As the 2010s come to a conclusion, the San Antonio Spurs have pulled off an impressive feat by managing to remain relevant throughout the decade. Relevancy wasn’t a forgone conclusion when the decade began as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were both in their 30s at the start of the decade.
The Spurs front office, namely RC Buford and Gregg Popovich (who also serves as president of basketball operations in addition to head coach), deserves plenty of credit. Brian Wright, who is currently the general manager, joined the franchise in 2016 and deserves a mention. They’ve managed to reshape the roster in a series of moves over the past ten years, to varying levels of success.
6. First Round Finds
The Spurs front office has developed a reputation for finding talent in the draft over the years. Finding talent in the first draft can be difficult enough, but San Antonio has done so while consistently drafting in the back half of the first round.
Over the past decade, they’ve found several rotation players — and even starters — including Cory Joseph, Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Beyond those names, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic all figure to play roles going forward into the next decade.
5. Free Agency Finds
In addition to the draft, San Antonio have done an excellent job of finding talent in free agency. Whether it be veterans, international players or undrafted free agents, the front office has found players that can produce.
Gary Neal managed to turn a summer league invite into a fine career with the Spurs. In three seasons in San Antonio, Neal played in over 200 games and had a couple of big playoff moments. Against Memphis, in Game 5 of the 2011 first round series, Neal hit a game-winning and series-extending three-pointer. In Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, Neal exploded for 24 points and hit 6 threes in a blowout win over the Miami Heat.
Marco Belinelli was also a solid addition — the first time around, at least. In his first season with the Spurs, Belinelli shot 43% on threes, finishing fifth in the NBA in three-point shooting that year.
Jonathon Simmons spent time in the G League before signing a two-year deal with the Spurs. Simmons found a niche, with his defense and athleticism, and played a role in the Spurs 2017 Western Conference Finals run. In Game 5, Simmons helped shut down James Harden late as San Antonio took a 3-2 lead in the series. In Game 6, he scored 18 points and helped hold Harden to just 10 points.
After going undrafted in 2016, Bryn Forbes has appeared in 226 regular season games — mostly as a starter. Much in the mold of Neal, Forbes has found a role as a long-range gunner, hitting 39.7% of his three-pointers. David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon both signed in the same offseason and both turned out be solid contributors during the 2016-2017 season.
Rudy Gay signed the following season and, over the past three seasons, he has averaged 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds. Gay is the latest in a line of smart free agent signings.
4. 2015 Offseason
The 2015 offseason turned out to be the most eventful offseason of the last ten years and shaped the rest of the decade. The Spurs re-signed Kawhi Leonard to a max contract and re-signed Danny Green to a four-year, $40 million dollar deal, well short of the reported offers from other teams.
If that weren’t enough, San Antonio also signed LaMarcus Aldridge, a four-time All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers. David West, who left significant money on the table to compete for a championship, also signed.
The Spurs would go on to win 67 games during the 15-16 season, a franchise record. The season, however, ended in disappointment with a second round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The following season saw Leonard have the best season of his career, and finish third in MVP voting. Along with Aldridge, Leonard helped lead the team to a 61-21 record and the Western Conference Finals — though it would turn out to be his last healthy season with the team.
Aldridge’s time with San Antonio has been marked with inconsistent play but also three more All-Star selections. Following an underwhelming 2016-17 season, by his standards, he requested a trade. The trade never happened, of course. Instead, Aldridge and Pop found common ground and were able to salvage the relationship.
Ultimately, by any realistic measure, the Aldridge signing has been very successful. In five seasons with the Spurs, Aldridge has averaged 19.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 327 regular season games.
3. 2011-2012 Mid-Season Additions
In 2012, Charlotte cut ties with Boris Diaw, a result of declining play and a ballooning waistline. The Spurs quickly picked him up, recognizing his unique talent. He became a rotation player almost immediately and was a perfect fit for the Beautiful Game incarnation of the Spurs.
Patty Mills, a former second-round pick, signed mid-season after spending the 2011 lockout playing in China. Mills didn’t become a rotation player until 2014, however, when he won the backup point guard position after beating out Joseph. Adding a high-energy, off-the-bench sharpshooter, Mills along with Diaw played significant roles on the 2014 championship team.
Trailing 2-1 against Dallas in the first round, Diaw hit a game-winning three-pointer to tie the series. Later, he exploded for 26 points off the bench in the series-clinching game against Thunder. In the NBA Finals, Diaw being inserted into the starting lineup proved to be a turning point in the series.
The team would win the final three games of the series in blowout fashion, with Diaw leading the team in plus-minus. Mills would help bury the Heat in Game 4 and Game 5 by hitting nine three-pointers combined. It was a sign of things to come: in nine seasons with the Spurs, Mills has drained 918 three-pointers — third most in team history.
2. Giving Danny Green a Second Chance
Danny Green was cut multiple times, including by the Spurs, before finally sticking in the NBA. Through hard work and determination, Green carved out a role in San Antonio and never looked back.
In eight seasons with the Spurs, Green hit 959 three-pointers — the most of any Spur this decade — and emerged as one of the best defensive wings in the league. A starter on back-to-back Finals teams, Green set a then Finals record for made three-pointers with 27 in 2013. In 2014, he was key to helping the Spurs win it all in the Finals rematch against the Heat.
1. The Kawhi Leonard Trade
The Spurs trade of George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard and Davis Bertans is bittersweet in retrospect but still the best front office decision of the decade.
The move was both a cost cutting move and a talent upgrade. With the 2011 lockout looming, the thought of paying Hill, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (and Richard Jefferson, at the time) seemed highly unlikely.
Hill later signed a five-year, $40 million dollar deal with Indiana. Leonard, on the other hand, made just $8.3 million in his first four seasons due to the rookie scale. His arrival added much needed size, length, athleticism and defense on the wing following an upset loss to the eighth-seeded Grizzlies in 2011.
Leonard would go on to have an impressive career with the team before forcing his way out in 2018. Among his accomplishments were a Finals MVP, a championship, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and two All-Star appearances .
Bertans emerged as one of the league’s best shooters, hitting 41% of his three-pointers in three seasons with the Spurs. Hill would go on to have a solid career but never approached the level that Leonard reached in San Antonio.
It’s no coincidence that the Spurs ranked as a top three defensive team in six of Leonard’s seven seasons as a Spur. During that time, the Spurs made the Western Conference Finals four times. The addition of Leonard helped the Spurs successfully retool and contend for championships for much of the decade. It’s not even close: the Kawhi Leonard trade was the best front office move of the decade by the Spurs.