December 15 is a week away. That may not seem like a significant date on its own, but it’s actually the day that NBA players who signed a new contract in the 2022 offseason can officially be traded. The Spurs are expected to be players on the NBA trade scene, with veteran names such as Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott being mentioned as likely targets for other teams.
Most assume the Spurs will be looking for mostly draft compensation or younger players with future potential in any trade, but there is one huge hole on the roster that the Spurs need to consider filling, and there’s a certain player they could go after even if he doesn’t meet all of the criteria above. If you clicked on this article, you already know who I’m about to suggest: Patty Mills, the last member of the 2014 championship team to have left the club.
Some may scoff at the idea: he’s even more “veteran” than any of the Spurs veterans, and he doesn’t necessarily fit the “rebuilding” timeline (which is a big reason why he left a couple of seasons ago in the first place). However, the Spurs were ready to hand the reins over the Dejounte Murray and Derrick White then. Now, both are gone, and the team is in desperate need of a backup point guard, more shooting, and a confidence/morale boost during this extremely rough 1-16 stretch of play. As everyone knows, Mills brings all of that and more.
On top of that, he no longer appears appreciated where he is and is reportedly set to be put on the trading block. While the Brooklyn Nets are currently the fourth seed in the East and slowly rising up after a slow start under a cloud of controversy — the Kyrie Irving suspension, head coach Steve Nash resigning, the consideration of hiring suspended and disgraced Celtics coach Ime Udoka before common sense prevailed, etc. — Mills has not been a part of that rise.
He’s currently sitting at six consecutive DNPs, and he has one of the worst net ratings in the league. I haven’t watched enough — or really any — of the Nets to know why that is this season, but his shooting numbers are right at his career averages this season (38.2% from three, 42.3% overall) despite dropping to just 11 minutes per game, so it’s not like he’s fallen off a cliff in that department. It probably doesn’t help that the Nets have another similar, undersized shooting guard who is still younger and more productive (when healthy) in Seth Curry, making Mills a redundant player on that roster.
Regardless of why he isn’t working out for the Nets anymore, the fact is he could still be a positive influence for the Spurs without hurting their rebuilding effort. Unlike two years ago, the Spurs now have only one point guard on the team in Tre Jones. The Spurs desperately need another ball handler, and while Blake Wesley appears near to his return — he’s in the 5th week of his 6-week timeline and was seen participating in three-on-threes yesterday — he’s still ultimately a shooting guard with a tiny sample size of NBA experience.
Mills would bring everything the Spurs need right now: a backup point guard, corporate knowledge, leadership, a positive locker room voice, outside shooting, and ball-handling, all at a very affordable price. He just signed a two-year, $12 million contract, so he would only be committed to the team through the 2023-24 season, and at such an affordable price he could easily be traded again or waived down the road.
The biggest challenge for such a trade will be matching salaries. The Nets are over the salary cap, so they wouldn’t be able to trade Mills straight up for Richardson or McDermott (who both make about twice as much) and simply absorb the extra salary. They would need to send another player with Mills to match, but they likely aren’t interested in including one of the three players on the roster — Curry, Royce O’Neale and Nic Claxton — whose salaries could match things up. Claxton is the Nets starting center, so odds are the Spurs would have to include Jakob Poeltl to get him, but he and Mills likely don’t meet the Spurs’ reportedly high asking price for Poeltl.
Another thing to consider is the Spurs are currently at 15 guaranteed contracts, so if they did a one-for-two player swap, they would either need to waive someone on the current roster (like Alize Johnson), waive the extra player they receive in the trade, or get a third team involved. Of those options, the most likely approach would be to waive Johnson considering O’Neal or Claxton have two years left on their contracts and would be expensive to waive, plus, at 24 years old and already starting, Claxton in particular might be an intriguing prospect to hold on to.
The easiest option would be a straight player-for-player trade (assuming the Nets aren’t looking for too much in return for Mills), and the main options the Spurs have to offer who are on the same play scale as Mills would be Romeo Langford, Zach Collins and Jeremy Sochan. The latter isn’t happening, but Langford might be an intriguing option for the Nets. He doesn’t bring that shooting Mills does, but he still has untapped potential, and his defense would allow him to play alongside Curry.
It really just comes down to what the Nets expect in return from Mills. His salary and lack of play this season isn’t giving him much value, but as a former NBA champion, there will likely be many teams interested, some with possibly more intriguing packages to offer than the Spurs. Still, San Antonio does have some helpful pieces to at least extend an offer. (Not to mention, they have the added advantage of many connections within the Nets organization.)
This may not be a road either the Spurs or Mills are looking to go down, but it should at least be considered, because Mills would fill several holes on the current roster without getting in the way of player development or hurting the (presumed) end goal of getting a high lottery pick. If nothing else, it’s worth a shot.