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Here’s why it’s best that the Spurs had a quiet trade season

The Spurs arguably got worse at the deadline, which is the smart long-term decision but won’t make the last 30 games of the season fun for anyone.

Minnesota Timberwolves v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs, to the disappointment of the large section of the fanbase clamoring for upgrades, mostly stood pat at the deadline. In their only trade, they sent Doug McDermott back to Indiana for a second-round pick and Marcus Morris, who is likely to be waived.

There’s a case to be made that San Antonio got worse, which is a tough pill to swallow for the people watching the games at the Frost Bank Center and their homes. The idea of tanking and building slowly through the draft is sound, but it’s not pretty and Spurs fans are getting to experience how trying it can be in the short term, even if they know that the pain will likely pay off later.

The McDermott trade in itself is simple. The Spurs have gone young but have a couple of other veterans around and have put together a group that doesn’t seem to need much locker room guidance. McBuckets is in the last year of his contract, still a deadly shooter and cutter but one that clearly didn’t fit the timeline. Instead of letting him walk, the San Antonio front office found a way to do right by him by sending him to the Pacers, where he had a career year before wearing Silver and Black. He’ll get to play for a good team that could make some noise in the playoffs if things go well. Morris is there for salary-matching purposes. For Brian Wright, adding another second-rounder to the war chest and potentially clearing a roster spot to either convert Dominick Barlow’s contract or sign someone in the waiver market was the goal. It’s the type of move rebuilding teams make all the time.

The problem with doing the McDermott trade and nothing else is that it provides no immediate satisfaction to fans who have enjoyed only 10 wins so far. Watching the Spurs after the deadline will be similar to watching them before it. Nothing has changed, except for maybe some more Malaki Branham minutes. Logically, fans and experts know that this is the right path for San Antonio. Emotionally, most people paying attention to this version of the team are probably not happy that there was no serious attempt at improving. Adding another extra second-rounder to the pile that is already in place and potentially getting a slightly bigger chance to get the top pick is not exciting enough to obscure the fact that San Antonio will continue to lose a lot and look bad doing it. There are still 31 more games to go and there’s no option to simulate the rest of the season, like in a video game.

If the reality of how tough rebuilding can be even when a team gets as lucky as San Antonio did with Wembanyama hadn’t set in yet for some, this deadline will do the trick. After being coy about tanking in the past, in recent weeks both franchise owner Peter Holt and Gregg Popovich said the organization is committed to the path of building slowly through the draft with the goal of eventually becoming a contender instead of skipping steps that could make the team better now but lower its ceiling. The lack of moves at the deadline shows they meant it. Trading for a veteran point guard with great vision or some athletic, 3-and-D wing would have cost assets that could come in handy in the future. It could have also pushed the Spurs up the standings and resulted in worse lottery odds. The reality is that teams in San Antonio’s position get good by being bad, which is often hard to understand or stomach.

The Spurs unquestionably did the right thing at the deadline. They held on to their young players, maintained cap flexibility, didn’t completely disrupt their continuity and added more draft capital. It’s exactly what the handbook for a successful rebuild would say they should do. This season is over for them, as they are among the worst in the league, hopefully by design. There are three more years in Wembanyama’s contract after this one and restricted free agency makes it a lock for him to stay for at least three more. The rebuild started in earnest last season. This was the year to experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t. The clock is ticking because wasting any years of a generational talent’s career is never a good idea, but it’s not ticking fast. Not yet.

The Spurs are just following their plan, which is undeniably smart but also not fun at all, at least for now. It also doesn’t guarantee them success, which is why it’s understandable to question it. But it is the direction they picked and so far things have gone well and the long-term future looks bright. In a couple of years, if they continue to make the right decisions, San Antonio could be the superpower Holt wants the franchise to be.

It’s hard to be excited about a nebulous future filled with success that may or may not ever actually come while living in failure in the present, but it’s the only thing the Spurs have to offer, for now. Nobody said rebuilding was going to be easy.