San Antonio Spurs’ Ideal Offseason: 3 Moves to Build Around Wembanyama

San Antonio Spurs’ Ideal Offseason: 3 Moves to Build Around Wembanyama article feature image
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(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) Pictured: Victor Wembanyama.

Victor Wembanyama finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and arguably deserved a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. He legitimately has greatest-player-of-all-time potential. San Antonio enters the offseason with elite draft equity, cap space and a sure-fire superstar to build around. 

Check out my ideal offseason for the Spurs, which includes two trades and one free-agency signing. 

Find a Franchise Point Guard

I would typically be a proponent of patience for teams as young as the Spurs, but Wembanyama is too good and Gregg Popovich is too old for San Antonio to take the traditional route.

When Tre Jones, Devin Vassell and Wembanyama shared the court, San Antonio outscored opponents by nine points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com). That was the 43rd-best mark in the league among trios with at least 800 minutes together and above groups like the following:

  • Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert
  • Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum
  • Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez

In other words, the Spurs were legitimately formidable when Vassell and Wemby had a distributor next to them. Jones is a high-level backup too, so an All-Star caliber point guard would elevate San Antonio’s stars to unimaginable heights. 

Enter the Cavaliers, who are shopping Darius Garland. They may retract his name from the trade market, but a strong offer from San Antonio could get the deal done. 

Spurs receive:

  • Darius Garland

Cavaliers receive: 

  • Keldon Johnson
  • Zach Collins
  • 4th overall pick
  • 2025 1st via Hawks
  • 2025 1st via Bulls (top 10 protected; becomes 2026 1st top-8 protected)

There is no denying that Garland had a miserable playoffs. He’s also stuck in a bad situation because of Mitchell’s ball-dominant style and Cleveland’s non-existent spacing.

Let’s rewind the clock to the 2022 season – the year before Cleveland went all-in and acquired Mitchell. During his age-22 season, Garland reached the All-Star team by averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists per game. Of the 122 guards with at least 1000 minutes that season, Garland ranked the following in Basketball Index’s metrics:

  • 4th in high value assists per 75 possessions
  • 2nd in at-rim assists per 75 possessions
  • 3rd in lob creation rate

Few guards created more value via passing, especially at the rim. Considering that Wemby is perhaps the greatest lob threat in NBA history, Garland’s ability to orchestrate aerial assaults would form a dominant partnership. He can finally bring structure to a disorganized offense. 

Additionally, he’s a career 38.4% shooter from 3-point territory with the chops to knock down both catch-and-shoot and pull-up 3s. Not only does this make him an effective off-ball weapon, but Garland can also punish drop coverage bigs who aim to neutralize Wembanyama’s devastating roll. 

San Antonio’s goal should be to provide Wemby with as much space as possible while simultaneously feeding him easy, advantageous looks out of screens and cuts. Garland accomplishes both missions to a high level, and he fits the timeline at 24-years-old. 

That said, his large contract, small frame and poor defense represent noteworthy negatives to a Garland trade. The Spurs can take the financial hit, though, because Wemby is on a rookie contract for the next three seasons.

As for the defensive issues, Wemby is a game-wrecker with the length and mobility to cover more ground than anyone. If any team can hide Garland, it’s the Spurs once they fill out the roster with two-way wings and add a point-of-attack defender. 

Draft Plan with 8th, 35th & 48th

San Antonio should take upside instead of drafting for need, so it’s a happy accident that Tidjane Salaun fits both categories. 

The 18-year-old forward stands nearly 6’10” and boasts a standing reach on par with Nic Claxton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jarrett Allen. He’s strong, fast and works his tail off to be in the right position or win hustle plays. Based purely on physical traits and work ethic, Salaun is a tantalizing prospect.

He also displayed a raw but intriguing skill set while playing in France’s top professional league. Salaun’s smooth shot boasts a high arc, and his attempts routinely came from a few steps beyond the arc. I expect him to eventually hover around 38% from deep with NBA acclimation and training. Garland, Vassell and Wemby’s gravity will give him plenty of space to launch too. 

Salaun’s frame also makes him a transition and cut threat, and he understands off-ball timing at a high level. If the 18-year-old develops properly, then he can become an excellent play-finisher for San Antonio. 

Defensively, he moves his feet well for his size, which helps him cover a ton of ground and switch fluidly. Salaun still needs to improve on-the-ball against speed, but he will be an effective team defender from the start and could eventually sniff an All-Defensive team. 

