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Possible Trade Up Scenarios for the Spurs

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The Spurs will likely stay put at 12th, but if they decide they want to move up, they could have the assets to make it happen.

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The 2021 NBA Draft is only weeks away, and the Spurs will have options. The most likely scenario involves them just sitting at 12th and picking the best player available, but they could also move down, up or actually out of the first round.

We already discussed some scenarios in which San Antonio would move down, so now it’s time to see if there is potential to move up.

To be clear, we are not advocating for any of these trades. These are just examples that explore three types of moves: a relatively painless trade that only propels the Spurs up a few spots, a more costly one that gets them an extra pick without them losing theirs, and a swing-for-the-fences attempt to get near the top that would require some serious sacrifices.

Jakob Poeltl and the 12th pick for Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole and the 7th pick

It’s possible the Spurs see a prospect they love drop out of the top five in the draft but know that he won’t last until 12th. In that situation, making a deal with the Warriors, who would probably love to get some immediate help for next season, would make a lot of sense.

Poeltl would surely interest Golden State, who has not had a reliable defensive center who could spare Draymond Green the toll of playing the five during the regular season since Andrew Bogut. Poeltl doesn’t have Bogut’s supernatural ability to avoid getting called for moving screens and is not as good a passer as the Australian big man was in his prime, but he could do everything else he did at a similar level, at worst, while being on a good value contract that only runs for two more years. That’s a perfect window to develop James Wiseman to take over, while also affording Golden State the opportunity to move last draft’s second overall pick for more immediate help if needed, to make a championship push. Dropping five spots for an upgrade while only losing two backups could be smart for the Warriors.

For the Spurs, as mentioned, this only make sense if they fall in love with a top prospect that suddenly drops. Losing Poeltl would be a huge blow, but if they get Looney back they would have a solid backup center and could go shopping for a starter quality one in free agency later. Jarrett Allen or Richaun Holmes could be viable targets, but there are other options as well. Poole is a decent bench shooter who happens to be young and cheap, which could give the Spurs even more depth at the guard and wing spots. It wouldn’t be the most exciting trade ever, but it would give Steve Kerr a veteran he can rely on and San Antonio a better chance to grab their guy.

Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV for Eric Bledsoe and the 10th pick

The Spurs might decide that they don’t want to use their pick to trade up, instead hoping to get two lottery picks to package for a higher selection. The Pelicans, who are under pressure to put together a more competent supporting cast next to an already unhappy Zion Williamson, could be a good target for such a trade.

White would be an upgrade over the player Bledsoe has been recently and fits the team’s timeline better. His shot creation and newfound ability to space the floor make him a perfect third piece next to Brandon Ingram and Zion. If the Pelicans decide to bring Lonzo Ball back, White could also share the floor with him, since both can guard either backcourt position. Walker, meanwhile, would give a team that likes to run an athletic wing who thrives in transition and who can space the floor in the half court an option to replace the disgruntled Josh Hart in the rotation. The Pelicans would surely prefer Keldon Johnson or Devin Vassell instead, but the Spurs could sweeten the pot without adding either by throwing in their second rounder, the 41st overall pick.

Would the 10th and 12th pick be enough to move into the top five or at least high enough to grab the guy the Spurs want? That’s the big question for San Antonio, which would be giving up a quality starter, a decent backup and maybe more for a late lottery pick and a guard that might need to be bought out if he doesn’t buy into a backup role. Unless a team selecting near the top (OKC?) makes it clear that the only way to make a deal is to offer them two lottery picks, giving up so much for the 10th would be a mistake. If having more draft capital to deal secures the Spurs the chance to get the star they need, however, it could be tempting to go for that big swing even if the price is high.

Any Spurs player and the 12th pick for Kevin Love and the 3rd pick

The Spurs don’t have a lot of good trade partners in the top five. The Pistons will surely just take Cade Cunningham. The Rockets and Magic are rebuilding, so they will likely keep their spots. The Raptors essentially don’t have any flexibility to do trades before the moratorium and no bad contracts they can send out after. That leaves only the Cavaliers.

Cleveland is rebuilding too, but the Cavaliers have Kevin Love around still, which hasn’t been pleasant for either party. Love is also on a monster of a contract that will pay him $60 million over the next two years while the Cavs have to pay Jarrett Allen this offseason and potentially Collin Sexton the next one (assuming he sticks around despite the trade rumors currently swirling around). They surely want Love gone, but there’s likely no team that will actually trade anything of value for him, which means Cleveland would actually have to offer an asset to get rid of him. That being said, they probably want to hold on to the 3rd overall pick in hopes of landing a franchise star, so if they make it available, it won’t be just to get rid of Love. They’ll want something valuable back.

Do the Cavs want a bigger, more defensive-minded backcourt partner for one of Sexton and Darius Garland, instead of keeping both long term? The Spurs can offer either Derrick White or Dejounte Murray. Do they want a wing with size to pair with Isaac Okoro in the perimeter? The Spurs can offer Devin Vassell or Keldon Johnson. Do they want both? That’s a steep price, but if the Spurs think there’s someone worth that much available at the third spot, they could easily do it and still have depth.

At some point San Antonio will have to consolidate some assets by trading part of their collection of guards and wings, so as jarring as it may seem to lose two of the four players mentioned at the same time, it might end up being inevitable in the long run. The question is, is this the year in which they go for broke, and is this the type of trade they should pursue? Only the Spurs will be able to answer that.