The San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time in 23 years, and as a result they are looking at their most interesting offseason yet. (And that’s ignoring the awkward timing due to the COVID-19 delay and potentially compressed schedule if the NBA achieves its goal of beginning the next season in December). There will be interesting decisions to make, such as what direction to take the team and what to do with the current roster, if anything.
As a result, several Spurs executives — including CEO R.C. Burford, General Manager Brian Wright, Communications Director Tom James, and new Vice President of Partnerships and Revenue Brandon Gayle — had a Zoom call with CNBC’s Jabari Young to discuss their vision of the future. Here are the highlights.
The first question was regarding what areas the Spurs see as weaknesses, which turned into answers regarding both the actual roster and the organization as a whole. Buford mentioned the Spurs’ storied history of 47 years in the NBA with 39 postseason appearances and an NBA-best .599 winning percentage, assuring fans that keeping that reputation and culture going is the number one priority.
“That is the history and the legacy that we’re here to build from,” Buford said. “And from a vision standpoint, it’s not going to change a whole lot – values based, culture focused, community engaged, and championship driven.”
Updating facilities, including the AT&T Center — whose naming rights expire in 2022, in case anyone was wondering — and practice facility, being more open with the fan base (such as the recent Spurs Voices videos and hiring a photographer), and expanding its audience into Mexico are also goals designed to make the franchise as a whole more lucrative and appealing.
Gayle, who Buford recruited from Facebook, will help oversee the team’s desire to expand reach from Monterrey, Mexico to Austin. “How do we start to own that full territory and all the points around it and in-between,” he said.
Gayle said creating “a peek behind the curtain so folks will get to know this brand and understand what it stands for” will help that growth. If the Spurs can build a new audience and collect the metrics, Gayle said, monetization opportunities should follow, allowing the team to grow its roughly $285 million in revenue.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs received plenty of praise for their effort and innovation inside the Bubble, but the super-small approach hasn’t proven to be something that will work long-term, and it raised even more questions about where the Spurs should go from here, particularly with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.
Although Wright said the Spurs are “well-positioned” with their current mix of veterans and developing youth, the future of their two highest paid players is still up for debate. As Young points out, the Spurs were rumored to have been shopping Aldridge at the trade deadline but reportedly overplayed their hand. The fact that they thrived without him in the Bubble may make trading him for less than they feel he is worth a slightly easier pill to swallow, although the Spurs execs did not mention any intent to do so.
Young also mentioned that DeRozan is likely to pick up the option on his contract, which would bring him back to the Spurs for at least one more season. Unless they decide to give the Bubble model an extended run next season and see if it’s something that can be sustained, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Spurs try to get something for him in return instead of letting him walk. (He was the Spurs’ biggest get in their biggest trade in franchise history, after all.) Whether it’s for the remaining year or via a sign-and-trade, there are potential buyers out there for his services, with the Heat and Knicks being mentioned as trade targets.
Regardless, when asked how the Spurs can be rebuilt, Buford jumped in to help his still-learning GM, both partially backing up what Wright previously said and sounding more open to something closer to a rebuild:
Buford explained the Spurs have never been swayed by public opinion. To back this, he remembered calls to “blow it up” at the end of David Robinson’s era, and then again at the end of 2009-10 season.
Buford said the Spurs would continue to address its roster “optimistically and opportunistically.” He then mentioned Aldridge’s signing, which translated to a Western Conference finals appearance in 2016 [sic].
“Things didn’t go as we hoped, and it’s not on anybody,” Buford said. “Some decisions we wished we could’ve done differently, but I think having the ability to develop young talent and flexibility to be opportunistic is going to be what we’re going to continue to do.”
[sic] = That should be 2017, not 2016.
Pop’s Future with the Spurs
Rumors have been circling regarding the Brooklyn Nets’ reported interest in Gregg Popovich as their new head coach: something their GM (and former Spur) Sean Marks continues to downplay. Buford reiterated that he has heard nothing from Pop indicating he has any desire to leave, only his plans for the team next season.
“Pop’s shown nothing other than how we’re going to build our team for next year.”
“Pop’s vision will be in play long after his presence. That doesn’t mean it’ll be him in there making those decisions, but we’ve all learned together, and you’re not going to step away from a values-based, team-building aspect that focuses on culture and coming to work every day and working on it.”
Although the lack of 100-percent confirmation in his answer (perceived or otherwise) left the window open just wide enough to keep the rumors swirling, it remains nearly impossible to imagine Pop leaving for another franchise. Retirement and/or possibly taking a more front office-oriented position with the organization seems much more likely should he not be the Spurs head coach next season, but until there is word specifically from him, the rumors will continue to swirl.
The Future of the San Antonio Spurs
Last but not least, Buford addressed the rumors that bubble up to the surface every time there is a change in minority ownership: that the Holt family (the majority owners who purchased the team for $75 million in 1993) may be looking to sell and/or possibly relocate the team:
“Pieces change all the time – not much here but in other organizations. Individual investors, for whatever reason, change all the time. But the Holt family’s commitment to the community, we’re here in San Antonio to stay.”