Red flags are certainly present though. Per Synergy Sports, Salaun produced just 1.03 points per possession on layups, and the tape showed his struggles to finish through heavy contact around the basket. 

Plus, he rarely manipulated defenses off-the-dribble or made advanced passing reads. Essentially, the young forward is not a creator but rather a spot-up shooter and opportunistic rim scorer. 

The physical tools and work ethic spark optimism about a real avenue for growth in all areas except for playmaking – I don’t see the natural feel that’s required. 

For a role comparison, Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. could be a feasible scenario. Salaun’s shooting won’t reach those heights, but there’s definitely a path for him to be a jumbo shooter and cutter with rebounding and defensive chops. That’s an ideal archetype next to San Antonio’s core. 

Wemby is also friends with Salaun and a like-minded workaholic, which adds team chemistry and confidence for improvement. 

After snagging Salaun, the Spurs still need to improve the forward rotation. Tyler Smith would be a fascinating fit. He’s projected to go in the mid 20s, so San Antonio likely needs to trade up. 

Spurs receive:

  • 26th overall pick

Wizards receive:

  • Malaki Branham
  • 35th overall pick
  • 2025 2nd via Pelicans
  • 2028 2nd via Timberwolves

At 6’10” with a 7’1” wingspan, Smith has superb size for a forward. The 19-year-old posted the seventh-best lane agility time at the combine, which is absurd given his size and bodes well for defensive switchability. He’s fluid, wields a quick, effective outside shot, and plays above the rim. The G League Ignite product excelled as a screener this season too, so San Antonio can get creative with his usage and free Wemby for more off-ball actions. 

Like Salaun, Smith isn’t much of a passer. However, his 3&D strengths, athleticism and frame give the Spurs a potentially dynamic play-finishing wing. A frontcourt trio of Smith, Salaun, and Wemby is absolutely massive and incredibly athletic. They can overwhelm opponents with their length and cover for Garland’s deficiencies in this area. 

Finally, Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves rounds out the picks at 48th overall. He went 240-for-584 from 3-point territory over the past three seasons, or 41.1%. Reeves has scoring potential off-the-dribble, and he boasts decent size at 6’5”. The 23-year-old guard can provide the Spurs with a much-needed burst of outside shooting off the bench.

Find A Backup Center

After trading for Garland and the draft, San Antonio subsequently has around $24M left in cap space. They need a backup center with Zach Collins shipped to Cleveland, and a perfect target could hit the market. Pacers reserve Jalen Smith owns a $5M player option, and a long-term deal likely leads him to opt out and sign, especially since Indiana gave backup minutes to Isaiah Jackson over him during the playoffs. 

Smith was one of three centers (Al Horford, Naz Reid) to take at least four catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per 75 possessions while also clearing 40% on those looks this season, per Basketball Index. His range allows the Spurs to play him next to Wemby if they want to trot out a two-big lineup. 

Factor in Smith’s solid rim protection and transition offense, and he would make a quality long-term backup for San Antonio. A four-year, $32M deal ($8M per year) seems fair for both sides.

Future Outlook

San Antonio enters the season with about $16M in cap space and the following depth chart after these moves: 

  • Darius Garland, Devin Vassell, Tyler Smith, Tidjane Salaun, Victor Wembanyama
  • Tre Jones, Antonio Reeves, Julian Champagnie, Jeremy Sochan, Jalen Smith
  • Blake Wesley, Devonte Graham, Sidy Cissoko, Charles Bassey

They have their superstar along with a guard duo that can fluctuate between the second or third options every night. A pair of jumbo, upside wings plus a competent backup point guard, power forward and center create a strong foundation too. 

San Antonio can take the year to closely examine the fit and witness how internal development plus their rookies shake out. The 2025 offseason is where they strike. 

The franchise would have around $99M tied down to salary with Tre Jones as the only notable free agent, and the 2026 season has a tentative cap projection of $155M, per Spotrac. That’s plenty of room to make major moves, and players want to play with Wembanyama and Popovich. 

Additionally, San Antonio possesses all of their future first-rounders, and Atlanta owes their 2027 unprotected first plus a 2026 unprotected swap from the Dejounte Murray trade. Those drafts are projected to be strong, and the Hawks are looking like a perennial lottery team at the moment. Anything can happen when the ping pong balls start rolling, as evidenced by this year’s result. 

If the Spurs can orchestrate this offseason, especially the Garland trade, then their already beaming future becomes absolutely blinding.

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Doug Ziefel
Jul 22, 2024 UTC