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Former Spurs are thriving elsewhere, and letting them go was the right call

The Spurs would have probably been better this season if they had kept some of their veterans, but it wouldn’t have been a smart decision for the future.

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Have you been keeping up with former Spurs DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills. Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge this season?

Marilyn Dubinski: Not really. I know all their teams are doing very well, but I haven’t been individually stat-watching them on a nightly basis. That being said, it’s been impossible not to see DeRozan plastered all over the news with the Bulls near the top of the East, and while I’m happy for him and all the overdue credit he is receiving, it’s too bad it’s often being used to criticize the Spurs for allegedly “misusing him”, even though he has continuously praised Gregg Popovich and the club for making him a better player, and his play this season isn’t that different from his seasons here; he just has a better, younger core around him.

Mark Barrington: I try to watch almost as many non-Spurs games as Spurs games, but that means that I would see most teams about twice as often as I would see them if I only watched Spurs games only. So I don’t think I see a lot of live action involving former Spurs against other teams in the league. From what I’ve seen, they’re all doing about what I expected, with DeMar DeRozan landing in the best situation for his talent set, a team with a lot of shooting, another star, and plenty of touches for him on offense. DeMar has really benefited from his time in San Antonio, as it expanded his game on offense, and made him into a better team defender, and that really meshes well with the scheme and personnel in Chicago. Rudy is a role player for the Jazz, and knows his role. LaMarcus and Patty have defined roles in Brooklyn and they’re doing exactly as I expected. Casual NBA fans don’t know that Patty can explode occasionally for a 30 point game, but fans of the Silver and Black always knew he could do that.

Bruno Passos: Are you asking me if I’ve been following along with this...

Or this?

I’ve been following DeRozan and the duo in Brooklyn a bit more than Gay because of time zones and health, but former Spurs are always of interest to me, especially when they’re thriving like DeRozan has in Chicago. Aldridge’s resurgence has also been a really fun story coming off of his heart problems and unretirement.

Jesus Gomez: I haven’t watched too many of their games, but I do try to see how they are doing from time to time. It’s been easier to do that with DeRozan, since he was a media darling for a while, but it’s been good to see Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge find success in Brooklyn and Rudy Gay find a role with a contender. All of those guys seemed like really good teammates when they were in San Antonio and they only left recently, so it’s hard to not keep tabs on them, even if sometimes the result is reading a tweet saying that the Spurs were holding back Patty Mills or something equally asinine.

I’ll probably keep a closer eye on them in the postseason, if San Antonio doesn’t make it. Especially DeRozan. He has a reputation as a poor performer in the playoffs so it will be interesting to see if he can finish this great season with a band to quiet his loudest critics.

J.R. Wilco: I’ve been following along with DmDr (how could I follow basketball at all and stay unaware of the season he and the Bulls have been having?) as well as Patty and LMA (funny the way good players on good teams having good seasons in big markets makes them so nationally relevant in a way they never are when doing the same in smaller markets) but I couldn’t tell you two things about Rudy’s season in Utah — and I couldn’t tell you why that is. Maybe I’ll correct that in the second half of the season.

Considering San Antonio’s record and the individual success of the guys that they moved on from, do you think the Spurs did the right thing by letting them go?

Dubinski: Absolutely. They missed the last two playoffs with that core, which wasn’t getting any younger, so there weren’t many indications that things were going to get better. It was clearly time for a rebuild and to let the young players they have been drafting and molding over the last five seasons shine. (And honestly, what complaint is there about the current team that didn’t exist with the previous one? Inconsistency, lack of three-point shooting, iffy defense, slow starts, lack of fourth quarter energy — different players, same problems. Maybe DeRozan changes a few outcomes with his crunch time play, but we’d likely still be looking at a play-in team at best, just like the last two seasons.)

I love and miss all those guys, and I wouldn’t have complained if one or two stuck around (Mills leaving will always hurt), but I have enjoyed watching the young group play and grow this season, despite all the frustrating moments. The key difference is they still have potential to improve and move up in coming seasons, unlike the old core that was either past or nearing the end of their primes. Not to mention, the Spurs have cap space to make moves without any large contracts bogging them down. Long story short, it was the right move.

Barrington: Absolutely, it was the right thing to do. The Spurs have been trying to use a strategy of incremental change ever since the big three left, and it was pretty successful at first. That strategy got destroyed when the central piece of the rebuild forced his way off the team during the 2017-2018 season. The Spurs made the best possible trade for Kawhi before the 2018-2019 season, and ended up with enough talent to be a playoff team, but not a contender. The strategy of incremental change wasn’t working any more and the team had to go a different direction.

It was time to develop the collection of young players they had been stockpiling over the last few years and let the seasoned veterans pursue their goals somewhere else. It was the best outcome for everyone involved, except maybe for superficial fans who only care about winning in the short term, because in the short term, the Spurs just aren’t as good as they have been used to seeing. The Spurs’ extended run of being an NBA contender was historic, but it had to end eventually, and it’s better to do that as part of a strategy to improve the team, instead of trying to eke out a few more regular season wins at the ends of players’ careers, or even in their late prime, in DeRozan’s and Mills’ cases.

Despite the dearth of wins this year, the games have been enjoyable to watch, although the inability to finish games late can be tough on the psyche. I think if you only care about wins, this is a season you’ll want to tune out, but if you care about basketball, it’s fun [and frustrating] to watch the Spurs this season.

Passos: I don’t think the answer here is black and white. Should the Spurs have kept all of them? Probably not. Was a purge needed to keep leaning into the youth movement? I’m not sure. Would they have more wins today with one or more of them still in a Spurs uniform? Probably. Would I enjoy these end-game situations a bit more if they involved DeRozan on an island, going after that pineapple? Definitely.

Overall I don’t think it was a misstep for the front office to step into a new era with two feet, though, and it’s allowing this season to be equal parts development and evaluation to the fullest extent, which should benefit them in the long run.

Gomez: Yes. I understand that there might be some fans who tune in to watch the Spurs not be able to close a game late or check the standings and see them near the bottom and wish the veterans had never left, but the ceiling with the old core was extremely low. The playoff series against the Nuggets was fun, and there’s nothing wrong with fighting for a play-in spot for a couple of years, but at some point you have to aim higher, and the only way to get there was to start a new chapter. If anything, there’s a case to be made that the Spurs waited too long to give the younger guys the reins.

The reality is, before the Spurs become a good team again, we might see some of the guys currently on the roster, including some that we’ll grow to like, end up somewhere else. So in a way, losing guys like Mills, as painful as it was, will prepare fans for the realities of a rebuild.

Wilco: I think it’s definitely better in everyone’s interests; long term, for sure. There’s so much young talent in San Antonio, that I believe the team needs to find out what it’s able to do — especially in a situation where Pop wasn’t able last season to do the alchemy involved to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Those two factors would be enough, but we also know that PATFO, a) doesn’t want to keep guys who don’t want to be in San Antonio, and b) treats players as people and not as assets; which combine to make it a no-brainer to let guys like DmDr, LMA, Patty and Rudy go contribute to successful seasons elsewhere. And all the best to them!