If you’ve been keeping up with the San Antonio Spurs recently, you’ll know spotting Trey Lyles has been like playing a real-life version of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” The sixth-year forward began the year buried on the depth chart, found consistent minutes when COVID sidelined several rotation regulars, and has only appeared four times since San Antonio started the second half of their regular-season schedule.
But all the above are merely minor footnotes in the larger picture of the mysterious absence of Lyles, and further context is needed to begin piecing together why he’s no longer playing with the Spurs. So, before we delve deeper into our initial topic, let’s first explore where Trey sensibly fit into San Antonio’s plans at the outset of the season, why things started to go wrong, and how that could have led to a disconnect between the two parties.
To understand expectations for Trey, let’s rewind to the NBA Restart. The stretch-four averaged 12.2 points per game on 52/50/88 shooting splits as a starter over his last 13 outings preceding the league-wide Covid19 shutdown. And with LaMarcus Aldridge out due to season-ending shoulder surgery, Lyles looked primed for more scoring responsibilities inside the bubble.
Unfortunately, that never happened, as the six-nine sharpshooter underwent an emergency appendectomy within a week of the Silver and Black landing in Orlando. A young San Antonio squad surpassed expectations with a 5-3 record and nearly making the playoffs behind a small-ball lineup that made a healthy Lyles an ideal fit for the new-look Spurs.
These next couple of points are probably just me looking too deeply into what easily could have been a few innocuous decisions from the social media department. But it’s worth noting how San Antonio gave off the impression Trey Lyles was going to be relevant to what they were doing in 2020-2021.
Didn’t it seem like Trey was on the way to earning a significant role after the Spurs chose him to reveal their long-awaited Fiesta jerseys alongside Derrick, Dejounte, Lonnie, and Keldon? He even got the “Spurs Stories” treatment over the off-season, becoming one of only nine players chronicled in San Antonio’s in-house documentary series.
And despite a lackluster preseason from Trey, head coach Gregg Popovich granted him the sixth-most minutes per game on the roster while 2019 first-rounder Luka Samanic warmed the bench. All signs seemed to indicate the Kentucky alumnus had solidified his role in the rotation, yet that was far from the case.
Lyles was a healthy scratch for San Antonio’s season-opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, and he picked up 13 DNPs by the time Valentine’s Day rolled around. Though the floor-spacing forward was admittedly so-so across his sporadic minutes, he formulated some momentum as a spot starter, averaging 12.2 points per game on 51/46/75 shooting splits in the five games leading up to All-Star Weekend.
Trey floundered to the tune of one point in 34 minutes over San Antonio’s next three contests and quickly found himself in the doghouse once more, racking up five consecutive DNPs ahead of a reported trade request from his representatives at Klutch Sports Management on March 23. Maybe that influenced PATFO to give Lyles another shot, as he saw 13 minutes in a 33-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers the following day.
And in the closing moments of the Trade Deadline, it appeared Trey Lyles finally got his wish for a new NBA address. In a now-deleted tweet from Shams Charania, The Athletic reporter detailed a move that would send Trey Lyles to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a multi-team negotiation. By now, everyone knows that whatever deal was in place fell through, and the situation in San Antonio has only become more confusing.
In the aftermath of the botched barter, the 25-year-old former lottery pick would spend the next three games accumulating a trifecta of DNPs before suffering an apparent ankle sprain that has kept him on the injury report since March 31. While it’s not strange for an injury to strike in practice, no details have come out about where, when, or how Lyles tweaked his ankle, and the Spurs have hardly practiced amid a coronavirus condensed season anyway.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume this injury is as severe as the indefinite timetable suggests. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a Grade 2 ankle sprain involves a partial tear of ligaments and takes anywhere from three to six weeks to heal. Grade 3 entails a complete tear or rupture, usually requiring a walking boot or crutches, and can take several months as well as surgery to return to a full range of motion.
By those approximate guidelines, Lyles likely has a Grade 2 ankle sprain, which means he should theoretically exit the injury report somewhere in the ballpark of May 12 at the latest. And with four games left on San Antonio’s schedule at that point, there’s little sense in reintegrating Trey back into the rotation, especially when he never carved out a role in the first place.
With no crutches or walking boots on display, you can color me a bit skeptical of the injury. A horrible ankle sprain certainly explains why Trey hasn’t traveled with the team when they’re on the road. However, with less than subtle hints implying Lyles wanted out of the organization still fresh in the air, I find it more believable both sides have agreed to ride out this partnership until he can find a more suitable location this offseason.
Yet there’s one massive hole in my tinfoil hat conspiracy theory that continues to bother me. Why would PATFO buy out LaMarcus Aldridge, therefore, allowing him to chase a title with a contender of his choosing and not do the same for Trey Lyles? Sure, the second-year Spur hasn’t exactly been the most productive or impactful player over the last few seasons. But San Antonio has built their reputation on treating players with the utmost care and respect.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to believe the Spurs would let the April 9 playoff-eligibility buyout date pass without working alongside Trey to get him a much-needed change of scenery, especially with a relatively small amount of his $5.5M salary remaining. As the San Antonio faithful know all too well, PATFO moves in silence, so there’s always a strong chance these talks happened without anyone catching wind of them. Whatever the case, fans will undoubtedly root for a speedy recovery for Lyles.