What I Want to See from the Spurs in the 2023 Offseason

Hello all, now that the NBA draft lottery is in the rear view mirror and we know just how valuable our pick is, here is a piece I’ve written in previous years: what I want to see from the Spurs this offseason. All the usual disclaimers apply – this is one proposal, rather than 18, that I see working well overall. Also, not the only one I think that would work well. Finally, I’m not part of the Spurs’ brain trust – just some guy in a chair. Inevitably, the Spurs will do something different, and that’s probably better for all of us.

But before we jump into specifics, a summary of what I saw last season. Last season was a total stinker and exactly what I wanted to see from the Spurs. They were tank-tastic, lost a bunch of games, and still showed that we have a lot of exciting young talent on the team. They kept their cap space and continued to build up their war chest of draft picks. And it’s all paid off. We’ve built a great foundation for a rebuild, now it’s time to see what they can actually build with Wemby as their centerpiece.

In particular, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell looked like legitimate starters or key bench players on championship-caliber teams while showing the potential for even more growth. While it’s not guaranteed either ever become All-Stars (though there is certainly potential), it’s great to have two such players on the team already. Our rookie class also overperformed and has loads of potential. Jeremy Sochan almost played himself into the Johnson/Vassell tier of players on the team as a rookie and is just plain exciting. Malaki Branham played himself out of the G-League and Blake Wesley, though maddeningly inconsistent, has shown tantalizing athletic gifts. Zach Collins had a career year, and while Tre Jones was up and down, he showed he could be a serviceable back-up point guard. The Spurs also did a good job of acquiring talent on the margins: Keita Bates Diop, Charles Bassey, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Julian Champagnie, and Dominick Barlow are all interesting, even if none project to be true difference makers. So without further ado, here’s what I want the Spurs to do with their 15 roster sports and 3 two-way contracts.

The first 7 roster spots are pretty straight forward in my opinion and really only require two significant move by the Spurs. San Antonio should bring back Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley, Charles Bassey, and Zach Collins. This is the core of our young talent and players that are on controllable contracts. In order to do this, the Spurs need to guarantee Collins’ contract. It’s one year, $7.7 million, and a no-brainer. I would also be okay with Spurs negotiating an extension with Collins. For the most part, with just a few exceptions, I want the Spurs to be signing contracts that come off the books in 2027-2028. That is when a max contract for Wemby would kick in. So, in Zach’s case, I think a three-year, $30–36 million contract, perhaps with a team option in 2026-2027 would be a good deal. Per Bobby Marks over at ESPN, this can happen after July 11th.

The Spurs should also negotiate an extension for Devin Vassell. Vassell has the potential reach Khris Middleton-esque levels, but I think his current production justifies an extension in the vein of the recent Murry/White/Johnson extensions. If the Spurs can extend him for four years in the $74–$88 million range, I think this should absolutely happen. Beyond this, I think all of our 2022 rookies should have their third-year option picked up. This is a low bar, and often routine for first-round picks, and even Blake Wesley has shown enough flashes to justify this move.

Our 8th roster spot is also a no-brainer and involves the first pick of the 2023 NBA Draft. As long as the Spurs don’t get out over their own skis, this should be magically straightforward: draft Victor Wembayama. He is the cornerstone prospect this team needs. And if Peter Holt’s reaction meant anything yesterday in Chicago, he’s thinking the same thing and had the same fever dreams I did while trying to get to sleep last night.

Wemby aside, I’d also like the Spurs to trade up into the back-end of the first round if there’s a prospect they are excited about (I offer no opinion on who that might be). We have two valuable second-round picks, 33, and 44, that according to Kevin Pelton’s pick-value chart, together have similar valuable to a pick in the 27–30 range. We also have slew of future second round picks that we will need to aggregate. Alternatively, if we could parlay one of our protected firsts from Charlotte or Chicago into a first here, I think that may make sense. Bottom line, I think there’s a trade to be had and it makes sense for the Spurs to try and aggregate some assets here. If they don’t, then roster spot #9 should go to pick #33. But I think any of these trades would work:

  • The Clippers have Milwaukee’s 30th pick in the draft. LAC needs depth but is strapped for cash and could save money by signing two second-round picks instead of a first-round four-year deal. By trading back to 33, and picking up 44, LAC could sign 33 on the cheap and slot 44 into a two-way deal.
  • Indy has the Celtics’ (29) and Cavs’ (26) firsts in addition to their own (#7), though they have no other future firsts other than their own. They also have the 32nd pick and the 55th pick. They already have 12 guys on their roster with guaranteed contracts in 23-24. Using all their picks fills the roster and leaves them without any room in free agency. They also have no future firsts aside from their own. They could totally be interested in turning one of their picks into a future first. I think a straight up trade of one of these late-first round picks for Charlotte’s protected first would be interesting to both sides.
  • Utah has Philadelphia’s first round pick this year (28) (in addition to its own and MIN). However, Utah has no future second round picks. Bobby Marks (ESPN) has proposed that Utah could trade this pick for multiple second round picks in the future. Here, I think it would make sense to trade for the 28th pick in exchange for the 2024 NOP/CHI Second Round Pick, 2025 TOR Second Round Pick, and 2028 Miami Second Round Pick. Alternatively, we could do the 33rd pick + one future second round pick.

