In part 1, I spoke at length about how I felt the Spurs played last year, the players who played well, those who played…not so well, and what I felt the team should do with their own players this offseason.
For this episode, I’m supposed to be breaking down who I think the Spurs should go after in FA or trades. However, I must admit I’ve been having difficulty writing this script. Not because I no longer care about the team, but because it’s hard to speculate on what a team should do to improve in the offseason if you don’t know how good the current players on the roster are. The Spurs have spent the last few years building up their roster through the draft and development program. However, while the overall makeup of the roster has gotten significantly younger, collectively the Spurs have heretofore resisted giving the proverbial keys to the car to the young core. Instead, they’ve gone for a more incrementalism approach: having vets in key spots on the team run the ship while letting the young players develop at the team’s customarily slow pace. While I’m sure that that’s had quite some benefit on most of the young players (most of them have shown steady improvement), it does present the issue that us as fans don’t have very much knowledge as to what the team does and doesn’t need. As such, it makes analyzing potential offseason acquisitions difficult.
Adding to that frustration is that, even if we did have a firmer grasp on what the team has or doesn’t have with its current crop of young talent, the options for outside assistance are limited. Outside of Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard, there aren’t really any FAs available this offseason that could immediately turn your franchise around. On top of that, the Spurs don’t have a lot of strong trade assets right now (though that may change depending on the team’s performance this coming season). By far, the strongest potential trade asset the Spurs “have” right now, would be DeMar in a sign-and-trade, assuming that you can work one out.
Well, there’s no use in putting it off any longer; let’s look at some of the potential additions the Spurs can make this offseason, starting with unrestricted free agents.
He’s not coming, for obvious reasons. Next.
Chris Paul has a player option for this upcoming offseason, but the likelihood that he’d leave the team that he’s just led to his first NBA Finals is lower than your likelihood of getting struck by lightning in the Sahara.
With the franchise-altering FAs out of the way, let’s look at some other potentially solid additions through UFA.
Kyle Lowry might be an interesting player for the Spurs to consider, despite his position. He’s a guy who brings legitimacy as an NBA champion, he’s a solid ball-handler with a better than 2:1 AST:TO ratio, he’s a good 3-pt. shooter at nearly 40% from downtown last year, and he has been a solid defender in the past. He’s a guy that gives you toughness and credibility at the 1.
However, that’s where some of the questions about fit start to bubble up. The Spurs don’t really have too much of a need for another guard; one could argue that the team has too many guards as it stands. He’s also going to turn 36 this coming March, who’s 2-pt. shooting percentage and defensive impact numbers dropped last year.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the team would likely have to overpay a guy like Lowry to convince him to join a team that’s in the middle of a rebuild when he’s likely to want to play on a contender this coming season. Given all of that, I don’t think it’s likely that the Spurs would be able to sign him, and I wouldn’t want the Spurs to give Lowry a max contract. So, unless the Spurs retain DeMar and he convinces Kyle to take a lower figure, I don’t think the Spurs should bend over backwards to make this happen.
Take everything that I just said about Kyle Lowry, knock it down a peg, and it fits Goran Dragic well. He’s another guy who’s a solid 3-pt. shooter, a solid ball-handler, and, as a player who made the Finals, he brings credibility and toughness to your franchise. In many ways, he’s a poor man’s Kyle Lowry, meaning that he might come cheaper as well (as the term implies). On top of that, he’s shown a willingness to come off the bench.
That being said, all of the same negatives that come with pursuing Kyle Lowry are also present here: he’s the same age as Kyle and has had the same decline as Kyle. He’s also never been the defender that Kyle has been, so he doesn’t provide that either.
As another vet who’s played on winning teams, it seems unlikely that Dragic would willingly come to a young and unproven team. As such, my feelings about Lowry are also applicable to Dragic, and I don’t think that he’d help the Spurs enough to justify how much the Spurs would have to pay to bring him in.
Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. was someone who has seen his stock steadily rise over the course of the last two seasons. Playing next to Luka Doncic has seemingly unlocked something in Hardaway; being allowed to play off the ball as a shooter, finisher and secondary playmaker has been a very good development for his career. As a Spur, he could really help the team with his shooting and secondary scoring ability.
On the negative side, his shooting has been a bit streaky, and he doesn’t provide much on the defensive end. He’s also likely to see a rather hefty payday, as he was making nearly $18 million per year on his last contract and will likely be looking for a raise on the next one, he signs. For the Spurs to lure him away from the Mavs, the team is probably looking at something like $23-$25 million per year. Is he worth that? Hard to say.
THJ poses an interesting question for the Spurs FO: is he a product of working with Luka Doncic, or has he improved to the point where he could help any team about as much as he helped Dallas? If the Spurs decide to move on from DeMar and decide to try and sign THJ to a $23 million per year contract, I think that could help the team by providing some extra scoring punch. That being said, while he’d work offensively with DeMar, I don’t think that you would want to play the two together on defense. He’s one of the better players out there for the Spurs in UFA, IMO.
Kelly Oubre, Jr.
Kelly Oubre, Jr. is in a situation that’s kind of the opposite from THJ; his stock has dipped a bit since this past season, as his 3-pt. and free throw shooting fell from the previous year. He’s also not the guy you want running your offense, as he averages roughly the same number of assists and turnovers. Ostensibly, on offense, he’s a finisher (shooter/slasher) player, and wasn’t the most efficient one last year.
The only reason I’m mentioning him here is because it was rumored that some Spurs players were lobbying Oubre to join them. Perhaps they see something in his personality that they believe would make him a good fit for the team. As an outside observer, I can’t say that I absolutely love the fit for him or the team; for it to make sense, you’d have to assume that last year’s shooting numbers were more of an aberration as opposed to the norm, and I’m not sure that that is a safe assumption to make.
On the plus side, he’s still young, and still has time to improve. The Spurs have also shown a knack for taking guys who are somewhat reclamation projects and getting something positive out of their games that other teams couldn’t find. If he reverts and even exceeds his form from his final year in Phoenix, then that would be a solid move.
How much should the Spurs bet on that? I don’t think I’d be that comfortable going over $16 million a year. If the Spurs do land him, hopefully he proves me wrong.
And that’s it as far as truly interesting UFAs. As you can see, the list is short and rather underwhelming. There are a couple of other names that I suppose one could bandy about (I’ve seen Bobby Portis being mentioned, but outside of him playing a position of need, I don’t think that he would truly offer the Spurs very much…or at least not as much as he would a contender). There just aren’t a lot of guys that you can see truly raising the overall team’s quality to the next level, and the ones that do come with some ‘ifs attached.
With those out of the way, let’s look at a couple of potential restricted free agents to see what we can find. Let’s start with the biggest name of the bunch:
To be perfectly honest, it feels a bit weird to be writing anything about John Collins when Tom Petrini has already written a much better and thoroughly researched article about him than I’ll be capable of in this format. If you want the full rundown about why John Collins is probably the best overall FA target for the Spurs this summer, go check his article out on KENS5’s website; it’s great analysis, pulse he uses the word ‘miserly,’ so bonus points for fun diction.
If I had to sum it up (and, again, I strongly suggest that you read his article), I’d say that John Collins is a quality, ascending young player who just so happens to play the position and provide key skills that the Spurs need: he can score and rebound very well. On top of that, he’s shown growth in every season in most statistical categories (and his rebounding numbers taking a hit makes sense considering he’s playing most of his minutes with Clint Capela). He’s even flashed more defensive intensity and versatility during the playoffs.
While I had some questions about him from earlier in the season, I think that his overall quality of play in the playoffs and his upside should make him a high priority for the Spurs in the offseason. Hopefully, they’ll offer him the max, and Atlanta won’t want to match it (and that Collins decides he wants to get the most money out of this contract deal).
