The season is over for the Spurs. The bubble provided plenty of hope for the future, but now the task of actually molding the next iteration of the team begins for the front office.
Luckily there’s time until any major decisions have to be made — the only good aspect of missing the playoffs — but it’s never too early to look at the biggest questions facing the franchise going forward. Here they are.
What happens with DeMar DeRozan?
DeMar DeRozan has until October 13 to figure out if he’ll pick up his player option or enter free agency. By then it should be clear what the salary cap situation is, which could have a big impact on his decision.
Under normal circumstances it would have been foolish for DeRozan to opt in. The free agent pool is shallow this offseason, and at age 31 he should be looking for one last big multi-year contract. If the Spurs were not willing to give him one, he could have easily found a team that was. A lot of the franchises projected to have cap space are rebuilding, but it’s not like he’d be assured a postseason spot in San Antonio, so moving on would have been the best move for him if he couldn’t get the extension he wanted. Without a pandemic derailing the season and causing instability, DeRozan would have almost surely opted out.
Alas, that’s not the world we live in. Teams might be extra careful with big signings because they simply don’t know the long term effects the pandemic could have on the salary cap, reducing the market for someone like DeRozan. Similarly, DeRozan could find comfort in not uprooting his life just yet, in such an unstable environment. Or if he does want to do that, he might prefer to work with the Spurs on opting in and being traded, to give himself more options on where to land.
There are many factors that will contribute to DeRozan’s decision, including some that are beyond his or the Spurs’ control. But his future could determine how the front office answers the next big question...
Go young or go for the playoffs?
The Spurs will have to choose between two paths: should they stay the course, hold on to their veterans, add a new piece and try to make the playoffs, or ship out the veterans, bring in more prematurely discarded prospects like Trey Lyles, and likely miss the playoffs but develop their young guys?
It’s understandable to be bullish about the Spurs’ chances of making the postseason while going young after what we’ve seen in the bubble, but the reality is that without the reliable scoring of DeRozan and at times Rudy Gay, that team wouldn’t have won as many games as it did. It also should be obvious that eight games in extraordinary circumstances is not indicative of how that version of the Spurs would do in a normal regular season. But we did see improvement from the young players in extended minutes, so even if the result is another trip to the lottery in 2021, it could be worth it to give them bigger roles by shipping out veterans.
On the other hand, the Spurs could decide that the progress from the young guys, plus contributions from DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and potentially a veteran free agent addition could be enough to get the franchise back in the playoffs. It would essentially be a redo of last season’s plan, but if the young core takes a step forward, the front office nails the free agency addition and Pop commits to not over relying on his vets, it could work. The downside to this idea is that it’s possible the Spurs still miss the postseason while wasting a year that could have been completely devoted to development, like they largely did this season.
It’s been clear for a while that the Spurs need to decide between rebuilding or attempting to contend for the playoffs. If they once again attempt to do both, this time they will need to nail the execution.
Should Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl get extensions?
Jakob Poeltl just finished his rookie contract and Derrick White finished his third season in the league, which means they are both eligible for extensions. In both cases, the Spurs will have a lot to consider before making a decision.
Poeltl is an elite backup center who could easily start if needed, as he proved in Orlando, where he had the highest net rating on the team by a mile: something that was also true during the rest of the regular season. Beyond his worrying inability to hit free throws, the biggest reason to potentially let him walk is that he’s a traditional big man with little range. His type is not exactly en vogue right now. Yet that could actually make him easy to retain, as the market for him might be small and he could potentially be had for a fair price. Even if Poeltl doesn't progress much, for the right amount he could be a valuable piece that could potentially be movable, if needed.
As for White, his situation is different, since he would still be under contract next season. For a while San Antonio didn’t offer extension before their players entered restricted free agency, but last offseason Dejounte Murray did sign one, so it seems like the policy has changed. In Murray’s case the Spurs managed to retain him at a very good price, and the same could be possible with White, who might prioritize immediate financial security over the possibility of a big payday later on. If that’s the case, the front office should lock him down as soon as possible, as a multi-year deal would keep him in San Antonio for the entirety of his prime. The only reason not to pull the trigger would be that it would be hard to trade him for a year after he signed, and since he’s arguably the most valuable trade piece the Spurs have, that could be an issue if a star becomes available.
These are the three biggest questions facing the Spurs now that the season is over. We’ll take a closer look at all of them soon because they are all extremely complex.
It will be interesting to see how the front office handles things at this crucial juncture. Hopefully this offseason will prove more fruitful than the last one, as the franchise’s future depends on it.