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The rebuilding Spurs should keep some veterans around...for now

San Antonio’s most experienced players will be on the move eventually, but there’s a case to be made for holding on to them for a little bit longer.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs have made it clear that they are rebuilding. Despite having ample cap space, they have essentially refused to make any meaningful additions to replace Dejounte Murray or bring some experience to a very green roster. Their biggest move was signing Keldon Johnson to an extension, which suggests they simply want to build around the young core.

With the focus set on development and no pressure to win in the short term, the next step could be to move the veterans currently on the roster. Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, and Josh Richardson likely won’t be around for the next playoff trip, so why give them minutes that could be going to others instead of moving them for picks?

While that position is reasonable, there’s a reason to hold on to those veterans, at least for a while longer: to aid the development of the young players that will eventually take their place. By providing leadership and complementary skills, the proven guys could help the coaching staff put the new core headlined by Johnson in a better position to succeed.

Before going further, there are a few real concerns with keeping solid veterans around during a rebuild. For starters, they might help the team too much, lowering their chances of getting a high pick. It’s in part what kept the Spurs in the middle of the lottery instead of the top in recent years, so it would be understandable for the front office to go for a full teardown. The trade value of players who don’t figure to be in a team’s future could also decline with time, especially if they are on expiring contracts and get smaller roles to make room for others, so being proactive and moving them sooner rather than later could be smart.

There are reasons for skepticism about those concerns, however. Perceived market value fluctuates, so holding on to a player might actually help a team get a better asset in return, as the deal that sent Thaddeus Young to Toronto at the 2022 trade deadline showed. As for getting too many wins, a few role players, no matter how solid, probably won’t be impactful enough to truly make a difference in the standings and can always be traded during the season if they are. Still, there are some potential drawbacks to keeping steady, experienced players around, and it’s fine to acknowledge them.

There could also be some likely benefits, and they could outweigh those drawbacks. With Poeltl, Richardson, and McDermott, it all comes down to their valuable complementary skill sets, which no one else on the roster can replicate.

Let’s start with Richardson, who has the weakest case of the three. The 6’5” wing is not long enough to handle big forwards on defense and is more of a stand-still shooter than anything else on offense, despite being able to create in the pick and roll in a pinch. At a glance, he replicates a lot of what Josh Primo and Romeo Langford should be able to provide. What makes Richardson valuable, though, is his adaptability. Throughout his career, the 28-year-old veteran has switched roles several times, going from high-usage creator to reliable 3&D option. Even last season he saw his role get bigger in San Antonio after playing off stars in Boston and acquitted himself well in both situations. As the team enters a season in which untested players will try to find their niche, having a shapeshifter with good leadership skills around to fill the voids others can’t plug could be useful.

Versatility has value, but for McDermott, his specialization is what could make him important to the development of others. The 30-year-old forward is an elite off-ball threat who can fire away from distance on the move or find paths to the rim on purposeful cuts. Younger players could learn how he operates, with Joe Wieskamp and Devin Vassell looking like good candidates to thrive under his tutelage. But it’s not just the shooters who could benefit from having him around. The on-ball scorers and the pick-and-roll ball handlers should reap the benefits as well. McDermott draws a lot of attention from defenses with his constant movement, and no defender is going to leave him open when he spots up beyond the arc since he’s a renowned sniper. For the young playmakers and Johnson, the spacing he provides could be crucial to their success.

As for Poeltl, the team suddenly has a lot of depth at center, but no one who can match his rim protection, deft screening, and ability to recover misses. The 26-year-old center is not only the best at those tasks among the big men in the roster, but elite at all of them, as shown by him ranking in the top six in block percentage and offensive rebound percentage last season while only trailing Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert in total screen assists. With no above-average shot creators who can create advantages of their own, having someone who can create separation for ball handlers with his picks and keep possessions alive would be essential on offense. Similarly, the perimeter defense was bad even with Murray and Derrick White around, and it should be even worse with more youth injected into the rotation, so having good backline defense will be essential.

To be clear, no one is untouchable in San Antonio, and certainly not the veterans. The Spurs are in asset collection mode, so they have to listen to offers involving any of their players, especially ones who don’t fit their timeline. It just might be smart to hold off on making any moves right now if the return isn’t worth it. The veterans on the roster could simply be valuable enough to the overall development of the young guys to warrant some minutes, at least for a few more months. By the trade deadline, the coaching staff should have a better idea of who can fill what role going forward, and if the team needs help improving its lottery odds, Poeltl, McDermott, and Richardson could be shipped then, likely for similar packages than the ones other teams might be offering now.

Gong for a full teardown is perfectly reasonable at this point in the rebuild, and no one should be shocked if it happens, but a slower roster turnaround could be acceptable too. The veterans won’t likely help the team win, but if they can provide leadership and a few useful skills their younger counterparts lack, they might still have a place in San Antonio, at least for a little while longer.