Every Spurs fan, regardless of what camp they stood in pre-season (Team Tank, Team Play-In, or *shudders* Team “Pop Should Retire”), is resigned to the fact the Spurs are going to be sellers, not buyers, at the trade deadline. However, just because San Antonio will likely move on from their veterans doesn’t mean the team can’t get better.
Of course, picks will be a good way of building for the long term. First-rounders have been the focus of most trade rumors involving the Spurs. Air Alamo spent tons of time on Kyrie Irving-centric trade articles this weekend. But after Sunday’s blockbuster that sent him to Dallas, I’ve got an idea: let’s pivot away from trades where San Antonio acts as the third party.
Instead, I’ll focus on another rumored move— a Jakob Poeltl-Raptors reunion. However, instead of emphasizing picks, why don’t we blow this into a mega-deal? Just for fun?
Toronto has had a pretty disappointing year after their somewhat-surprising run to the playoffs last season. Trade discussions have popped up about all five of their best players not named Scottie Barnes, even as Pascal Siakam puts up another All-NBA caliber season. The Raps have been among the most-talked-about teams in conversations about Thursday’s deadline.
The players teams are calling the most about are Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. VanVleet, while filling a position of need at guard, doesn’t necessarily fit the timeline in San Antonio—he turns 29 at the end of the month. Anunoby, meanwhile, is only 25 and is quietly making a case for Defensive Player of the Year.
Assuming you’re a rational Spurs fan, I know your first thought has to be— “Not Keldon!” And I get it. As I said in response to another fan of the Silver & Black who tweeted a similar reaction to an OG-for-KJ trade, I love Keldon Johnson. His growth from the 29th pick in the draft to a 20 PPG scorer has made the Kawhi trade semi-bearable.
However, Keldon’s peak in the NBA is probably the fifth or sixth guy on a team that contends for the playoffs year in and year out. The fact that he’s a non-factor on defense severely hampers his long-term development arc, especially considering his best fit on the court is as a forward.
The Spurs would need a legendary defensive backcourt to make up for Keldon’s deficiencies on that end, which is a tough ask considering that Malaki Branham (also seen in the above graphic) factors heavily into the Spurs’ long-term plans too.
With Anunoby on the wing, Malaki’s defensive aptitude is no longer a concern. In fact, I would be pretty confident that their defense, which sits on the fringes of worst in league history, becomes league-average in one next year (even while losing Jakob Poeltl, one of the best rim-protectors in basketball).
“Still, giving up two of the three best current Spurs is too much for a guy who’s in a lot of trade talks,” you may retort. Here’s the deal- Jak is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and San Antonio may lose him for nothing. OG is a better fit next to Vassell, Sochan, and (hopefully) one of Scoot or Wemby than Keldon is.
Why does Toronto do this?
Multiple reasons might motivate the Raptors to green-light this deal, a few of which I’ve already written about— their interest in Jak, their need to shake things up (thus, almost all of their players being on the trading block).
The case for why OG fits so well in San Antonio is almost exactly the case for why he doesn’t mesh in Toronto. The Spurs are missing length on the perimeter, and though they are also low on self-creation, that is not as much of a concern with a top draft pick around the corner.
The Raptors are all length with Barnes, Siakam, and Anunoby (as well as Chris Boucher, Thad Young, Khem Birch, Otto Porter, and Precious Achiuwa off the bench). What they lack, outside of VanVleet, is creators. Keldon adds scoring from all across the court and would benefit from having a pass-first wing like Scottie Barnes next to him.
Although they are reportedly looking for three picks in return for OG Anunoby, the Raps are also considering returns comprised of young players that fit next to last year’s ROTY. As I wrote above, I believe Keldon adds something Toronto has been missing in this down-season. They also receive a coveted player (Poeltl), whose team also set the asking price at two firsts.
If Toronto asks the Spurs for some draft capital in the deal, I'm still in on this trade. With 12 first-rounders on tap over the next six years, San Antonio should be okay making the picks cupboard a little lighter to make the landing spot a little easier on the upcoming lottery pick.
How does San Antonio approach the rest of this season?
Anunoby is an excellent fit with the current construction of the Spurs or whatever they look like after adding a guy in the lottery this summer. That versatility generally would translate to winning more basketball games. However, the Spurs have the third-worst record in the NBA. With a focus on a potentially franchise-altering draft, it's best to keep it that way.
OG and Vassell—far and away the two best players on the team after the deal—have dealt with nagging injuries, so maybe letting them get healthy for the rest of the season would be in everyone’s best interest.
The resulting dream Devin-OG-Sochan-Wemby/Scoot quartet could be San Antonio's best shot at becoming contenders sooner rather than later.