The Spurs are entering the upcoming NBA Free Agency period with a rare commodity — at least for them. With DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills all coming off the books (assuming the former doesn’t sign an extension by August 1, which seems highly unlikely at this point), San Antonio is expected to have plenty of money to spend this summer.
As a result, they will be in a unique position to do something they don’t often get to do: go after restricted free agents, which applies players who are coming off the fourth year of their rookie contracts and did not reach a contract extension deal with their current team, veteran free agents who have been in the NBA for three seasons or less, or players coming off a two-way contract who were on an active NBA roster for 15 days or more the season before. Teams will have until August 1 this summer to negotiate new deals with these players, otherwise in most cases they will accept a qualifying offer from their team, who will then have 48 hours to match or exceed any offer that comes their way.
Usually the Spurs are the ones working to hold on to their own RFAs. Recent examples include Jakob Poeltl, who accepted the Spurs’ qualifying offer before entering restricted free agency, and Kyle Anderson and Boban Marjanovic, who both received offers from other teams the Spurs were unwilling or unable to match. This summer, they have the opportunity to be on the other side of the negotiations, throw caution to the wind, and make offers to other teams’ players, so here is list of players who might be worth the risk for the Spurs.
It specifically focuses on the Spurs’ mostly likely positions of need — forward and center — since we’re running under the assumption that Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell will all still be on the roster to fill out the guard/swingman roles (not to mention the pretty decent possibility that Mills will be back).
John Collins (PF, Atlanta Hawks)
Age, Height: 24 years, 6’10”
Key 2020-21 stats: 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, .399 three-point %
Pros: We’ve already done a deep dive on Collins and his potential fit with the Spurs, so here’s a quick recap: he fills a position of need, he’s borderline elite a two-way player, and he’s young enough that he should continue to improve.
Cons: Cost is really the only concern. Although the Hawks have said they would like to keep Collins, they appear to have price limit, which will give teams with cap space room to jump in with an offer. The Spurs are reportedly interested, but so are several other teams, so it may cost the max (about $126 million in Collins’ case) to snag a player who may not be worth that much (yet).
Lauri Markkanen (PF, Chicago Bulls)
Age: 24 years, 7’0”
Key 2020-21 stats: 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, .402 three-point %
Pros: Another traditional power forward who fills an area of need, Markkanen may be a cheaper alternative to Collins. His pick-and-roll abilities would be a good fit with the Spurs current roster, and he provides much-needed outside shooting. A vast majority of his shots come from either three or around the rim, so not being a midrange shooter will help spread out the floor for a starting unit that desperately needs it.
Cons: Markkanen is a much weaker defender than Collins, and the fact that he went from starting all but one game for the Bulls for three seasons to falling out of the starting line-up all together in his fourth is a cause for concern. Some of that was due to the addition of Nikola Vucevic to the roster, but rookie Patrick Williams still beat him out for the starting PF job the rest of the season. His numbers dipped significantly last season, and both sides appear ready to move on. A change of scenery might be good for him, but these are still issues that could give the Spurs (or any team) pause from offering too much.
Jarrett Allen (C, Cleveland Cavaliers)
Age, Height: 23 years, 6’11”
Key 2020-21 stats: 12.8 points, 10 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, .618 FG%
Pros: A Texas native, Allen is a force on both ends of the court. He’s near the top of the league as a rebounder and shot-blocker on defense, and on offense he’s an elite diver, finisher at the rim, and lob threat that the Spurs currently lack. He would fit in well with a faster paced squad if they go in that direction
Cons: Like Collins, Allen will probably command close to the max and has plenty of teams interested beyond the Cavs. Also, while he would be an upgrade from Poeltl, he’s still another throwback-style center who doesn’t stretch the floor, so it’s worth wondering if he would be that much more of an upgrade to pay such a steep price for, especially considering he probably wouldn’t move the franchise’s needle that much on his own.
Duncan Robinson (SG/SF, Miami Heat)
Age, Height: 27 years, 6’7”
Key 2020-21 stats: 13.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, .408 three-point %
Pros: Besides his name? Robinson is exactly what the Spurs have been lacking recently: an efficient three-point shooting wing who also isn’t a sieve on defense. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 13.3 points on .427 three-point shooting with an average of 8.4 attempts per game. He is also a capable driver when defenders close out hard, and perhaps most importantly, he should be much more affordable than the other players on this list.
Cons: While an improved defender, he’s not an amazing one, although the Spurs should have enough around him to make him neutral at worst. There’s also the potential overlap of position with players like Johnson and Vassell, and Robinson doesn’t quite have the size or strength to slide over to PF like DeRozan did, so signing him could possibly mean more minutes of Johnson playing out of position. He’s also not as young as most RFAs.
Lonzo Ball (PG, New Orleans Pelicans)
Age, Height: 23 years, 6’6”
Key 2020-21 stats: 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds, .378 three-point %
Pros: Perhaps the most “controversial” entry on this list for Spurs fans, Ball has turned himself into a reliable three-point shooter over the last couple of seasons despite his wonky form. He’s also a plus defender and creates well for others, especially in transition where the Spurs otherwise have had trouble in recent years. In that regard, his ball-handling skills would be useful for a Spurs team that will likely be looking to pick up the pace next season. Finally, he could be relatively affordable for his status in the league, as the Pelicans reportedly have no plans to match any “significant” offers that come his way.
Cons: Getting the obvious out the way first, there’s LaVar Ball. Although Lonzo appears to have successfully separated business from family, the Spurs have already had their share of drama with loud-mouthed, controlling family members in recent years and may not want to risk dipping their toes in that lake again. From a purely basketball standpoint, there’s again positional overlap and repetitive skillset he shares with other Spurs guards, so he probably wouldn’t be worth it without making other roster moves.
Here is the entire list of 2021 Restricted Free Agents. Feel free to discuss what you think about any of these players or others RFAs who might be worth it for the Spurs to pursue.