The San Antonio Spurs have embraced a full rebuild and tank for the first time since 1996, officially ending one of the longest eras of competitive basketball in NBA history. In order to rapidly rise up the NBA ranks and snag a top-tier prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Spurs will have to rush to the bottom. The only question: is that a race they can win?
Can the San Antonio Spurs be as bad as they need to be?
While the Spur are now without All-Star Dejounte Murray and really have no clear number one option (Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Joshua Primo), other teams are worse for wear. The Oklahoma City Thunder have spent the better part of five years vying for the best draft picks possible, and 2023 will be no different.
Despite having promising young players in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Darius Bazley, and rookie Chet Holmgren, it looks like the Thunder will be right alongside San Antonio as the cellar dwellers of the NBA Western Conference. Holmgren is out for his entire rookie year with a foot injury sustained in a summer pro-am game, and Gilgeous-Alexander, the best player on the roster, will miss most of the preseason with an MCL sprain, although the timeline for his return is very loose.
If the Thunder don’t want to push it, Gilgeous-Alexander could miss most of the season, allowing Giddey to further develop. Holmgren will not appear until next season, so that ship has sailed. With reports of Shai being “fully committed” to OKC, maybe the Thunder want to pair their promising young backcourt with two unicorns: Victor Wembanyama and Holmgren.
Assuming Gilgeous-Alexander plays and plays well, the Spurs should easily lose more games than the Thunder. If he is sidelined, however, the Spurs might have to rest Vassell, Poeltl, and Johnson a lot down the stretch to ensure they have the best odds in the lottery.
If Gilgeous-Alexander only misses the preseason, I don’t think Spurs fans will have much to worry about. But if the Thunder are committed to a full tank, the Spurs will have a long season full of losing ahead of them.