As players, pundits, franchises, fans, networks and news outlets prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft, many questions loom. For Spurs fans, we want to know- will Manu Ginobili return? Is Rudy Gay invested in Pop’s plan? And what does a SuperMax contract do to San Antonio’s ability to wheel and deal in free agency?
Pounding the Rock contributors Jesus Gomez, Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco break down the players, crunch the numbers, and make the most impossible of all predictions: what’s going on in the mind of Gregg Popovich?
At the point guard position, Dejounte Murray stepped into the role as the starter since last January. The Spurs have an option for another year after that. Patty Mills is moving into the second of a four year contract. And the Spurs retain Bird Rights on Tony Parker as he moves into free agency. Are the Spurs set at point guard for now?
Jesus Gomez: I think so. In Murray they have their point guard of the future. In Mills, a quality role player in his prime who can play next to the youngster if needed. If they re-sign Parker, they’ll have the steady veteran they’ll need to mentor Murray and provide solid bench minutes. If there’s an obvious upgrade available, the Spurs should make it, but it shouldn’t be a priority to do so, unless their confidence in Dejounte has wavered.
Marilyn Dubinski: It certainly isn’t a great area of need. Murray has given them no reason to give up on him as their starter of the future, and Mills and Parker both provide unique skill sets as backups (let alone championship experience). Regardless, the Spurs will always do what makes them better, and if an upgrade is out there that forces them to part ways with any of the guards, then don’t be surprised if they take it.
Mark Barrington: You didn’t mention Derrick White, who has shown that he can hit shots, has size and a decent handle, so I think so. I want Tony to stay on as a mentor and spot player. I don’t think he was ever full speed last year, and I expect him to play better this year in limited minutes. I want Patty to play alongside Dejounte more as a short shooting guard instead of being a backup point guard.
Bruno Passos: It feels that way given how the Spurs typically approach the offseason, but I’m not sure they should be going at this as if it’s business as usual. Depending on what comes from meeting with Leonard’s camp, I’m not sure anything should be off the table for the team as it braces for a new era. That means being willing to move on from Parker and testing the market for Mills.
J. R. Wilco: Murray has so many elite skills and is still improving, so I can’t see the team moving on from him just because he doesn’t have any NBA-level point guard skills yet. Mills knows the system and what’s expected of him. As long as Parker comes back for a reasonable amount — at the moment, I feel fine running it back with this bunch even though it’s an open question whether it’s possible for teams without LeBron to contend without an elite PG.
The shooting guard position is in flux. Only Derrick White, who did quite well in Austin, is sure to be back. Then things get tricky. Danny Green has a player option on his final year. Manu Ginobili has gone into summer hibernation as we sit on pins and needles awaiting his decision. Bryn Forbes is a restricted free agent. Brandon Paul’s contract is not guaranteed until August 1st. Do you expect most of those guys back?
Gomez: I think Green will opt in, unless the Spurs signal to him that they want to rebuild. Forbes is a restricted free agent, and those typically struggle to get good offers. I think there’s a good chance Forbes fails to secure a good multi-year deal and picks up his qualifying offer. I can’t see the Spurs bringing back Paul. The biggest question mark is Manu. I don’t expect him to return but if he does, the Spurs could have a good shooting guard rotation.
Dubinski: I’m still leaning towards Manu’s return (although anything can happen there), and I believe Green will be back whether he opts in or opts out to sign a longer-term deal. That being said, I do feel like they need an upgrade at that position alongside those two (which might be White), and I don’t see Forbes or Paul making the necessary leap. If one returns I think it is more likely that Forbes ends up elsewhere and Paul gets another chance, but again it comes down to what the Spurs do in the draft and free agency.
