The San Antonio Spurs have now officially missed the playoffs for the third straight season, the longest such streak in franchise history. This despite the Spurs' late-season surge, which earned them a spot in the play-in tournament.
While disappointing given the expectations of a rebuilding team, it's hard to say that this season wasn't a success for San Antonio. It could also be seen as a stepping stone for a young team that is destined for bigger things. In fact, the Spurs figure to be much better next season, mostly due to internal improvement, in addition to having several draft picks and significant cap space.
How the Spurs can improve through the draft
With so many tools at their disposal, it's possible that the team will return to the playoffs next season, but that is dependent on them having a successful offseason. With that being said, let's map out the ideal offseason for the Spurs.
The draft lottery is just a month away, and a lot rides on that event. San Antonio currently has a 20.3% chance of a top-four pick, and it almost goes without saying that it could be a potential turning point for the franchise if that happened. It's definitely possible, but more likely, the Spurs will select 9th overall. They could try to move up by packaging picks, but the teams in the top five presumably wouldn't be willing to trade back.
It wouldn't be worth it for San Antonio to trade up in the lottery if it isn't for a top-five pick. Still, even with the 9th pick, the Spurs should be able to add another talented young player to the roster, even one that can help them win next season.
Iowa power forward Keegan Murray fits that bill and is expected to be drafted in the Spurs' range. Murray was one of the most productive college players in the country this past season, averaging an excellent 23.5 points, on 63.8% true shooting, as well as 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.3 steals.
If he fell to San Antonio, he could start for the Spurs next season and provide them with a boost on both sides of the ball. On offense, he'd be an effective interior scorer that can also space the floor and knock down threes. Meanwhile, defensively, he is quite versatile and can defend both on the perimeter and at the rim.
Nabbing Murray would be a score, but the Spurs will also pick either 20th or 21st and 23rd, 24th, or 25th (depending on tie-breakers), as well as having the 38th pick. Combining all three selections to add another lottery pick would be ideal, but several teams in the top half of the draft already have multiple firsts and probably wouldn't be interested in more.
With that being the case, the Spurs could use Toronto's first to select 6'10 point-forward Nikola Jovic, and use Los Angeles' second to take Ousmane Dieng or Max Christie.
They should also trade Boston's selection to another team for a 2023 1st round pick. That would give the Spurs an extra first in next year's draft while saving a roster spot.
What should the Spurs do in free agency?
The Spurs, in theory, could have as much as $36 million in cap space. Despite that, there are few free-agent targets worth pursuing, not to mention that they'll have limited roster spots available. As a result, the Spurs should instead look to tweak their roster rather than overhaul it.
One of the first orders of business should be to re-sign Lonnie Walker, given that he played much better in the second half of the season and may have finally turned a corner. Fortunately for the Spurs, and less so for Walker, I don't expect another team to come with a big offer in restricted free agency.
The reason being teams may not want to overpay Walker to try and pry him away from San Antonio, nor do they want to tie up cap space during the first few days of free agency when most deals are agreed to. Also, the Spurs can make it clear that they plan on bringing him back, and that could scare interested teams away, allowing them to retain Walker on a favorable deal.
With Keegan Murray on the Spurs and Walker back on a team-friendly deal, San Antonio could have a new starting power forward and a deep bench. That bench would include Walker, Tre Jones, Josh Primo, Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott, Zack Collins, Jock Landale, Romeo Langford, Keita Bates-Diop, Joe Wieskamp, Devontae Cacok, and Nikola Jovic.
That means San Antonio could enter the preseason with up to 17 players under contract, not including two-way players, unless cuts or trades are made. Speaking of cuts, Langford is likely to be waived, if not included in a trade, while either Wieskamp or Cacok could also be odd men out.
As far as trade options, McDermott is the player most likely to be moved, given his potential trade value and that he may have a decreased role next season. Thus, the Spurs should trade McDermott for a 1st round pick rather than have his value decrease by holding on to him too long.
With McDermott gone, it would help ensure playing time goes to younger players, which is key considering that the Spurs will still be in player development mode even if they're competing for the playoffs next season. Therefore, fans shouldn't expect too much roster turnover and for the Spurs to have a similar rotation with Murray, Vassell, Johnson, Murray, and Poeltl starting, and Jones, Primo, Walker, Richardson, and Collins in the second unit.
Overall, the Spurs are in a good position to have a successful offseason with draft picks and cap space at their disposal, but they don't need to do anything splashy to improve. Instead, much of that will likely come from younger rotation players getting better over the summer, making that the ideal offseason.