Another trade deadline has passed and the Spurs, as expected, did nothing. There were few, if any, reports that signaled that a big move was coming, and it was apparently too optimistic to think that any team would take a chance on DeMarre Carroll considering he’s barely played. The roster stays the same.
If your first reaction to this predictable news is frustration, that’s completely understandable. The Spurs seem headed to the lottery for the first time in over two decades and there was no course correction of any kind.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it might have been for the best. The type of moves San Antonio needs to make are too significant to be made mid season and likely only will happen once the team actually figures out what it wants to do.
It was always a little foolish to expect the front office to undo the work they did last summer. For better or for worse, the Spurs seemed to think they could build on a 2018/19 season that now appears to be the result of some serious overachieving. They doubled down on a core that originally only seemed to be temporary by loading up on veterans instead of making room for the young players — telegraphing their intention to keep the playoff streak alive. The Spurs even traded a very good regular season player in Davis Bertans for more defensively-inclined forwards, likely thinking about the postseason, and guaranteed the last year of LaMarcus Aldridge, probably to avoid distractions.
After making such a big commitment to this exact core a few months ago, the Spurs seem to want to see the season through, which is understandable. Moving DeRozan or Aldridge would have meant giving up on making the playoffs. To a lesser degree, the same applies to trading other veterans like Patty Mills. What else was left to do, then? There were reports about the Spurs wanting to make a deal to improve their roster, but it would have been hard to pull off without moving one of the young players. I’m sure some fans would have loved to see either R.C. Buford or General Manager Brian Wright pull a Billy Beane and trade Marco Belinelli or Bryn Forbes to force Gregg Popovich to play Lonnie Walker IV more, but that strategy can’t work when the coach has input on personnel decisions.
In that context, the Spurs’ inaction not only seems justified but simply inevitable. If trading the veterans to make room for the young players is unacceptable and moving some of the prospects for immediate help would mean endangering the future, standing pat is the only reasonable option.
The problem is that the Spurs themselves created the situation they are in. They built a roster that is equal parts young and old, designed to hopefully win now but also improve internally in the coming years. And while it’s understandable that they didn’t want to lean too heavily to one side or the other in February, the deadline — and really, the entire season — is proof that they will soon have to choose a path.
It doesn’t have to be the direction the fan base prefers, but it has to be a clear one. We now know that DeMar DeRozan is going to remain a Spur until the offseason. If the front office intends to re-sign him and keep LaMarcus Aldridge, they will need to add quality veterans to the team even at the expense of the young players. It seems that’s what they tried to do last summer, but their resources were scarce and the execution so poor that a plan designed to make the team better in the short term made it worse. Next offseason they’ll need to make significant moves, not settle for signing fading role players for the mid-level exception if the idea is to make the playoffs at all costs.
If, as I’m hoping, they realize that maximizing cap flexibility and giving Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson all the minutes they can handle is the best way to eventually achieve sustainable success, they’ll need to do what they avoided doing on Feb. 6 and clear the deck of older players. Some veterans will obviously be needed, but only if they fit around the young guys, and not the other way around.
By not making any moves at the deadline, the Spurs bought themselves some time to figure out what type of team they want to be and what direction they will follow. But they will eventually have to make a decision. It’s inevitable.
Let’s hope having the rest of the season to figure things out will help them come up with the best possible plan.