If the Spurs can’t convince John Collins to leave a young team that just made an ECF appearance, then Lauri Markkanen wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize. Lauri’s a talented, young 4 who can light up a scoreboard on any given night. He’s an excellent shooter, with a well-above average effective field goal percentage. It’s not just statistics either; he can shoot from long distance and even off screens. At 7’ tall, that’s a tantalizing skill-set.
There hasn’t been the clear statistical growth that you’d like to see out of a young player. While his shooting improved by quite a bit last year, his rebounding and assist totals have declined. Perhaps more frightening than those drops is that his total minutes played has decreased every single season since he’s been in the NBA, and his MPG numbers have dropped every season since his sophomore outing. Some of that can be linked to injuries, of course, but that’s still a troubling trend.
Now, those things might not entirely be his fault: in his four years in the NBA, he’s had three coaches, with only one of them (Billy Donovan) having any clout at all, if even he does. Might Markkanen just need a change of scenery? The Spurs might just be the team taking on that bet. The Bulls seem to be ready to move on, so you may not need to pay him nearly as much as you would John Collins to obtain his services, so that’s also a plus. If the Spurs can open up enough cap space via renouncing their FAs or passing on players they get via a S&T, then getting Lauri as a second addition in the off season would be great. If not, I’d hope he’d be the Plan C or D for the Spurs, personally.
Speaking of young big men that have probably seen their stock dip a bit, Zach Collins might be an interesting name for the Spurs to look at. While not the offensive talent that Markkanen is, he’s a better defender and shot blocker (though, weirdly, not a better rebounder). Two years ago, Collins showed promise as a young 4 who could shoot and defend at a high level.
However, there’s a reason why I’m referring to his play two years ago: Collins’s big issue in the NBA has been health. He missed almost all this past year with a left foot/ankle (I’ve seen both) stress fracture. He had one surgery to repair it in December. He just re-injured it during rehab and had another surgery in June. Given that many lower-body injuries, his size, and the history of big men and lower-body injuries, it’s frankly unclear when he’ll even play again, much less the quality of said play.
Should the Spurs miss out on everyone else, I wouldn’t mind the Spurs taking a Trey Lyles-esque flier on Zach Collins. The talent that he’s displayed in the past would make him an interesting fit on the Spurs’ roster…if he should ever become healthy enough to make an impact.
One last name that I want to throw in here might be a bit of a surprise but hear me out: Lonzo Ball could be a very interesting addition to the Spurs, should they lose DeMar. I get the initial reluctance: he hasn’t lived up to the intense hype that he received coming out of college, and his dad is annoying and overbearing. However, his improvement on the court doesn’t lie, and he’d make for a fun complement to Dejounte and Derrick.
Shout out to Preston Ellis at The Bird Writes for his excellent, in-depth article on Lonzo, which I found thoroughly informative.
Lonzo shot the 3 at a 37% clip last year and put up an eFG% of 53.7%. While those two numbers are league average, they are both the result of steady, year-over-year improvement from Lonzo, indicating that he works very hard on his game every year (and that 3-pt. Percentage was better than both Derrick and Dejounte’s mark last year). His playmaking and defense are also both more than solid, with his AST:TO ratio being better than the 2:1 that you want to see out of a lead guard, and while the defensive numbers don’t jump out at you, he almost always guarded the other team’s best perimeter player playing on a team that, let’s say, struggled on defense. In short, he’s a long, versatile defender who can shoot the 3 well, share the ball, and would be part of an extremely versatile starting backcourt. A SL of Derrick, Dejounte, Lonzo, KJ, and Jakob could be interesting. On top of that, signing him away from an up-and-coming division rival gives you an extra step on your most immediate competition. While that shouldn’t be the most immediate concern, it’s something to keep in mind.
There are a couple of issues with Lonzo as a Spur, though. The first one is the fit question. Lonzo’s a 1, much like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Do the Spurs need another guard? The next, and biggest, issue with Lonzo is that he’s not the all-star caliber player that DeMar has proven to be, and has, thus far, flourished in a complementary role. Playing next to Zion and Brandon Ingram are bound to have improved his offensive numbers somewhat (though the reverse is also likely true). Would he be able to maintain his efficiency on a team that perhaps doesn’t have the same level of offensive talent? It’s a fair question, especially since New Orleans likely wants to keep him, and can of course match what the Spurs can offer. Would it be worth offering him the max to pry him away from New Orleans? Probably not. However, if the Spurs strike out on S&Ts or their other FA targets, Lonzo would make for an interesting, somewhat under-the-radar (as much as a Ball can be, anyway) acquisition. I hope the Spurs kick the tires on him.
