The state of the San Antonio Spurs: post play-in

Daniel Sprague, Contributing Writer

For the second consecutive season, the Spurs lost the play-in game. On April 13, the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the San Antonio Spurs 113-103 in the ninth versus 10th play-in game for the right to play the eighth-seeded Clippers the following Friday. The Spurs were unable to stop CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, who combined for 61 points. Jonas Valanciunas also had 22 points and 14 rebounds. For the Spurs, Devin Vassell led the team in scoring with 23 points. All-star Dejounte Murray finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. However, Murray battled foul trouble in the second quarter and shot five for 19 from the floor.

Now heading into the offseason, the Spurs have several key items to address. The first item on the agenda is Coach Gregg Popovich’s future. The 73-year-old just finished his NBA-record 26th consecutive season as head coach of the Spurs. He also became the all-time winningest coach in NBA history when he won his 1,336th game on March 11, passing his former boss and mentor Don Nelson. One could make the argument he has nothing to prove. However, when asked about his future in the press conference following the loss to the Pelicans, Popovich responded with, “Well, that question’s inappropriate.” It comes as no surprise that Popovich gives the media standoffish answers, but his response deflects the focus of his looming retirement back onto the team and its future this offseason.

The second item to address is the restricted free agency of Lonnie Walker IV. Walker IV had an uptick in production since the Spurs traded veteran guard Derrick White to the Celtics on Feb. 10. Before the trade, Walker IV averaged 11 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 38.8% field goal percentage and 29.4% three-point field goal percentage. After the trade, Walker IV averaged 15.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 44.9% field goal percentage and 35.7% three-point field goal percentage. His aggressiveness has allowed him to become the leading scorer off the bench for the Spurs. However in the play-in game, Walker IV scored 12 points in only 17 minutes. It was unclear why Walker IV did not get more playing time when rumors swirled that he was playing hurt. After the play-in game, however, Walker IV took to Twitter and started liking tweets that were complaining about his lack of playing time. After his likes went viral, Walker IV then unliked the tweets. He told reporters after the play-in loss that he is hopeful to be back but also said, “At this point, it’s up to my agents.” The Spurs have the money to re-sign him if they choose, but they also could be looking to leverage him into a trade package during the NBA draft.

The third item on the docket is deciding what to do with their draft capital. The Spurs have three first-round picks in this upcoming draft. They own the Raptors’ first-round pick due to the Thaddeus Young trade back in February, and they own the Celtics’ first-round pick due to the Derrick White trade. Those picks are projected to be late first-round picks (20-25 range) due to the Celtics and Raptors making the playoffs. The Spurs are likely to have the ninth pick or better due to their record of 34-48. Many mock drafts are projecting the Spurs to pick Duke guard AJ Griffin with the ninth pick. However, many Spurs fans are wanting the team to trade up to select one of the top three projected players in the draft. Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, Duke forward Paolo Banchero and Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. are the coveted generational talent teams are looking to draft. In terms of positional needs, the Spurs are lacking size at the power forward position. Keldon Johnson currently is the starting power forward and has been great, but he is undersized at six feet five inches and would be better suited playing his natural position of small forward. One of these top three players would solve that size problem sooner rather than later. However, when trading up, you are willing to let valuable assets go if you can get as close as possible to that number one spot. That means Lonnie Walker IV could walk in restricted free agency or be a part of a sign and trade draft package to move into the top three slots. The Draft Lottery can decide a lot of teams’ futures and the Spurs hope they strike gold by winning the number one pick.

All in all, this Spurs season has been a rebuilding rollercoaster, to say the least. From looking like a bottom four team to competing for a play-in spot while having a candidate for Most Improved Player in Dejounte Murray, who also became an all-star in a breakout season. The future of the Spurs looks bright, but they cannot move forward without Gregg Popovich’s decision on his own future.