The San Antonio Spurs had a ton of cap space heading into the 2021 NBA offseason. After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, Spurs GM Brian Wright largely stayed pat, preferring to stay in position to make bigger moves in 2022. In fact, one could argue the organization moved closer to a full rebuild with the DeMar DeRozan trade.
However, the Spurs were able to add future assets while setting up Keldon Johnson to thrive in an even bigger role going forward. As the season nears, with the flexibility the Spurs have, they could be mentioned in a lot of trade rumors.
Here’s a look at the latest buzz surrounding the Spurs, along with ideal trade scenarios for the offseason and top free agents the front office should target to restore coach Gregg Popovich’s squad to prominence.
San Antonio Spurs rumors: Thaddeus Young drawing interest among contenders
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported recently that the Spurs, who acquired Thaddeus Young in the first place as part of the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls, are expected to get inquiries about the veteran forward.
The Phoenix Suns have already called San Antonio about potentially dealing for Young, which makes sense. His value as a depth piece who could start in a pinch and provide energy on offense with plus passing ability makes Young an appealing role player for competitive squads to target. Young on the Spurs doesn’t make a lot of sense in 2021-22.
San Antonio Spurs rumors: Team missed out on trade target Larry Nance Jr.
According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, the Spurs were targeting former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. before he went to the Portland Trail Blazers in a sign-and-trade deal centered around Chicago Bulls stretch 4 Lauri Markkanen.
San Antonio just didn’t have any appealing pieces to send to Cleveland for a trade to be successful. This is a little discouraging for Spurs fans because they were previously linked to Markkanen as well, so they lost out on him and Nance, as it turns out.
Latest on potential Ben Simmons blockbuster trade
Maybe it’s just the Philadelphia 76ers doing their due diligence to see what the ceiling is for Ben Simmons’ trade market, but it’s getting a little out of hand.
Leading up to the NBA Draft, The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor reported on the latest Simmons buzz coming out of San Antonio about what the Spurs allegedly rejected in exchange for Simmons leading up to the NBA Draft (h/t Spurs Zone’s Jeff Garcia).
“There’s so much stuff floating out there right now about the Sixers having outrageous demands like wanting four first-round draft picks, and three pick swaps, and a young player from the Spurs they say now,” O’Connor said.
Now, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer is reporting the Spurs are still among the suitors interested in Simmons, saying specifically that “there is a faction of the Spurs front office rumored to strongly covet Simmons.”
San Antonio Spurs rumors: Lauri Markkanen still on team’s radar
Substack’s Marc Stein reported that “lasering in on San Antonio’s precise intentions is always a challenge” but that Markkanen could still be in a Spurs uniform in the end.
Markkanen was expected to sign by now as a restricted free agent, yet he’s still officially on the Chicago Bulls. They’ve been aggressive this offseason in adding players, and it was therefore believed Markkanen was on the way out. Maybe that won’t be the case after all.
San Antonio Spurs rumors: CJ McCollum trade may be in the offing
According to CNBC’s Jabari Young, the Spurs “like” CJ McCollum, but haven’t been able to work out a trade scenario in which they can land him.
Complicating matters is DeMar DeRozan’s pending free agency, and the fact that San Antonio would struggle to make salaries match unless the Portland Trail Blazers wanted DeRozan back as part of a sign-and-trade package.
Think about this: Despite committing the second-fewest turnovers and third-fewest fouls per game this past season, the Spurs still finished 10th in the Western Conference with a 33-39 record. The key? They attempted the lowest number of 3-pointers in the NBA, and hit at only 35% as a team, good for seventh-worst league-wide.
McCollum seems like the type of player who’d shine with the Spurs and also bring them into the 21st century with his offensive game, ability to play either guard spot and elite 3-point shooting. Let’s see how aggressive the team is in pursuing the Blazers star.
San Antonio Spurs rumors: Team expected to make strong push for Lauri Markkanen
The Spurs badly need size and spacing on offense, which is something Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen provides in spades. He’s even larger than the classic stretch 4, as he’s a legitimate 7-footer.
Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely reported a while back that “multiple executives and scouts anticipate the San Antonio Spurs will make a strong offer this summer” for Markkanen.
Here’s the issue: Markkanen isn’t the fleetest of foot, so he lags behind on defense. The good news is, Jakob Poeltl can pick up the slack on that end of the court in a big way, and Markkanen would give San Antonio so much more versatility offensively.
Markkanen is a restricted free agent, and the Spurs could make an offer the Bulls probably wouldn’t be willing to match, especially with a probable Zach LaVine max extension looming.
San Antonio Spurs trade scenarios for 2021 NBA offseason
A DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade is the ultimate win
It’d be difficult to find a lot of takers for DeMar DeRozan. Despite his improvement as a distributor and efficiency in the mid-range game, he’s not a reliable 3-point shooter. That often doesn’t fly in the modern NBA when it comes to building around an All-Star.
To facilitate a sign-and-trade, DeRozan needs to sign either a three- or four-year contract. San Antonio has exclusive bird rights, meaning it can offer DeRozan a lucrative deal before anyone else. However, forking over a max contract to someone with limited shooting range seems ridiculous.
The best scenario would be to wait things out, convince DeRozan to a sign-and-trade arrangement at a discount, and try to land a combination of draft assets and perimeter shooting help. Adding 3-point marksmen with defensive upside should absolutely be the priority in free agency, too, as you’ll see in the next section.
Using the NBA trade machine on ESPN.com — granted, this is based on DeRozan retaining his current base salary and other contracts holding as they are — check out this intriguing scenario:
- Brooklyn Nets get: DeMar DeRozan
- San Antonio Spurs get: Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan
In this situation, the Brooklyn Nets would get a legitimate playmaker in DeRozan to join with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of vet minimum players who’d make a legitimate NBA Finals push.
Meanwhile, San Antonio gets desperately-needed shooting with Harris and another depth piece in the frontcourt in Jordan — still with room to sign Markkanen and make other additions.
Sounds crazy, yet it just might work!
Any young perimeter player could be moved
DeRozan is really the team’s only big trade play to make, and even then, he’s a sign-and-trade deal.
That said, between Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson, San Antonio has plenty of younger trade chips to play with. The question is, will the Spurs keep developing these players through their system? After all, Popovich is a master at doing so.
Considering they’re all on modest salaries by NBA standards, though, any potential trade would be in exchange for other developmental players, cheap veterans, additional draft capital, or some combination of those elements.
If any of the above Spurs gets moved, smart money is on Walker. All of these youngsters are solid but not spectacular. That’s kind of the defining trait of San Antonio these days. Like, yes, DeRozan is a strong, All-Star-caliber player. But building around him as the No. 1 option? Eh, not so much.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the Spurs balance contending in the near future while Popovich is still coaching with more of a long-term vision to build a sustainable winner.
Given the cap space San Antonio may have available without DeRozan, no members of its young core should prevent the Spurs from making a big trade or free-agent move.
Top remaining San Antonio Spurs free-agent targets
- Avery Bradley, guard
- Frank Ntilikina, guard
- Bismack Biyombo, center