Evaluating the San Antonio Spurs Offseason
Soobum Im - USA Today Sports
How many blockbuster NBA headlines have we seen so far this summer? Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Clippers; Anthony Davis to the Lakers; Zion Williamson going no. 1 overall; Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul switching teams; Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving landing in Brooklyn. Not to mention Jimmy Butler, Al Horford and Kemba Walker going their own ways.
For the sake of continuity, and partially due to lack of flexibility, the San Antonio Spurs largely operated under the radar this offseason. They made tactical moves, drafting wisely and performing cap gymnastics to reflect market circumstances, while maintaining their 20-year-old organizational mantra: slow and steady wins the race.
But maybe not this year.
The Spurs’ offseason wasn’t without its own drama, however, with the strange signing and subsequent un-signing of Marcus Morris Sr. After agreeing to a two-year deal with San Antonio for a total of $20 million, Morris Sr. then declined the deal in favour of a one-year, $15 million deal with the New York Knicks.
The Spurs shipped out young shooting big man Davis Bertans in order to free up the space for Morris, and had to settle for Trey Lyles. It was a strange situation for both the Spurs and Morris Sr., who would’ve added more depth to what is already one of the deepest teams in the league.
It’s difficult not to feel somewhat sympathetic towards San Antonio and Gregg Popovich. They had to sit and watch their former superstar, Kawhi Leonard, play a single season in Toronto and bring the Raptors their first ever Finals appearance and NBA championship.
For a moment, just imagine if Kawhi had never left; how different would last season have been? And this offseason? That is an alternate timeline certainly worth exploring.
Alas, there’s simply no use in focusing on the past. Unfortunately, that seems to be a habit that's formed in the wake of San Antonio's performances over the last few seasons.
Let’s look at what they’ve done in the summer of 2019, and go from there.
Davis Bertans - Three team sign-and-trade to the Wizards
Rudy Gay - 1 Yr/$10 million
The New Guys
DeMarre Carroll - 3 Yrs/$21 million
Trey Lyles - Unannounced Contract Terms
Keldon Johnson - Draft, Kentucky
Luka Samanic - Draft, Croatia
Davis Bertans is going to be a sore loss. The Latvian (drafted in the same year as Kawhi) only played 21.5 minutes per game last season, but was one of the Spurs’ key threats from beyond the arc, where he averaged 42% on the long ball. As a 6’10" power forward, playing in the same frontline as LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl, that spacing was sorely needed; he will surely be missed.
DeMarre Carroll steps into this role immediately, coming off of the bench. Few role players are as suited to the modern game as Carroll. A 6’8 combo-forward and prototypical 3-and-D player, Carroll is a veteran and team-centric hustler who’s no stranger to playing for a good team. Stints in Brooklyn, Toronto and Atlanta have demonstrated that Carroll really is plug and play on most teams in the league; perhaps doubly true of the Spurs.
The importance of Carroll might be more so given the injury issues that have plagued Rudy Gay during his time in San Antonio. With Dejounte Murray returning from injury, Derrick White having a breakout season, and DeMar DeRozan being a more natural forward than a guard, Rudy Gay will likely start at the other forward position next season with Aldridge in the middle.
Here’s to hoping he can stay healthy, as his production has been strong in a Spurs uniform, shooting 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range last year.
Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic are unlikely to see much court time next year. Not only is the team deep, but it’s stocked with young and developing players who’ll be prioritized for garbage-time minutes. These two are, for now at least, a part of the long-term plan.
Johnson is an athletic wing who can shoot comfortably and can develop into a good defender. Samanic is - in true Spurs style - a European big that’s offensively versatile and plays a smaller game than his 6’11 frame might suggest.
Lyles is youthful and has untapped potential, but was a below-average defender in the front-court last season; he shot a horrendous 25.5% on three-pointers last year. The Spurs development system and coaching should help him get back to the form of the year prior, when the Canadian Lyles was very serviceable for the Nuggets on both ends as both a shooter and a defender.
None of their new signings are as important as development and regaining players from injury. Last year was a breakout season for Derrick White, a strong showing by Bryn Forbes, and an exciting, albeit brief (17 games) glimpse of Lonnie Walker IV.
Dejounte Murray will hopefully be returning to full health as a both a defensive ace and the Spurs’ starting point guard (who has fringe All-Star potential). An ACL tear suffered in the preseason held Murray out for the entirety of last year, after an All-NBA level defensive performance the year before. He was due to take a huge step forward last season but his injury made way for that stride to be taken by Derrick White instead.
This backcourt duo is probably the first sign of the Spurs moving off of DeMar DeRozan at some point soon. He was the key piece in the Kawhi Leonard trade. The 4-time All-Star averaged 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game last year in his first Spurs season, but he’s on a different timeline than Murray, White, Forbes, Poeltl and Walker; he also eats into a large chunk of the Spurs salary cap.
The writing could be on the wall for both DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Murray coming back is the Spurs biggest addition of the offseason. While all other teams seem to be doubling up on their stars, the Spurs just added a bit of seasoning to their age-old recipe.
Big questions remain for Spurs fans though. What’s the aim and direction of the team? What’s the goal? It’s all very well and good to stay in the playoffs, but once a team is entrenched in NBA purgatory (think 7-10 seed), it’s difficult to get out.
So, what's the recommendation? Well, Popovich is on record saying he won’t be coaching much longer and San Antonio seems to be planning for the post-Popovich era while attempting to stay relevant. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the Spurs decide to move on from DeRozan, Aldridge, Gay and Patty Mills in favour of the young blood, just in time for Becky Hammon to become the first female NBA head coach in league history.
The Spurs are an interesting team to follow for fans of culture and continuity, but that doesn't change the fact that they still didn't do enough this offseason to take on the rest of the West. For once, an offseason filled with the Spursian trend of under-the-radar moves and quiet tinkering could be working against them.