Are you experiencing some schadenfreude over the rumors of turmoil in Atlanta or have you moved past the Dejounte Murray drama that happened over the summer?
Marilyn Dubinski: From a logical standpoint, any turmoil for the Hawks is good for the Spurs since they own three of their future first round picks, even if the first one is still two years out. From the standpoint of simply a Spurs fan looking at Dejounte Murray, he was a good Spur when he was here, I understand him not wanting to be a part of a rebuild (and equally, the Spurs needing to move him to truly start over), and like any former Spur, I wish him well. From the petty, social media-driven side, I am laughing a bit inside due to his snarky comments that it will take the Spurs 20 years to rebuild and his obnoxious behavior since he left, such as tripping and bopping players on the head with the ball in the Drew League.
Mark Barrington: Honestly, I’ve almost forgotten that Dejounte played for the Spurs. OK, it’s not that bad, but really, the Spurs traded him, got good value in return, and he’s gone. I wish him well, but I’m not too invested in player drama and NBA soap operas. It seems like there are a lot of teams in the league with chemistry issues this year, and it seems like a combination of bad management, and coaches that aren’t able to deal with superstar egos. Pop has never had a problem with that, except for maybe one player ...
Bruno Passos: I get a bit of schadenfreude when hearing about any behind-the-scenes dysfunction, which is probably something I should talk to a professional about, but there’s nothing in particular that relates to Murray. That said, Spurs fans have a vested interest in seeing some cracks in the Hawks’ foundation given the future draft capital headed their way. But as for Murray, he was a good Spur, had a goofy post-breakup summer, and I will only experience the most average levels of cruel pleasure if things continue to unravel in Atlanta.
Jesus Gomez; Part of me absolutely thinks that it’s a little funny that Murray talked about how the normally drama-free Spurs had “problems bigger than basketball” and landed in a place in which a couple of months in he’s actually witnessing what those issues tend to look like in most franchises. The antics over the summer, which led to a “Dejounte is finally free” narrative didn’t help Murray’s likability, either. But ultimately he was a good Spur and the trade that send him out was beneficial to the franchise, so I’m not particularly invested in his downfall.
J.R. Wilco: DJM’s offseason comments are just the latest in a very long line of examples as to why it’s always a bad idea to talk smack about your former team. On the schadenfreude scale, I’d say I’m further from “Take that, Dejounte!” and closer to “Dejounte who?”
With the playoff picture in the West looking so wide open, do you think the Spurs could have been in the mix if they had replaced Dejounte Murray with a starting-quality point guard?
Dubinski: Considering Tre Jones has done an admirable job as starting point guard this season, I would say their current problems lay elsewhere. Also, the fact is Murray is a “starting-quality” point guard, was good enough to be an injury reserve All-Star last season, and they still were only barely good enough to make the play-in with roughly the same core, so I would say they would have needed to replace him with far superior, true All-Star point guard to be contending for the playoffs right now, not just a starting-quality one (all other things being equal). Regardless, it doesn’t really matter because that wasn’t the point of trading him.
Barrington: I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the question, because I believe that Tre Jones is starting point guard material. It’s just that he’s still learning the position and still needs to improve his shooting. He’s not one of the top point guards in the league, but he’s competent and getting better. If the Spurs landed a top ten point guard, Tre would move to the bench, but he could still start for a lot of teams. The biggest problem isn’t Tre, it’s that there is no one to run the offense when he sits, and the offense is forced to depend on someone like Jeremy Sochan, which can be exciting and terrifying by turns. Malaki Branham is starting to show signs of being a good offensive contributor, but he would be playing out of position at point, and the future at that position will be Blake Wesley, who could eventually be a really solid point or a complete bust. Looking at the veteran point guards that were available last off season, San Antonio’s ceiling would have been the Play-In one and done, which is a bad place to be. The Spurs could have traded themselves into the bottom half of the western conference playoff bracket, but that’s really an exercise in long term futility. I prefer the short term futility of tanking.
