The San Antonio Spurs have embraced a direction and elected to rebuild. Their win total will almost certainly be significantly lower this season than it has been since the 1996-1997 season. On the surface, this seems like bad news. Several strong draft picks, however, could vault the Spurs back onto the path of championship contention.
In the upcoming season, the Spurs don’t need players who are in their prime and ready to contribute at the highest level. Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Josh Primo are all talents in their pre-prime. If they pan out, they could be fixtures on the next Spurs playoff team. Jakob Poeltl, however, is in his prime now and can contribute to a high-level team immediately. That may not be true by the time the Spurs are good again.
Best Fit for Jakob Poeltl
The Golden State Warriors
Analyzing some of the teams that made deep playoff runs last season, Poeltl’s value to a high-level team becomes apparent. For the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, Poeltl would instantly be the best traditional center on the Warriors’ roster. If they were to acquire him, the Austrian would provide similar skills to Kevon Looney, but at a higher level.
The Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics, the Warriors’ opponents in the finals, would be a good fit for Poeltl as well. While he wouldn’t start, he would be their “true” center off the bench. Such a role would not be necessary for every match-up, but it would prove invaluable in some. Acquiring Poeltl would also give the Celtics some insurance in the event that Robert Williams III misses time. Even CelticsBlog writer Keith Smith referred to Poeltl as a “kind of dream fit” for the Celtics.
Aside from the NBA finalists, many other playoff teams would be much improved with Poeltl on the roster.
The Chicago Bulls
By all accounts, the Chicago Bulls are looking to move on from Nikola Vučević. Their aim is to acquire a center that better fits their team philosophy. Poeltl would be a wonderful fit next to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. His presence would allow the Bulls to build an elite defense behind the offensive prowess of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.
The Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors have leaned heavily into what The Athletic writer Eric Koreen refers to as “Project 6-8”, filling their roster with almost exclusively big (around 6’8″) wings. Still, Poeltl returning to the Raptors would give them much-needed rim protection and would balance their roster wonderfully.
A Top Contender May Not Be the Best Trade Partner
What makes most high-level playoff teams a poor trade partner for Poeltl is not the fact that he would not be an impactful part of their big rotation. For almost every team, he would provide an impact at either starting or backup center. The difficulty with trading Poeltl to a strong playoff team is that those teams either don’t have future assets the Spurs would want in return. Even if they do, they likely would not be willing to give up the assets it would take to get what would equate to a match-up-specific player in the playoffs.
There is one category of team that could be a perfect trade partner for the Spurs in a potential Poeltl swap – A team that is on-the-bubble of the playoffs. More specifically, one that has the expectation to make the playoffs now and both needs to improve their roster immediately. That, of course, is provided they have the draft capital to send the Spurs.
There is one particular team that falls into that category perfectly, the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets have needed to upgrade their center position since the start of the LaMelo Ball era. A future draft pick from them could likely land between the 10th-20th pick, which for Poeltl would be a fair return.
Charlotte Could Be the Best Fit for Jakob Poeltl for Both Teams
Surprisingly, a trade with the Hornets that sees Poeltl going to Charlotte in return for one future first-round pick could actually secure two first-round picks for the Spurs. The first one would be the pick they obtain in that hypothetical trade. Interestingly enough, the second would the the Hornets pick this year that the Spurs obtained in the Dejounte Murray trade. San Antonio only gets to use that selection if it is the 17th pick or later. If the Spurs think that the Hornets could move from a middling team to one with a top-13 record with the addition of Poeltl, that trade would be a savvy way to guarantee that pick conveys.
It certainly makes sense for the Spurs to move on from Poeltl considering he is in his prime and the Spurs are rebuilding. His value around the league combined with his team-friendly contract means that the Spurs could get a strong asset in return if they trade him. It’s true that traditional centers are no longer as vital to high-level success as they once were. Poeltl’s skill-set makes him a valuable player for nearly every NBA roster. Right now, the Spurs have the opportunity to capitalize on that value.