The last time the San Antonio Spurs finished a regular season with fewer than 30 wins, the basketball gods rewarded them with Tim Duncan: a generational talent who became one of the most decorated players in league history. Now, with Victor Wembanyama, they intend to begin another winning era with Gregg Popovich as coach.
Nearly three decades later, the organization is surely hoping for a similar stroke of luck, having selected French phenom Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft. A brief showing from Wembanyama during the summer league was enough to satisfy our collective basketball appetite, at least until training camp and preseason began. With Wembanyama comes a unique skill set, gangly arms, great potential, and – perhaps most importantly – hope.
The 2022-23 season wasn’t particularly kind to the Spurs, who won 22 games, but after an overall good preseason, there should be some momentum in San Antonio. Veterans Cedi Osman and Reggie Bullock have arrived, providing a much-needed quality outside shot. Restricted free agent Tre Jones, a brilliant young point guard with an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio, has been signed, and Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, remains at the helm. There are reasons to be excited.
Kelly Iko: Wembanyama’s addition to the team is the biggest and most important piece of San Antonio’s offseason work – and we’ll get to that shortly – but the Spurs also addressed their shooting issues. For a team that finished just outside the bottom third of the league in 3-point attempts and shots, what does the addition of Osman and Bullock do for their spacing and offensive effectiveness? Should we expect them to play important roles from day one?
John Hollinger: Let’s back up a little bit because I don’t think it’s a given that both players are on the day one roster. Remember, the Spurs acquired these players less as a wing-shot pursuit and more because they offered them draft picks to push them into cap space.
Right now, the template is a math problem. The Spurs have 18 players on partially or fully guaranteed contracts for next season, meaning at least three cuts or trades must be made. I would humbly suggest that none of the four players they signed of their own volition this past summer (as opposed to contacts they were paid to take) will be among the cuts, nor will any of their recent first-round picks.
Therefore, Tre Jones, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Julian Champagnie, Sidy Cissoko, Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell, Blake Wesley, Jeremy Sochan, and Malaki Branham are safe. Common sense dictates that we also add Keldon Johnson and Zach Collins to the safe list.
That’s 11 spots, leaving a likely reserve of Khem Birch, Charles Bassey, Cameron Payne, Doug McDermott, Devonte’ Graham, Bullock, and Osman for the final four spots. Graham, by virtue of guaranteed money beyond this season (he is owed at least $2.85 million in 2024-25), is probably the safest of the group. Birch, who was marginal even before Victor Wembanyama came along, is probably the least secure. Bassey also looks fungible, especially with the development of Dom Barlow.
So, if the Spurs can’t find a transfer for one of the guards, they would have to choose one of the forwards between Osman, Bullock, and McDermott. It could depend on which of the three is more open to purchase on favorable terms for the Spurs.
To answer your question in a roundabout way, these players can help the shooting situation on the margins, especially since they are replacing minutes that mostly went to non-shooters. That said, none of them are lethal enough (or prolific in shooting) to fundamentally change the Spurs’ equation, especially with a Sochan-Johnson combo taking up the majority of the minutes. Lastly, even if Osman and Bullock are in the opening-day rotation, it’s hard to imagine either of them on the roster beyond the deadline.
Iko: When it comes to free agency, the talk around the Spurs was the move they didn’t make for Austin Reaves. Do you think they should have been more aggressive with him, or is it better to re-sign Jones and trade Payne given where the organization is in its rebuilding process? Jones isn’t the spacer or shooter that Reaves is, but he is the better playmaker and projects as an elite decision-maker within Popovich’s system. Payne also brings toughness and experience to the position.
Hollinger: What I don’t understand is that they could have signed Jones either way so that part isn’t a factor. They kept their minuscule $2 million reserve on their books until they had used up all their space, and only then did they sign his contract (and Champagne, which was a similar case).
The only potential cost of signing Reaves was that the money spent on him would have left less money under the cap to sign other players and trade picks; They still could have done the deals with Payne and Osman, but it probably would have prevented them from signing Bullock later in the summer in the Grant Williams sign-and-trade.
To me, passing up the Reaves deal was a missed opportunity to hit a conference rival with a much bigger price tag to keep one of their key players.