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Wemby may be the biggest test yet for Adam Silver’s tolerance of player management

Silver has been more tolerant of resting players than his predecessor was, but even he has his limits, and the Spurs may put them to the test.

2023 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

We are a mere 16 days away from the 2023 NBA Draft, which stands a 99.999...% chance of starting off with the Spurs selecting French phenom Victor Wembanyama first overall. There probably isn’t a better place for him to land than San Antonio due to the Spurs’ knack for developing big men and leading the movement for international players to come to the NBA: something Commissioner Adam Silver has pointed out.

”If he is in San Antonio, it’s an organization that led the way in terms of international scouting and signing of international players. Certainly, everyone would acknowledge they know how to develop players and particularly big men. And so, if I were in his shoes, or if I’m advising him, I’m saying, ‘Quickly become part of that organization and be a sponge and listen to the advice.’”

The excitement for his debut is palpable, and it’s possible that could happen in less than a month, when the Spurs and Charlotte Hornets — who just so happen to have the second overall pick in the draft — kick off the California Summer League Classic in Sacramento on July 3. The NBA is certainly just as excited for his arrival as Spurs fans. Not only have they been advertising him on social media and streaming his games all season, but Silver is also “hoping” the Spurs play him in the Summer League, regardless of if it’s in Sacramento, Las Vegas or both.

“What’s made the summer leagues so valuable are really the media rights more than the individuals who buy tickets there, because it’s a very affordable experience. So, the answer is, I want Victor to get playing court experience, and I think the team — assuming it’s San Antonio — should make decisions completely independent of any commercial implications from where he debuts.”

The NBA wanting the world to see Wemby as soon as possible is no surprise. Even though he is currently headed to the French League Finals, everyone from the commissioner to Spurs fans are hoping they don’t completely hold him out of Summer League. However, as disappointing as that would be, it would also be understandable considering his current work load and the (so far unfounded) questions about his long-term durability. To those who would criticize the Spurs should they hold Wemby out of Summer League, they can point right back to last summer when second overall pick Chet Holmgren, who is of a similarly lanky build, missed the entire 2022-23 season with a foot fracture suffered in a summer Pro-am game.

So while Silver is not so passive aggressively making sure the Spurs know he expects Wemby to play this summer (which may not even be a question in the first place, but this is PATFO we’re talking about), the biggest test for his tolerance level of player management is yet to come. While he has been more tolerant of resting players than his predecessor was — I’m sure everyone remembers Restgate and David Stern fining the Spurs $250,000 for sitting the Big Three plus Danny Green on a FIGASENI, which ended up being the pioneer move of what would become player management — Silver still has his limits, as evidenced by the occasional fine, plus the league and players coming to an agreement on a 65-game limit for players to be eligible for awards, All-NBA teams, etc.

While Wemby and his team of doctors and trainers are well ahead of their time in maintaining his still-growing body for the rigors of professional sports with special stretches, exercises and a strict diet, the Spurs will likely still maintain a certain level of cautiousness with him that may test Silver’s limits again. The question will be, can — or even should — the NBA do anything about it?

As previously mentioned, they themselves have been advertising him more than any other prospect before, and eventually the league will have to determine what they value more: getting the most out of him in any individual moment, or his potential career longevity. It would be hypocritical of them to hype him up so much just to put him at risk, and who in their right mind would interfere with the team that kept the likes of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili going much longer than it seemed like their aging bodies could handle?

Then again, the league won’t be the only entity pressuring Gregg Popovich to play what could potentially become their most valuable asset enough. While we have yet to see how Pop will manage his minutes, he’ll also have to balance Wemby’s desires as well. The last thing the Spurs would want is for him to feel too protected or underused and want to leave for more minutes elsewhere: something any team would sell in free agency should he ever reach that point, and especially if he has a relatively clean injury record to back up his stance for more minutes.

In the end, the NBA, Spurs and Wemby will all have to come together to form some sort of equilateral triangle of understanding, where the league gives the Spurs the space they need to manage their star player how the see fit. At the same time, the Spurs can’t go overboard with player management to the point that they hold Wemby back while (inadvertently or not) sticking it to the NBA and its viewers. That would include Spurs fans, who have and always will be supportive of Pop managing his players’ minutes, but like Adam Silver, they too will have a limit, as will Wemby.