For the past few years, Spurs fans have been forced to live in the past just a bit. As Bruce Springsteen would say: ”Boring stories of Glory Days”. Once Kawhi Leonard decided he would not return, the Spurs headed into a strange limbo-land. They were simply not talented enough to continue the two decades of being actual, for real, legitimate title contenders year after year after year. I wrote an October 2018 piece entitled ”Welcome to a new Spurs reality: non-contender status”.
Because they were the Spurs, they were also not willing to endure years of being, you know, bad — meaning bad enough that they could hope to get a top five pick in the lottery. As a result, the Spurs continued to do what they have always done — find excellent players in the back half of the draft. And succeeding, if you define succeeding as finding “very good” players who should have been drafted higher.
Unfortunately, that also meant that the present day Spurs do not yet have bona fide stars. In a recent series of articles from The Athletic, the Spurs wound up with only two players among the top 125 in the league. (Jakob Poeltl was in the “last five out”.) And those two players — Dejounte Murray and Derrick White — were in the fifth and last tier of those top players (in the 80-125 tier).
The analysis concluded that a team needed at least one Tier One and one Tier Two player to be considered a championship contender. The one exception to this “rule” being the 2014 Spurs (of course) who won with a bunch of “very good” players, but no one in Tier One superstar status (at 38 years old, the Great Tim Duncan was no longer an all-NBA player in 2014, while Tony Parker was second team All-NBA). Hence, the “Beautiful Game Spurs” were an anomaly: a “Top Tier-less” but deep, talented team in which the ball moved, the team defended, and everyone contributed.
Does the absence of top-tier stars on this season’s Spurs mean that the team is doomed to remain in “non-contender status” for the foreseeable future? I don’t think so. In fact, a recent article from John Hollinger gave me a lot to think about. And long-time readers know how dangerous that can be. Hollinger’s article (written as free agency concluded) included this fascinating analysis:
In the wake of it all, I have one overriding question nagging at me: If everyone is in win-now mode, what happens later?
“Imagine, if you will, the 2024-25 NBA season:
- “A 37-year-old Steph Curry is suited up for Golden State, making $55.8M, and still having a year left on his deal.
- “A 33-year-old Paul George is a Clipper, making $49 million. Lining up next to him, a 32-year-old Kawhi Leonard also making $49 million; by then there’s a good chance he will have inked a five-year extension that pays him 8 percent raises until age 35.
- “In Portland (OK, maybe not in Portland, but humor me), a 34-year-old Damian Lillard is raking in $49 million.
- “In Milwaukee, a 34-year-old Jrue Holiday is making $38 million with incentives that could take him to $40 million.
- “In Miami, a 35-year-old, balky-kneed Jimmy Butler will be making $48 million … and still having a year left on his deal.
- “The Lakers could very well be paying a 40-year-old LeBron James north of $50 million that season. L.A. can also look forward to a 2022-23 campaign where a 38-year-old James makes $45 million and a 34-year-old Russell Westbrook makes $47 million.
- “And in Brooklyn, a 36-year-old Kevin Durant is pulling down $51 million; if and when James Harden and Kyrie Irving extend their deals, they’ll take in about $100 million more between them. Those three will be a combined 104 years old and their contracts alone may be enough to put Brooklyn in the luxury tax.”
Hollinger also adds this important postscript: ”It’s not just the contracts either; most of the teams above have also surrendered most or all of their draft capital.”
In light of these facts, let’s look at where the Spurs might be for Hollinger’s 2024-2025 season: Note that this is only three years from the upcoming 2021-2022 season.
For the sake of argument, I will assume that the Spurs keep all of the young talent on this year’s team. While that might be optimistic, if not unrealistic, remember that the Spurs have retained all their future picks plus some extras. The players that come out of those upcoming draft picks are not included in this analysis. In other words, while the Spurs might not keep all of these players listed below, this list does not include any of the future Spurs draft picks. It also does not include any free agents that the Spurs might add.
The age next to the player is how old (or young!) each player will be at the start of the 2024-2025 season. As Hollinger points out, that is the season when most of the other traditional powers will be saddled with huge contracts for old players, and minimal draft help in the meantime.
Here are the 2024-2025 San Antonio Spurs in alphabetical order, with the age listed as of the start of that future season:
Zach Collins (26)
Drew Eubanks (27)
Keldon Johnson (24)
Tre Jones (24)
Jock Landale (28)
Dejounte Murray (27)
Jakob Poeltl (28)
Joshua Primo (21)
Luka Samanic (24)
Devin Vassell (23)
Lonnie Walker IV (25)
Derrick White (30)
Joe Wieskamp (24)
We can also look at the team in terms of positions. It wouldn’t help to have twelve players that all played the same position or had the same skill set. So let’s break the 2024-2025 team down by positions, with 1 being a point guard and 5 being a true post. Many of the Spurs on this future team can fill more than one position.
Guards: Jones (1), Murray (1), White (1/2), Primo (1/2/3), Walker (2), Weiskamp (2/3), Vassell (2/3), Johnson (3/4), Samanic (4), Eubanks (4/5), Collins (4/5), Landale (5, stretch 5), Poeltl (5)
I really like that team. That roster could easily include ten or more “solid” to “very good” NBA players. Derrick White will be the oldest at only 30, and Joshua Primo will be only 21 and possibly on his way to stardom. With the Spurs’ development program, I would bet that several of those Spurs become players that move well beyond Tier Five status. That group of Spurs could easily lead the Spurs back into annual contender status — exactly where they should be. In his article, Hollinger agrees:
“A great many teams have set themselves up to be in a pronounced decline phase by mid-decade, while just a small handful — Memphis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, San Antonio and Toronto — seem to have their eyes on any achievement beyond the immediate here and now. You can add the Hawks and Suns to that list, as they have managed to become good without burning through draft picks or inking gargantuan contracts, and thus retain obvious relevance for the future.”
And let me add this: This roster could help put Becky Hammon in line for at least one Coach of the Year award. Won’t that be cool?