While the NBA Playoffs are kicking off with the play-in tournament tonight, the Spurs and 9 other NBA teams will be watching the postseason from home. That doesn’t mean the organization’s work is over, far from it. With just a little over two months until the NBA Draft and the beginning of free agency, the Spurs will be scouting, and working on contract negotiations with the players currently on their roster while the majority of the league fights for a championship.
This is a massively important offseason for San Antonio, as they are coming off their worst season since 1997. There will be chances for talent acquisition in the draft, trade market and free agency, as the team looks to accumulate assets for their rebuild. Here are the biggest storylines to watch as they try to do just that this offseason.
What lottery talent will they pick?
When you run out 40+ different starting lineups and lose over 60 games, a lot of people would call that “tanking,” or losing on purpose to get a high draft pick. Whether or not thats what the Spurs did is up for debate. Regardless, they find themselves with the best odds at the #1 pick, and a guaranteed top-7 pick. If they win a coin toss with the Houston Rockets some time before the draft lottery, they could be guaranteed a top-6 pick.
If ping pong balls bounce their way, and they get the #1 pick, the 7-foot-4 Frenchman, Victor Wembanyama is the obvious pick. The skill he has exhibited for his size is absolutely off the chain. He can shoot it from three, handle it on the perimeter, and block shots on the other end. He’s a generational talent, and possibly the best draft prospect since LeBron James.
In the event that they do not pick number one, they will likely pick between a collection of Scoot Henderson, the bursty true point guard from the G-League; Brandon Miller, a 6-9 scoring wing with some off of the court question marks; Amen Thompson, a freak athlete who has solid feel for the game, but lacks a jump shot; Jarace Walker, a versatile big who has major defensive upside; and Cam Whitmore, a raw wing with great athleticism and high scoring upside.
The Spurs have been known to surprise people in the lottery with their selections, so some other names that could sneak into the conversation include Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George, Nick Smith Jr., Aussar Thompson, Rayan Rupert and Bilal Coulibaly. If the Spurs reach for a guy like this, they will have to really like them. They may also consider trading down if they find themselves drafting 6th or 7th, and don’t love the guys in that range.
Who they draft will likely become a focal point of the roster moving forward. Fans are hoping they land some of the big name talent like Wemby, Henderson, Miller or Amen at the top of the draft, but that is no guarantee. There may be an outcome where they select multiple times lower in the draft, to grab a few players they like, if the lottery doesn’t work out in their favor.
Who returns next year?
Late in the season, Spurs games turned out to be more of a tryout than a competition to win games. Players like Tre Jones, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Julian Champagnie and Zach Collins worked to secure spots in San Antonio or elsewhere next season. Who the front office decides to bring back will say a lot about who they feel is worthy of development.
Gregg Popovich essentially confirmed Collins will be coming back on a fully guaranteed deal next season, telling media that he will be their starting center next year. Jones is headed for restricted free agency, but with Popovich praising him, calling him a “stud,” in a recent press conference, it seems like they will be trying to keep the 23-year-old point guard moving forward.
That leaves Mamukelashvili, Champagnie, Dominick Barlow, Romeo Langford, Keita Bates-Diop and Gorgui Dieng as players hitting free agency. The Spurs will have three 2-way contracts, and there is a possibility one or two of these guys could fill one of those spots. Others like Bates-Diop will likely be looking for guaranteed money. This is not an incredibly deep free agency class, and a competitor who liked what they saw from these guys could pull them away from San Antonio if the front office don’t want to sign role players to bigger deals.
Then there is the question of Doug McDermott, Devonte Graham and Khem Birch. All three are on expiring contracts next season, and could be valuable pieces to be acquired in a trade by a contender. Will the Spurs dangle their veterans for more draft capital to continue building their stash? San Antonio elected to wait until the trade deadline to ship off the likes of Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson this year, and were rewarded with 7 draft picks. With guys like McDermott and Graham finishing the year strong, don’t be surprised if San Antonio looks to capitalize on their value sooner, rather than later.
Money to spend
The Spurs will enter this offseason with over $40 million in projected cap space. That would put them in the top-5 for money available this summer. Potential extensions for Tre Jones and Zach Collins would cut into that number slightly, but they will most likely have a lot of space to make moves this summer. How will they spend it?
Option one is taking on big contracts in trades to acquire draft capital. For example, they could take on a large expiring salary like Miami’s Duncan Robinson, or Dallas’s Davis Bertans to give a contender some cap flexibility, and acquire a first rounder in the process. Because I know Spurs fans love to talk about him, Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons would also fit this description.
Option two would be to hit the free agent market. As mentioned above, this isn’t an incredibly deep free agent class, but there are some intriguing names that could fit the Spurs timeline, and give them another piece towards their rebuild. Some of those player include: Naz Reid, Max Strus, PJ Washington, KJ Martin, Austin Reeves, Darius Bazley, Grant Williams and Cam Reddish.
It’s good to maintain roster flexibility in a rebuild, so spending all of that cash this summer is unlikely. They do have the ability to throw some money at a restricted free agent, or sign a developmental experiment to a good contract if they want to.