The day after the San Antonio Spurs’ 2020-21 season ended at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Play-in Tournament, we took a look at five things the Spurs needed to address this offseason. Over four months later, the offseason is nearing an end, and although they still have some work to do entering training camp — for example, they can’t have 17 guaranteed contracts when October 20 gets here — for the most part we have a general idea of what this team will look like to begin the season.
With that in mind, it’s time to look back at those five things from May that needed addressing and see what the Spurs did about it, beginning with:
The situation: Long story short, DeRozan presented a conundrum for the Spurs. He was their best player and most reliable point-generator by a good margin last season, and they likely don’t even make the play-in without him. Still, it was clear that the Spurs’ ceiling was a first round playoff team with him leading the way, so should they re-sign him and keep trying to rebuild within, or let him go to open up more minutes for the young core and do something they’d been trying to avoid: enter full rebuild mode? That was the multi-million dollar question.
What they did about it: Because it never seemed likely that the Spurs would spend the max on him, and plenty of suitors came a-calling for the leader of a relatively weak free agency class, the odds were always leaning towards DeRozan leaving. Where the Spurs succeeded was getting something for him in return. And not just anything; they got a versatile package featuring forwards Thaddeus Young and Al-Farooq Aminu from the Chicago Bulls — both of whom are on expiring contracts — plus a Bulls future first round pick and their 2022 and 2025 second round picks via sign-and-trade.
While Aminu is a candidate to be waived if the Spurs can’t get the roster down by October 20, both he and Young present the Spurs with some decent trade assets now or down the road at the trade deadline, and if they don’t trade him, Young in particular would be a solid addition who addresses area of need for the team (more on that below). Although trading DeRozan didn’t land the Spurs their next franchise player, they just as easily could have gotten nothing for him in return, which to be clear wouldn’t have been a bad thing, but this is one of the better possible outcomes. Grade: A-
Lonnie Walker’s contract extension
The situation: Unlike Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, Walker’s value after three seasons was difficult to gauge. He hadn’t gotten consistent playing time until his third season, and even then his play was inconsistent, so the Spurs would have to decide whether to bet on his development and extend him this summer, or wait another season and risk him hitting restricted free agency.
What they did about it: While one can only speculate what negotiations go on behind closed doors, as predicted an extension has not been signed, and that’s probably for the best of both parties. The Spurs didn’t bet house money on development that hasn’t happened yet, and Walker can easily up his value with a better contract-year performance. If he turns out to be the player the Spurs are hoping he can be, they’ll have the money to pay him next offseason. If not, they can let him walk or let the market determine his value in restricted free agency. It’s a win-win. Grade: A
Patty Mills and Rudy Gay
The situation: Mills and Gay were the leaders of a bench unit whose production was often a determining factor in the outcome of games last season. After a strong start, both aging vets (Mills especially) fizzled under an exceptionally brutal second-half schedule. It was clear the Spurs bench needed to get younger, but they would be losing a lot of leadership if one or both players left, so keeping one (without overpaying) wouldn’t hurt.
What they did about it: They didn’t keep one, but they also didn’t overpay an aging vet — something that has gotten them in trouble in the past. Ultimately it wasn’t too surprising to see either go as they both still have plenty of value and were seen by many contending teams as a potential “final piece of the puzzle”. Gay ended up being just that, signing a 3-yr/$18 mil deal with a Utah Jazz team that has learned how to win the regular season but keep falling in the playoffs.
It was much more heart breaking seeing Mills — the Spurs’ longest tenured player, last holdover from the 2014 championship team, and heart of the locker room — head to the superteam Brooklyn Nets on a measly 2-yr/$12 million contract. While the Spurs likely offered him more money to stay, no one can blame him for heading to a team that could offer more playing time and the best chance at winning another championship. (And as an added bonus, for a third time he is reunited with his good friend LaMarcus Aldridge, who has returned from retirement for another shot at a ring.)
A lot of experience, leadership, and corporate knowledge was lost with their departures, but the additions of players like Doug McDermott and Bryn Forbes will help fill the void they left behind on the court (especially on offense), and their departure potentially opens the door for players like Luka Samanic, Tre Jones, and even established rotation players like Walker and Devin Vassell to get more minutes. It hurts to see them gone, and keeping one would have been nice, but the Spurs did what they could to fill the holes. Grade: C+
The situation: With Aldridge injured and later bought out by the team, Jakob Poeltl pretty much solidified himself as the Spurs starting center of the near future. However, last season also showed that Drew Eubanks — who was a super third option but not quite a reliable second one — was not enough. They tried to address it by adding Gorgui Dieng off the waivers, but he was injured in his first Spurs game and never established himself as part of the rotation after that. More blood at center was needed.
What they did about it: While they didn’t draft a center or sign any known commodity, the Spurs did what they’ve done in similar situations in the past and looked outside the box, bringing in perfectly-named Australian big man Jock Landale: a big Boomer who can shoot the three, is a solid defender, and is coming off a year highlighted by him winning the NBL’s Finals MVP with Melbourne United and the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics (where Gregg Popovich had a front row view). It was a good pickup, maybe even low-key their best of the offseason. Grade: B
The situation: The Spurs spent most of the last season with DeRozan and Keldon Johnson playing power forward out of necessity, but it’s not either of their natural positions. Besides Gay, the only other natural power forwards on the team were Trey Lyles, who hardly played, and Samanic, who showed some flashes when given a chance but was not deemed ready for primetime NBA quite yet. Of that trio, only Samanic remains, and whether or not he’s ready for a permanent role, that still isn’t enough.
What they did about it: While rumors continue to swirl around trade talks regarding Young, he may very well start the season with the team, and worse case he’s a solid stop-gap for the position while the Spurs continue to search for a longer term solution. Even if he does end up getting traded, the additions of McDermott and Zach Collins (once healthy), are decent, although not necessarily the future of the Spurs at the position. Ultimately the Spurs may not be done tinkering with this position yet, and the uncertainty surrounding Young’s status with the team makes it hard to gauge, but so far they’ve done decent enough for a rebuilding team. Grade: TBD