The San Antonio Spurs have never been considered a free agent destination. When I think of the city of San Antonio, a city I lived in for many years, I am reminded a lot of Phoenix. It is a great city. A city that lacks snow, crime and is heavy on sunshine and attractions. So why is it so hard for the San Antonio Spurs to attract free agent talent?
Again, like the Suns, the Spurs have not been able to attract any Superstar, or even borderline Superstar talent to the team in their prime. The Suns brought Sir Charles Barkley to the desert in his ninth season and Chris Paul in his sixteenth season. They drafted Steve Nash and Devin Booker. They were not acquired.
Similarly, the Spurs drafted David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and received Kawhi Leonard via a draft day trade with the Indiana Pacers. The Spurs brought Lamarcus Aldridge (their biggest free agent addition) to the team in his tenth season. DeMar DeRozan was inherited via Kawhi’s forced trade. Even after five titles, and one the fastest growing cities in the United States, the Spurs cannot close big free agents.
The fact is the “small market” label will remain. Aside from generational talents like Tim Duncan and Stephen Curry (hence the rings,) it will always be more difficult for small market teams to compete. Even Lebron James won his titles after free agent acquisitions. In Miami, and though Cleveland drafted him, he was only victorious upon his return, not his first go-round. The large sports markets have ruled basketball royalty. Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.
So how does this relate to Coach Gregg Popovich? The news this morning is that free agent, Zach Lavine briefly considered the San Antonio Spurs, amongst others and he prefers to stay with the Chicago Bulls. So where does this leave the Spurs? Some say he is not the best positional fit in San Antonio, but few would argue he is an increase in talent. The best fit of the big free agents out there is unequivocally Deandre Ayton. A familiar theme here, San Antonio and Phoenix.
Can the Spurs land a big free agent in a small market? Yes, but it will not be easy. This is where coach, Gregg Popovich comes into play. Pop is the best head coach the league has ever seen. I say this with full and complete bias. That said, Pop’s reach and feel for his players is extremely important. Gregg Popovich is not the most popular coach in the state of Texas given his outspoken nature on social issues. Pop is a true social justice warrior. In a league made up of mostly young, African American men, this may be favorable for the team. Add in the young nucleus and many draft picks the Spurs have and this may be enough to entice a big name free agent.
The Spurs have always built championship teams through the NBA draft, but it would be nice for a change to add a Superstar agent. The plethora of draft picks the Spurs possess are the best bargaining chips they have.
Can Phoenix retain a player like Deandre Ayton. Ayton is a pivotal piece. If he is not replaced, Phoenix is not competing for the Western Conference crown. Regular season accolades only go so far. The Suns will be back in it next year, but without Ayton or a similarly skilled player with size, they will not go far.