30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Spurs begin new era with Victor Wembanyama

With its new generational talent leading the way, San Antonio aims to quickly get back among the contenders in the Western Conference.

The Spurs head into 2023-24 with a talented young core, headlined by No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama.

Key additions

  • C Victor Wembanyama (draft), G Reggie Bullock (trade), G Cameron Payne (trade), F Cedi Osman (trade)

Key subtractions

  • None

Last season

Any debate about the direction of the 2022-23 Spurs was settled when, at midseason, they sacrificed Jakob Poeltl, their very functional center, and asked for virtually nothing in return from the Raptors. That’s when the chase for the No. 1 overall pick began in earnest, and accelerated with a subsequent 16-game losing streak. In addition, Devin Vassell underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and was shut down for the season.

As if there was any doubt, the Spurs were all about developing young players and also positioning themselves for one of the biggest draft prizes in decades. In the process, Keldon Johnson, who signed a rookie extension the previous summer, showed leading-man potential by averaging 22 points with five rebounds. The Spurs delivered their worst season since 1996-97 — when they landed the No. 1 overall pick and Tim Duncan — with 22 wins and another shot at a generational draft pick. 

Summer summary

Wembanyama. That’s the summer summary. Really, there isn’t anything else to discuss.

Coach Gregg Popovich did re-up with the franchise for five more years at a salary that’s sure to generously expand the contents in his wine cellar. The Spurs also extended Tre Jones, their promising point guard, for two additional years. They also strengthened their depth by trading for Payne.

Otherwise, the Wemby Era was upon them, officially.

Once the No. 1 pick was secured, the Spurs had other decisions to make that were a bit more challenging. Because their roster was loaded with young and cheap talent, they had room under the salary cap, but that doesn’t mean you must spend all of the available money for the sake of spending.

Rather than follow the Houston Rockets in that regard, they didn’t chase free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, unlike the Rockets who gave him $43 million a year. San Antonio settled for a less expensive option in Payne. And the additions of Bullock and Osman were also thrifty.

By doing this, the Spurs clearly want to give the current roster a year together to see what’s up. And why not? Vassell only played 38 games last year, and the young core deserves the chance to connect and grow with Wembanyama. It makes sense, then, to keep Vassell, Johnson, Jones, Jeremy Sochan and Wembanyama together for a bit and then decide what direction to take in the near future.

At some point in the next season or two, the Spurs will need to add help and pay some of those young players before it’s time to extend Wembanyama. But that’s in another year or two.

And this is assuming Wembanyama is for real. He certainly seems built for the part, at 7-foot-3 with skills and a thirst to be one of the all-time greats. Wembanyama landed in a great spot. San Antonio is a rather smallish media market and there’s no pressure to be a Kia MVP contender right away because the Spurs are still developing.

After just two Summer League games, Sam Mitchell is convinced Victor Wembanyama will do things we haven't seen before.

The biggest plus is the chance to be coached by Popovich. He said many times that, despite all the losses, last season was one of his more enjoyable coaching experiences because all he did was teach and groom. Well, now he has one more reason to stay on the job until he approaches his 80s, which is why he agreed to the extension. Chances are probably good Popovich wouldn’t commit to that had the Spurs lost the chance to land Wembanyama.

It worked out well for the franchise. Wembanyama joins one of the best-run organizations in the NBA (if not all team sports), Popovich gets another star talent to mold and a young nucleus can grow and help put the Spurs back among the contenders in the future.

Call it SOS — the Summer Of Spurs.

Up next: Sacramento Kings

> 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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