The trade deadline is almost here. Speculation is running rampant as front offices look to either load up on talent for the final stretch of the season or accept defeat and try to expedite their franchises’ rebuilding processes.
The Spurs have been as inscrutable as ever as Feb. 6 approaches, but they are in a more interesting position than recent years. In all likelihood they’ll stay put, but nothing they do would truly be a surprise. They could be buyers and attempt to make a push for a playoff spot, or could be sellers and embrace their youth movement. Both options appear to be on the table.
Navigating this confusing time is always hard, but this year there seems to be even more variables than ever. As a way to try to make things more clear, let’s try to answer the five most pressing questions about the trade deadline, from a Spurs-centric perspective.
How do trades work in the NBA?
The main thing to know is that for a trade to be possible, teams have to match salaries, an asset always has to change hands, and teams can’t trade draft picks from consecutive years.
Matching salaries is not as hard as it used to be, but it’s still impossible to, for example, trade a player on a rookie deal for an expensive veteran. There are also restrictions about how much salary teams can add when they are above the cap, but those shouldn’t affect the Spurs since they are over $13 million under the salary limit, known as the apron.
In any trade, both teams need to send out and receive an asset. It can be a player under contract, cash, a draft pick, the right to swap draft picks or the rights to an NBA prospect. If draft picks are included, they can’t be from consecutive years. For example, if the Spurs were to include two of their future picks in a deal, they’d have to make it their 2020 pick and their 2022 pick but could not include 2021 with either.
There are more wrinkles to how trades work, but those are the basics.
Are there any trade rumors out there about the Spurs?
Nothing significant yet, which isn’t surprising. The Spurs are typically very secretive and unlikely to make deals mid season. There have been rumors in the past about the Heat and the Magic being interested in DeMar DeRozan, with Miami also potentially being a destination for LaMarcus Aldridge, but no new reports have surfaced as the deadline closes in.
There have been some minor rumors about teams being interested in Jakob Poeltl, but nothing appears imminent. Similarly, DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli are reportedly available, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much interest in either.
We’ll keep you updated if there are news.
Do the Spurs have the assets to trade for a star?
In theory, yes. The Spurs have all their future draft picks and several young players on rookie contracts to sweeten any deal built around a veteran. The picks are not expected to be great, and there is no prospect on the roster that seems irrefutably destined for stardom, but a package including a quality veteran, one or two of the young guys and one or two first rounders should be enough to get opposing front offices to not hang up the phone, at the very least.
The problem is it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of truly transcendent stars on the market. Some former All-Stars, like Andre Drummond, Jrue Holiday and D’Angelo Russell, appear to be available, but they play positions the Spurs have covered. The same goes for fading superstars Chris Paul and Kevin Love, who also happen to have outrageous contracts. A few high quality role players like Clint Capela and Marcus Morris could be had, but they don’t move the needle.
The Spurs could put together an intriguing trade package, but it seems there are no targets that are both realistic and would represent a big enough upgrade to make it worth their while.
Can the Spurs accelerate their youth movement with some trades?
The Spurs could decide to blow it up and get some good assets back. Both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge should receive plenty of interest from franchises in win-now mode that need an upgrade at center or the wing. Either should at the very least get San Antonio a first rounder back on a trade.
Besides the stars, the Spurs also have quality veterans like Patty Mills and Rudy Gay who could help contenders, as well as cheap bench shooters like Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes who could fill a role on teams that need depth. Those guys will probably only net San Antonio a second rounder or two or a marginal prospect, but if the idea is to open up playing time for Lonnie Walker IV and potentially Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson, moving them would make some sense.
If the Spurs decide to truly shake things up, they could shop their stars or the veterans that are part of their rotation. Whether they do it or not will likely depend on how convinced they are this group can lead them to the playoffs this year.
Should the Spurs move DeMar DeRozan now instead of risk losing him for nothing later?
That’s the big question. DeRozan can opt out after this season, and with a very weak free agent market in the horizon, he’d be foolish not to. If he does and walks away, the Spurs would be losing the biggest piece they got back in the Kawhi Leonard trade.
There’s a case to be made for exploring the market for him now. Moving him would likely involve taking a step back this year and potentially missing the playoffs, but getting a decent veteran, a young player and a pick for him might be worth it, if the idea is to avoid fully rebuilding. The Spurs could flip the extra assets for more veteran help or keep adding pieces to their young core without bottoming out for high draft picks.
On the other hand, the Spurs can simply ride this season out in hopes that the talent in place can make it to the postseason and then negotiate with DeRozan. If they can’t keep him on a reasonable contract, they can simply move on with cap space, since trading the other veterans wouldn’t be too hard, There are young wings on the roster ready to take DeMar’s minutes and no one on a non-rookie deal in the books past 2021 outside of Dejounte Murray. The worst case scenario doesn’t look too bad.
What happens with DeRozan is the big story line for the Spurs heading to the deadline. They can keep him, try to make the playoffs and potentially re-sign him, or they can try to move him even if it means lowering their chances of getting to the postseason in order to further the youth movement. It will be interesting to see which way they lean.