The Spurs have looked like what they are during preseason play so far: a team that likely won’t win a lot of games this upcoming year and will lean young despite having some solid veterans. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: San Antonio is in full rebuilding mode.
Fortunately, the front office seems to have put the Spurs in a position to accelerate the rebuild and potentially return to relevance in only a few years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work still to be done. The ever-changing landscape of the league means that, even if the goal this season is to secure a high pick by losing a lot and get future assets, it might not be easy to achieve that. Here’s why.
Locking up one of the worst three records in the league could be harder than expected
During media day the players talked about wanting to grow, fight for the playoffs and surprise people, but it’s unlikely that will happen. The Spurs as currently constructed, with no proven starting point guard and a lot of young guys, should be one of the worst teams in the league. But they could have competition for one of the three spots that guarantee the best shot at the No. 1 pick in the next draft.
The Jazz blowing it up added a strong contender for the worst record in the league. Utah still has some solid veterans but is likely to prioritize their youngsters over them, and they will likely trade the established guys as the season progresses. The Thunder seemed ready to take a step forward with the addition of Chet Holgrem, but the big man will miss the season with a foot injury. The Rockets didn’t add an actual starting-quality point guard, which suggests the Kevin Porter Jr. experiment will continue, likely negating the impact of rookie Jabari Smith Jr. The Magic seemed on their way toward improvement but will be without Markelle Fultz and potentially Jonathan Isaac and Jalen Suggs for a while, which could hurt them early on. The Pacers will likely move Buddy Hield and Myles Turner at some point and embrace their youth movement. All of those teams could out-tank the Spurs.
Fortunately, lottery reform means that the chances of landing the top pick are not as dependent on having the worst record in the league as they once were. The draft class has a clear-cut top prospect at this point in Victor Wembanyama, but most experts say there’s more star talent near the top, such as Scoot Henderson, so it shouldn’t be impossible to get a cornerstone outside of the first slot either, which is comforting.
The trade market got suddenly quiet and the Spurs will have competition if it heats up again
The Spurs put themselves in a prime position to facilitate trades this offseason. They had a few quality veterans on expiring or short contracts to deal and carved out a lot of cap space that they didn’t use, which allowed them to take on salary. With all the stars that were reportedly on the market, it seemed likely they were going to get to use their flexibility to net some extra assets. Alas, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stayed put, and Donovan Mitchell was moved on a straight two-team deal.
Now, the situations in Brooklyn and Los Angeles seem far from resolved, so there’s still a chance the Spurs will be able to get involved in a deal mid-season that might get them a pick back. But as we go into the season, they could have more competition.
The Spurs will still have more cap flexibility than other teams, but their veterans might have seen their value drop. Bojan Bogdanovic, a better version of Doug McDermott as a tall shooting forward, didn’t fetch a first-rounder in return in a recent trade. Josh Richardson would be a rental for any team trading for him, since he will be on an expiring contract, and there could be other guards on the market who can either create their own shot, like the Jazz’s Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, or have a better track record as shooters than J-Rich, like the Rockets’ Eric Gordon or the Pacers’ Hield. Jakob Poeltl is good enough to be worth a first-rounder, but the longer we get into the season, the more his value declines since he’s in the last year of his contract.
It’s not necessary for the Spurs to trade any of their veterans, of course. They could simply keep them to guide the young players for now and focus on creating even more cap room next offseason, but hopefully the market will get more active as the season goes on, so that San Antonio at least has the chance to make some deals.
The Spurs are in a great position to rebuild by bottoming out this season and using their cap flexibility to get other assets. They will likely go into next offseason with one of the top picks in the draft and a lot of future selections. They are set up for success.
There could be challenges coming, though. The Spurs’ front office will need to continue to find edges in trades and potentially make sure the team doesn’t accidentally end up with a record that pushes them off the top three in lottery odds.
Rebuilding might not be as hard as building a championship team, but it still takes a lot of work.