The San Antonio Spurs have found themselves on the brink of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997. San Antonio’s disappointing season has led to uncertainty about the future of the franchise.
Based on FiveThirtyEight’s projections, the Spurs are on pace to finish just 35-47. While obviously not ideal, it does present the Spurs with an opportunity to pivot and focus on the future.
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both in their 30s and neither are under contract beyond next season. With their best players gone, the Spurs will be in desperate need of top-level talent.
Where the Spurs Can Find a Superstar
There are three ways to acquire superstars in the NBA: through the draft, via trade and in free agency. Of course, it’s easier said than done.
San Antonio hasn’t exactly been a free agent destination, aside from the signing of Aldridge in 2015. The Spurs also rarely make trades. With those two considerations in mind, San Antonio’s best bet for finding their next star is clearly through the draft.
In theory, the Spurs could find their next star as soon as June, where they are currently projected to select 13th in the 2020 NBA Draft. While this draft isn’t highly regarded, neither was the 2011 draft in which the Spurs ended up with Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs are Prepared for a Rebuild
The good news is that the Spurs have already begun to, slowly, build toward the inevitable fact that they’ll have to rebuild. By holding onto all their first round picks, they’ve managed to stockpile an interesting collection of young and talented players. It’s unclear whether any of them actually can actually become a star, however.
Lonnie Walker IV appears to have the highest ceiling among the group, given his age, physical tools and skill level. Dejounte Murray has star potential, but he has a lot of room for improvement.
It’s more likely, however, that the current crop of young players will produce long-term starters and rotation players — not stars. While that doesn’t give the Spurs a franchise piece to build around, it could help answer roster question marks going forward.
If Murray and Walker are the starting backcourt of the future, and Derrick White is the sixth man, then it could narrow down the team’s list of needs.
Jakob Poeltl could very well be the center of the future, assuming the Spurs are able to retain him in restricted free agency. Keldon Johnson has shown a lot of promise in the G League, averaging 20.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 62.9% true shooting. Luka Samanic has an intriguing skill-set that, if realized, could make him the power forward of the future.
Even though the Spurs have prospects at every position, they’ve been known to take the best player available in the draft, regardless of team needs. That strategy is wise, especially if they begin to consistently pick in the top half of the draft.
How San Antonio Should Approach the NBA Draft
Having the opportunity to pick higher in the draft would allow them to do what they do best — identify talent. They’ve shown an impressive knack for finding talent anywhere in the draft. Whether they have the 15th, 20th or the 30th pick, they often come away with the best player available.
That said, simply drafting high in the first round every year doesn’t guarantee a team it will find their franchise player. Returning to prominence would likely require that they move backward in order to move forward. That means many more losses are needed before the Spurs are legitimate contenders again.
The Spurs still obviously put some value in winning, with the latest proof being the fact that they didn’t make a move at the trade deadline. That being said, a particularly grueling Rodeo Road Trip could very well knock them out of playoff contention. If that were to to happen, then they’d be wise to fully embrace a rebuild.
While tanking would go against what the Spurs have built over the past 30 years, maximizing their pick is the key to starting the next era right. In focusing on playing the prospects over the vets, it would not only aid the development of the prospects, but it would also likely improve San Antonio’s 2020 draft pick.
A few more losses could result in the Spurs pick being several spots higher than currently projected. That could be the difference between San Antonio getting their next star or settling on the next best available player.
What the Spurs Should Do to Help the Rebuilding Efforts
Whichever veterans remain after the season should be shopped in hopes of obtaining future assets. Aldridge, in particular, could be moved in the offseason. Shipping DeRozan in a sign-and-trade is also a possibility.
Rebuilding teams often have excess cap space that they “rent out” to teams desperate to shed salary. In return, these rebuilding teams are able to acquire additional draft assets or young prospects. Should San Antonio go the rebuilding route, they should strongly consider this as an option.
Rebuilds take time — but San Antonio is surprisingly well-equipped for the process. They own all their first rounders going forward and have intriguing young talent and two All-Star caliber players to use in trades to acquire more assets.
While many of San Antonio’s recent front office decisions haven’t exactly worked out, there’s hope that they’ll be up for the job. They have an excellent track record in the draft, which will be the franchise’s key component to their rebuild and their goal to find the next superstar.