San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are the last team you’d expect to take a swing for one year. Their model is built on sustainability, and it’s worked unequivocally. But sometimes you have to make an exception, and with where the Spurs are at, they may need a change now more than ever.
The Kawhi Leonard trade demand was an inflection point for San Antonio. The seamless transition from one franchise player, Tim Duncan, to another, Leonard, was thrown for a loop. And in that time of crisis, the Spurs chose to hedge the present and future.
That hasn’t gone too well. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge did lead the Spurs to a playoff berth last season, and they drew a favorable matchup in round one that went seven games. But the wheels fell off this season: San Antonio sits at 27-36, 11th in the West, with little chance to make up that ground for the 8-seed.
DeRozan, 30, has a player option for $27.7 million next season. Aldridge, 34, is locked up for 2020-21 at $24 million flat. Rudy Gay and Patty Mills each have one season left, and will combine for $27.3 million next year. Each of these contracts line up nicely with Gobert, both in value and length.
The needs match up well for both sides too: the Spurs would obviously want to keep DeRozan over Aldridge, and the Jazz have no need for another high-usage guard like DeRozan. Aldridge and parts would not be an ideal return for Utah, but his timeline coincides with Mike Conley’s, making it easier to move on from both after next season.
Knowing how the Spurs operate, Gobert might become an even better defender in the silver and black. They’ve made above-average rim protectors out of Tiago Splitter and Jakob Poeltl; imagine what Gregg Popovich could do with the man who acts like a black hole at the basket.
Before Spurs fans grab their pitchforks, let it be known that Derrick White is a good young player. San Antonio values him highly, and it should; he’s smooth, smart and stout defensively.
But we also know the franchise seldom trades its first-round pick. If the Spurs choose to call an audible, then their 2021 first can supplant White in this deal. But considering what they’ve invested in Dejounte Murray ($66.3 million guaranteed through 2024) and Lonnie Walker IV (two years of team control left), White seems more expendable than a draft asset.
The Jazz should push for White as opposed to a pick anyway. He can slot right in as the low-maintenance third guard for Mitchell and Conley, playing off either one or playing the 3 in a super-small lineup.
As for Aldridge, he’s not who he once was, but he’s still damn good. After nearly tripling his 3-point attempts in mid-December (from 1.7 to 4.2), the Spurs’ offense took flight. Despite being 34, the big man is still thriving, averaging 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a night on acceptable efficiency (57.1 percent true shooting). In a more modern Jazz offense, Aldridge will see a lot more 3s and fewer mid-range shots.
None of these trade packages is win a for the Jazz. Nor should they be; Rudy Gobert’s value has cratered, and if he truly can’t make amends with Mitchell, it will only get worse as time goes on.