SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs need to answer a lot of questions in what's shaping up to be a historic and compressed NBA offseason with questions of its own.
The coronavirus shutdown pushed the Finals months later than ever before, and although the bubble was unquestionably a success in terms of maintaining safety and crowning a worthy champion, a full season outside the bubble in a country where new cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again is another level of risk and logistical challenge entirely.
In a release late on November 9, the NBA and NBPA shared an agreement on how to move forward, with adjustments to the CBA and the schedule for this offseason. The salary cap, surprisingly, will not change. Free agency negotiations will (officially) start on November 22, two days after a draft full of questions and just a month before the start of the 72-game season on December 22.
The results of this offseason will be consequential for the Spurs. As it began, they had a long list of questions to answer.
San Antonio had their highest draft choice since Tim Duncan. Who will they get with the 11th pick, or whichever pick they might trade it for?
Will Jakob Poeltl, Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli walk, or will they be back next year?
Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge are attractive assets on expiring contracts. Could they be traded? Who could San Antonio get back? Who might they want in a trade, or in free agency? Will the coaching staff change?
And most importantly, will this finally be the year that Spurs fans get Fiesta jerseys?
All these questions and more are asked, analyzed, predicted, opined on, and updated with the latest information in the story below. You can also listen to Big Fundamental Spurs Podcast specials on both the draft and free agency.
What will the Spurs do in the draft?
When the NBA Draft took place virtually on November 18, the Spurs had their highest draft pick since Tim Duncan at number 11.
The 2020 draft class wasn’t loaded with can’t-miss talent and there was a lot of room for players to shift up and down the top 10 on that night. It may make sense for San Antonio to move up a few spots, and it sounds like they're interested in doing so as long as they don't have to part with any of their key young pieces.
After not trading up, San Antonio saw Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton, Saddiq Bey, and Aaron Nesmith on the board, among others. After the draft, Spurs GM Brian Wright said that they try to pick the best available player with the highest ceiling, and if it was close, the tie would be broken on positional fit.
Haliburton was among the safest bets as an all-around combo guard, but the Spurs have drafted a good bunch of those in recent years. Nesmith is a solid 3-and-D prospect who shot an eye-popping 52% from deep last year, but he only played 14 games, and he's a little smaller.
Bey is a 6'8" wing who I really liked, but wound up falling to 19 because his low floor isn't coupled with the crazy physical tools some lottery picks possess.
Devin Vassell is one of the best 3-and-D wing prospects in this draft, so much so that he could have been picked anywhere between 6 and 10 and nobody would have batted an eye. He's a lob threat and lethal floor spacer who can defend multiple positions well, and showed strong development in creating his own shot.
He was clearly the right pick for San Antonio based on the criteria Wright laid out. So was Tre Jones, a two-way difference maker at point guard out of Duke who could have been a first round selection.
Is DeMar DeRozan going to stay?
DeRozan has chosen to opt in to the final year of his contract and earn $27.7 million dollars, but it's still unclear if he'll be on the roster next year.
There was a report that cited an anonymous agent who claimed that DeMar wasn’t happy in San Antonio and wanted to leave, prompting DeRozan to say that he’d never said that. Fans had visceral emotional reactions, and it’s unclear why.
DeRozan was traded against his will from the franchise he wanted to give his all to. Despite his well-known limitations, he's a former All Star on an expiring contract and still a walking bucket.
Because he’s one of the best players available, there will be trade interest from contenders looking to get over the top. He may have a winning opportunity elsewhere, and that would give the Spurs the opportunity to focus on developing the young core, which could be the best thing for all parties involved.
The Spurs can and should be exploring trade options after a bubble performance that showed his value on the court as a scorer and distributor. It makes sense for San Antonio to see what they could get in return for a player who may have a mutual interest in moving on, and it makes sense for DeMar to see what else is out there.
So what could that be?
There were rumors that the Lakers were interested in trading for DeRozan, but all they had to offer were Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green, and they may have even wanted more in return. The defending champions instead flipped Green and their fist round pick for Dennis Schroder.
The Clippers might also be looking for an upgrade at point guard, and DeRozan could be that. He basically played the point as the 4 in the bubble, and he’s still a bucket from 18-feet and in. He could have drawn interest from the Bucks, who desperately needed shot creation in the playoffs, but they acquired Jrue Holiday in a big trade. DeRozan has also been tied to Miami, where he’s close with Jimmy Butler.
