Harsh Reality: Should the Spurs Tear It Down?

The San Antonio Spurs find themselves in an unfamiliar position. At 6-11, they are currently tied for tenth in the Western Conference. There’s still time, but making the playoffs for a record breaking 23rd straight season appears to be a long-shot. FiveThirtyEight currently projects the Spurs to finish 26-56 with less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs.

If the losses continue to pile up for the Spurs, tough decisions will need to be made. A teardown involves a team moving their best players in exchange for young players and/or draft picks. For the Spurs, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would be the two most likely candidates to be traded. If a teardown were to occur, starting sooner rather than later could accelerate a rebuild for the Spurs.

What Would A Teardown Look Like?

Aldridge’s apparent decline has played a part in the Spurs’ poor start. Despite that, there should still be a market for the 34-year-old should the Spurs decide to do an in-season teardown. Aldridge has expressed interest in returning to Portland to play with All-Star point guard and former teammate Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers are in desperate need of front court help, with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins out for an extended period of time.

At 5-12, Portland’s struggles and pressure to repeat a Western Conference Finals run could make them a willing trade partner. A deal centered around Aldridge and Marco Belinelli for Hassan Whiteside and a first round pick could benefit both teams. The Spurs netting an additional draft pick, one potentially in the lottery or mid-teens, could be a good return for Aldridge. Trading Aldridge for an expiring contract in Whiteside would clear out $24 million in salary for next season. The Spurs could simply waive Whiteside if there are fit issues.

The Orlando Magic are reportedly interested in acquiring DeRozan via trade. The Magic make sense as a trade partner with interesting young players like Aaron Gordon. It may be tricky matching salary with the Spurs possibly being unwilling to take back long-term salary outside of Gordon. Given his upside and his declining contract, Gordon will likely be a part of any possible package in a DeRozan trade.

Life After a Teardown

If Aldridge and DeRozan were to be traded, the Spurs should prioritize playing their younger players. With the playoffs out of reach, developing younger players should also help the value of San Antonio’s own draft pick.

Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have hardly played together this season. It would be the perfect time to see look what the paring would look like starting together. Likewise, Lonnie Walker IV has played just 49 minutes total thus far this season. Should DeRozan be traded, Walker would have a more consistent role. With Jakob Poeltl’s impending restricted free agency, the Spurs could see how he performs as a starter before deciding whether to commit to him long-term.

Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks would likely compete for the backup center role. Both players have shown flashes of talent and the Spurs would be able to get an extended look at them before having to make a final decision. Eubanks is not under contract next season, while the final year of Metu’s deal is non-guaranteed.

Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson may see time with the big club instead of spending most of the season in G League. At 24, Trey Lyles is still young and has displayed some utility, but it’s unclear whether his play so far this season has been enough to guarantee him for next season. It’s worth taking a closer look at him to figure it out. As it stands, only $1 million of his contract next season is guaranteed.

Bryn Forbes has exceeded expectations as an undrafted free agent but would likely need to transition from starting back into a role off the bench. Forbes is an unrestricted free agent after this season so the Spurs will have to bid against other teams that could be intrigued by his shooting.

A teardown would mark a dramatic shift away the Spurs’ winning ways but perhaps it’s time. San Antonio hasn’t had a lottery pick in since 1997, yet they’ve managed to build through the draft and keep the team relevant. While getting a once in a generation type of player is unlikely, the Spurs could start another successful era by officially ending the current one.