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Two teams Spurs fans should be rooting for this season

The Spurs can extend their list of assets with improved seasons from some eastern conference foes

2023 NBA Summer League - Charlotte Hornets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

In late August, Bleacher Report released their future NBA draft asset rankings. First on the list was of course the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have been praised (or lauded, depending on your view of rebuilding strategies) for accumulating assets over the years. The San Antonio Spurs are right behind them on the list, with five additional picks coming from other teams over the next four years.

The Spurs haven’t been as obvious in their draft accumulation for as long as the Thunder. Yet with some smart moves over the last three years, they’ve put the franchise in the position to acquire an influx of young talent through the draft. The 2024 draft, while not as loaded with high-end talent as the 2023 draft, could be a big one for San Antonio.

If everything goes right, they could have three first round picks in 2024. The Spurs already have a deep team with young talent, including Victor Wembanyama, Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Malaki Branham and Tre Jones. There may not be room for three more rookies. Having three picks gives them some flexibility to trade up or out of the draft to gather even more future assets.

Because of pick protections, that scenario requires two Eastern Conference teams to not completely tank next year. Since those teams are not standing in the way of San Antonio’s Western Conference standings, it’s safe for Spurs fans to root for them this year. If you have a free night this season, consider rooting for the following teams to improve the Spurs draft standing.

The Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets owe the Spurs a top-14 protected pick acquired from the Atlanta Hawks in the Dejounte Murray trade. If it doesn’t convey this year or next, it will turn into a 2026 second round pick. Obviously San Antonio would prefer that they get a first out of this deal rather than a second rounder in three years.

The Hornets are in an odd spot which makes their standing in the league hard to decipher. Last year was marred by off-the-court issues and injuries. Significant players that led the team to the play-in tournament in 2021-22 like Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward all missed time. This year we will see those guys return to the court, alongside new additions Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr.

Last year the Hornets started to compete defensively under the tutelage of Steve Clifford, but struggled mightily to score the basketball. With Ball and Bridges back in the fold, they will have more offensive firepower to match the defensive intensity Clifford demands. In a best case scenario, Miller makes an instant impact and the team’s depth around their core pieces holds up.

It’s hard to imagine the Hornets jumping from one of the worst teams in the league to making the field-of-16, especially in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. If last year was more of a bump in the road rather than a trend towards the bottom, they may have a chance to get out of the lottery, and net the Spurs a pick likely in the 15-20 range.

The Spurs will have two games against Charlotte next year, both being played in January. They’ll face off on ESPN January 12th for a game in San Antonio.

The Toronto Raptors

The Jakob Poeltl trade may turn out to be one of the best of Brian Wright’s tenure as Spurs GM. Not only did trading the big man aid the Spurs in their race for Wembanyama, but it also netted them the pick that turned into Sidy Cissoko and a top-6 protected first in the 2024 draft. If the pick doesn’t convey in 2024 through 2026, it becomes a second rounder in 2027, making it likely San Antonio get a good additional draft pick in the next three years.

Spurs fans don’t want the Raptors to be too good. Ideally this is a team that makes the play-in, or falls just short of it. Landing a pick in the back-end of the lottery would be a big win in a draft that doesn’t have as much high-end talent as 2023.

The Raptors are at a crossroads right now. They just lost their franchise point guard Fred VanVleet to the Houston Rockets in free agency. Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby are popular trade targets around the league, and the franchise’s best young player, Scottie Barnes, suffered a tremendous sophomore slump last season. The re-signing of Poeltl and lack of Siakam trade makes it seem like this team is more interested than winning games than tanking, but in a crowded eastern conference, it’s hard to imagine this team entering playoff contention.

Answer this questions for me. Do you think the Raptors are better than any of the following teams?

One of those teams won’t make the top 8. There is also the improving Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and aforementioned Hornets. The East looks like it could be fairly competitive next season, and the Raptors may be on the outside looking in. Rooting for Toronto to be a play-in contending team is the sweet spot for Spurs fans who are excited about having multiple picks in the ‘24 draft.

San Antonio will play a home and away game against the Raptors in November and February.