The youth movement in San Antonio continues to gain steam, even if we’re not quite sure what direction it’s headed. Going into next season, here’s a list of players 26 or younger that are expected to be on the roster: Davis Bertans (26), Bryn Forbes (25), Derrick White (24), Jakob Poeltl (23), Dejounte Murray (22), Lonnie Walker (20), Luka Samanic (19) and Keldon Johnson (19). Even with Samanic and Johnson not expected to get immediate minutes, that’s more than half the roster for the longtime Dads of The NBA sitting at 26 or younger, providing a promising long-term picture for this team — especially if a star happens to emerge from that group.
These guys will continue to improve on their own, but the Spurs will also have to make savvy moves to get the most out of the group in the long run. That’s a challenge that will span player development, playing time, and contract decisions — beginning with one this summer with the longest-tenured member of that group.
Murray, of course, sat out all of last season with an ACL injury suffered during preseason. After being anointed as the new franchise point guard and earning 2nd Team All Defense honors, he watched in street clothes as White eventually took the reins and provided much-needed two-way stability at the position.
White’s ascendancy, along with the position-specific deficiencies still existent in Murray’s game (namely, shooting and playmaking), should cast at least some doubt as to who the team should move forward with at the 1. While there’s reason to believe Murray (who’s over 2 years younger than White) was about to show new strides in his game last October, a lot can change in a year.
Between July 6th and the start of the 2019-20 season, the 2016 first-round pick will be eligible to sign an early extension on his rookie deal that would come into effect next summer. By the terms of the CBA, the deal can be for up to four additional years, with a maximum salary upwards of 25% of the $116 million salary cap, or $29 million for starters. That’s a lot of dosh for Murray, which probably means that both sides would need to meet somewhere in the middle if this were to happen at all. If they don’t, then the 22-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent next summer, provided the Spurs extend him a qualifying offer. Which they almost certainly would.
Even if there were no doubts about Murray being worth the max extension, recent history suggests the Spurs might still proceed with caution in the interest of flexibility. You may recall back in 2014 when the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard proceeded with no early extension to his rookie deal so that they could retain his lower cap hold, which allowed them to sign LaMarcus Aldridge the following summer. Shortly after, Leonard received the full max extension on his rookie deal and no feelings, presumably, were hurt. Not yet at least.
In this case neither side should be in a hurry to ink a deal. As with the Leonard situation, the Spurs would stand to benefit from Murray’s low cap hold (just below $7 million) and would probably also like to get a better idea of what they have in the budding, post-injury guard. Murray may want to bet on himself here and see if he can prove his worth to the team long-term with a bounce-back season. In that scenario, both sides would come out happier as a result.
The July 6th milestone may ultimately be more symbolic than anything. The Spurs have done a good job operating on the fringes of free agency and the NBA draft to cobble together a young group of players amid their 22 straight postseason appearances. While they’ll also have decisions to make on Forbes’ and Bertans’ deals next summer, Murray represents the first major investment that they’ll need to make a call on as they look to build their next great team. Agreement or not, the conversations and other decisions the two parties make between now and next summer will likely shape where things stand a year from now.