Why The Spurs Can’t Tank

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After Wednesday night’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs fell to 8-9. Many believed that the Spurs would take a step back after their roster changes last off-season, but the recent losses have had some wondering if it would be more useful for the Spurs to try to earn a top pick this year instead of trying to be a non-contending team who may or may not make the playoffs. Here are some reasons they probably won’t tank:

They are too talented

As long as DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are on the team, the Spurs will win more games than the worst teams in the league. For the Spurs to have the highest odds possible for earning the first pick in the draft, they would have to lose five more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Phoenix Suns, or the New York Knicks throughout the rest of the season. They won’t do this with DeRozan and Aldridge, meaning they would have to find destinations for those players. If the Spurs were truly tanking or rebuilding, they would be looking for assets in return. Teams looking to trade for DeRozan or Aldridge probably won’t have draft assets, as tanking teams won’t want to obtain either player. None of the championship contenders are looking to make a trade currently, it seems, and none of them would probably add either player to their team with their current roster constructions. It’d be hard to move either player, let alone both of them.

The new lottery odds take affect this season

Meant to disincentivize teams from tanking, the NBA passed lottery reform last year to smooth out the odds of obtaining the number 1 pick. The teams with the three worst records each have a 14% chance of getting the top pick, the team with the fourth worst record has a 12.5% chance, and the team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance. The Spurs could have one of the worst records in the league and not have a 15% chance to acquire the number one overall pick in the draft. At this point, the Spurs are probably not going to have a record as bad as the Cavaliers, the Hawks, or the Suns, even if they started tanking tomorrow. Even if they could get the fourth worst record, they would have marginally better odds of getting the fifth pick or beyond (it would be no worse than the eighth pick) than obtaining a top 4 pick.

This could be Coach Gregg Popovich’s last season

While Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich could coach beyond this year, him stepping down as the head coach of the Spurs after this season would not be entirely unexpected. Coach Popovich is about all that’s left of the Spurs’ core from when it was a powerhouse for much of the last 20 years. He probably wants one more shot at making the playoffs and wouldn’t want to coach a tanking team. If he retires and the team does shift into full rebuilding mode, this summer probably works better to start that process anyway as it gives the Spurs a better opportunity to trade Aldridge and DeRozan for future assets. Even then:

The Spurs probably want to see how good this core can be with Dejounte Murray next season

Murray was expected by many to improve offensively this year after being awarded second team all-defense honors last season. Much of Murray’s skillset could help remedy the current defensive issues the Spurs are having. His jumpshot was expected to improve, meaning that he would not be restricting the spacing as much with the starting unit as he would have with his previous shooting skills. The Spurs would probably wait and see how the core of Aldridge, Murray, and DeRozan play together before shifting to a rebuild.

Draft odds from tankathon.com

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