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The Spurs’ lack of center depth has come back to bite them

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The Spurs decided to carry just two reliable centers this season but injuries have left them with none. Should they add one using their open roster spot? The PtR staff discusses.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl has no timeline to return to action after suffering a knee injury, but he will likely be out for weeks, not days. LaMarcus Aldridge has been struggling with a shoulder injury and has missed a few games. The Spurs have been going small a lot, which suggests they are not all that comfortable relying on Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks for long stretches.

Was it a mistake to not add some veteran depth at center in the off-season? And can the Spurs make one last playoff push with what they have or should they use their open roster spot to bring in a big man?

Mark Barrington: Playoff push? That Norwegian Blue isn’t just pining for the fjords, it’s a former parrot. Like John Cleese’s avian buddy, the Spurs aren’t going anywhere this year unless someone moves them. The Spurs roster plans were gutted this summer by the Marcus Morris debacle, but it’s been more than a little disappointing that the team has compounded the errors of the summer with the poor decisions of the fall and the inglorious failures of spring. There have been bright spots, like the emergence of Trey Lyles and the emerging promise of Lonnie Walker IV, but overall, the Spurs roster has been a disappointment this year. The team does just need to improve in the front court; they need to improve everywhere else too. It’s going to be interesting to see if this year is a fluke, or the beginning of a long decline. I tend to think it’s the first, but I’m a little bit of an optimist.

Marilyn Dubinski: Rolling with two centers didn’t concern me too much at the beginning of the season, especially since it would force Pop to play more small ball than he’s used to and open up a stagnant offense. Of course, there was always that “if Aldridge and Poeltl stay healthy” caveat attached to it, but the odds of both of them simultaneously missing time always seemed low. And yet, here we are. To answer the questions, no, I don’t believe the Spurs made a mistake in not adding center depth since the forward rotation was (and still is) in a far more critical state. I’m not even sure at this point if the Spurs can make a playoff push with Aldridge and Poeltl healthy, so adding another forgotten big off the waivers or out of free agency likely wouldn’t make much difference at this point. It wouldn’t hurt, but it probably wouldn’t help, either. Still, if someone comes along that’s worth taking a chance on, why not? There’s nothing to lose.

Bruno Passos: The decision to roll into the season with this set of bigs didn’t sit right at the time for a number of reasons, including the assumption that Metu was poised for rotation minutes and the logjam it created with the guards. That said, with the team shorthanded and desperate for wins, I actually think leaning more into small ball is a decent gambit for a team that simply hasn’t clicked trying to operate as it has. I’m not sure plugging in that third big (although Eubanks has done his best in a pinch) and playing the same style would be as effective as them scrambling and playing more off feel. Also, in conjunction with my theory that bad zone defense is better than bad man defense, the Spurs look more capable dropping back to a 2-3 when everyone on the floor is mobile.

Jesus Gomez: It was bad roster construction made worse by bad luck. It was always a little risky to have just two reliable centers around, because even if just one of them got hurt, either Chimezie Metu or Drew Eubanks would have to play despite not being rotation-caliber pieces. With both veteran centers out, the problem is obviously compounded. What also hurt the Spurs was that DeMarre Carroll had zero trade value at the deadline, since it prevented them from flipping him for help inside.

At this point, I’m fine with riding the season out without adding another veteran big, though. Small ball seems to be working well enough for stretches and Aldridge should return soon. If anything, I’d love for the Spurs to use their roster spot on a young big. They can do something they’ve done in the past and sign, say, Dragan Bender, Jonah Bolden or Justin Patton, to a two-year deal with the second one completely non-guaranteed and carry them to next year’s training camp. Instead of trying to patch up this roster, it might make more sense to just get an early start on building the next one.

J.R. Wilco: I have a hard time calling a NON-move a mistake because we only ever hear about the deals that are made. Deals that are NEARLY made get no press because they’re not completed — and we know this team doesn’t publicize anything until well after the ink has dried on the contract. Just because the team didn’t make a move, didn’t mean they weren’t trying; so I’m not prepared to say they made a mistake by rolling with so few seasoned bigs.

As far as a playoff push is concerned, I don’t believe that any player available (big, wing or guard) is capable of making the kind of difference on this Spurs team that’s necessary to enable them to “make a playoff push.” At no point past early-November has San Antonio been playing even .500 ball — that’s 50 game’s worth of evidence that this team isn’t capable of taking a playoff spot. If they end up in the postseason, it’ll be because the rest of the competition for the 8th spot all fall off a cliff, not because they made a push.