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Can the Spurs find their own Chris Paul?

The Suns made the leap by adding an aging star that had been discarded by two teams before landing in Phoenix. Can the Spurs find someone like Paul to complement their young roster?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s sometimes hard to guess which addition will help a team make a leap. The Knicks did it by finding a young player who was ready to become a star in Julius Randle. The Suns, on the other hand, did it by taking a risk on an older star with a big contract that scared others away with their trade for Chris Paul. Wildly different types of player but a similar result.

We’ve already took a look at the potential Randle types that could be available for San Antonio. Now it’s time to see if there are any highly-paid-but-cheap-to-trade-for veterans that would still be worth adding using cap space to accelerate the rebuild and propel the Spurs to the playoffs next season — assuming that’s what the front office wants.

If Al Horford can still move well, he’d be the perfect second big

No one can blame Horford for securing the bag by signing with the 76ers in 2019, but his fit there was always questionable at best. Next to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, he was simply out of place. After one failed season, he was shipped to the Thunder, where he played just 28 games and averaged a career low in minutes this season.

It’s fair to wonder if Horford is just done, but a look at his production suggests he might still have something left in the tank. He averaged 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block per game while shooting 37 percent on three-pointers with the Thunder. He didn’t really suffer any major injuries in Oklahoma City and was shut down for the last 28 games following a season-ending injury to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Basically, he only played relatively low minutes because the team was actively trying to lose, not because he was bad. And despite finding himself in a losing situation after years of winning, he didn’t cause any disruption in the locker room and in fact was a leader to his young teammates.

So why isn’t every team trying to get Horford? Despite not adding too many miles to his legs last season, he’s still 35 years old, and he was showing signs of losing a step on defense back when he was in Boston. A huge part of Horford’s defensive value is derived from his mobility, and if it’s fading, he could quickly go from being an asset to a liability on that end since he’s not a great rim protector. The same is true, at least to a degree, on offense considering a big part of his impact comes from his ability to attack closeouts.

No matter what, Horford would make a great piece of the big man rotation, but paying him $27.5 million (plus at least $14.5 million for the 2022/23 season, when his contract is partially guaranteed) to be a good locker room presence and stretch the floor for the second unit would not be a good idea for San Antonio. However, if the Spurs think he can still move well, he could be a huge asset as either a starter or big-minute backup.

If Kevin Love decides to try, his offense would be a huge asset

Not long ago, Kevin Love was a star on a championship team. Then Kyrie Irving and LeBron James left Cleveland, the team went into rebuilding mode, and Love became an afterthought that only enters the discourse when he makes a spectacle of how unhappy he is in his current situation.

The question is, can a change of scenery turn Love into the offensive and rebounding powerhouse he was in his prime? He still just 32 years old, has played very few minutes in the past three seasons, and doesn’t have any persistent health issues. It would be too optimistic to expect him to average the 26 points, 14 rebounds and four assists that got him his sole All-Star appearance as a Timberwolf, but maybe he can replicate the production he had in his first four years in Cleveland, where he averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and two assists while shooting well from beyond the arc. That player is a borderline All-Star who would make the Spurs’ young guards’ lives easier by spacing the floor and attacking mismatches in the post.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that the Spurs would be getting that version of Love. He hasn’t played a meaningful game in a long time, and since then he has been a malcontent who seems more interested in cashing checks (there’s still $60 million/two years left on his deal) than leading. Would he go back to playing all out for a non-contender? It’s a serious question, because unless Love offers full effort he might be too much of a defensive liability at this point since he offers zero rim protection.

The Spurs would have to be fully confident that he’ll buy in for the two years that are left on his contract, or going for him could turn out to be a huge mistake. If he does welcome a change of scenery, however, his offense alone could help massively.

If the Spurs move a guard for a forward, John Wall could be a good replacement

This is the wildest, least likely of all three scenarios, as it would necessitate the Spurs trading Dejounte Murray first. It does not make sense at all with Murray still on the roster and, like the other two, might not make sense at all. But if the Spurs go all in and trade one of their young pieces for a forward first, it’s worth exploring.

Wall had a devastating injury that kept him away from the court in 2019/20 before being traded to the Rockets before the 2020/21 season, just as James Harden forced his way out. Needless to say, not the best turn of events for a guy who had injuries and drama derail him even prior to that string of bad circumstances. Yet Wall still averaged 20 points and seven assists in Houston in his first year back healthy. He’ll be just 31 years old by the time next season comes around and has said all the right things about looking to get his career back on track. At his best, Wall is still a great offensive orchestrator with the tools, if not always the will, to defend well. There’s value in that.

His limitation are well-known at this point. Wall can drive but he can’t hit pull-up shots, so if the defense is set, he might struggle to score efficiently. He’s had trouble with conditioning before and has clashed with teammates. Injuries remain a concern. On the upside, he has more court vision than most people in the league and is great at putting pressure on the defense with his dribble penetration, which is something the Spurs could miss assuming DeRozan doesn’t return. Surprisingly, he’s also a good shooter with his feet set, having connected on 39 percent of his 307 catch-and-shoot threes over the past three years he was available, so he could play off the ball some of the time as well.

It would be insane for the Spurs to make Wall any type of priority this offseason. The only way taking the risk of adding his massive contract ($90 million over two years) even remotely smart would be if they somehow trade Murray for a forward who is a legitimate star. If that extremely specific scenario does come true, Wall could be an easy-to-get replacement that could potentially also be a high upside play.

There’s no one available who is as good as Chris Paul has been in his NBA career, because there are only a few who can make that claim in league history. But there are some decorated veterans in bad situations that might still have something left in the tank. Just like Paul, who got salary dumped and discarded, they could help a young team make a leap.

The question is whether the Spurs are at a point where adding a veteran star makes sense at all, since they’d need a true superstar to even get close to contention, and those are not available. If the hope is to just make the playoffs next season, however, maybe looking for a Chris Paul type would be a smart approach.