Why the Dejounte Murray Trade was a Deal the Spurs Had to Make

After about a week of intense negotiations, the San Antonio Spurs traded Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for a hefty haul of draft capital. The Spurs received a 2023 protected first round pick (via the Charlotte Hornets), an unprotected 2025 first round pick and an unprotected 2027 first round pick. Additionally, the Spurs have the option of swapping first round picks with the Hawks in 2026. To make salaries match, San Antonio also received Danilo Gallinari in the deal.

Couldn’t the Spurs have gotten more for Dejounte Murray? 

I really don’t think so. Murray may yet improve as a basketball player but his value right now is likely as high as it will ever be in his career. He’s young, he’s coming off of an All-Star campaign and he has two years left on his deal at a relatively inexpensive price tag.

As SpursTalk was first to report, the Spurs wanted at least four first round draft picks including pick swaps. SpursTalk was also the first to report that the Spurs wanted unprotected picks and weren’t interested in taking on John Collins’ $125 million contract. With this trade, the Spurs were able to check off every box on their wish list. 

What’s so special about what the Spurs got in return? 

It all comes down to those unprotected first round picks. For small market teams that lack a franchise player, unprotected picks are the ultimate asset. In today’s NBA, acquiring such picks is extremely difficult — and can usually only be done when trading away superstars. In the Murray deal, the Spurs could walk away with as many as three unprotected picks from the Hawks.

If the Spurs are to return to the heights of the Big Three Era, it’ll be due to striking gold in the draft. Trading away Murray is obviously painful for fans of the team but this trade gives the franchise a better chance of landing a true franchise player through the draft. 

Aren’t the Spurs worried about being terrible next season?

No. If the goal is to win championships, the worst place to be is on the treadmill of mediocrity. If you’re not really good, you’re better off being really bad.

The Spurs could have brought back Murray and coasted to another spot in the play-in tournament. Maybe by the 2023-24 season, the Spurs could have been a seventh or eighth seed. By adding a free agent like Deandre Ayton, perhaps San Antonio could have been battling for homecourt advantage in the first round by 2025. 

But … championships? No, that wasn’t in the cards with a Murray-led team. That’s not taking away anything from Murray or his awe-inspiring success story — it’s just the reality of the situation.   

Shouldn’t the Spurs have opted for a deal that included more tangible talent in return?

No, I think this was the right move. Adding someone like John Collins may have made the team more palatable in the short-term but doing so would have worked against the Spurs for multiple reasons.

First of all, for the Spurs to maximize the value of their own picks, they need to be bad. Getting talent in return works against that goal. Secondly, the Spurs should keep their books as clean as possible during this rebuilding stage that they find themselves in. Gallinari on a partially guaranteed one-year contract is a perfect fit in that regard.

At the very least, why didn’t the Spurs push for Onyeka Okongwu?

As SpursTalk reported, the Spurs could have gotten Okongwu from the Hawks in place of one of the unprotected picks. San Antonio opted against that offer — and I think that was absolutely the right decision. Okongwu is a quality prospect but he’s not someone you’d trade an unprotected first round pick to acquire. 

How did the Spurs not even get an unprotected 2023 draft pick?

That was by design. Murray is very likely to help elevate the Hawks into the playoffs this coming season. But who knows what Atlanta’s landscape will look like three years from now or, better yet, five years from now? With all due respect, the Hawks aren’t exactly known for being the paragon of continued basketball excellence. Those 2025 and 2027 unprotected picks are both more valuable than a 2023 unprotected pick. 

And, remember, Murray is an unrestricted free agent in 2024. His bargain basement contract makes it nearly impossible to give him an extension. 

Speaking of Murray’s extension, is it true that he threatened to not sign an extension with the Spurs?

I never heard that from any source. The truth of the matter is that Murray, barring an injury, wasn’t going to accept anything less than a max contract following the expiration of his current deal. For an up-and-coming All-Star, that’s the only business decision that ever made any sense from his perspective.

The Spurs didn’t need help translating the writing on the wall. They knew that keeping Murray would have resulted in him rightfully asking for a $200-plus million contract in two years. Neither Murray nor his agent needed to inform the Spurs about that impending pay raise.

Did the Spurs just trade Murray because they didn’t want to pay him?

That’s part of the equation, sure. Giving Murray a max contract would have been unavoidable. For a contending team, he’d be worth that money. For a team still searching for a foundational cornerstone, that would have been suboptimal — at best.

But, again, the opportunity to acquire two unprotected first rounders and an unprotected pick swap was the most important detail of this trade. 

How much did Victor Wembanyama influence this trade?

Victor Wembanyama is a great prospect and is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. It’s possible that Spurs are infatuated with Wembanyama enough that they wanted to increase their odds of being able to draft him. But, at the end of the day, the Spurs likely care about avoiding mediocrity more than any specific draft prospect at this point. 

With Murray gone, who do the Spurs turn to next to run the team?

Tre Jones will be given more opportunities. He may even be the opening day starter at point guard.

However, as I previously reported, the Spurs remain extremely high on Joshua Primo and believe he’s the point guard of the future. With Murray out of the picture, we’ll now find out sooner whether Primo is the stud the Spurs talk him up to be behind the scenes.