The DeMar DeRozan era is officially over in San Antonio. The Spurs have agreed to a sign-and-trade sending the star wing to the Bulls for Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a first round pick and two second round picks.
The transaction is surprising. There were rumors that Chicago could be an option for a DeRozan sign-and-trade, but that speculation centered on Lauri Markkanen being the return for the Spurs. This haul is much more impressive than that. San Antonio not only got two veteran forwards on expiring contracts that could give them minutes if necessary, but also draft capital for a player they were expected to move on from anyway. Things worked out for DeRozan as well, as he got paid more than he would have if he had joined a money-strapped contender. It’s unclear why the Bulls went through with it, considering the makeup of their roster, but that’s a concern for Chicago fans to have. For San Antonio, this is close to ideal. Let’s break it down.
First, let’s talk about the pick. Because of the Stepien rule, the Bulls can’t send out their 2022 first rounder out, since they have traded their 2023 pick already, so the earliest San Antonio can get its hands on the first round pick owed to them is 2025. There are no confirmations as to what kind of protections, if any, have been attached to that first rounder, but even if it’s top-10 protected as originally reported, it’s a valuable asset. As for the second rounders, it’s hard to project whether they will be all that good, since one will come next offseason from a Chicago team who has loaded up on talent to compete, and the other will come from the Lakers in 2025, and it’s impossible to project how they will look then. Still, having extra second rounders to package or take chances on draft-and-stash prospects is never a bad thing.
As for the players, it’s hard to complain. Surely some fans would have preferred Lauri Markkanen be included, but since that would have involved committing future salary to a player that frankly just hasn’t been that good, the option the front office picked seems more sensible. The Spurs now have two veteran big forwards on their roster who can actually still play, at least small roles. Thaddeus Young is a high character guy who can defend, pass and score inside. The fit in the starting lineup is not good because he can’t space the floor, but as a backup he could give San Antonio solid minutes. Aminu has struggled greatly in basically every aspect of the game since leaving Portland, but he’s also a tremendous locker room guy who has the tools to defend and rebound. In one fell swoop, the Spurs went from having only one natural power forward in the roster in Luka Samanic to being deep at that spot.
Getting back guys who can contribute at a position of need would have been good enough already, but the fact that both Young and Aminu are on expiring contracts is what makes the deal so much better. If the idea is to go young, the Spurs can simply waive both newcomers before the season starts while preserving cap space for next offseason. They can also wait and see if the new roster is good enough to compete for a playoff spot, and if it isn’t, waive them then or try to flip them for a young player or an asset. Aminu probably doesn’t have any trade value after a disastrous stint in Orlando, but he could help match salaries, while Young should have suitors at the deadline. Neither will get the Spurs a great haul back, but it’s always helpful to have mid-sized expiring contracts on the books.
It would be a mistake to overstate how good the trade is in the big scheme of things. Nothing is permanently fixed. The Spurs are not suddenly a lock for the playoffs and have not solved their need for a star. There’s still little clarity as to whether they will actively try to play veterans or develop their youngsters. If Doug McDermott and Young are getting 30 minutes a game while Devin Vassell and Luka Samanic get scraps on a 35-win team, this offseason could lose its luster quickly.
For now, though, the front office should be commended. They took two big swings, one in the draft and one in free agency, which shows they are willing to take risks; they made the tough decision to part with all the veterans from last season while adding some new ones who fill needs and should be easy to move on from if needed; and they did it all while actually acquiring future assets and maintaining cap flexibility, especially considering next summer’s free agent class should be much stronger.
There might be more to come, since San Antonio should still have some cap space and the room exception and could make another trade. But even if this is essentially the end of the Spurs’ offseason moves, the summer has to be considered at the very least a step in the right direction for a front office that seemed lost just a few days ago.