If DeRozan were to join any of these teams, he would need to adjust his game and role. He’d need to stand in the corner more and knock down a few threes. He’d probably start but wind up running with the second unit while the top-tier stars caught a breather. He’d be expected to lock in a bit more on defense. For palm trees and a chance at a title, those are adjustments he’d probably be willing to make.
Might he be interested in a reunion in Toronto, or perhaps joining Dwayne Casey in Detroit? Those situations would provide less opportunity for winning, but more opportunity to be himself, and be the guy, and be around his guys, and maybe earn more money with less pressure. It’s easy to see how that would be appealing in its own way.
The Spurs could theoretically move DeMar to any team willing to give up an asset or two, but teams won't be willing to give up too much for a short rental, unless they feel at the trade deadline that he's the piece they need to get over the top.
Will Jakob Poeltl re-sign?
Once the Spurs didn't draft a center, bringing back Poeltl became a priority.
It’s tough to evaluate the true impact of the 7’1” Austrian. He doesn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he does a lot of little things that make the Spurs play better when he’s on the floor. San Antonio outscored opponents by almost six points per 100 possessions with Poeltl in, the best mark in the team's rotation.
He can’t shoot outside of the paint, and he doesn’t finish as strongly at the rim as he should, but he does an important job efficiently. He protects the rim and holds his own on perimeter switches, but frequently gets into foul trouble. He’s realistically somewhere between a backup center and a starting center.
So, what is that worth on the open market? According to Bobby Marks and an ESPN estimate on what free agents would command earlier in the offseason, about $8-10 million per year.
At three years and $27 million, that's a fair deal for all parties involved.
Poeltl has expressed a desire for a bigger role, and he proved at Disney that he can be an effective starting center for this team if and when the aging LaMarcus Aldridge moves on. The also shored up big-man depth by bringing back Drew Eubanks and cutting Chimezie Metu.
Will the Spurs keep Bryn Forbes and/or Marco Belinelli?
It would have been a pretty obvious mistake for San Antonio to commit money and playing time to these one-dimensional shooters, but then again, it took months of failure for the coaching staff to realize that they maybe shouldn’t be playing so much over guys like Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson.
Every bench needs a pure sharpshooter who is a serious defensive liability, but every successful rotation can have at most two of those guys. The Spurs already have an ideal version of that in Patty Mills: an emotional leader, an NBA champion, and the superior player out of the three.
After the draft, it was easy for management to wish both Forbes and Belinelli well on their way, raising the floor of the defense and clearing some room for the young core.
Forbes will assume that bench shooter role for the Milwaukee Bucks, and its unclear what the market is for Belinelli's services.
What could a Derrick White extension look like?
White proved through his play in the bubble that he should have been playing a larger role from the beginning of the season. He’s the best guard defender on the Spurs, he’s an intelligent ball handler, and he’s developed into a knockdown shooter. He shot 22-56 from deep in the bubble, a very solid 39% on over 7 attempts per game.
Of all the players on the Spurs roster, Derrick White is the best all-around basketball player. He can guard the other team’s best guy, whether he’s Trae Young or Kyrie Irving or Luka Doncic. He’s consistent and responsible in every area of the game, he makes his teammates better, and he’s poised for a breakout third season.
The way he sacrifices his body and performs whatever basketball action the moment calls for brings fond memories of Manu Ginobili to mind. His 5-charge, busted teeth game against the Kings in the bubble was a bright, hopeful note toward the end of a rough season for this Spurs team.
White played through a knee issue toward the end of a bubble before sitting out the last game, and he had a surgery to repair a dislocated toe that he apparently played through during his impressive run. He should be good to go for the start of next year, whenever that may be.
The Spurs would be wise to keep White in Silver and Black for as long as possible. The 26-year-old is still under contract through 2021, but San Antonio should work toward a long-term extension before he certainly declines his player option for $5.3 million next year.
So what would be fair? Again, the lack of clarity with the cap makes things a bit more difficult to forecast. ESPN’s Bobby Marks said that an extension should be in the range of four years, $52 million total. That breaks down to about $13 million per year.
