Should Jakob Poeltl's dominant start make Spurs second-guess trading him?
By Cal Durrett
The San Antonio Spurs' starting center Jakob Poeltl is widely expected to be dealt before this season's trade deadline, if not sooner. However, he's arguably been the team's second-best player thus far during a surprising 5-3 start. That could make the Spurs second-guess any plans to trade Poeltl, though his play could make him all the more valuable to another team that was already interested in him.
The Spurs will have to weigh the short-term against the long-term. In the short term, Poeltl is among the best centers in the NBA, but in the long term, this team isn't ready to compete anytime soon, and Poeltl is in the prime of his career. With this in mind, let's see whether Poeltl's dominant start will make the Spurs second-guess trading him.
Should the Spurs still trade Poeltl?
Although Poeltl is generally seen as a terrific defender, he's made plenty of strides on the offensive end. Beginning last season, the Spurs used him more as a playmaker, and he's proven to be surprisingly effective in the role. Long-time Spurs fans know that coach Gregg Popovich's offense has often relied on big men such as David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and Pau Gasol to help create for others, whether it be as a hub in the post, in dribble-handoffs, or in high-low actions.
Now Poeltl is doing the same and helping to diversify the offense. In addition to his passing, Poeltl has been helpful as a screen setter, freeing up Doug McDermott for open threes, Tre Jones for drives, or giving Keldon Johnson a partner in the pick and roll. His ability to score effectively around the rim, as well as an increasingly accurate floater, has allowed him to rack up easy points simply by knowing where to be.
Factor in his offense, rebounding, and, of course, his rim protection, and Poeltl is a big reason why the Spurs have five early wins. There are two options that the Spurs could take regarding Poeltl. The first option is to keep Poeltl for the rest of the season, seeing as how the team has played with him as its backbone.
After the season, the Spurs could either let him leave, try to sign and trade him, or try to re-sign him to a long-term contract. The other is to trade him rather than risk seeing him leave in unrestricted free agency and losing out on a valuable asset or two in the process.
The first option comes with the downside of making the Spurs good enough to compete but not bad enough to land a top pick in the 2023 NBA draft. They could always re-sign him to a 4-year deal, considering he's only 26 years old, but there's no guarantee that the team will be any good at any point over the next four seasons, and Poeltl still has a glaring weakness.
That may make re-signing him unlikely. As a result, trading him seems like the better option, but when is the biggest question. Waiting until the trade deadline could limit the return for Poeltl, but his strong play could draw interest from several teams.
Earlier is probably better, though the Spurs could try to sign and trade him like they did with DeMar DeRozan. That's risky, however, and if the Spurs let it be known that he's available to the highest bidder, teams could, in fact, bid on Poeltl. A first-round pick should be the minimum; the higher the better, as well as possibly a future pick swap ala the Derrick White trade.
That may require the Spurs to take back a contract or two with another year remaining, but the Spurs can afford to. After all, Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford were both parts of the White trade, providing on-court value in addition to the draft assets received for White. Overall, the Spurs shouldn't second-guess trading Poeltl. His dominant start should increase the return for him and possibly make a trade involving Poeltl happen sooner rather than later.