Last year, the Spurs missed out on the playoffs for the first time in Gregg Popovich’s coaching career. This season, the Spurs would have missed out on a traditional playoff format, but COVID-19 saved the team as league officials stretched the playoff format from eight to ten teams.
The Spurs were bounced from the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. The loss not only ended their playoff run but gave the team a losing record for a second straight season. When LaMarcus Aldridge decided to leave the team midway through the season, it was only the tip of the iceberg to a revolving thought among fans.
Are the Spurs ready to rebuild for the first time since the Tim Duncan era?
Duncan retired from the Spurs in 2014, but the team had a superstar pairing in Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. However, a torn relationship led to Leonard’s exit in 2018, and the Spurs have been barely hanging on with DeMar DeRozan at the helm. It’s clear that the team is old, aging, and just flat out not very good anymore.
As the 2021 offseason will be right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about what the Spurs will do.
The Salary Situation
The Spurs will have around $58.1 million in salary for next season. Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and DeRozan will all be free agents. Gay and Mills are likely gone as Gay is 34 and Mills will turn 33 in August. DeRozan will turn 32 years old but was the team’s best player after averaging 21.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists.
The Spurs will have close to $60 million in salary space to work with. Popovich is 72 years old, so if he comes back, the Spurs will look to get back into contention. The Spurs have a young core with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker. There are quite a few young and old players they could sign.
Sign And Trade DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is not a max player, but he is good enough to command a salary close to $20 million per season. There are two perfect trade partners the Spurs could look to complete a sign and trade with. That includes the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
Let’s start with the Lakers. The Lakers are going to have some big decisions coming off this offseason. Dennis Schroder is reportedly not interested in returning to the team and providing the same role he has done this season. There is also the decision of how much money they will offer Talen Horton-Tucker, who was the deal-breaking prospect that stopped trade with Kyle Lowry.
The Lakers have quite a few free agents coming up in Alex Caruso, Montrezl Harrell, Schroder, and Horton-Tucker. With LeBron James turning 37 years old next season, the window to compete with Anthony Davis is likely just a year or two. The Lakers could package a few prospects or flat-out sign-and-trade for DeRozan.
As for the Nuggets, DeRozan would be the perfect third member to join Jamal Murray and MVP Nikola Jokic. It would cost the Nuggets a player like Michael Porter Jr., but at what cost are the Nuggets willing to spend to get a championship?
The Nuggets could have a starting lineup with Jamal Murray, Will Barton, DeMar DeRozan, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic. That is a strong offensive and defensive lineup and could probably compete with any team in the Western Conference. The Spurs would get a potential superstar in return, but the Nuggets would be in contention to win their first-ever championship.
Free Agents Available
We previously mentioned that the Lakers have a bundle of free agents available. Let’s just say that the Spurs looked to build around their young core and completed a sign and trade with DeRozan with a different team. This would probably bring their salary cap situation to around $40-$45 million.
The Spurs could look to sign Caruso, Harrell, or Horton-Tucker, assuming the Spurs can offer him a large enough contract that the Lakers can’t match. Caruso brings a tough defensive mentality and similar variables that a younger Patty Mills brought during his prime years. Harrell would be an ideal fit as well and could either backup Jakob Poetl or mix and match with Keldon Johnson. Harrell is a former Sixth Man of the Year, so we know what he brings to the table.
There’s also Serge Ibaka, who could leave the Los Angeles Clippers after this season. Assuming Popovich sticks around, Pop gets the best out of veterans. Ibaka will be 32 years old next season and is averaging 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks this season.
The Best Young Players They Can Sign
Horton-Tucker has been mentioned a few times, but he is by far one of the most polarizing free agents on the board. In 20 minutes of play, Horton-Tucker has averaged 9.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists this season, but he has shown flashes of a foundational player at times and is just 20 years old.
The Lakers are going to look to keep him at all costs, but it’s possible that the Spurs can provide a better offer if the Lakers opt to lock up most of their role players, which includes the looming question of how much Andre Drummond costs?
John Collins of the Hawks also brings intrigue. He can play power forward and join a young team. Collins is just 23 years old, averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds this season, but averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds just one season ago. Collins will cost borderline max-player money, but Atlanta will do whatever it takes to keep him.
With that said, Collins could leave Atlanta due to a regression in his play, which is precisely why Lauri Markkanen is expected to leave the Chicago Bulls. After averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds his second season, Markkanen’s play has regressed substantially with Jim Boylen and Billy Donovan at the helm.
The Bulls can match any offer, but at what cost? It was once said that Markkanen believed he was worth around $18 million per season. These numbers are not worth the price, but somebody is likely to overpay, so will it be the Spurs?
Looking To The Future
If the Spurs fail to sign any of those young players, they could save money towards the loaded 2022 free-agent class. Just to break it down, here’s a look at what the 2022 offseason could look like:
Unrestricted: Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle, Chris Paul, John Wall, Luke Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Collin Sexton, Mikal Bridges, Marvin Bagley III
Player Option: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, John Wall
The Spurs could save money, let their young core develop one season, receive a high draft pick, and then sign a couple of star players to give Coach Pop at least two seasons of competing for an NBA title. This seems like the best option given the state of the Spurs and their Hall of Fame head coach.