December 15 is a noteworthy day in the NBA season: it’s the unofficial start of “trade season”, or the time when free agents who were signed in the offseason become available to be traded. That, combined with the fact that most teams know what they do and don’t have at this point in the season, means this is typically the time when serious trade discussions begin. While it’s not usually very relevant to the Spurs, who are rarely active with in-season trades, that could very well change this season.
Which Spurs are now available to be traded that weren’t before?
For the Spurs, the December 15 deadline applies to five specific players who were signed as free agents this offseason: Doug McDermott, Zach Collins, Keita Bates-Diop, Bryn Forbes and Jock Landale.
Three of those players are likely safe from being traded. McDermott has a clear spot in the rotation and fills a big void on the roster as a versatile forward who can shoot the three and moves well off the ball. Landale may be out of the rotation for now, but a stretch-big is something the Spurs otherwise don’t have, plus his recent stint in Austin to get back in shape after suffering a preseason concussion and then a bout with COVID suggests he may not be too far from getting his chance. (Not to mention, he probably wouldn’t bring anything of value back to the Spurs in a trade.)
The third likely safe player is Collins. The Spurs clearly see something in his potential when healthy (otherwise they likely wouldn’t have used a roster spot on a player coming off his third ankle surgery in three months), and with his return approaching — he started some on-court actives in the last month, and Gregg Popovich has said “sometime after Christmas” regarding his return timeline, whatever that’s worth — it’s reasonable to assume the Spurs want to see what they have in him before moving on. (And considering his contract is only partially guaranteed next season and nonguaranteed in his third, the Spurs have zero reason to NOT be patient with him).
That leaves Bates-Diop and Forbes as the mostly likely trade candidates of this bunch even if the chances are somewhat slim, especially this early. Bates-Diop has been solid, if unspectacular, when given playing time (usually when either Keldon Johnson or Devin Vassell have been out). He provides a good defensive presence and has a knack for making the smart play on what few offensive possessions he sees. Forbes also has a use on the team as someone who can light it up off the bench, although inconsistency in a smaller role has been a problem for him at times this season.
What about Thaddeus Young?
Long story short, yes, Young is also eligible to be traded since two months have passed since the Spurs acquired him, per Rule 101 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and he can now be included in any trade package, not just one by himself.
Is anyone untouchable for the Spurs?
Technically no one is “untouchable” considering they do not have anyone with no-trade clauses, but the players likely the closest to that status are Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl. Not only are the first two the Spurs’ pet projects, but Murray and Poeltl especially are outperforming their contracts (and White is getting there), so unless there’s a team out there who is willing to trade a franchise-changing superstar in exchange for a package of non-stars, the odds are slim the Spurs would get equal value in return for either of them.
(As a side note, my personal opinion is that Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell also have too much potential to be traded away at this point in time.)
What trade rumors are out there?
Most rumors currently center around Young, who has shown good leadership and is a mentor for his young teammates, but he also hasn’t held back from expressing his dislike of his current situation to the media, both local and national. Most recently, he told Alex Kennedy on his podcast that he was blindsided by the trade after being told by the Bulls’ front office he was safe, and the awkward situation has only been compounded by inconsistent playing time and the lack of a defined roll with the Spurs — something he hasn’t dealt with before this season.
The Phoenix Suns is a team that has reportedly been interested in Young all season and are simultaneously trying to move second-year power forward Jalen Smith, who was selected one spot ahead of Vassell in the 2020 NBA Draft but has only appeared in 35 games in his career so far. Along with another piece or picks, it’s a trade that could work in theory as Young would get moved to a contender with a rotation spot ready for him, while the Spurs could take on another project in their “rebuild” who fits an area of need, would actually like to be here, and if he doesn’t work out they could simply not pick up his team option this summer.
The Spurs have also been linked as a possible trade partner for the Indiana Pacers — who are ready to enter a rebuild of their own — for Domantas Sabonis. He would presumably slide into the starting power forward position and possibly even speed up the rebuild, although the fit wouldn’t be perfect next to Poeltl since Sabonis lacks a three-point shot. It would take more than just Young to make that trade work (maybe someone like Lonnie Walker, who hasn’t been mentioned much in trade rumors but could thrive in a bigger role), but such a move may also depend on how willing the Spurs are to potentially part with their 2022 first round draft pick.
Next, a recent report from Shams Charania noted the following regarding another Spur:
“A player expected to procure interest from contending teams throughout the league: Spurs guard Bryn Forbes.”
Forbes showed just last season with the Milwaukee Bucks that he can help a championship team with his shooting, and with Tre Jones seemingly moving ahead of him in the rotation lately — Forbes even got his first DNP of the season against New Orleans — it wouldn’t be surprising if the Spurs were willing to move him for the right offer down the line.
Finally, there’s the potential trade that has been lingering over the Spurs all season: Ben Simmons. Daryl Morrey and the 76ers’ asking price for their disgruntled, one-dimensional star has always been too high for many teams, and the Spurs would have to dip into their allotment of “untouchables” to make it work (and even then that may not be enough since Morrey wants a star in return). At the same time, there have been less rumors linking the two parties together, and likely to the satisfaction of many fans, the Spurs were not mentioned in that same report from Shams as potential suitors for Simmons.
That just about covers everything for now. It’s worth noting that Dec. 15 is merely the start of when the five players listed above become trade eligible, but the trade deadline itself is still almost three months away on February 10. So don’t expect anything to happen right away, but at least starting tomorrow the a more complete allotment of available players will mean fans can start having fun with the ESPN Trade Machine again.