Let’s Grade San Antonio’s Front Office

From the moves they made to win the 2014 championship, the whirlwind 2022 trade deadline, and everything in between!

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Former Spurs free agents DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli. Kind of feels surreal to see them on the court together. Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

A little while back, at my humble website Fiesta Shorts, I wrote a piece grading the Spurs’ draft picks from 2013 to 2019. I felt like a natural follow-up piece to that would be grading trades and free agent signings during that same timeframe. 

And then I dragged my feet for like 3 weeks. Firstly, because I wanted to see what San Antonio would do at the 2022 trade deadline. Secondly, because I started remembering things like the second time the Spurs signed Marco Belinelli and it made me feel emotions ranging from completely empty to full of fear and resentment. Thirdly, I went on vacation and attempted to stay off of my devices… which I failed after drinking too much red wine and joining a Twitter Space to disparage Lonnie Walker IV. C’est la vie!

Your definitive free agency and trade grades are below, but first: A rubric!

Grades, explained

A= Significantly changed the franchise trajectory in a positive way
B= Definite roster upgrade, player played a key role well
C= Player didn’t hurt the team, but wasn’t a big difference maker
D= Player made the team worse
F= Complete failure of a signing/trade

Quick caveat here, the trades are going to be graded a bit differently and I’ll explain as I get to them. Oh uh, one other caveat. If I left out a trade/signing it’s because it was so insignificant that there was no way to grade it. Or I just didn’t care. Enjoy!

2012-13

Boris Diaw: B+/A-
Aron Baynes:
B
Tracy McGrady:
C

San Antonio doesn’t win championship number five without Boris Diaw playing a significant role in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. He’s straddling the A/B line because Diaw wasn’t a starter and I still can’t decide if that should matter or not.

Does San Antonio win championship number five without Aron Baynes? …Probably. But we’re going to give him a B because I can’t go back in time and prove otherwise. Tracy McGrady is mostly just here for fun – I’m sad he didn’t get a ring in 2013 and would not like to talk about that any further thank you.

2013-14

Marco Belinelli: B+
Jeff Ayres:
C
Shannon Brown:
D
Austin Daye trade:
C

The first signing of Marco Belinelli was an absolute thing of beauty. His eFG% was .576, tied with Kawhi Leonard for the 2013-14 season. Belinelli knocked down 43% of his threes for the season and won the three point contest at All-Star Weekend. And he did it all for $2.75M.

Jeff Ayres was fine, sure. Shannon Brown was actively bad but only for 10 games.

The Daye trade could have been cool if the coaching staff had been able to unlock something in the former 15th overall pick. But it was fine, and the Spurs walked away with a trade exception to boot.

The Belinelli deal was the only one that really mattered as far as winning the Finals goes.

2014-15

JaMychal Green: ???

I dunno man, someone else is gonna have to grade this signing if they want to. Gun to my head I’ll give it a C but he was never going to work in SA behind Tim Duncan and eventual free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

2015-16

LaMarcus Aldridge: A
Boban Marjanović:
C
David West:
B-/C+
Jonathon Simmons:
C
Jimmer Fredette:
lol
Rasual Butler:
C-/D

I really liked this team. It was fun to see San Antonio be the darling of free agency for the first and only time in my life as they added LaMarcus Aldridge to an already impressive lineup, old as they were. Unfortunately, Aldridge and David West couldn’t quite help bring the Spurs back to the level of their 2014 squad, falling short to the Oklahoma City team that eventually imploded against the Warriors. 

Honestly, I think the 2016 Spurs were better than the 2014 Spurs. The only problem is the competition was also better than the 2014 Spurs. Just a reminder of how absolutely brutal the Western Conference has been ever since the Bulls dynasty came to a close.

You could make an argument that Aldridge was not an A signing because he didn’t elevate the team back to the level of Finals contender. I would contend that the Spurs wouldn’t have even been Western Conference contenders without his presence. And, I know this is just how things go, but it feels unfair to compare any single player against what Steph Curry was doing to the league in 2016.

2016-17

Davis Bertans: C
Bryn Forbes:
B-/C+
Dewayne Dedmon:
B-
Pau Gasol:
F
David Lee:
C

Another team I loved, but just didn’t quite have enough to get past the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. With Duncan retired, this team was officially Kawhi Leonard’s squad. There was hope that signing the legendary Pau Gasol would fill the Duncan-shaped hole in San Antonio’s lineup and my oh my oh my did that ever NOT come to pass. Gasol’s first season with the Spurs wasn’t bad, but he definitely didn’t get them over the hump, and then it all fell apart next year for him.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I think this team was better than the 2014 Spurs. It’s close, but I think the edge goes to 2014. Maybe. Ask me again next week.

