The San Antonio Spurs have found themselves in a precarious situation this season. The Spurs sit on the brink of a record 23rd consecutive postseason appearance and missing the playoffs for the first time in two-plus decades. There have been some question as to whether it’s worth it to make the playoffs or whether it would be better to miss the postseason entirety.
The Case for the Spurs Missing the Playoffs
Missing the postseason could facilitate the beginning of a rebuild. While the team has played better together recently, there is still concern about this team’s ceiling. The pairing of All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan barely managed to lead the Spurs to the playoffs last season. This season, should San Antonio make the playoffs, it’s possible that the Spurs will do so with a record below .500.
Making the playoffs, in theory, should be the goal of every team — however, in actuality, that’s not the case. There are teams that simply don’t have the talent to compete for a championship, let alone the playoffs. Often, teams in this position find that acquiring talent through the draft is the best long-term plan back towards competitiveness.
The NBA has unintentionally incentivized the concept of tanking with the structure of the draft. The worst teams receive the highest picks while the best teams receive the lowest picks in each round of the draft. Meanwhile, teams stuck in middle are left with a difficult decision: try to make the playoffs, or tank and try and receive the highest pick available. San Antonio finds themselves stuck in the middle this season. The team currently sits just behind Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the West.
The Case for San Antonio Fighting for a Playoff Spot
San Antonio’s motivation for making the postseason is to continue the strong tradition of winning that the team has cultivated. The Spurs have missed the postseason just twice in the past 30 seasons. Taking winning for granted would be foolish. Missing the playoffs doesn’t guarantee that the team will be better off as a result, higher picks or not.
The Spurs are too close to making the playoffs to realistically consider tearing it down before the February 6th trade deadline. This should take the idea of tanking off the table due to the minimal difference in draft pick position.
Missing the postseason would possibly result in receiving the 13th or 14th pick, while making the playoffs could result in the 15th, 16th or 17th pick. The Spurs front office has a long history of finding talent anywhere in the draft. No matter where their pick ultimately falls, the Spurs should be entrusted to select the best player available.
What the Future Holds if the Spurs Make the Playoffs
Should the Spurs ultimately make it, they’ll face a tough first round opponent. With their tough remaining schedule, it’s hard to foresee San Antonio catching the Oklahoma City Thunder for the seventh seed. While its highly unlikely that the Spurs would pull off an upset in the first round as an eighth seed, simply making the postseason would be an accomplishment. Given how turbulent the season has been, including an eight-game losing streak, it would be made all the more gratifying.
The Spurs wouldn’t necessarily need to rebuild, exactly, regardless of whether they make or miss the postseason. Key Spurs such as Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl are under contract for next season. While DeRozan, who’s playing great as of late, may still opt-in to the final year of his contract.
Others Spurs such as Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli aren’t under contract. That said, there is the possibility that the Spurs could lean more on the trio of Murray, White and Walker. A starting lineup including Murray, White, Walker, DeRozan and Aldridge has intriguing potential.
With Aldridge drastically improving his three-point shot, Murray improving his jump shot, Walker continuing to improve and DeRozan maintaining his strong level of play, the Spurs could fair much better in the 2020-21 season than they have this season — whether they make the playoffs or not.
Following next season, DeRozan, Aldridge, Gay and Mills will be free agents and the Spurs will have significant cap space. San Antonio will be able to remake the team around their young talent at that point. Until then, they should try to extend their remarkable postseason streak. The Spurs face an uncertain future, so they should focus on the now and that involves making the playoffs.