NBA Offseason Reviews: San Antonio Spurs

By: Matt Flynn | Staff Writer

This is our fourth of the 30 offseason review and season previews for NBA teams. Click on my author page on the bottom of this article to read my discussion of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Chicago Bulls.

As for the Spurs, we’re in an interesting place because of the divided reaction to the Kawhi Leonard trade. As I stated in my trade recap, I’m extremely positive on this trade for the Spurs. If Kawhi works out for Toronto, the Spurs will get a first round pick while also adding a legitimate Top 15-20 player in DeMar DeRozan and a center with legitimate starter potential in Jakob Poeltl for Kawhi, an overpaid and declining Danny Green and some cash.

LaMarcus Aldridge has his shot blocked by Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant

LaMarcus Aldridge attempts to make a shot against the Golden State Warriors (Getty Images)

The Raptors got a player with Top 5 upside, sure, but for a Spurs team that wants to remain relevant and competitive as they ride out the final years of the NBA’s greatest coach in Gregg Popovich, plugging in DeRozan into that lineup could really work. He could potentially coach this Spurs roster to real competitiveness and finals upside in the West.

A lot of these teams like San Antonio, OKC, or Utah are one serious Golden State injury away from being potentially the best team in the NBA. On paper, San Antonio remains a playoff team, and with Popovich, that’s all you need.

Many analysts criticized the Spurs for not accepting the offers from Boston or Philadelphia in terms of getting future assets. Sure, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the 2021 Miami first rounder would be nice, but would that make them more competitive for Pop? No. Many reports have stated that Markelle Fultz wasn’t included in the Sixers negotiations, and Boston did not include Tatum or Brown.

This means that those teams were offering pick-heavy packages for Kawhi, and if Popovich feels that there’s still a window for this team to compete for a championship (again, one GSW injury away), then adding DeRozan in place of Kawhi’s empty roster spot is a fine move.

Remember, this team made the playoffs in the West last year without Kawhi Leonard at all. They’ve responded by adding in DeRozan, a player who received major all-star game minutes. I will also repeat what I said in my trade analysis: are we absolutely certain that Kawhi, almost two years removed from basketball due to injury, is a better player than DeRozan right now? The answer is still ‘probably,’ due to how amazing Leonard was in 2016-17, but I wouldn’t say it’s definite.

Here’s how they sit roster wise, with the players’ salary in millions:

PG- Derrick White (1.7); Patty Mills (12.4)

SG- Dejounte Murray (1.5); Manu Ginobli (2.5); Bryn Forbes (2.0)

SF- DeMar DeRozan (27.7); Marco Belinelli (6.2); Lonnie Walker (2.4)

PF- LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4); Rudy Gay (10.1); Dante Cunningham (2.5)

C-  Jakob Pöltl (2.9); Pau Gasol (16.0); Dāvis Bertāns (7.0)

The players’ salaries, along with the 2 million they owe Tim Duncan post-retirement will cost the Spurs about 119 million in payroll, meaning they’re well short of the luxury tax apron. If so desired, they could still use their Bi-Annual Exception, but it may be smarter to wait and use it next year because of the amount of returning players they have next season.

Unlike the many teams who have valued the ability to have flexibility in 2019’s offseason, the Spurs have constructed their roster around retaining long-tenured players and giving them multi-year contracts to ensure stability and culture instead of flexibility.

This is somewhat rare in today’s NBA, but the Spurs have always valued culture over almost everything else. 11 players of the 14 currently signed will be returning next season, with the Spurs facing unrestricted free agency on Manu Ginobli, Rudy Gay, and Dante Cunningham. In terms of additional bookkeeping, they have a myriad of draft stashes between the first and second round since 2015 and also could have their own first rounder plus Toronto’s if the Raptors are good, as well as another second rounder.

In terms of filling out their fifteenth roster spot, I’m assuming they’ll add another guard for the minimum.

The following players are additions from last year:

SG/SF-DeMar DeRozan (trade with TOR)

G/F- Marco Belinelli (free agent, signed from PHI)

F- Lonnie Walker (draft, 1st round)

F- Dante Cunningham (free agent, signed from BRK)

C- Jakob Pöltl (trade with TOR)

The following players are subtractions, on the roster last year and now elsewhere:

SF- Kawhi Leonard (trade with TOR)

PG- Tony Parker (free agency, signed with CHA)

G/F- Danny Green (trade with TOR)

F- Kyle Anderson (free agency, signed with MEM)

G/F- Brandon Paul (waived, free agency, unclaimed)

F/C- Joffrey Lauvergne (free agency, unsigned, now in Euro League)

Their offseason recap starts with the various player options which affected their roster. Danny Green opted into his $10 million player option, which allowed him to be included in the trade with Toronto that was discussed ad nauseam. Then, Joffrey Lauvergne, a stretch 5 option who has yet to really find his place in the NBA declined his $1.7 million player option to go play overseas in the Euro League.

