When Will the Spurs Realistically Return to the NBA Playoffs?

San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray / Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are currently on pace to win just 30 games this season, and the playoffs, while technically still in reach, feel just close enough for the team to fall just short of.

Assuming the team does miss the postseason, it will be the third straight season in which the Spurs have failed to make the playoffs. That raises the question of how long it will be until San Antonio returns to the playoffs.

Could it be another three years? Or can San Antonio make it back sooner? Let's take a closer look at when the Spurs might make the playoffs again.

This season marks the first year of a rebuild that was delayed by the presence of several veterans. With them gone, the Spurs are much younger, less experienced, and more inconsistent than previous teams. 

That said, before COVID-19 began to wreak havoc on the team, causing just about every player to miss time in the NBA's health and safety protocols, San Antonio appeared to be figuring things out. It doesn't look that way now, considering the Spurs have lost 10 of their last 12 games and have sunk in the standings like a stone. Long story short, the Spurs have a lot of work to do to get back to the playoffs.

The Spurs' player development and drafting are key

How fast they can get back hinges on several factors, with the first being player development. They have several promising players including Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Joshua Primo. Any of them could emerge as future stars and help the Spurs fast-track the rebuild, but Johnson and Vassell appear to be the most likely candidates. 

If either can make a leap into stardom in the next couple of seasons, they'd provide Dejounte Murray with a much-needed second option. That would increase the team's ceiling and the likelihood of San Antonio making the postseason.

Murray, who's been an All-Star-caliber player this season, can also continue to improve and doesn't appear close to having reached his ceiling. That bodes well for the Spurs going forward, especially If Murray can continue to elevate his game, particularly on offense. 

Murray increasing his scoring from nearly 19 points to around 25 points per game would be a game-changer. It would also take him from being a borderline All-Star to an All-NBA player. That could ensure that the Spurs not only get back to the playoffs sooner but eventually become contenders.

Beyond player development, drafting will play a huge part in getting this team back into title contention. With the Spurs sliding in the standings, that appears far away, but the odds of the team picking high in the lottery in this year's NBA draft appear to be increasing. 

That could help San Antonio quickly turn things around if they got lucky and ended up with a top-four pick. There, they'd be able to choose from Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, or another top prospect.

That would provide the Spurs a big talent infusion without having to give up assets. Not only that, but they could end up with the 31st pick via Detroit. When packaged with the Lakers second-rounder that they also own, that may allow them to trade up and acquire another first-round pick. 

Considering they drafted Murray, Johnson, and Derrick White late in the first round, acquiring a late first-round pick is realistic, makes plenty of sense, and could give them another talented young player. San Antonio could even look to make another trade following the draft to try and help get the Spurs back into the playoffs sooner. Moreover, there may be several options available this summer. 

Christian Wood, Domontas Sabonis, or Ben Simmons, could be potential trade options. Though given San Antonio's aversion to making trades in general, let alone splashy ones, that doesn't seem likely. On the other hand, the Spurs could look to consolidate assets into a player that they can pair with Murray.

Ultimately, the Spurs could still be two seasons away from making the playoffs, with the 2024-25 season appearing to be a realistic goal. As the talent on the roster continues to develop, it's entirely possible that that timeframe could be sped up. That could be especially true if they land a top pick. 

Other options for getting the team back in the playoffs earlier would be for them to make a big trade, and/or if Murray takes another big leap forward. The former seems unlikely, given San Antonio's track record, while Murray taking a jump into superstardom is at least a possibility.

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Barring that, it's realistic for Spurs fans to expect another two seasons of no playoffs before San Antonio is able to make it back to the postseason.