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How the San Antonio Spurs have turned into a major X-factor during NBA trade season

Vincent Frank

The San Antonio Spurs have already pulled off a blockbuster trade this summer, sending star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for a package centering around three first-round picks.

The plan is rather simple for San Antonio. After missing out on the playoffs again in 2021-22, it’s now all about a complete rebuild for Gregg Popovich’s squad.

Despite his advanced age of 73, Pop was all for the Murray trade. He understands full well the landscape of the NBA and the trajectory of his Spurs organization. He even touched on this during the 2021-22 season.

“It’s exciting. I have no idea who I am going to give it to or what play we’re going to run. That’s something we’re going to figure out as we move along here. And to me, that is exciting as hell.”

Gregg Popovich on the san antonio spurs’ youth movement

With this rebuild, Spurs general manager Brian Wright now has the flexibility to make more moves. It’s not as much about expediting said rebuild as it is about putting a coherent plan in place.

San Antonio now has multiple future first-round picks to work with, roughly $37 million in cap room and expiring contracts that could entice other teams.

The backdrop here is trade season around the NBA with star players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons potentially on the block. They are now in position to capitalize as the facilitator in a blockbuster trade or two. Here’s why.

Related: San Antonio Spurs involved in Kyrie Irving-Russell Westbrook trade talks as a third team

San Antonio Spurs cap room can help in three-team trades

NBA: Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio joins the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons as the three teams that are not currently over the NBA salary cap. With big-name players potentially on the move, this cap room could prove to be beneficial.

Here’s an example. The Brooklyn Nets are said to be interested in acquiring Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. Per NBA rules, teams can’t acquire two players on rookie-level max contracts. Both Mitchell and Ben Simmons are working under said deals. A third team would have to get involved to take on Simmons if Brooklyn were to add Mitchell to the mix.

It’s not as much that San Antonio would view Simmons as a potential building block moving forward. Rather, being able to facilitate a trade could prove to be worth the team’s while.

By taking on Simmons deal with their cap room, the Spurs could opt to have him suit up in 2022-23 to see if the multi-time All-Star could up his value in a trade moving forward. The cost would likely be a mere first-round pick heading to the Jazz as part of a three-team package with Brooklyn. Here’s a rough example.

  • San Antonio Spurs get: Ben Simmons
  • Brooklyn Nets get: Donovan Mitchell
  • Utah Jazz get: Cameron Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, 4 1st-round picks, 2 pick swaps

This trade would save the rebuilding Jazz $20 million in cap room next season and well over $120 million over the next four years. While an extreme hypothetical, it just goes to show us the type of flexibillity San Antonio has.

The same thing could be said about the Warriors’ reported interest in re-acquiring Durant. A third team would have to get involved to take on Andrew Wiggins. Just insert Wiggins to San Antonio in a hypothetical, and we’d come to the same end result.

Related: San Antonio Spurs standing in our most-recent NBA power rankings

San Antonio Spurs’ expiring contracts will come in handy

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio has two veterans with rather lofty contracts under expiring deals in Josh Richardson ($12.1 million) and Jakob Poeltl ($9.3 million). It also has Doug McDermott playing under a rather short-term contract at $13.7 million annually.

Poeltl himself wouldn’t be used merely as an expiring in an expanded blockbuster. He’s 26 years old, has proven himself to be a starter-caliber center and is only improving. That’s where Richardson comes into play. While he wouldn’t have the same appeal as a value piece, that $12.1 million expiring salary could come in handy.

Related: San Antonio Spurs open to firesale, with Jakob Poeltl, several others available

More assets for the San Antonio Spurs

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If San Antonio is fully intent on going into a full-scale rebuild (there’s no evidence that it isn’t), moving a valuable wing on a roster heavy with them could act as a central component in an expanded blockbuster.

The team’s second-leading scorer from a season ago, Keldon Johnson, would make the most sense. He’s still only 22 years old and will be a restricted free agent after next season. With a mere $3.87 million salary for the 2022-23 campaign, teams would be lining up to acquire him.

  • Keldon Johnson stats (2021-22): 17.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47% shooting, 40% 3-point

The Spurs have taken wings in the first round each of the past two years with Joshua Primo (2021) and Malaki Branham (2022). They also have fellow former first-round pick Devin Vassell on the roster.

In short, Johnson might not have a long-term future in San Antonio. His age, cheap contract and recent play would make him a valuable chip in acquiring more assets in what would be a broader blockbuster trade.

San Antonio Spurs eyes firmly on the Victor Wembanyama prize

San Antonio didn’t have a dynastic run from 1999-2008 by thinking short term. It didn’t rebound to win the title again in 2014 or earn 21 consecutive playoff appearances by being short-sighted.

Led by R.C. Buford and Popovich, it’s always been about thinking to the future. The picking is now ripe for San Antonio to put itself in a position to land a generational prospect in France’s Victor Wembanyama in the 2022 NBA Draft.

San Antonio has eight first-round picks in the next five drafts. It will certainly add more to the mix this summer. Creating the flexibility to find a potential franchise cornerstone in Wembanyama must be part of the thought process.

And in reality, it could lead to these San Antonio Spurs playing a huge role in the next NBA blockbuster.