Barrington: In my opinion, White is going to play point, so he’s not in my shooting guard conversation. I think Danny Green will be back on his option, but he will have to have a better year this year to earn more years. I think Manu can still play, but I think he’s probably going to devote his time to being a full-time dad. Just a hunch on my part, I know he loves competing, but I think he enjoys his kids more. I like Brandon Paul and Forbes, but the Spurs are going to need some talent upgrades over them to do much in the playoffs, so I expect at least one of them to be gone when the season starts. The Spurs need to pick up a free agent guard who can score. Jamal Crawford is a possibility, although I’d like to see someone younger and more athletic, but having him around to mentor Dejounte would be incredible.
Passos: I expect Green to opt in, but there is a chance that might be it. Ginobili certainly still has the ability to play, but could he sustain his all-or-nothing style of play for an entire other season at the age of 41? Forbes was an ode to hard work and perseverance last year, but a healthy Spurs team that already has Patty Mills would almost certainly play him less than he did in 2017-18 — it might be a good time for him to seek out a better opportunity. Paul is, in theory, certainly worth a roster spot on a minimum contract (remember all the The Spurs Have Done It Again articles written on him at the beginning of last season?), but I find the fact that he couldn’t crack the rotation, given his physical tools, 3-and-D potential, a bit of a red flag.
Wilco: Since I refuse to imagine a future without Manu until he announces that he’s retired, I have to assume that it’s Manu. If Danny agrees to just play defense and only take shots in the last 4 seconds of the shot clock, then I’d like to have him back. Call White whatever you want to, I like him. Everyone else can go. I’m ready for new blood at the 2.
At the small forward position Rudy Gay has a player option and Kyle Anderson has become a restricted free agent. With Kawhi’s Leonard’s future in San Antonio up in the air, is there a chance the Spurs will have a void at the small forward position by July 1st?
Gomez: It’s a possibility. Also a possibility? To have too many quality small forwards once it’s all said and done. I can see Gay opting in, hoping to up his value as he waits for a friendlier market next summer. The Spurs clearly like Anderson and he’s a restricted free agent. Maybe they can agree to a mutually beneficial extension. And if Kawhi is offered the supermax, he’d probably sign it. Finding enough minutes for those three could be an issue, but it would be the type of problem every coach loves to face.
Dubinski: I think Gay wants winning over money at this point, and if he gets the vibe that Leonard will return and the Spurs will be back in contention, I see him opting in. I expect the Spurs will attempt to keep Anderson as long as the offers don’t get too high, but even more so if Gay opts out. I’m still of the opinion that Leonard will work things out and stay with the Spurs for the super-max. If everything goes accordingly, it could end up being their strongest position.
Barrington: I hope Gay opts in. I think he likes playing for Pop and he also wants to prove that he’s better than he was last year in an injury shortened season. He might be willing to take a smaller paycheck for one year to sign a bigger one later.
Kyle Anderson had his best year as a pro this year, but I don’t know if his ceiling is a whole lot higher. Until he develops a reliable outside shot, he’ll always be a liability on offense, and you can’t play like that (unless you’re Andre Roberson). His future on the team should be contingent on him becoming more of an offensive threat, which he may not be able to do. Chip Engelland has his work cut out for him.
All of this is contingent on Kawhi returning and signing a long term contract this summer. I think he does, but if he doesn’t, it’s the end of the Spurs as we know it (and I feel fine).
Passos: There’s definitely a chance. I feel like Gay is gone — even if the market is a little cold, I think he’d prefer a system that’s a little less rigid. Anderson had a terrific season, and teams are coming around to understanding the type of value players like him bring. Leonard remains a question mark, although I think the smart money should still be on he and the Spurs coming to a mutually beneficial agreement.
Wilco: If we assume that Kawhi gets the supermax, then I say it’s 80% likely that Gay returns and 60% that Kyle stays too. With those three guys, maybe a lack of talent at the 2 can be covered when necessary. One of my biggest regrets last season was not being able to watch the LMA, KL, Gay, Green, Murray lineup wreak havoc on opposing offenses. I’d still like a chance to see it.
