30 Teams in 30 Days | 2022

30 Teams in 30 Days: Spurs bring in plenty of new faces as rebuild begins

After trading All-Star Dejounte Murray and missing the playoffs for 3rd straight season, San Antonio begins process of rebuilding for the future.

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are set to continue their rebuild this season.

San Antonio Spurs

2021-22 record: 34-48
Key additions: Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley (2022 draft)

Key subtractions: Dejounte Murray (trade), Lonnie Walker IV (free agency)

Last season: Gregg Popovich became the winningest coach in NBA history and that was pretty much the highlight for the Spurs. For the third straight season, they missed the playoffs, an about-face for a franchise that holds the league-record streak of 22 straight appearances. Such is life when Tim Duncan and David Robinson aren’t walking through that door. The Spurs failed to win 40 games once again, had a consolation prize by qualifying for the Play-In Tournament, and then wheezed into the offseason with lots of issues and not many potential solutions.

Summer summary: When’s the last time the Spurs bailed on an upcoming season before it even started? Welcome to the new reality in San Antonio, where the R-word — rebuilding — is suddenly spoken in not-so-hushed tones. If this wasn’t made clear during the 2021-22 season, it rang loudly when the Spurs surrendered Murray, their All-Star and defensive demon and lone link to respectability on the roster.

He was essentially sacrificed for the future because, first and foremost, he didn’t want to sign an extension next summer so the Spurs decided to be proactive. They received three unprotected first-round picks (plus a swap in 2026) from the Hawks for the 25-year-old guard who’s just entering his prime as a very solid two-way player.

Spurs GM Brian Wright talks about the offseason trade of Dejounte Murray to the Hawks and what lies ahead in San Antonio.

Murray was coming off a career-best season in which he averaged 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, earning All-Star honors for the first time in his career. He had a Spurs-record 13 triple-doubles and the deal was applauded in Atlanta. In San Antonio, it was met with resignation and a shrug.

This is where the Spurs are right now. Rather than give everyone the false impression that, with a little cosmetic work, they will be a dangerous team next season, the Spurs dropped all the pretense. Why struggle and fail to win 40 games again and be a mid-lottery team in the Draft? Why not press reset and take your chances with a high pick or the chance to get Victor Wembanyama, the teenaged sensation from France? It’s not like that never worked before in San Antonio (Robinson and Duncan were both former No. 1 overall picks).

Murray was only under contract for one more season before hitting unrestricted free agency, and the Spurs figured to deal him while they could, or run the risk of watching him walk and get little to nothing in return. They decided to push the button now, while his value was high.

Of course, the flip-side of this argument is this: Won’t one of those future picks turn out great if they could Draft another Murray?

Just the same, the Spurs let Walker, a former first-round pick, walk as well. Apparently, they felt Walker had hit the ceiling in the franchise’s highly-acclaimed player development system.

What the Spurs didn’t lose is their coach. Rebuilding is all good with Popovich, because he’s returning for yet another season as he prepares to turn 74 in late January. Popovich loves to coach, enjoys his expense-account bottles of wine and is anxious to defy the generous generation gap between him and his youthful roster.

No one has more wins in NBA history than Gregg Popovich, who has crafted an unforgettable legacy during his time in San Antonio.

That roster got younger this summer when the Spurs welcomed three first-round picks: Sochan, Branham and Wesley, none of whom are legally able to raise a glass with their coach.

Sochan is an energetic 6-foot-8 pogo-stick from Baylor who has the potential to be a good two-way player at either forward spot. That’s really all he has right now as he’s raw and still learning the game. When last season started at Baylor, he wasn’t even the school’s top player. But, as the season progressed, he dropped hints and then watched his stock soar during the NBA spring workouts and combine.

Branham played high school ball at LeBron James’ old spot in Akron, then had an encouraging season at Ohio State. He was targeted for the lottery by some draft experts but fell to 20. At 6-foot-5, he has the body type to be a potential replacement for Murray.

The same goes for Wesley, who starred at Notre Dame. He’ll need to sharpen his range from deep, though as he was just a 30.3% 3-point shooter in college.

The other order of business for the Spurs was giving Keldon Johnson a four-year, $80 million extension. Johnson took a very encouraging step in his development last season and if all goes well, will be the face of the team in 2022-23.

He won’t have much competition for that honor. The Spurs are bringing in plenty of new faces, and it’ll take time, and this blueprint is suddenly not so foreign in San Antonio anymore.

Up next: New Orleans Pelicans Previously: Utah Jazz

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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