The San Antonio Spurs are a historic franchise. They have had a history of being able to draft well to find diamonds in the rough and being able to win with a system established by a legendary coach in Gregg Popovich. Coaching has its limits, however, and even with Gregg Popovich finding a system that allowed his stars to thrive, the results haven’t been there. The Spurs got eliminated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets in 2019 and weren’t even in the playoffs by 2020.
For the Spurs, it is time to rebuild. No one knows for sure how they will move forward: there are a few directions they could go, and there could still be a pathway to the playoffs if the rebuild/retool is done right: the Spurs don’t have the best trade assets, but they’ve got a savvy GM and some useful pieces. Here are some steps to rebuilding that would put the Spurs on a path to the playoffs once again.
7. Draft Precious Achiuwa Or Jalen Smith
San Antonio currently has the 11th pick in the draft. The Spurs will most likely use that pick to draft a multi-positional defender: defense generally translates better than offense into the NBA and someone with hustle, above-average athleticism, and defense could be a great pick. Two players that fit the bill in the 2020 NBA Draft are Precious Achiuwa and Jalen Smith. They are both projected to be taken around that pick range, and both could have upside for the Spurs. Both of them will most likely start on the bench and may end up as role players: but they both could develop into great players, especially on the Spurs.
Precious Achiuwa has great measurements and athleticism while playing extremely hard. His stats on the year at Memphis seem promising: 15.8 PPG, 10.8 PPG, and 1.9 BPG. He has the athleticism to stay in front of perimeter players in small lineups while also using that same athleticism to block shots. If developed right, Achiuwa could turn into a great rim running big who scores off hustle plays and rebounds well. His shooting could be developed, but flaws come with prospects: it’s only natural.
Jalen Smith is also a big-man who plays the center position. He averaged 15.5 PPG, 10.5 PPG, and 2.4 BPG while shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc. He is also a true big man who can score well inside while being able to space the floor. Shooting at the center position is extremely valuable, making Smith a valuable prospect by default. Smith could develop into a great stretch 5 at the NBA level if he gets better at perimeter defense and lateral quickness: those are both things that the Spurs can work on.
6. Trade Into The 2021 NBA Draft
The Spurs are an aging team. It is prudent to rebuild, and having more draft picks won’t ever hurt. Philadelphia had a lot of picks during the Process: while they struck out on some (Michael Carter-Williams and Markelle Fultz) they also hit some (Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid). The Spurs could similarly accumulate draft picks and do the same. Perhaps the Spurs could be even more efficient than Philadelphia: they do have a history of drafting well.
The reason that the Spurs would trade into the 2021 NBA Draft, is because it is loaded with talent. The draft is loaded with top tier consensus talents like Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, while also having intriguing prospects who will be taken later like Kai Sotto. The class is just loaded with solid players who could develop into great players. If the Spurs get some draft picks for 2021, then they could easily draft talent that could help them in the future alongside their current young core.
5. Develop Dejounte Murray
Dejounte Murray is a defensive savant with a budding offensive game. He was sidelined for the 2018-2019 season with an ACL injury but was an All-Defensive selection the season before that. He has developing shooting skills, as well as the ability to impact the floor beyond scoring the ball. In the Orlando bubble, he averaged 12.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 4.1 APG with 1.4 SPG in his limited playing time. Murray had a couple of double-doubles in the bubble yet struggled with consistency and the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs.
Sometimes, teams give up on young players and don’t give them the time to develop. With the Spurs that is less of a possibility as they are one of the most respected franchises in the NBA, with competent management and coaching. While they have done a great job developing Murray into the player that he is, more minutes might perhaps be further beneficial to his development as an all-around point guard who can do everything on the court while not scoring excessively.
4. Focus On Spacing
The Spurs’ two stars from 2020 were defined by one thing: their affinity for the midrange. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both midrange maestros, but on the court, their spacing is less than desirable due to their inability to stretch their jump shot beyond the 3PT line. Due to this, the Spurs should target players who can shoot from deep in free agency and trades; those players should also be passable defenders. The Spurs need their guys to do two things as part of their culture: swing the ball around to a shooter, and clamp up on the defensive end. As such, they need to go back to their winning formula and get some guys who can shoot and defend.
