San Antonio Spurs (33 – 39)
Key returners: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker
Key free agents: DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills
2021 draft picks: Own first; own second
This summer feels like an inflection point for the Spurs, with several key veterans hitting free agency and San Antonio’s array of young players in line for increased minutes next season. Gregg Popovich is set to coach Team USA at the Summer Olympics, but speculation persists as to when he’ll opt to retire from the NBA. DeMar DeRozan had a strong three-year run with the Spurs but will test the market, and might be more interested in joining a playoff team on his next contract. San Antonio has a ton of cap space. What they’ll do with it—and how hard they’ll lean into a youth movement—is less clear.
The Spurs have built effectively through the draft, with
Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson all panning out as late first-round finds and forming the core of the team moving forward. Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker should take steps forward. The Spurs will add another lottery pick to the mix. These players need minutes, although it may not correlate to more wins in the short term, and it’s not San Antonio’s style to tank. Whether it makes sense to spend to keep any or all of DeRozan, Gay or Mills (who’s been with the organization for a decade) is a fair question. All three players should be in demand on the market, and have plenty left in the tank.
If San Antonio chooses, it can adopt the popular strategy of using cap space to absorb other teams’ unwanted contracts for future draft picks. The Spurs will need to address their bench regardless, particularly if their veterans depart. With White and Murray’s extensions already done and little else on the books long-term, it’s a route worth considering, as opposed to signing stopgap players in free agency. The Spurs can also look to extend Walker early, although he may choose to let next season play out to try to increase his market value.
Indiana Pacers (34 – 38)
Key returners: Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren
Key free agents: T.J. McConnell, Doug McDermott
2021 draft picks: Own first; Milwaukee second; Utah second
The Pacers have all their core players under contract next season and will be operating over the cap, so the biggest question, barring a trade, is what becomes of embattled head coach Nate Bjorkgren. Various reports have pointed to a potential exit for Bjorkgren after just one season,
following a tumultuous campaign that ended in a blowout loss to Washington in the play-in round. To be fair, the Pacers dealt with injuries all season, with T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and Myles Turner all missing varying chunks of time. But there’s a lot of smoke surrounding Bjorkgren’s management style and the discontent within the team, and something will have to change, whether it’s the coach, the staff or both.
Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis both enjoyed career years, and LeVert was a terrific return in the Victor Oladipo trade and appears to be fully healthy
after having cancer surgery on his kidney. That gives Indiana a trio of talented players that should enable a playoff return next season. That should be the expectation. It feels like Turner is perpetually linked in trade rumors, and the emergence of Sabonis might make him more readily expendable. Warren missed nearly the entire season with a foot injury but was outstanding in the 2020 bubble and should give the Pacers a boost, as well. On paper, it makes sense to run it back with their five starters and hope for a more normal season off the floor.
Indiana enters next season with a hefty payroll, which makes the proposition of keeping key bench pieces T.J. McConnell and Doug McDermott much trickier, unless the Pacers want to pay the luxury tax. Both players had career years and will draw interest on the open market. The Pacers can use the draft to further address their bench, and have Justin and Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and Goga Bitadze under contract. Oshae Brissett looked like a valuable find toward the end of the season. But losing McConnell, who was one of the league’s best reserves, and McDermott, who’s reinvented himself a bit, would be tough blows. Regardless, Indiana will be in much better position to compete if they enter next fall fully healthy, and with the coaching questions addressed.
Golden State Warriors (39 – 33)
Key returners: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins
Key free agents: Kelly Oubre, Kevon Looney (player option)
2021 draft picks: Own first; Minnesota first (if outside top three)
After falling just short of a playoff spot
following two disappointing play-in losses, the Warriors will surely feel pressure to step on the gas and expedite their competitive relevance. Stephen Curry turned in a remarkable individual season. If Klay Thompson can return to full strength after another injury, that’s a massive development. Draymond Green isn’t going anywhere, either. Given that Golden State has the league’s highest payroll, creativity will be essential as the offseason plays out.
The Warriors are likely looking at two lottery picks, pending the fate of the Wolves’ selection, which has a 27.6% chance of landing in the top three (and remaining with Minnesota). That gives them significant capital to play around with in trades, although there’s also a dearth of easily movable contracts. Andrew Wiggins is surely expendable, and helped his value a bit leaguewide with a decent season. There’s so much money tied up in Curry, Green, Thompson and Wiggins that Golden State’s options beyond cosmetic changes aren’t obvious.
There’s also something to be said for using both draft picks and trying to develop younger players alongside the old core, although it’s not a direct route back to the top. The Warriors knew they would have to be patient with James Wiseman last season, and there was some thought that they could develop young guys while still being playoff-relevant. You wonder how much that calculus has changed, with Curry returning to MVP-level form and entering his mid-30s. If Golden State is going to contend again, it kind of has to start this summer. Where their picks fall and what time of asset cache they go into the draft with will determine where that process begins.
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