Why the San Antonio Spurs are unlikely buyers at this season's trade deadline

Improving is the name of the game for any young NBA team, but while the San Antonio Spurs aren't an exception to that, their route of doing so likely won't include big moves at Thursday's trade deadline.
Oct 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; The NBA Championship banner is unveiled before a basketball game
Oct 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; The NBA Championship banner is unveiled before a basketball game / Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Five NBA championship banners are proudly displayed in the rafters at Frost Bank Center.

For the San Antonio Spurs, they mean everything. Those five large pieces of cloth are the reason an entire city in South Texas had a reason to celebrate in the streets until the late hours of the morning.

They're the reason Silver & Black colors are ubiquitous along the River Walk, and why you'll never meet a Spurs fan who isn't proud. San Antonio is everything to the Spurs, and the Spurs are everything to San Antonio.

Just ask the players.

"We're the only show in town," Spurs shooting guard Doug McDermott said of the city's relationship with the now-young team. "Everyone loves the Spurs, and we want to keep that going."

Doug McDermott
San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

More than just the stars on the court, however, the Spurs culture can be found in every nook and cranny of San Antonio — and of the team's iconic arena.

Cowboy hats sit atop the gendered icons labeling the bathroom signs in the concourse of Frost Bank Center, while an arena-exclusive Whataburger serves a constant slew of fans throughout the entirety of the 48-minute game. Bats have found their way onto the court multiple times, and both Victor Wembanyama and Manu Ginobili could attest to the surprisingly calm reaction from onlooking fans.

The minutiae of being apart of the "Spurs family" is what makes it special, but it's been awhile since they've experienced winning — and not just the one-off kind on a random Friday night.

When San Antonio's instantly-recognizable, green-eyed Coyote hits the court with a T-shirt cannon, fans on all levels of the arena hit their feet and shower the court with cheers. A noise level loud enough prompt the mascot to turn and fire a neatly rolled shirt in any direction.

When it lands, it rarely reaches the hands of fans in the nosebleeds, but it's happened before.

In fact, just one day after Christmas when the Spurs faced off against the Utah Jazz, it reached those five enshrined banners in the rafters. And when it collided with the Larry O'Brien trophy pictured on the 2007 banner, a cloud of dust formed. That banner hadn't been touched in years, obviously.

But apart from it having been 17 years since hanging the banner, the more interesting idea was less the "duh," and more the "why?"

Why hadn't it been touched?

Simply put, there hadn't been a reason. After another banner was hung in 2014 — marking the last time San Antonio has claimed a championship — there was never a fitting time for Frost Bank Center employees to make the trip upwards. The Spurs haven't won. They haven't excelled.

In fact, they've been nearer the other end of the spectrum.

In the five years that followed San Antonio's 2014 victory, Gregg Popovich's squad reached the playoffs. It played well enough to qualify and had lofty goals of winning another title, or — being extremely forward — a handful more.

That seemed attainable at the time, especially when back-to-back years of facing the Grizzlies resulted in dominant-looking series victories, but a sweep in the Western Conference finals at the hands of the Golden State Warriors ended the run that ended up being the closest the Spurs have come to another Larry O'Brien trophy.

After that, San Antonio began trending downhill, and sitting with just 10 wins in 51 tries despite rostering arguably the most generational prospect since LeBron James, that's puzzling.

It's not Wembanyama's fault. Not in the slightest. He's performed well despite facing copious amounts of pressure to be the next great Spur. The 7-foot-4 Frenchman has put up numbers that — had Chet Holmgren not missed his true first season — would have made him a unanimous Rookie of the Year winner.

Victor Wembanyama
San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

Wembanyama has been exactly what the Spurs have needed him to be — double-double machine and all. He's defended the rim with poise, scored at will and sat in front of reporters after almost every loss during his team's historic 18-game skid.

He's proven himself as the franchise cornerstone, yet the franchise seems to be at rock-bottom — on paper, that is.

Within the organization, the only directional word being used is up.

"We don't believe there is a deadline for success," Spurs owner Peter J. Holt told French media while in France a few weeks ago. "Some people try to take shortcuts to the top, to short-circuit the process, [and] it usually backfires. Having a generational talent like Victor, with other quality players, while having extended Pop for five years ... is the right thing to do.

"We want to build a superpower, ultra-competitive that lasts for a long time."

Holt's comments reveal the hope that San Antonio's fanbase has been hoping for. Wembanyama started that feeling, but — like many — the fans want more than just one player performing well to latch onto. So does Holt, and the rest of the front office.

But making a move at Thursday's trade deadline likely isn't going be their solution.

Yes, talents like Gary Harris, Kyle Kuzma, Dejounte Murray and Trae Young are on the market for any exploratory buyers, but San Antonio is likely to be more intentional with their decisions.

It needs a point guard to pair with Wembanyama, but given the choice to give up assets and shake things up on what's already been deemed a development season or load up for a big move during the offseason when it has a clean slate and more time with its rookie, the latter seems more appealing.

Forcing a deal based on the idea that "something isn't working," isn't the mindset San Antonio is entering with, and while a deal for Young is the closest move to an instant fix with long-term potential, the Atlanta Hawks point guard is more of a dream get than a realistic one at this point.

That's not to say the Spurs haven't been doing their research or looking into players not already on their radar, but with only 10 wins and plenty more room to grow for Wembanyama and company, the focus is largely set on that.

San Antonio wants to get better, but between Wembanyama's continued improvement and the sheer youth of its roster, it has time to do so. Rome wasn't built in a day, and — quoting Holt again — neither will an NBA "superpower" be.

A roster-shaking move is far from out of the question, but the chances of that happening Thursday are slim — the Spurs will remain patient.

“Our focus is not immediate other than individual development and team concepts,” Popovich said. “But if there’s a trade that would make sense both now and for the long-term, of course we look at it.”

For now, Popovich is still the coach, Wembanyama is still the star and dust will continue to collect on the iconic banners hung up in Frost Bank Center. But in due time, when the green-eyed Coyote takes his post at center court to launch a shirt toward the loudest section in the arena, he'll hit the banner to the right of the 2014 one.

It'll be freshly-minted, ever-iconic and exactly what the "Spurs family" wants.