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Examining the Spurs’ biggest off-season questions

Now that there’s been time to digest all the offseason moves, the PtR staff offer their thoughts on the Spurs’ summer.

NBA: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve entered the slow days of the offseason, Summer League is past and training camp is still far in the future. The draft and free agency are distant memories. Teams have made their moves and now the waiting starts until they can show on the court what their plan was in the summer.

The good thing about this period is that it allows for reflection instead of instant reaction. We’ve had some time to think about what the Spurs did this offseason and we can now start trying to predict how they’ll look in the 2019/20 season.

In the return of Pounding the Rock’s round table, “In The Bonus,” the staff offer their thoughts on what happened this summer as they eagerly away the beginning of Gregg Popovich’s turn as Team USA’s leader at the FIBA World Cup. Let us know how you feel in the comments.

What are your thoughts on the rookies after Summer League?

Marilyn Dubinski: I remain extremely high on Luka Samanic’s upside, and he showed flashes of being the type of versatile forward that is coveted in today’s NBA. He’s predictably raw and will definitely need a year or two to grow in Austin, but I’m excited about his future potential. Keldon Johnson showed off an offensive game in SL that wasn’t in his scouting reports, and his defense is obviously intriguing. He’s the most “NBA ready” of the rookies and looks like yet another steal at 29th for the Spurs. Finally, Quinndary Weatherspoon definitely earned that two-way contract and may become a steal in his own right some day.

Mark Barrington: I was more impressed by Samanic than I thought I’d be, and once again, the Spurs front office proved that they know a whole lot more than I do about evaluating talent. He’s still a long way from being a rotation player, but you can see the skills are there and he’ll be fantastic in a couple of years. I thought Keldon Johnson was really good, and might get some playing time this year, he’s tough and smart and will fit right in. Quinndary Weatherspoon isn’t going to play much for the San Antonio team this year, but he’s a perfect fit for the second two-way spot.

Bruno Passos: Their performances left me a little more optimistic than I was coming out of the draft. Both first-rounders have talent and you can see how their skillsets — both current and projected — fit in with what the Spurs are trying to build, while the more developed Weatherspoon will have some moments in January or February with the varsity team that will hopefully further his outlook as an NBA-level player. Do I still wish the Spurs had snagged a Brandon Clarke or Grant Williams? Maybe, but count me in with PATFO having a more solidified vision for what kind of team they’re putting together and sticking to it.

Jesus Gomez: I was most intrigued about Samanic, since there were some questions from analysts and scouts about whether the Spurs had reached for him. It was reassuring to see that, while still very raw, he has the tools to eventually become the type of big man that is valuable in the modern game. There were fewer concerns about Johnson, but Summer League assuaged those too. He’s just solid right now despite being so young and clearly has potential. As for Weatherspoon, he has some of the flaws you’d expect from a second rounder, but he seems like a good value pick too.

J.R. Wilco: Bottom line: the Austin Spurs are going to be a ton of fun to follow this season. I love all three picks, but Samanic needs time to develop, and the two guards play the most overstocked position San Antonio’s had in recent memory. With Derrick White primed to explode, Dejounte Murray coming back and Lonnie Walker IV looking to get some run, I don’t anticipate either Weatherspoon or Johnson getting much run in San Antonio.

Did the Marcus Morris saga ruin an otherwise solid offseason?

Dubinski: It was definitely disappointing, but it didn’t ruin anything. The Spurs still got better on paper, and even if they hadn’t traded Davis Bertans, it felt like he was going to lose minutes with the addition of DeMarre Carroll anyway. I prefer to forget Morris and see it as such: the Spurs simply replaced Bertans with Carroll (while not as good a shooter, he’s a better defender with a better all-around game), and then added depth that was lacking last season in Trey Lyles. While he’s not an immediate upgrade over Bertans, he has a more versatile game and higher upside. And of course, Tim Duncan joining the coaching staff made the offseason and helped us forget all about Morris.

Barrington: I’m most upset about losing Davis Bertans, as trading him was only necessary to clear space for Morris. But given that Marcus was only a one year rental, I’m excited about the possibility that Lyles might develop into a real contributor for a longer term. He has this season to prove that he has the work ethic and dedication to make himself into a solid player on both ends of the court, and if he doesn’t, he isn’t owed much on the second year of his contract, and the Spurs can move on from him without much disruption to their long term plans. In the long term, the Marcus Morris saga may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Passos: It’s hard to argue against the fact that it made the team worse this season, both in losing Bertans for nothing and missing out on a proven rotation player and a strong, versatile defender the team could throw at bigger wings. That said, Pop is fun when he has less veteran crutches to lean on, and one silver lining is getting to watch him rely that much more on a roster that has 11 guys that are 26 or younger, including the 2-ways.

Gomez: Not really, but mostly because the Spurs’ offseason was almost impossible to ruin. Once they brought back Rudy Gay, they only had the mid-level exception to spend. As long as they used it to sign someone who could provide depth, they were going to be fine. Carroll fits the bill, even if his arrival was not technically secured through that tool. And it’s not like they missed out on a star on Morris or lost a rotation stalwart in Bertans, since Pop didn’t seem to trust him. It’s disappointing to see the front office not being precise when it comes to details, but in general the Spurs are still in a decent position for the future after this offseason, which is all that matters.

Wilco: While it looks as bad as it does because it effectively robbed the team of two guys, with a bit of perspective since Morris went to N.Y. the loss says more about how the Spurs are being viewed by the league’s handicappers than it does about the team. Don’t get me wrong, Morris is a beast. But this Spurs 2019-20 roster isn’t one Morris away from challenging for supremacy in the West. The loss will mean a few more L’s this season, but it’ll also mean more playing time for the squad’s youngsters. Short run loss for long run gain.

