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The Spurs show restraint and patience on the first day of free agency

The Spurs could have tried to skip steps by signing a big name, but are being smart by taking their rebuild slow instead.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs-Press Conference Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The first night of free agency brought its usual craziness, with some outrageous deals being handed out. Arguably the most shocking one came when the Rockets secured the services of Fred VanVleet for a whopping $130 million over three years.

The Spurs, meanwhile, decided to fly below the radar by only making a couple of signings that surprised no one. First, they agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with Tre Jones and then they locked down Julian Champagnie to a four-year contract that pays him slightly more than the minimum yearly.

At first glance, the Rockets did more to further their rebuild than the Spurs did. Despite not having stellar numbers last season, VanVleet is still just 29 years old, is a former All-Star and NBA champion and still a quality starting guard in the league. The acquisition should allow Houston to put a stop to the ill-fated Kevin Porter Jr. as starting point guard experiment and bring some structure to an offense that severely lacked it in the past couple of years. With some improvement from Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun, plus the VanVleet and Amen Thompson additions, the Rockets should be noticeably better next season. And they still have the ability to add another veteran or two to try to swing for a play-in spot. There are serious questions about a positional overlap at guard and the contract seems like an overpay but it’s not an indefensible offseason.

It would have been if the Spurs had been the ones signing VanVleet. While it’s accurate to say that both Houston and San Antonio are rebuilding, they are in different stages and under different circumstances. The Rockets decided to bottom out three seasons ago and have posted records in the low 20s or below since 2020. In the past three drafts, they have picked second, third and fourth. The top pick has eluded them, but they have secured players that at least have the raw talent to be cornerstones. Punting another offseason in hopes of once again picking high instead of trying to fix the growing dysfunction the team recently showed on both ends would have made sense in theory, but not everyone has the stomach to go through a Process-esque rebuild. At some point taking a risk on a core and bringing in veterans that can hopefully help elevate it becomes enticing.

The Spurs are not there yet. San Antonio was in the playoffs, the play-in, or within striking distance of making it to the latter for years before finally bottoming out. Those weren’t the best seasons to watch, but the team was competitive and definitely not in rebuilding mode. Victor Wembanyama is the first pick in the top five since Tim Duncan. There is some young talent on the roster, but no one who was tabbed a future star or has made a case to be called one right now. Gregg Popovich still roams the sidelines and while there have been some obvious issues in terms of execution on both ends, they don’t stem from a lack of effort but from a lack of experience. While Houston needed some stabilizing force to allow the young guys to unlock their enormous potential the Spurs are still trying to figure out what they have while knowing that they’ll probably need more talent.

For the Spurs to sign someone like VanVleet or any of the other priced veterans in the market would have meant skipping steps. It’s good that they haven’t, at least so far. The injection of enthusiasm that winning the lottery and adding Wembanyama could have led the front office stray but it doesn’t seem like it has. The decision-makers seem to realize that despite the desire to fast forward to when the team is actually good, being patient is the way to go. They are coming off the first season of their rebuild, after all.

If Wembanyam pans out as expected and the rest of the young core continues to develop, the Silver and Black might find themselves in the position the Rockets were in on Friday sooner rather than later. Eventually, every rebuilding team has to take a leap of faith and decide that it’s time to go all in and attempt to compete. Fortunately, the front office realized that the Spurs are not there yet and avoided a costly mistake.