So that’s the list of the most interesting potential RFAs this coming offseason, IMO. Overall, the list of RFAs is much more interesting than UFAs, and, if the Spurs get lucky, they might find a real difference-maker here.
For my final segment today, I thought I could look at some S&T options for DeMar, should he and the Spurs wish to move on.
DeMar, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell and #12 for Ben Simmons
I already went into detail in the last episode about why I think the Spurs should pursue Ben Simmons in a S&T for DeMar. To sum it up, his defensive and ball-handling ability at his size would be a tremendous boon to the Spurs young core and could push them to a new level, despite his shooting struggles. He’s frankly so good in those areas that he’d be the best acquisition the Spurs could make this offseason, IMO.
DeMar for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and pick #22
This is a trade that came up on Bleacher Report (shout-out to Dan Favale), and passed around on Spurs Twitter. I think this one is interesting.
Now, if you’re looking aghast at that, I get it, as Kyle Kuzma has steadily seen his value drop in the years that LeBron has been a Laker. However, while he would be a bit of a reclamation project, he’s not without talent. When he first came into the league, he showed an impressive amount of scoring potential from inside the arc. While his overall numbers have decreased slightly since LeBron joined the team and Kuzma saw his offensive role decrease, he posted a career-high eFG% this previous year, as he shot the 3 better this season than at any other point in his career (even if 36% does provide room for improvement). If put on a team that would require more scoring output from him, would he flourish in such an expanded role? It’s possible.
(Also, worth noting: Pop became a big fan of Kuzma during the preparation for the FIBA World Cup in 2019, especially praising him for his development in the mental aspect of the game. Something to keep in the back of Spurs fans’ minds.)
I don’t think that I must spend much time explaining why Montrezl Harrell would be an upgrade to Drew Eubanks and Gorgui Dieng: he’s a much more effective offensive player than either of them, with an eFG% well-over NBA average (62.2% this past season) and higher offensive rating than either of the Spurs’ backup options from last year. He’s also-surprisingly-not that much worse defensively. Having Harrell as an option backing up Jakob wouldn’t be the worst thing. Alternatively, if the Spurs want to open nearly $10 million in cap space to make a run at one of the aforementioned FAs, Harrell is a pretty easy contract to move, as he only has a PO for this season, after which he’ll be a FA himself.
As for the draft pick, given that the Spurs have a strong track record of finding contributors from the #29 pick, letting the development team have another bite at the apple with an earlier pick can only be a good thing.
Overall, I don’t think that this deal is better than getting Ben Simmons (despite the likely extra cost in a young player or two and a pick), nor do I think it’d be better than signing John Collins outright, but it’s worth heavy consideration should the Spurs come up empty on both of those moves.
DeMar for Nikola Vucevic
If you were online interacting with Spurs fans during the trade deadline last year, you likely remember a lot of discussion about Nikola Vucevic. He’s a very skilled big man offensively who can score efficiently from both the post and the 3-pt. Line. Last year while in Orlando, he was an automatic double-double with over 20 pts a game with an above average eFG%. On top of that, he boasts the kind of AST:TO ratio that you’d look for from your lead guard at 2:1. While his overall impact went down a touch when he was traded to Chicago, he was still a very effective player there despite suffering a hip injury that caused him to miss two games. He’s a huge addition to any NBA offense.