The easiest and most relevant comparison to make here is Dejounte Murray, who last summer inked an extension for four-years and $64 million, which works out to $16 million per year. Murray is still just 24, and he definitely has a bit more room to grow as a player. He has the heart and all the physical tools, and he’s put in the work to be a more efficient scorer at all levels, but he’s still making too many unforced errors on both ends of the floor.
Coach Popovich heavily criticized his failure to close out to the arc at the end of the Philadelphia game, the final and most glaring mistake in a loss that contributed to the team’s impressive bubble run coming up short of the playoffs.
San Antonio has invested in Murray, a very good guard who at this point in his development isn’t yet as skillful or reliable as Derrick White is now. In an ordinary year, White’s extension would probably look closer to Murray’s -- but of course, this year is anything but ordinary. At least for White, the cap appears unlikely to impact negotiations.
From what I'm hearing, there's mutual interest in getting a deal done, and it may be quite comparable to Murray's despite coronavirus-related cap implications.
White has given no indication that he wants to be anywhere but San Antonio, and if he wants to stay, it would be hard for them to overpay him. He will likely demonstrate and raise his value with his play this season, so it’s in the Spurs’ best interest to offer him an extension he feels is fair as ASAP as possible.
An increased role for White will be key if the Spurs hope to improve next year, and they should do everything they can to ensure that he remains a leader and driving force on this team for years to come.
It took until October last year for Murray's extension, so it's normal for things like this to take some time.
As soon as we know more, we'll have it here.
Is the coaching staff changing?
Since people are actually asking, I'll go ahead and say that no, there is no sign whatsoever that Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich wants to be anything other than that when the NBA gets rolling again.
With head coaching vacancies across the league being filled quickly, Pop maintain his same bench of highly qualified candidates, headlined by Becky Hammon and Will Hardy, who also reportedly drew interest for some of those jobs.
In mid-November, news broke that Tim Duncan would not be coming back as an official assistant coach after one year on the bench. It was viewed by many as a short-term favor to Popovich, and Duncan will likely remain an active presence around the team.
He was active and involved in his first year as an assistant, and it's hard to measure the impact of having one of the greatest players of all time doing that job. He stayed home from the bubble to help LaMarcus Aldridge rehab his shoulder and presumably spend time with his family.
To fill the void, the Spurs have promoted assistant coach Mitch Johnson and elevated development assistant Darius Songaila to assistant coach.
Who might the Spurs target in free agency?
Depending on the direction of some of the dominos mentioned above, San Antonio may have been inclined to bring in a free agent or two.
A DeMar departure would likely be met with increased minutes at small forward for Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson. If Poeltl walked, San Antonio would have needed to address the need at backup center. If LaMarcus Aldridge or Trey Lyles or Rudy Gay left, there were a few frontcourt players on the market who could have contributed. Christian Wood, Serge Ibaka, Davis Bertans, Aron Baynes, Danilo Gallinari, Jerami Grant, Harry Giles and others all wound up on different teams.
These are all ideas, not necessarily situations with any mutual interest. If any reports come out about that, we'll have it here.
Could the Spurs trade LaMarcus Aldridge?
LaMarcus Aldridge is a big whose ability to space the floor makes him an attractive asset on an expiring contract, so teams will be calling and the Spurs will be picking up the phone to hear what they have to say.
The reason a trade wouldn’t happen is that Aldridge’s skillset is just as good a fit on the Spurs, but if they get a decent return, it wouldn't be shocking to see Aldridge shipped off. If San Antonio wanted to move up more than a spot or two in the draft, moving LaMarcus would have been the be the best way to do it.
Zach Lowe said on a recent episode of his Lowe Post podcast that he had gotten a text from somebody in the league that Golden State was interested in a trading the second-overall pick to get LaMarcus Aldridge, causing quite a stir.
In order to make the deal work money-wise, the Warriors would need to include the newly-acquired Andrew Wiggins, whose contract is among the most obscene in the league, or an aging Draymond Green, a core piece of the team whose contract is merely bad.
25-year-old Andrew Wiggins still has potential at 6'8" with a 7'0" wingspan, crazy bounce, and solid scoring moves, but he's had that potential since he got "Next LeBron?" hype as a high schooler. Would the Spurs take a shot on him, eating an average of $31 million in cap space for the next three years? Could they find another team to take him?
The entire storm of stories about the Warriors' potential interest in swapping the second pick for Aldridge cites that text message Zach Lowe got, which he said didn't make sense. In the end it didn't come to fruition, but he could be a juicy piece for a contender if the Spurs are selling at the deadline.
