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Spurs net two defensive wings in deal with Cavaliers

Lamar Stevens and Cedi Osman provide defensive edge to the Spurs frontcourt.

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Those clamoring for the Spurs to use up some of the nearly $30 million in salary cap space they have this offseason got their wish. PATFO did it by acquiring another team’s expiring contracts to add more draft capital to their ever growing list of assets.

On Saturday morning ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that San Antonio helped facilitate a Max Strus sign and trade to Cleveland, netting the Spurs Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and a second round pick. The Heat receive a second round pick and created a trade exception.

Taking on contracts and draft picks always seemed likely with the Spurs cap space, and the reluctance from the front office to spend major money over multiple years. With a weak free agency class, signs point to the Spurs “running it back” with their current core alongside Victor Wembanyama. While taking on money they also acquire draft picks that can be flipped in trades for players when they are ready to contend.

They acquired two solid wings in this trade without giving hardly anything up. The Spurs had a 3&D-sized hole in their rotation after Keita Bates-Diop signed with the Suns. Osman slots directly into that role, as a versatile wing who can knock down perimeter shots. The 28-year-old Turkish wing provides a veteran presence who has played alongside NBA greats like LeBron James and Kevin Love. He averaged 8.7 points and shot 37% from three last year with Cleveland. Most importantly, he defended at a high level.

Osman finished the ‘22-’23 season with 1.9 defensive wins shared (an estimated number of wins contributed by a player’s defense) which would have been the highest number on the Spurs. He ranked in the 88th percentile in opponents points per possession holding them to 0.877 points. Opponents shot just 36.7% from the field when being guarded by Osman. He was effective in the paint and on the perimeter as a defender. You won’t see him force many turnovers or block a lot of shots, but he’s a good addition on that end.

Offensively this provides the Spurs with another big wing who can operate off of the catch and has some ball-skills if needed. Osman was incredibly efficient in his spot-up looks, and hit 39% of his catch and shoot three pointers. He was also a sneaky good pick and roll ball handler last season, creating 1 point per possession in that action. That was good enough to be in the top fourth of all NBA players.

Stevens lacks the ball skills that Osman has, but makes up for it in sheer energy and force. It’s always interesting to look at what the fans of the other team are saying about a player that was just dealt. Cavs fans are overwhelmingly negative on including Stevens in the deal, and praised the forward for his tenacious defense. The Spurs were dead last in defensive rating just a year ago. They need all of the help they can get.

Stevens started 25 games for Cleveland last year, despite being a below-average offensive player. He averaged 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 45% from the field in his third NBA season. He also would have led the Spurs in defensive wins shared last year with 1.6.

Stevens brings smarts and energy to the defensive end. Opponents were held to 40% shooting from the field when guarded by him, per Synergy. With his 6-foot-6 frame and 6-foot-9 wingspan, he’s got the length and athleticism necessary to get out to shooters, or switch onto bigs and contest looks at the rim. Those traits also make him a weapon in transition offense, and a threat on aggressive cuts.

He’s also cheap, with just 1 year and $1.9 million remaining on his contract. The Spurs depth chart on the wing is crowded with Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Malaki Branham, Doug McDermott, Julian Champagnie, Sidy Cissoko and now Osman. Stevens will likely have to compete for minutes. He could also be moved at a later date as a young player with upside that could land the Spurs another pick.

With this trade San Antonio bolstered their defense and picked up another draft asset for close to nothing. No, it’s not a sexy pick up, but it undoubtedly improves the roster and benefits them long term. Versatile wings who can defend and operate off of the ball are good fits next to Wembanyama. The fact that they are both expiring contracts help the front office maintain flexibility moving forward. As we saw last season, veterans on expiring deals can acquire draft assets at the trade deadline if the playoffs seem unlikely.

Everything the Spurs have done so far signals a patient offseason. It’s only day two of free agency, so there is still room for a big splash.