The biggest issue here is that I don’t see how a deal would get done with Chicago to bring him to San Antonio. Remember that these are DeMar S&T targets: why would the Bulls want DeMar DeRozan when they have a similar and growing player in Zach LaVine? The fit between the two would likely be a strange one, as they both need the ball in their hands to be at their best, while Vucevic can spot up and provide a different dimension to their attack. So, I just don’t see the Bulls wanting to move off Vucevic so soon, and especially not for DeMar. For the Spurs, I wouldn’t want them to give up what it would take to pique the Bulls’ interest.
All in all, this is likely a no-go, but fun to talk about, nonetheless.
Let’s look at one more:
DeMar, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell and #12 for Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb
While this package might seem steep for what would effectively be Domantas Sabonis (after all, it looks identical to the trade for Ben Simmons), Sabonis would be a fantastic addition to the Spurs’ roster. Since his third year in the league, he’s been remarkably consistent with his per-36 minutes numbers all hovering at 20 and 12 on above average offensive efficiency. These numbers remained consistent despite Sabonis being given more and more responsibility and focus on the offense year-over-year, culminating in him actually averaging 36 MPG (funnily enough). He’s also posting a 2:1 AST:TO ratio, himself (remarkable for a 5). He’s also only 24, and therefore still has room to improve.
Sabonis could be a franchise cornerstone moving forward, and guys like that don’t come cheap.
However, we again come to the same problem that we came to with Vucevic and the Bulls: why would the Pacers want to trade Sabonis right now? They’re more likely to trade Myles Turner or Goga Bitadze at this point than their potential cornerstone. This is little more than a fun thought experiment that has little-to-no chance of happening.
However, now that we’re looking at the Pacers, let’s try one extra:
DeMar for Myles Turner, Doug McDermott and a Top-10 protected 1st Rd. pick in 2022
While not granting the Spurs the star potential of a trade for Sabonis, Myles Turner could very well be a solid upgrade from Jakob as the starting 5; while not *quite* the defender Jakob is, Turner’s close and he provides 3-pt. shooting on top of it, making him a potentially better fit in the SL with DJ and KJ. On the negative side, it must be mentioned that he tore the plantar plate in his right big toe. Foot injuries must always be taken into account concerning big men.
The draft pick, as discussed earlier as part of the Kuzma trade option, could greatly benefit the Spurs.
Doug McDermott would essentially be bench depth and a contract that could potentially be traded if cap space was needed.
This trade has the benefit of being possible. I could see the Pacers being able to use DeMar as a primary perimeter creator, making Malcolm Brogdon more dangerous in an off-ball role. After all, if Derrick White can bring out the best in DeMar, Brogdon should be able to do something similar. On top of all of that, DeMar could take some pressure off of their young All-Star. I kinda like this one.
So, there you have it! These are, IMO, the most interesting options for UFAs, RFAs, and S&Ts.
Looking back at all of those potential offseason moves, I hope that you see what I meant in the intro: while there are some theoretically interesting options, there’s only one that’s realistic that one would think is potentially franchise-altering, and that’s a S&T for Ben Simmons. The other moves I think would be best classified as “intriguing:” fun to think about, but not likely to take the Spurs to contender status.
If I were to rank what I believe the Spurs offseason priorities are, I’d go with the following (among the rumored potential options):
- S&T for Ben Simmons
- John Collins
- S&T for Kuzma, Harrell, and #22
Given that those are really the best options (and they all seem unlikely to me, if I’m being honest), it seems to me that the most likely option for improvement before next year is going to come from within. Which brings me back to my initial struggles writing this script: how good are the young players on this roster, truly? It’s hard to know how much help the team needs without seeing them in greater roles within the team’s scheme. Thankfully, the larger the roles, the firmer grasp the team can have on which players proved the most quality, and, thus, the team can make more solid decisions going forward, whether that be keeping the players or trading them to address weaknesses.
And the following offseason’s analysis will be easier to write.
Thank you for listening! I truly appreciate y’all’s patience as I navigated my way through this episode. From here, I’m going to alter my schedule a bit. As some of you probably know by now, I’ve been offered a spot with the Around The Block network, covering politics once a week, and the Spurs once a month. So, I hope you can give them a Twitter follow at @ATB_network and @atb_podcasts.
Until next time, have a great day!