Of the remaining 6 roster spots, 2 are currently spoken for by veterans on the roster: Doug McDermott (on an expiring contract for $13.75 million/year) and Devonte Graham ($12.1 million this year, $2.85 million guaranteed in 2024–25). I wouldn’t urgently move away from them if I were the Spurs, and neither will inhibit the development of our young core, but I think to the extent either can be used to accumulate talent or future assets, the Spurs should explore trade options. Specifically, while I am counting on both players being on the roster at the end of the offseason, if Phoenix wants to move off of Chris Paul, acquiring Paul for McDermott and Graham would make sense. We would have to fully guarantee Paul’s $30 million in 2023-24 to make this happen and he could serve as our floor general. In return, Phoenix would get a little financial relief this season and build out a little depth. This wouldn’t be a barn burning move, or give us championship aspirations in Wemby Year One, but Paul could speed up the development of our team considerably and potentially help us get to the playoffs in year one, all without sacrificing our future financial flexibility. Perhaps a similar trade could be made with Minnesota for Mike Conley ($24 million expiring).

That leaves 4 spots remaining and what I see as one of the biggest question marks of the offseason: Tre Jones. If you read the takes on our blog, peoples’ opinions on Jones range from All-Star point guard to completely unplayable bust. I fall in the middle. I think he tops out at good back-up point guard, but will likely hit that level. And in my mind, that’s a player worth keeping on the roster for now, as long as it’s at the right price. I want the Spurs to give him a four-year contract in the $24-$40 million range, with a team option in year four. Anymore, and they should let him walk – he’s just not worth it and another team can overpay him. But I think he will agree to a contract in that range. I also think it’s worth noting that his contract may give us all a clue into what the front office thinks it has in Blake Wesley. If they are confident in Wesley as a back-up or starting point guard, it may strengthen their bargaining position with Jones and result in a more team-friendly contract. All that said, I’m penciling Tre into the 12th roster spot.

With two of our three remaining roster spots, I’d like to bring back Keita Bates Diop and Sandro Mamukelashvili on team-friendly, short-term deals. Both played well last season and are ineligible for two-way contracts, but neither project to be starters on playoff-caliber teams. I’d resign KBD for 3 years, $12–$18 million, with a team option in year three. I’d sign Mamu to 3 years, with the second partially guaranteed and the third non-guaranteed, for anywhere from $9–$15 million.

With the final full roster spot, I’d like to chase a free agent or restricted free agent. I don’t think it’s time to cash in on an All-Star, but if there’s a young starting-caliber, high-character player to be had for anywhere from $60–$90 million (or less) over four years, I think the Spurs should try to get in the mix. Put another way, I think it is a bit early for a VanVleet-type move, but on my list are Cam Johnson (27, RFA in Brooklyn), Naz Reid (23, UFA in Minnesota), Talen Horton Tucker (23, UFA in Utah), or Gary Trent Jr. (24, Player Option in Toronto).

Finally, with out two-way roster spots, I’d use two to bring back Julian Champagnie and Dominick Barlow. Both have earned them and have one more year of two-way eligibility. With the third, I’d either use it to sign the 44th pick in the draft (if we do not trade up) or an undrafted free agent that catches the front office’s eye.

To wrap things up, this leaves three players on the outside looking in, without roster spots. In my mind: it’s time to say goodbye to Gorgui Dieng, the consummate professional; Romeo Langford, who was worth a second look but hasn’t been able to develop an offensive game; and Khem Birch. In Birch’s case, this would require the Spurs to waive the last year of his $6.985 million dollar contract. I think you keep Birch on the roster through training camp so that (1) if his salary is handy in a trade you have it and (2) if he shows signs of life you have the option of keeping him. However, I don’t think you plan for him on the 15-man when the season starts – there’s better uses for the roster spot.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading – these missives are always longer than I intend and I welcome your thoughts and comments! As you can tell, I want the Spurs to begin pivoting towards competitiveness again but to move deliberately and to continue to invest in their young talent. There will be a time to push in our trade chips and sign veterans to large multi-year contracts. It’s not this year. We don’t need to win it all right away, but we should be trying to set ourselves up for sustained success down the road. Luckily, we have a clear path forward.

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