With the NBA trade deadline only hours away, the Spurs made their second trade of the season. They flipped veteran power forward Juancho Hernangomez, who they received along with a second round pick earlier in a deal sending out Bryn Forbes, for veteran guard Tomas Satoransky and another second rounder.
The trades were: a) smart for the Spurs (since they essentially turned a player that wasn’t in their future plans for a couple of future picks), and b) also minor and frankly unexciting. Just like they did last offseason when they took on Chandler Hutchinson for a pick, they are simply acquiring minor future assets.
It’s always possible that the typically secretive Spurs are just working in the shadows to pull off something big at the last minute, and we just don’t know about it yet. More likely, they are just taking this year with patience and the deadline with caution, which is exactly what they should do.
It’s not easy to be fine with inactivity or minor moves that don’t really have an effect on the court or provide a blue chip asset. Trade season is one of the few respites fans of bad teams have — and the Spurs have been bad. They are only in the run for a play-in spot because the lower half of the West has been awful. It’s understandable to hope for meaningful change, and there should not be any players deemed untouchable for a franchise with a 20-34 record. From trades that add a core player to ones that send one out, everything should be on the table.
The Spurs seem to understand that. which is encouraging. Take their reported interest in the now unattainable Domantas Sabonis as an example. The former Pacers’ big man is 25-year-old, a two time All-Star who is capable of being the engine of an offense. A trade for him would have given the Spurs a really nice piece to pair 25-year-old Dejounte Murray with. It would have also sped up their timeline, since it would have taken young players and draft picks to get him and the move would have signaled an interest in winning now instead of building slowly. If the right young star is available for the right price, San Antonio seems willing to go for it, but they won’t overpay.
On the other hand, they are taking calls about Jakob Poeltl, which suggests they are completely willing to entertain the idea of going in the opposite direction. Poeltl has been fantastic this season, showing an improved offensive game to go with his already great defensive and rebounding skills. He’s also 26-years-old and on a contract that only runs for one more season after this. It was smart of the Spurs to not trade him for just a first rounder, if the reports are correct, but it’s also smart of them to be open to the possibility of moving him if they can get a good younger player back, as well as draft capital. They shouldn’t give him away, but they shouldn’t hold on to him no matter what, either.
The only path the Spurs seem uninterested in exploring is a move for an older role player in a contract that goes beyond this season, which is frankly reassuring. They made it clear that their young core was the priority when they let every veteran go last offseason, refused to play Thaddeus Young and traded Bryn Forbes, but there was a chance that seeing the play-in as a possibility this deep in the season could cause them to talk themselves into going for an aging backup point guard or power forward to make a push. The Hernangomez and Satoransky trades are not that, since clearly the Spurs didn’t bring them in to take a rotation spot. They just rented the room they had under the tax line to secure draft capital.
Now, this is undeniably a thoroughly boring approach, because even though they are considering all possibilities and actually making minor moves, it doesn’t seem like the Spurs will aggressively pursue anything significant. Sabonis is gone, Poeltl will probably stay, and Thaddeus Young will either be bought out or traded for minor assets. At least that’s how things look now. Anything can happen around the deadline, of course, but the most likely scenario is that the roster will look similar on Friday. It would be understandable to be frustrated about that after three years in limbo filled with either inactivity or mistakes, but it’s exactly because the Spurs chose the path they did after moving Kawhi Leonard that they now must be careful. It took them a while to transition into a rebuild that looks viable, and making the wrong move now could set them back years.
The time to take big chances will inevitably come, but it simply doesn’t seem like this is it. Not when the team doesn’t really know what it has yet. It would be fantastic if the Spurs could make a deal that greatly improves them now or in the near future, and it would certainly bring some welcomed excitement to a rather dull season, but if there’s not a reasonable one available, standing pat is fine, at least for now.
The path back to relevance will probably be longer for the Spurs than fans hoped, but trying to take shortcuts could send the Silver and Black back to the start. It will be important to remember that if nothing actually exciting happens in the next few hours.