With a little luck, the San Antonio Spurs could take home the first pick in the 2023 NBA Draft and select 7'4" french phenom Victor Wembanyama. Landing him would be a massive coup for a rebuilding team in the middle of what will likely go down as the worst season in franchise history. However, with Wembanyama, the Spurs could theoretically stage a huge single-season turnaround similar to what we saw during David Robinson's rookie season.
That task is easier said than done since he would have to immediately live up to lofty expectations for the Spurs to have a chance at the postseason. It's possible, but that leads to questions about whether the Spurs should try to win now or continue their rebuild if they secure Wembanyama. Let's explore both options and see which is best for their long-term future.
The case for winning now with Wembanyama
This season will mark the fourth year in a row that the Spurs have failed to make the playoffs, the longest streak in the franchise's 50-year history. Considering the team only began rebuilding last offseason, the front office may not have the patience for methodical roster construction if they have a potential superstar in hand.
That could be especially true if Greg Popovich plans to keep his coaching clipboard for another year or two. Pushing for the postseason with Wemby could be a way to give Popovich one last hurrah before he retires. Then again, perhaps the Spurs are already primed to be much better next season, and Wembanyama would help put the team in playoff contention. He would give the Spurs a massive upgrade in their frontcourt and draw plenty of defensive attention, helping Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell do their thing.
Then there are promising rookies Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham, and Blake Wesley, all of whom could improve over the summer and play more prominent roles next season. There are hints of a solid 10-man rotation buried on a roster that will likely lose 60 games this season. As a result, the Spurs could surround Wembanyama with enough talent to challenge for the playoffs.
The case for continuing the rebuild.
Even after drafting future superstars, most lottery teams don't make the playoffs immediately. LeBron James didn't lead the Cavaliers to the postseason until year three. The Thunder took three years to make the playoffs after drafting Kevin Durant, but they selected Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka in those subsequent drafts. The same is true for Luka Doncic, who didn't carry the Mavericks to the postseason until his second year.
All three players were terrific as rookies, but it took time for their teams to improve enough to make the playoffs. To the Spurs' credit, they have a far better core than any of those teams did, but the results may still be the same.
Teams in the 8-12 range in this year's playoff race all figure to be better next season, meaning that the floor could rise in the West, leaving the Spurs as one of the worst teams in the conference. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing. Becoming good too soon could hurt the Spurs. After all, slowly improving would allow the team to build up the roster with more lottery talent before trying to conquer the NBA.
The Spurs would undoubtedly be much better next season with Wembanyama, but the West could also be better. And try as they might, the Spurs' rebuild would likely extend beyond next season, whether they plan for it to or not.