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The Spurs should trade DeMar DeRozan if he won’t play defense

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San Antonio’s system is incompatible with a star who doesn’t consistently exert himself on defense.

Poor effort is contagious. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

During Gregg Popovich’s tenure, San Antonio has been a team that prioritizes defense. They’ve had elite defensive teams that have excelled at being stingy in their own end, and they’ve had merely good defensive teams. Since 1996-97, the Spurs have had one of the NBA’s top 10 defenses — besides 2010-11 when they had the 11th best. Eleven times they’ve ranked in the top five. But through the ups and downs, the hallmark of the Spurs has been the importance of defense.

I’ve always said that if a player won’t play defense, then he can’t play in San Antonio, because Pop won’t put up with it. San Antonio’s system requires players to trust each other and play for each other. Without that, everything breaks down — which is what we’ve been seeing with nine losses in the last ten games. The offense is fine. The team can score points, they just can’t get a stop.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. All season long, I’ve had an ongoing conversation with Charlie O’Charles (who writes the Spurs Playbook series of posts for PtR) about what’s going on with the team, particularly on defense. Then I saw this play during the third quarter of the Spurs loss in D.C. on Wednesday, and I didn’t wonder anymore.

In episode 44 of the Superfluous Poppycock podcast, Charlie O’Charles and I talk about how DeMar DeRozan’s lack of consistent effort on defense has created a chain reaction that has lead many players on the team to stop trying as they used to — and how if Pop can’t get DeRozan to give his all on both sides of the court, then the team would be better off moving him.

(Catch every episode by clicking “Subscribe” and choosing iTunes, Stitcher or Spotify in the player below.)