Who do you have penciled in as the starting power forward for next season?

Dubinski: Rudy Gay. With their lack of bigs there’s no way Pop can start both LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl all season, so I imagine they will go small with Aldridge starting at center unless the match-up requires that they start big. In that sense, I see Pop rewarding Gay’s loyalty with a permanent spot among the starters, and Carroll can fill the role Gay had when he came off the bench last season: providing toughness and defense to what was an otherwise leaky second unit on that end.

Barrington: Oh c’mon, man. LaMarcus is the best player on the team, and he’s going to start at power forward for as long as he’s on the roster. He might be the de facto center for a good part of the time he’s on the court, but Poeltl will be the starting pivot man, although nobody calls it that any more.

Passos: My assumption, with only Aldridge and Poeltl as trusted rotation 5s, is that Poeltl will come off the bench as the Spurs revert to predominantly small-ball lineups. As steady as their defense looked with him moving into the starting center spot last season, the duo of Poeltl and Aldridge had the worst net rating of any returning pairing (minimum 250 minutes played), which feels like a data point the team will have trouble ignoring. That leaves it between Gay and new arrival Carroll, in my mind. I lean towards Carroll.

Gomez: I think it might depend on who starts in the backcourt. The Spurs have a lot of options there. If Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are the guards and DeMar DeRozan plays small forward, the starters would absolutely need a shooter at power forward while Aldridge moves up to center. Carroll is a lower-usage player than Gay, so I think he’d get the nod. If Bryn Forbes or some other proven shooter continues to be one of the guards Pop might lean towards starting Aldridge at power forward and Poeltl at center. If he instead goes with DeRozan at shooting guard I could see Gay and Carroll starting at the two forward spots, At this point, I’m leaning towards the first scenario, so I’ll go with Carroll.

Wilco: It’s a massive question that we don’t have enough data to answer. If Pop sticks with two bigs, then the starting unit will begin the season as a shooting-challenged, defensive minded, traditionally big fivesome along the lines of:

SG: DeRozan or White
SF: Gay or DeRozan
PF: LMA or Gay
C: Poeltl or LMA

If the roster we are evaluating means what I think it means, then we’ll be seeing something approaching 48 minutes of small-ball, and the starting 4 will be either Gay or Carroll.

How excited are you about Tim Duncan becoming an assistant coach?

Dubinski: Extremely. I always felt he had it in him but assumed he was enjoying the retired life too much to recommit to a permanent role in the organization. Learning that he offered to help because he felt Pop needed him is all the more heartwarming. I was so busy with work that day that J.R. Wilco knew he couldn’t even ask me to break the news, so I didn’t know about it until later that evening. It was the most joyous I have felt about anything Spurs-related in a couple of years.

Barrington: I’m very excited. I can’t contain my excitement. I think I even knocked over a plant when I heard about it. I think fans are going to find out that Tim has been an excellent communicator for a long time, he just wasn’t that interested in talking to them directly. Now, with both Pop and Tim doing interviews at practice and games, it’s going to be hilarious, frustrating, and thought-provoking all at once.

He’s also going to be a great teacher and motivator, and I expect the younger players to progress even more quickly in their development than they have in the past.

Passos: Very much so! We don’t always have a clear idea of what any one assistant brings to the table in the NBA and how it translates to success through the season, but Duncan’s presence and experience should immediately be real factors as he learns the ropes and (hopefully) takes to this as a full-time gig.

Gomez: It was by far the most exciting Spurs-related news of the off-season. I didn’t see it happening, at least not for a while, so it was also a great surprise. I’m not expecting Duncan to have any huge impact on how the team plays, since he’s a first-year assistant, but it will be fantastic for the young players to learn from him and for the veterans to just have him around everyday instead of just once in a while.

Wilco: Somewhere between incredibly and completely, with a heavy dose of utterly, and a dash of out of my mind with excitement.

Are you worried about Team USA’s future under Pop after so many stars declined to participate?

Dubinski: Top-tier stars dropping out is not an unusual occurrence for the World Cup, especially as so many of the key figures from past tournaments are reaching an age where playing too much of the year is a real health risk. (I’m sure seeing stars drop like flies in the playoffs this year isn’t helping, either.) Most of the usual tier-one stars will be back for the Olympics next year, and even then 2020 will likely be the last for staples like LeBron James, so the upside is Pop gets to use this summer to begin grooming the next generation of The Dream Team.

Barrington: Nope. The players on the roster this year are sufficient to take care of the World Cup, and the big guns will be available for the Olympics. Pop is a universally-loved coach and he won’t have any problem assembling a super team. That’s not to say that there won’t be high profile drop outs, because some players will have health issues, and a few won’t want to take the risk, but there will still be plenty of high profile players for a strong team that might play a few close game, but should take care of business.

Passos: The margin for error isn’t as wide as it was for the star-studded teams of recent tournaments, but there’s still plenty for Pop to work with. Plus, I’d personally rather watch De’Aaron Fox and P.J. Tucker hustle, have fun and mix it up in more competitive games rather than cakewalks where Team USA both figuratively and literally leapfrogs lesser opponents.

Gomez: There’s enough talent in this iteration of the team to win the World Cup and some big stars will answer the call for the Olympics, but watching so many second and third tier options drop out has to be at least a little bit concerning. Maybe it’s simply bad timing, as so many guys were either recovering from injury or entering key summers for their careers, but if playing for Team USA stops being a priority for the majority of high caliber NBA players, the gap between America and the rest of the world will begin to shrink fast.

Wilco: I was getting a bit worried, then Derrick White became this summer’s breakout story. Now, it’s all good.