Passos: Probably? And I say that not because Murray alone makes up the 7ish wins that separates them from the 10 spot, but rather that we’d likely see a difference in approach to a season that’s been far more about long-term development. A tighter rotation, fewer moments of the (admittedly fun) Point Sochan, and maybe a roster better structured to compete now. Would that have been wise? I don’t think so, given where we saw that got them in years past and because of how enticing this year’s draft class is.
Gomez; I think so, which is why it was necessary to trade Murray and not replace him in the first place. That was the Spurs’ big tanking move, really. They wouldn’t have been good with, say, Mike Conley or Jalen Brunson as their starter, but they probably would have been solid enough to at least hover around close to .500 and fight for a play-in spot. Trying out Point Primo first and then Point Sochan before settling for Josh Richardson as the second unit’s main ball handler pretty much assured that they would be at least a step below that group of teams, which was the point. It’s kind of interesting to imagine the alternate universe where the Spurs get a bunch of picks for Murray and use their cap space on a veteran floor general but it still seems that giving Jones the starting spot was the right call both for his development and the team’s long term outlook.
Wilco: First, it’s crazy to see the way that, after so many years of having consistently dominant teams at the head of the conference, the West’s best teams have been playing hot potato with the top spot. Second, I’d say it’s team defense, not point guard play, that’s the most overwhelmingly damning issue with this year’s Spurs. While DJM is an upgrade over Jones in any number of ways, the delta isn’t that huge, and I wouldn’t agree that this currently 13-31 team is just one Murray-esque PG short of a run at the playoffs.
With half the season over, have you picked up any team that you are rooting for to win it all with the Spurs deep in a rebuilding year?
Dubinski: I’m finding myself naturally leaning towards the Bucks because they’re a small market team, I like the Greek Freak, and I saw Khris Middleton live at Texas A&M (I was a senior when he was a freshman). Another team I wouldn’t mind seeing win it all is the Celtics — which feels weird to say about a legacy NBA team that I used to hate — but I would love to see Derrick White get a ring, I like Jayson Tatum, and they have another Aggie in Robert Williams. Out of the West, I’m probably rooting for the Nuggets because again, small market/former ABA team, plus they’ve never given me a reason to dislike them.
Barrington: I think the Pelicans are an exciting young team and it would be wonderful if they made it all the way to the finals, but they can’t compete unless Zion Williamson stays healthy and that’s always a bad bet; the big guy just can’t stay on the court. I like the Nuggets, because Nikola Jokic is showing how a guy can become a superstar mostly on intellect, guts, and skill and not just raw athletic ability. The Grizzlies look really strong, and they are putting it all together. Any one of those three teams could come out of the west, but when they get to the finals, they will end up losing to the Celtics, who survived the Ime Udoka firing and found the perfect coach with Joe Mazzulla. I think the Celtics come back from their 2022 loss in the finals and redeem themselves with the first championship on the parquet since 2008.
Passos: Besides the Zombie Warriors, the league in general feels fresh and unpredictable enough that I still haven’t gravitated towards any other team yet. I tend to want to default to a team that feels like it’s been knocking on the door long enough, like the Nuggets, but really I’ll be happy for any title run that’s relatively injury-free. And ideally not Golden State again. Can you imagine what a generational showman like Ja Morant will do on the game’s biggest stage?
Gomez; The league has been in a good place since the Warriors split because it feels like the title race is wide open, so it’s hard to focus on just one team, but if I had to pick one it’d be the Nuggets. Jokic is a unique superstar, the front office has put together a nice starting lineup around him and a deep run and ideally a title would quiet the critics who simply don’t understand that MVP is a regular season award. They probably need a couple more 16-game guys, since it’s hard to trust Bones Hyland and Michael Porter Jr. in the playoffs, but it would be fun to see the Nuggets go all the way.
Wilco: I enjoy watching Doncic play, but it’s hard to really pull for the Mavs. I love Giannis, but he’s already got a ring. I think Morant’s incredible, but I may or may not still have unresolved issues with Memphis due to the 2011 playoffs. Phoenix still employs Chris Paul. Boston is Boston and Brooklyn is Brooklyn. So, I guess I’m on the Nuggets bandwagon because Jokic’s passing is sublime and reminds me that I’m happy to be alive.