Finally, Rudy Gay decided to test out the market by declining his $8.8 million player option after a solid resurgent year where he averaged almost 12 points and 5 rebounds on efficient shooting, finally realizing he’s more of a Power Forward in today’s NBA. His stretch to a larger position was met with solid defensive metrics (+1.0BPM on the defensive end with a career high Block Rate and an above-average PER).

Gay’s market value definitely increased last season. As a Small Forward, he may not shoot well enough, but as a defense first Power Forward with offensive efficiency and veteran knowledge, he’s a solid option.

They drafted as follows:

First Round, 18th overall, F-Lonnie Walker from Miami(FL)

Second Round, 49th overall, F/C-Chimezie Metu from U.S.C. (likely a draft and stash, as he’s from Nigeria).

The Spurs also made the right decision on two other players. They didn’t pay Tony Parker the 2 years, $10 million that Charlotte gave him to solidify their backup Point Guard spot, for good reason given their payroll concerns, and they also didn’t match the massive $37 million offer Kyle Anderson got over 4 years from Memphis. For a player without a position and limited offensive upside, it was good that the Spurs moved on.

It’s sad to see Tony Parker finish his career elsewhere, but I’m not convinced he can play 20 minutes a night on a Western Conference contender. His injuries have made him extremely vulnerable defensively.

Speaking of Rudy Gay, the Spurs, after waiting out the market for some time, did use Non-Bird rights to bring him back, giving him 125% of his previous year’s salary. Gay stands to now make $10.1 million on a one year deal, and should be a critical part of their rotation due to the aforementioned defensive capabilities. This is a nice move.

The real issues in the Spurs offseason didn’t actually come in the Leonard trade, which I will lay out below. Instead, they used Early Bird rights on both Davis Bertans (2 years, $14.5 million) and Bryn Forbes (2 years, $4 million) to overpay two players who may not crack the rotation. Bertans, in theory, should work, due to being a fairly competent defender who can stretch the floor with a 37% 3-point clip and play both the 4 and 5, but I’m not certain that he’ll warrant minutes over Gay, Aldridge, Gasol, and Poeltl, especially not for $7 million this year, and Bryn Forbes was dreadful in the minutes he did play last year, even if he can shoot a little bit.

I’m not sure that he has the upside of a Derrick White or Dejounte Murray, let alone deserve minutes over veterans like Mills, Ginobli, DeRozan, or Belinelli. Walker will attempt to crack the rotation due to some solid advanced metrics at Miami, but I’m not certain I see a specific skill which will make him worth a spot in the rotation this year. We’ll see.

The Spurs’ MLE was also misused. They overpaid Marco Belinelli, giving him 2 years for $12 million, when he’s a massive defensive liability, where his defensive lapses (a -2.1 defensive BPM and a below average PER despite a 59% true shooting percentage) and poor shot selection make him a tough player to use in the playoffs. They also used the remainder of the MLE to sign Dante Cunningham, who I’m not certain is even an NBA quality player at this point.

The Kawhi trade, as stated above, looked like this:

Spurs get: G/F-DeMar DeRozan, C-Jakob Pöltl, 2019 protected first rounder

Raptors get: F-Kawhi Leonard, G/F-Danny Green, cash

I’ve spoken about it enough, and am willing to view this trade plenty positively in getting DeRozan, Pöltl, and possibly a first round pick. Leonard was a dead spot in the roster after not playing last year, and they replaced him with assets which could make them fairly competitive in the next few years. My criticism really comes in over the Bird Rights contracts they gave out, overpaying Belinelli and Bertāns, and signing Forbes and Cunningham to contracts above the minimum when they’re arguably not even worth roster spots. I get that the Spurs value culture and want to retain their own guys, but at what cost?

I’d give their offseason a C+

About Matt Flynn

Matt is a New Jersey attorney currently clerking in the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. He also is a graduate of Rutgers Law School and The College of New Jersey, where he formerly served as a radio talk show host and engineer for the Trenton Thunder. When not pursuing law, he tends to his two greatest intellectual loves, film and the NBA. You can catch his reviews and year-end lists here on Blended Opinion.

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