You may wonder why Bryn Forbes is flirting with a B here. The reason is because he was an unsigned free agent who came in and didn’t hurt anybody UNTIL the Spurs decided to make him a starter. A starter, Forbes is not. But a guy on the bench who can sub in and shoot 40% from three? There’s value in that. (More on that in the 2021-22 section)

2017-18

Rudy Gay: B
Brandon Paul:
D
Joffrey Lauvergne:
F

This offseason the Spurs decided to see what Rudy Gay had left in the tank, fresh off an Achilles tear. I’m giving him a B because he did exactly what the rubric explains a B player should do.

I don’t ever want to write, hear, or see Joffrey Lauvergne’s name ever again my god why did I have to be reminded of this shit.

2018-19

DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, draft pick that became Keldon trade: B
Marco Belinelli:
F
Drew Eubanks:
C-

Lots to factor in when grading a trade. The first thing that I want to point out here is that you can’t just look at the on-court value of DeMar DeRozan vs. Kawhi Leonard. Look at Leonard’s stats for his lone season in Toronto. Print them out. Now eat that piece of paper. It’s gone, it no longer exists. Maybe it never existed.

Those stats, those wins… they were never going to apply to the 2018-19 Spurs. The reasons are unfair to us, the fans who cared so deeply about Leonard and hoped he’d be the bridge to the next Spurs dynasty. But that’s how it goes, eh?

In return for being sad about Leonard, you got a very well functioning NBA starter in DeRozan, a Center and perfectly capable building block next to Dejounte Murray in Jakob Poeltl, and the draft pick that eventually became Keldon Johnson. The alternative was watching Kawhi Leonard stew angrily somewhere for an entire season while the Warriors won their third-straight Finals.

Also, back in reality, Jeremy Lin got a ring. And that’s pretty cool, IMO.

2019-20

DeMarre Carroll: F
Trey Lyles:
D
Tyler Zeller:
nah

*Drinking bleach straight from the bottle*

2020-21

Marquese Chriss (trade): C
Gorgui Dieng:
C
Keita Bates-Diop:
C+

I wrote about the Gorui Dieng thing at Fiesta Shorts awhile back, and my thoughts haven’t changed. My thoughts on the Keita Bates-Diop signing can effectively be summed up by this GIF.

2021-22

Doug McDermott: B+
Jock Landale:
C+
Tyler Johnson (COVID-19 emergency signing):
I don’t want to talk about this
Bryn Forbes signing and eventual trade to Nuggets for Juancho Hernangómez + second round pick, plus Hernangómez trade for another second round pick and Tomáš Satoranský:
A
DeMar DeRozan trade for Thad Young and eventual Thad Young + Drew Eubanks trade for Goran Dragic and a first round pick:
B+
Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, first round pick + pick swap trade:
B+

FIREWORKS!

Let’s start with the signing of Doug McDermott. I was kind of surprised by this because McDermott seemed like the kind of guy who would sign with a team that was ready to win now. I thought it was kind of a waste of money for the Spurs. But now I love him and hope he sticks around long enough to contend with San Antonio.

Jock Landale is a fine backup big man who can shoot the three ball. He’s the spiritual successor to Patty Mills in many ways, and that is important.

Signing Bryn Forbes, then having Forbes play well enough off the bench to flip him for Juancho Hernangómez and a second round pick was good on its own merit. But then flipping Hernangómez for Tomáš Satoranský and another second round pick? That’s A-grade trade material, baby. (I hope I never see Satoranský in a Fiesta jersey.)

And given we all thought DeRozan was just going to walk away in free agency, flipping him for Thad Young, Al-farouq Aminu, and a future first round pick was nice. But then managing to turn Thad Young, Drew Eubanks, and a second round pick into Goran Dragic (who was immediately bought out) and a future first round pick? Wheeling and dealing, baby!

Lastly, the Spurs traded fan-favorite Derrick White to the Celtics for a first round pick next year, a pick swap in 2028, and two players, Romeo Langford and Josh Richardson. Making moves, baby!

I’m comfortable grading these trades without having seen what the above players can do for San Antonio because these trades were not about the players the Spurs received in said trades. These moves were all about positioning themselves to reload with talent in what people say is a very talented draft class. Whether they use all their picks, or package them up to move up in the 2022 draft, it’s clear that the Spurs aren’t interested in a slow and painful death with the group they had.

They’re likely going to miss the playoffs this year. And they’re unlikely to get a top five pick based on their own record, thanks to teams like Houston, Orlando, and Detroit re-defining what it is to bottom out on a weekly basis. The Spurs 2022 trade deadline moves are all about winning as much as they can now while positioning themselves to expedite their re-ascension to the upper class of NBA franchises.

Sure, I’ll have to revisit these grades when we see how the eventual moves pan out, but I’m giving them high marks now for doing the pre-requisite work we’ve been accusing them of blowing off in recent years.

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