Before the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Atlanta Hawks in their third Summer League game on Monday evening in Las Vegas, Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford joined the NBATV commentators in the third quarter to answer a few questions regarding the Spurs and in one question, discussed Deshaun Thomas, the Spurs' 58th pick who would go on to score 17 points in the game.
Buford on Thomas and the chance of playing for San Antonio next season:
“Pop’s going to put demands on him that are going to require him to play differently than he did at Ohio State, but he can score. He can score in a lot of places on the floor and with Deshaun, his attitude and his eagerness to learn and grow has been overwhelming over the first week, and we haven’t had him a long time and a lot of things will need to go well for him to maximize his opportunity, but there is a hole in our roster behind Kawhi (Leonard) right now and we’re looking forward to what Deshuan brings and how his approach has been so far.”
As you read and hear the answer from Buford, it sounds like he’s speaking in the ‘Deshaun will be apart of this team’ context at some points, but the statement “a lot of things will need to go well for him to maximize his opportunity” also stays as a reminder that the vacant 15th roster spot may not be his just yet or at all.
With the Spurs already set with 14 roster spots filled for next season, the 15th space is up for grabs and could be reserved for restricted free agent Gary Neal if the price is right, as Buford indicated last week. Even early Tuesday morning another rumbling from the Greg Oden rumor mill stated the Spurs and Miami Heat are still the favorites to land the big man as well.
For Thomas, through three games he’s allowing his productivity on the floor to be his biggest pitch to San Antonio as he’s averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2.3 fouls, shooting 54% from the field, 50% from 3-point range, and 83% from the free throw line in 28.7 minutes per game. He's even averaging more points per game than the three Spurs veterans in Vegas, Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo, and Aron Baynes.
With at minimum two more games to play in Vegas, Thomas will have to continue to produce at a high level if he really wants the Spurs to invite him to training camp. He still needs to show a bit more production on defense and it’ll be interesting to see how he does if the Spurs put him at the small forward position, since he’s been playing his comfortable small ball power forward position so far in three games.
There was an interesting tweet from Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News that could have an impact on Thomas’ future. Here’s what he tweeted during the game regarding Thomas.
If you invite a guy like Thomas to camp, you have to sign him to do it. If he can't make the team and gets cut, you lose his rights forever.
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) July 16, 2013
Looking at the situation from this perspective means there are a lot of different scenarios for Thomas and the Spurs.
Scenario 1, Neal returns: If Neal re-signs, the Spurs would probably have to look at allowing Thomas to go play overseas for a year, let him continue to develop and then give him a chance to play next season very similar to what they did with 2012 draftee Marcus Denmon.
Scenario 2, Neal leaves, Oden chooses SA: If Neal received an offer sheet from another team that was out of the Spurs’ price range, but Oden chose to play in San Antonio, then that would be a decision for the Spurs to make. Do they take the risk with Oden or allow Thomas that 15th spot? In this case, they could take Oden and allow Thomas to go play overseas as stated in scenario number one.
Scenario 3, Neal leaves, Oden signs elsewhere: This would be the highest chance of Thomas earning a training camp invite. Neal would sign elsewhere, Oden would have chosen another team and the vacant roster position behind Leonard could have Thomas’ name written on it.
There's plenty of other scenarios that could happen but before looking too far ahead, it’s important to remember that Thomas still has a lot of basketball to play and more than anyone else, he controls his own destiny with his production on the court.