The San Antonio Spurs completed their first of what could be many trades of the 2022-23 NBA season. In a deal with the Boston Celtics, the Spurs acquired Noah Vonleh and cash in exchange for a protected second round draft pick. To create a roster spot to complete the trade, the Spurs released center Gorgui Dieng.
Once the trade was completed, the Spurs waived Vonleh.
At first glance, this may look like an odd trade from San Antonio’s perspective. However, the logic behind the deal is clear once you take a closer look.
Why Did the Spurs Make This Trade?
This was primarily a financial move for the Spurs. The Celtics paid the Spurs $1.5 million to take on Vonleh’s contract so they could save approximately $7 million in luxury tax. It cost the Spurs about $1 million to release Dieng and about $20,000 to release Vonleh. That means San Antonio profited approximately $480,000 in this deal with the Celtics.
As an added bonus, after the dust settled, the Spurs opened up a roster spot.
But Why Did the Spurs Trade a Second Round Pick?
That second round pick is heavily protected. The 2024 second rounder is protected from picks 31-55. That means the Celtics will only get the pick if the Spurs have one of the top five records in league in the 2023-24 season.
If the rebuilding Spurs have one of the top five records next season, things will have gone so spectacularly right that no one in San Antonio will care that they’ll lose their second round pick.
Why Did the Celtics Make This Trade?
It’s simple: the Celtics paid $1.5 million to save somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million. Vonleh wasn’t in their rotation so Boston paid the Spurs to absorb his contract and lower their luxury tax bill.
Was There Anything Surprising About This Trade from San Antonio’s Perspective?
I thought waiving Dieng was a little bit surprising. He was regarded as a leader on the team, even though he rarely stepped on the hardwood. The young players routinely talked about how Dieng was a strong influence in the locker room.
Then again, Dieng was the team’s fourth center behind Jakob Poeltl, Zach Collins and Charles Bassey. Considering that the Spurs also have a fifth center on the roster in Dominick Barlow, it’s clear that Dieng was no longer needed from a basketball perspective.
Since Stanley Johnson has played well since the Spurs signed him, he wasn’t a candidate to be waived as part of this transaction. It likely came down to Dieng, Isaiah Roby or Keita Bates-Diop. When it came down to it, the Spurs obviously valued the relative youth and potential upside of Roby and Bates-Diop more than Dieng’s leadership.
What Will the Spurs Do with the Open Roster Spot?
After the success of Stanley Johnson, the Spurs may look to sign another reclamation project on the open market. The Spurs could also decide to take a swing on a young player out of the G League. A third option is using the newly created roster spot to elevate Charles Bassey from a two-way contract to a full-fledged NBA contract. In that scenario, the Spurs would likely give Bassey a multi-year contract that is partially guaranteed.
Alternatively, the Spurs could decide to keep an open roster spot until next month’s trade deadline to maximize their flexibility in transactions going forward.