What other trades could the Spurs make?
Rudy Gay is a proven player on an expiring deal, and while his perimeter defense fell off a cliff and his three point shot didn't start falling until the bubble, his bucket-getting prowess could prove valuable off the bench for a playoff contender.
Some big names like Chris Paul and Kevin Love may be on the move, but San Antonio should avoid those bad contracts like they’re some $5 tacos.
Front office shakeups in Houston and Philadelphia have prompted speculation about key players being moved, but if anyone moves heaven and earth to acquire one of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben Simmons, or Joel Embiid, it won't be the Spurs.
Tobias Harris is a solid player, but put his contract for 5 years and $180 million in the $5 taco pile. Al Horford's deal isn't quite as big, but it's big enough that anyone trading for him would likely get draft assets in return. He looked rough for long stretches of last season, but his skills would compliment San Antonio's roster. There seemed to be some interest there, but Philly sent him and picks to OKC for Danny Green.
Robert Covington would be a huge get as the prototype modern 3-and-D power forward on a team-friendly deal, but that meant there was quite a market for him. Houston flipped him to Portland for Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks.
Aaron Gordon has been mentioned as a trade target for the Spurs for some time and would be a solid big to pair with Derrick, Dejounte and Lonnie. A trade that sends him to San Antonio really only works if DeRozan or Aldridge is involved.
That young trio of Spurs is staying put unless there's some unforeseen monster deal sneaking up. Keldon Johnson isn't going anywhere either after he broke out in the bubble.
As far as potential Spurs trades go, it seems like if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. We probably won't see much roster movement between now and the trade deadline.
So far this offseason has been an unimaginative chess opening, but a strong and aggressive one.
Are Fiesta jerseys coming?
Finally, the most important question of the Spurs offseason: Is San Antonio finally getting the Fiesta jerseys it deserves?
The answer is a resounding, teal pink and orange yes.
After weeks of leaks and teases, San Antonio released their new City Edition uniforms on November 13, much to the delight of Spurs fans.
Smoke had billowed out of the rumor mill for months, but we didn't get a sneak peak at what it could look like until a leak on October 30. The Spurs acknowledged the excitement with a few tweets, and official confirmation seems imminent.
Leaks like these can be a good opportunity for brands to tease new gear, gauge reaction, and pretend it's fake if it gets roasted by the masses, like these new Nets jerseys. If that's what happened here, the fanbase's reaction confirms what we've known for a long time. The Spurs will basically be printing money with these things.
Some fans complained that there weren't many risks taken, but most would agree that this clean is preferable to some of the more garish artistic renderings that were out there. The Fiesta colors are central and vibrant, but not overpowering.
And though fans have pointed out that San Antonio never had a fiesta jersey, this design is almost a perfect throwback to the warmups that they wore in the 90's, which Nike would be foolish not to bring back. In fact, they'd be foolish to not put an entire line out based on this design.
The fiesta colors run down the sides of the shorts, which will certainly be a popular item around the Alamo City. The back of the leaked jersey leaves something to be desired, as the fiesta stripe doesn't wrap around and the numbers and lettering are very standard, so it looks like the back of a plain old black Spurs jersey. It's still a cool jersey, you'd just have no idea by looking at the back of it.
Any complaints about the font or relative safety of the design have been drowned out by roaring cheers from a gleeful majority of fans celebrating the clean Fiesta design and the end of the camouflage era.
San Antonio is Military City USA after all, so it makes sense that they'd honor the armed forces with the City Edition jersey. It makes so much sense that they've been doing it since 2013, when Marco Belinelli was wearing number 3 in his first stint with the team.
At the time, a different role player known mostly for defense and silence broke character to announce that he thought the digital camo mission could have been executed better.
The next rendition cranked up the brightness and added sleeves, making it one of the most interesting looking (largely unpopular) uniforms in the NBA. What I mean is, it looked like a pair of Minecraft pajamas.
There have been several other variations of this theme since then, each a different shade of gray pixels, but a large and ever-growing contingent of fans has begged for something different.
This year, it sure looks like a gorgeous uniform with just enough teal, orange and pink will celebrate the rich culture of Fiesta and the San Antonio community, and a historic retro era for San Antonio's favorite team.