In losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Play-In Tournament, the San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from playoff contention for the second season in a row.
The Spurs now shift their attention to a pivotal offseason in which a number of players in their rotation are set to become free agents.
The 2021 NBA Draft
Picks: Nos. 12 and 41
Prospects to target: Franz Wagner (Michigan), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Alperen Sengun (Besiktas)
While NBA.com draft expert Kyle Irving tabbed bouncy Kentucky forward Isaiah Jackson as the 12th-best prospect on his NBA Draft Big Board, NBA.com's other draft expert Eric Fawcett has ranked Texas big man Kai Jones as the 12th-best player available on the big board.
So should they go big?
In the last five drafts, the Spurs have added six first-rounders in Murray (2016), White (2017), Lonnie Walker IV (2018), Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson (2019), plus a lottery pick in Devin Vassell (2020).
Depending on the approach to free agency, the idea of taking a big man makes sense for a Spurs team that is guaranteed to return just three bigs in Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks and Samanic next season. If drafting for need, it feels like San Antonio should go big to continue to promote the growth and development of Murray, Walker, White and Johnson, but the franchise is also at a point where it doesn't have to go by need.
Given the staff's ability to develop and get the most out of players, don't be surprised if the Spurs go for the best player available (regardless of position) with the intentions to figure things out as things take shape.
- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
Upcoming free agents
While the Spurs have two members of their core under contract for the foreseeable future in Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the season's end.
Not only did DeRozan lead the Spurs in scoring this season with 21.6 points per game, he averaged a team-high and career-best 6.9 assists per game. He's still not much of a 3-point shooter or defender, but DeRozan will be one of the best free agents available this offseason off of the strength of his efficient playmaking.
Additionally, two key pieces off of San Antonio's bench will be unrestricted free agents in Patty Mills and Rudy Gay.
Mills is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 10.8 points on a career-best 2.4 made 3-pointers per game. In his fourth season with the Spurs, Gay was the team's leading scorer off the bench with 11.4 points per game.
Trey Lyles and Gorgui Dieng round out San Antonio's unrestricted free agents while Keita Bates-Diop and Quinndary Weatherspoon will be restricted free agents.
|Unrestricted Free Agent(s)||Restricted Free Agent(s)|
|DeMar DeRozan||Keita Bates-Diop|
|Rudy Gay||Quinndary Weatherspoon|
According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the maximum amount of cap space the Spurs could have in the offseason is $51.8 million, putting them behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder ($61.4 million) and New York Knicks ($72.8 million) for most in the league.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
One burning question
Does the real rebuild come now?
For the first time in the franchise's time in the NBA, the Spurs have missed out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
San Antonio's shortcomings weren't for a lack of effort, as it qualified to travel to the NBA Restart in 2020 and lost in the 9-10 Game in the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament. Basically, this franchise's playoff hopes have come down to the final days in each of the last two seasons.
Now, with three key veterans in DeRozan, Gay and Mills potentially leaving via free agency, the Spurs could be in a position in which no established veterans remain and the groundwork for the future is laid with the draft and development of the young talent already in tow.
Headlining this group is a 27-year-old in White and a 25-year-old in Murray, who are arguably the two faces of the franchise, while Johnson, who will be 22 next season, made an impressive leap in his sophomore campaign.
As talented as the Spurs' young core might be, it feels as though the franchise would be committing to a rebuild should they not prioritize re-signing their free agent veterans.
There's nothing wrong with letting the vets walk, either, as a commitment to the future could ultimately be a much better long-term play for San Antonio while running things back would likely guarantee a season similar to the past two.
The Spurs have reached the juncture where they might need to take a small step back before a big leap forward.
One key stat
On Dec. 26, 2020, Murray recorded the first triple-double of his NBA career, posting 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Toronto Raptors. Murray recorded three more triple-doubles on the season, bringing his total to four. According to StatMuse, the only players in franchise history with more triple-doubles in a single season are David Robinson (1993-94) and Johnny Moore (1984-85) with five each.
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