Kel'el Ware could both be viable, more modern options. At this moment, however, my favorite center not named Wembanyama in the 2023 draft class may be Dayton's DaRon Holmes II, whom I urge any big Poeltl fans to start paying much closer attention to.

Playing Poeltl means sacrificing some lineup versatility

The golden rule of playing two non-shooting bigs on the floor together is that they both need to be able to pass the ball effectively. This is what makes Poeltl playable with Sochan in the Spurs' current starting lineup despite neither player currently being a reliable jump shooter. But the Spurs' primary focus concerning their roster-building efforts in the past few years has been all about two-way versatility, and rolling out a non-shooting frontcourt in the modern NBA limits what players the Spurs can run at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. More specifically, they all need to be above-average to elite shooters.

In the future, I think it will be ideal for Sochan to take over Poeltl's role as the Spurs' offensive hub with more on-ball reps and pair him with a rim protector that can stretch the floor a bit. If the Spurs are planning to add a modern big to the team through the draft, this wouldn't necessarily require them to also trade Poeltl, but it also wouldn't negate the less optimal lineup flexibility that comes with playing him. So essentially, if the Spurs value lineup flexibility over Poeltl's production, this could ultimately be a contributing factor toward the Spurs deciding to trade him.

Teams may outbid the Spurs for Poeltl in free agency

If you're asking me, I could certainly get over having to sacrifice a bit of lineup versatility, and I think the Spurs could even find a way to integrate his skillset into a competitive team. But I think the money could be what puts the nail in the coffin for the Spurs when it comes to keeping Poeltl around long-term. The Spurs currently have Poeltl on a very team-friendly contract, which is part of his allure as a trade target for championship-level teams. But this same team-friendly contract is what makes an extension highly unlikely for the Spurs because of rules established in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The maximum allowable extension the Spurs would be able to give Poeltl before he enters unrestricted free agency would be roughly a 4-year, $58 million contract, coming out to about $14.5 million per year. Brian Windhorst seems to think that he'll be able to earn more on the open market, and if he continues to play the way he has through mid-November, then I strongly agree with him. This means the Spurs would have to wait to offer him a larger contract in unrestricted free agency and risk losing him to another team for nothing.

If the Spurs had a more certain future and they knew that they already had a developing superstar on their roster, then it may make sense for the Spurs to give Poeltl a bigger contract next summer, even if it means overpaying a bit. After all, the team has gobs of cap space to work with. But the team's future is still far from being certain, and if rumors are any indicator, it seems like the Spurs don't think they have that superstar quite yet. So are the Spurs willing to bet that they can outbid other teams and that Poeltl's big payday would be worth losing cap flexibility? I'm not so sure.