Facing the Kawhi Leonard trade saga, the Spurs had a clear objective: Remain competitive. That’s why they traded Leonard to the Raptors for veteran star DeMar DeRozan rather than accepting a pick-heavy offer. That wasn’t optimal for the franchise’s long-term health, but it at least paid short-term dividends. San Antonio made the playoffs last year, qualifying for a record 22nd straight season.
Now, the bottom has fallen out.
The Spurs are just 27-36 and will almost certainly miss the playoffs. DeRozan has a $27,739,975 player option that he’ll reportedly decline if the Spurs don’t sign him to a contract extension.
Jabari Young of CNBC on ESPN San Antonio:
Listen, I don’t have to sugarcoat anything. DeMar DeRozan is not happy in San Antonio, OK? The offense is not running as smoothly as one should think with a guy like him in the lineup, and there are problems are there, right? And so you have to decide if you’re going to take that money of if you’re going to come back to a situation that’s just not suitable. I mean, it didn’t work. They got the deal done. It’s over. I mean, the experiment is not working.
This report came before the NBA’s coronavirus shutdown, which could significantly decrease next season’s salary cap. That makes DeRozan (and everyone else with a player option) more likely to opt in. Base on the prior report, DeRozan is willing to stay in San Antonio for the right price. It’s increasingly likely that option-year salary is the right price.
DeRozan is a good player whose scoring – and, at times, passing – can be central in building decent offense. But he has a tandem of deficiencies that make it difficult to fit him onto a good team:
1. He doesn’t shoot 3-pointers to space the floor.
2. He doesn’t defend adequately.
That means his team must surround him offensively with other outside shooters. That’s doable.
His team must also surround defensively with other sound defenders. Again, that’s doable.
But it’s difficult to do both. Players who both shoot 3s well enough to attract attention AND defend well are obviously scarce.
Though DeRozan definitely has fans around the league, it’s another thing for him to expect an offer next offseason that justifies declining his player option. He and the Spurs could be stuck in this imperfect arrangement another year.