NBA Daily: Time For A Trade In San Antonio

The unsinkable ship that is the San Antonio Spurs appears to have struck an iceberg. After a historic losing streak, Chad Smith details why it is time for the organization to trade its best offensive weapon.

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Sports Editor
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When the Toronto Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs on July 18 last year, it was the beginning of a new era north of the border. After drafting DeRozan with the 9th overall pick, the Raptors had the face of their franchise for nearly a decade. When the opportunity came to land Kawhi Leonard, parting with the talented guard was the price they had to pay.

The Spurs welcomed the four-time All-Star with open arms, and after the initial shock had worn off, DeRozan was excited to play for a legendary coach like Gregg Popovich. In his first season, DeRozan played 77 games and averaged 21.2 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 6.2 assists. While his scoring is slightly up after 18 games this season and he is currently shooting 53 percent from the floor — which is by far the best of his career — his other numbers have dipped, particularly on the other side of the ball that has been killing the Spurs.

With depth at the guard position, the Spurs have often played with a three-guard lineup, which puts DeRozan at a disadvantage on defense. He is often undersized, having to defend guys that have the size and strength to bully him inside. Even so, the perimeter defense has been subpar, to say the least, which puts a lot of pressure on the big men to defend the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge doesn’t exactly help in those types of situations.

Defensive ratings aren’t everything, but the Spurs rank 27th in the league in that particular category with DeRozan playing a major factor. The Spurs’ defensive rating as a team is 101.7 when he is off the court, but jumps to a 116.8 with him on the floor.

San Antonio started the season 4-1 after losing a close game to the LA Clippers. The train kept chugging along, but a recent eight-game losing streak seemed to derail its season. The losing streak was the longest under Popovich’s tenure and included teams like Memphis, Orlando, Portland and Washington. The only saving grace was a matchup with the New York Knicks. After their loss to the LA Lakers, the Spurs fell to 12th place in the Western Conference with a 6-12 record.

DeRozan is the best offensive option the Spurs have because of the inconsistency of Aldridge. Both of these guys occupy the same space though, as their offensive identity has been the mid-range area of the floor. Having one of these guys is great, but having your two best offensive players living in the same area isn’t ideal. That may seem simple to fix, but it’s not quite that easy.

After attempting 550 total three-pointers in his final three seasons in Toronto, DeRozan has attempted just 49 through his 95 career games with the Spurs. He has only made 7 out of those 49 attempts (14 percent). In fact, Ben Simmons has made more threes this season than he has. The 0-for-4 shooting from deep may be fine for the player, but it is killing the team.

Should the time finally come for the Spurs to move on from the piece they acquired in the Kawhi trade, what could they get for the 10-year veteran? Better yet, which teams would be interested in a veteran in his thirties that has a player option for next season?

The Orlando Magic had been rumored to be interested in a deal for DeRozan, but that was before their two best players went down with ankle injuries. With the emergence of Jonathan Isaac and established three-point shooters in Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, it might be difficult for DeRozan to fit with Nikola Vučević and Aaron Gordon. The Magic are clinging to the final playoff spot in the East, so it doesn’t make much sense for them to pull the trigger at this point.

The Detroit Pistons are another team that has emerged as a possible suitor. The obvious link is head coach Dwane Casey, who was with DeRozan in Toronto. A move to the Motor City doesn’t make much sense though, given Casey’s offense that relies heavily on three-point shooting. Not only that, but Detroit would likely have to part with some of its young talent and/or draft picks. Their team is also reeling this season, as they sit at 6-11 and out of the playoff picture.

Moving on from DeRozan would also allow San Antonio to play some of its younger players. Guys like Derrick White and Bryn Forbes could thrive in a bigger role, and Spurs fans have been salivating over the prospects of second-year pro Lonnie Walker for quite some time now. The young shooting guard could actually see some meaningful playing time, and playing alongside a veteran like Patty Mills could really help his development.

Utilizing DeMarre Carroll more at the small forward position could prove to be beneficial as well, as they try to match up against the LA teams with big wings like Kawhi, Paul George, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma. Having Jakob Pöeltl at the center position on a more frequent basis should also go a long way in improving their defense.

To say that San Antonio’s disappointing season is DeRozan’s fault would be unfair; he is just part of the overall problem. Unfortunately for him, he did not choose to go there. He was put in a situation that perhaps wasn’t the best for him at this stage of his career. There is plenty of blame to go around, but that isn’t to say that the Spurs’ season is doomed. There is still time to turn it around, with or without DeRozan.

The upcoming schedule doesn’t look favorable for the Spurs. In their next ten games, they face the Clippers twice, Houston twice and a matchup against Minnesota looms tonight. There is a silver lining though, as only 2 of their next 10 games are on the road.

The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 consecutive years. The Raptors finally got over the hump and won a championship last year after trading DeRozan. Don’t expect the same thing to happen in San Antonio this season, but it would be in the best interest of both sides to work out a deal that provides them with a fresh start.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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