There are a lot of guys like that who come to mind in free agency. 3 and D guys aren’t the highest paid, but they’re a valuable player type to have on your team. Players like Joe Harris and Jae Crowder are available in free agency. They’re not the most glamorous signings, but they get the job done and play hard on both ends. They could also both step into limited roles on a team and excel in that role. Those are both things that the Spurs value. There are also a few hypothetical trades they could pull off to find their player: one of such trades is with the Rockets.
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Robert Covington
Houston Rockets Receive: Rudy Gay and 2025 Spurs First-Round Pick
Under their management, it is doubtful that their rebuild will take very long. As such, they could trade Rudy Gay. Gay is an expiring contract while being a solid role player who does not fit their timeline. The pick they would give up is far into the future and could be a pick that isn’t worth much, leading the Spurs to trade it. Robert Covington would be a great option to pursue as he fits well on any team as a 3 and D player. The Rockets recently lost GM Daryl Morey, and they may trade away some pieces. They lost a lot of first-round picks in the past trying to contend, and the Spurs future pick in 2025 could buoy some of those losses. Rudy Gay would also allow for an adequate replacement of Covington on their team in the present contending timeline.
3. Trade LaMarcus Aldridge To The Portland Trail Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge is a great player who is headed towards the end of his career. He is getting older and hasn’t won a championship yet. Aldridge started his career in Portland with the Trail Blazers and could seek to be reunited with former teammate Damian Lillard before his retirement. Aldridge could have the possibility to finish his career where he started, with some added benefits for the Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs receive: Trevor Ariza, Zach Collins, and 2021 Trail Blazers First-Round Pick
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: LaMarcus Aldridge
In this scenario, LaMarcus Aldridge would be traded to the Trail Blazers to create a superteam with Damian Lillard, C.J McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. The Trail Blazers might re-sign Carmelo Anthony as well, making them a very well-rounded team in the West, while giving Lillard a lot of talent to work with. They could make the Finals. The Spurs, in turn, get a late first-round pick from the Trail Blazers, and a solid culture fitting role player in Trevor Ariza for a year. Zach Collins is a young big man who can space the floor, albeit one who is inconsistent and coming off season-ending ankle surgery. The Spurs would evaluate whether Collins could be a good fit post-injury, and be able to match any offer he gets in the future, as Collins is a restricted free agent in the 2021 offseason.
2. Trade DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is a bonafide 20 PPG scorer. There is no question about that. There are two problems with him off the court: the first is that he has a huge player option that he’ll most likely take, and the second is that it will be the last year of his contract. Those two factors combined with the fact that he doesn’t fit in a rebuilding timeline means that he should be traded for assets, rather than leaving for nothing. DeRozan could provide some value to a team that desperately needs scoring, and raises the floor of any team significantly. The hypothetical trade proposed below is one with the Raptors.
San Antonio Spurs receive: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw
Toronto Raptors receive: DeMar DeRozan
In this scenario, DeRozan gets sent back to Toronto to form a big 3 with Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. All three are All-Star caliber talents. DeRozan brings shot creation to the Raptors and gets reunited with his former teammates. The Spurs get a set of young talent to develop. Powell and Anunoby are both players that could turn into solid pieces for the future. Both are good defenders who can shoot, and both flashed some difficult shot-making ability on the Raptors. This trade could happen if the Raptors want to contend within the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet, they could then use this trade to form a superteam. The Spurs would get some young players who could develop to be better, and a good defender and role player in Patrick McCaw.
1. Retain Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich is perhaps the greatest coach of the last 20 years, with 5 championships. Popovich has shown an ability to win without signing stars and playing a brand of team basketball: in 2014, the Spurs deposed a heavily favored Miami team led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. While Kawhi Leonard did get the Finals MVP in 2014 over the other aging stars on his team, they all contributed when it counted. Perhaps the bigger achievement for the team in 2014 is beating LeBron James with players who were in the twilight of their career (Duncan) or barely breaking out as stars (Kawhi Leonard). That is partly due to the coaching of Popovich.
Popovich is a priority for the Spurs: there is no way he wouldn’t be. There have been a lot of rumors of Popovich leaving the Spurs, or retiring completely. To let him go would be insanity. A lot of times during a rebuild, teams fire their coach in the hopes of establishing a new culture of winning basketball. However, when your coach has five championships winning is not a question of coaching. San Antonio’s biggest priority behind the scenes is the retention of Popovich. Popovich built the Spurs, and it is only fair to let him rebuild the team again to contention.