There has been no uncertainty surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge this summer. He picked up a three-year extension early last season and was the Spurs cornerstone throughout. If he were still a full-time power forward, the Spurs would be set. But he has been playing center more when the Spurs play small ball. Davis Bertans — who’s a free agent — was the “other” power forward last season. Is Aldridge still the future at the power forward spot or will the Spurs continue to embrace small ball?
Gomez: The way the Spurs built their roster last summer suggests they are ready to embrace small ball as a core part of their identity. I think what’s not clear yet is what type of player they want next to Aldridge. Bertans would have been a great fit if shooting was what they wanted. Anderson made things work despite hurting the spacing. Who they choose to keep among those two or the type of free agent their target to replace them could be telling of what type of team the Spurs want to be.
Dubinski: If stats are to be believed, he spent 62% of his playing time at center this season despite Pau Gasol starting 63 games. Even if the Spurs continue to start that duo going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised to still see Aldridge get more minutes at center. As for who backs him up (or starts alongside him when the Spurs do start small), it may just depend on the match-up, who they sign, or if Pop wants to go with one of his small forwards as a stretch four. I would like to see Bertans get a shot with more consistent minutes this season if he returns, but he will have to show improvement next season to prove he’s worth keeping around — something he failed to do this season.
Barrington: I think a player to be named later needs to take more of his minutes at center, but not all of them, because LaMarcus is probably the best post-up guy in the league right now. PTBNL needs to be a space-eating bruiser like Aron Baynes was when he was on the Spurs. I miss Boban Marjanovic, but he’s just not going be available for the kind of money that the Spurs have available to pay a backup center. I don’t think the Spurs draft a center with the 18th pick, because they need wings more, and besides, all of the elite bigs will be gone by then.
Wilco: Please give me plenty of LMA+Bertans in 2018-19. I ask for so little. Please, just grant me this.
And finally, Pau Gasol is moving into the second of a three-year contract while Joffrey Lauvergne holds a player option on next season. Considering Aldridge plays some center, would these other two big men be enough for the Spurs in the 2018-19 season?
Gomez: I think two traditional centers would be enough, assuming Aldridge continues to spend over 60 percent of his minutes as the sole big man on the floor. I’m not sure if these two other guys would be enough. Lauvergne disappointed after a promising preseason. Pau is on his last legs. The Spurs need some new blood. I wouldn’t mind seeing 2015 first round pick Nikola Milutinov come over this summer, to provide some offensive rebounding and a big body on defense.
Dubinski: Drafting a big man of the future is something I think the Spurs should do with their higher-than-usual pick (if the right one is available). That being said, rookies rarely get time under Pop, and considering center wasn’t a serious area of concern for the Spurs last season, especially since Aldridge spent so much time there, I think those two will be enough. (Lauvergne can only improve, right?) Next summer might be a different story.
Barrington: I honestly thought Joffrey was a waste of a roster spot last year, so I hope he opts out. He seems like a good guy, but he was always out of position on defense, and that’s not a good look for a guy with limited athleticism trying to get playing time. As I mentioned in the previous round, I think the Spurs pick up another center on the market this year to bang in the paint. I think Gasol continues to develop as a stretch 5 and will hit a ton of three point shots next year. He will also be one of the assist leaders on the team. Unless that doesn’t work out somehow, he’ll be back in 2019-2020, and earn the final year’s salary.
Passos: Given that $6.7 million of the final year is guaranteed, it feels somewhat safe to say this is more like year two of two for Gasol. With him continuing to slow down, and Lauvergne not having shown much in his first season, the frontcourt should definitely be a point of emphasis this summer. I would imagine Lauvergne opts into year two, which probably wouldn’t be ideal. I still think he can be an OK bench player, but groundbound bigs who don’t spread the floor are a dying breed in the modern NBA.
Wilco: I’d be shocked if JoLa returned, even though I think his hand injury is the main reason he didn’t excel last year. So I guess that means the Spurs need to draft a big.
What do you think about the Spurs roster in the weeks before the NBA draft and free agency? Post your opinions in the comments section below.