For the first couple of weeks this season, we wondered if the San Antonio Spurs were even going to tank at all. Remember that they won five of their first seven games. That feels like eons ago, though. Right now, the Spurs carry a 14-35 win-loss record. They are very much in the thick of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. They won’t make any postseason play, and we expect them to be big-time sellers during the trade deadline. Here we will look at the nightmare scenario that the Spurs don’t want to happen as we close in on the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline.

The Spurs are looking to trade players before the deadline but their interest in Wembanyama may delay any major moves. Despite underperforming with players like Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, and Josh Richardson, the team is unlikely to accept low offers for these players. Poeltl, who is a valuable asset for teams in need of a rim protector, is set to become a free agent this summer. As such, he will not likely accept a $58 million extension offer because he can earn more through free agency.

The Spurs should also have around $60 million in cap space next year. Interestingly, they do not really need that much as they already rolled over $27 million in cap space this year. This means they have the flexibility to re-sign Poeltl to a lucrative contract and still have extra cap space afterward. They can then decide to trade him later if a good opportunity arises or keep him as part of their future.

Additionally, this allows the team to make trades where they take on more salary ahead of the deadline. They may also make similar deals as the one with Boston where they acquired Noah Vonleh for cash. Remember that they are also currently below the salary floor by $15 million. The Spurs need to either reach that floor or pay the difference to the players on their roster at the end of the season.

Aside from Poeltl, the other veterans on the roster may not fetch more than a few second-round picks Therefore, the team could choose to keep them since they do not affect their flexibility for this or next season. However, Richardson is on an expiring contract. He could help several playoff teams. That gives the Spurs some leverage in trying to deal him at the deadline.

Now let’s look at the Spurs’ nightmare scenario for the 2023 NBA trade deadline.

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Considering the bigger picture, we feel that keeping the players that the Spurs could trade would be a major mistake for the team. San Antonio has plenty of options for trades ahead of the deadline, and these should be explored to the full. It’s worth noting that before last season, the Spurs had made only one regular-season trade since 2014. However, in January and February of last year, they made four trades, acquiring four draft picks, including two first-round picks. We urge them to be active again this year.

As the trade with the Celtics in January showed, the Spurs are willing to take on uneven contracts in exchange for cash or draft picks. They also have $27.7 million in cap space and an open roster spot. These mean that they do not need to match the salary of the players they are trading for.

Again, consider that the Spurs have the seventh-youngest roster in the NBA. That’s in addition to both Poeltl and Richardson carrying expiring contracts. As such, the Spurs have the flexibility to make trades to improve their team in the long term.

Of the lot, Poeltl is highly sought after in trade talks. This is despite his defensive performance slightly slipping this season. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Poeltl held opponents to 54.8 percent shooting at the rim last season. That number has increased to 63.9 percent in 2022-23. Additionally, opponents have shot 49.6 percent when Poeltl contests their shots this season, compared to 46.0 percent last season. Despite not being a high-scorer, he brings a unique combination of offensive rebounds, assists, and blocks to the table. His statistics in these areas are unmatched by any player in league history. Teams in need of a starting or backup center could greatly benefit from his skill set.

Of course, if the Spurs do not receive a suitable return package for Poeltl, they can retain him until the offseason and consider sign-and-trade options. This is similar to what they did with DeMar DeRozan in 2021.

Aside from Poeltl, both McDermott and Richardson can also be valuable additions to playoff-contending teams. Therefore, the Spurs should take advantage of the lack of teams shedding talent by seeking big payouts for these players. Poeltl may command the highest return, possibly two first-round picks, while McDermott and Richardson may go for a single first-round pick each. They could also potentially command a second-round pick in addition to a young player on a rookie contract.

Richardson is a valuable asset, averaging 11.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He can easily step in and make an immediate contribution off the bench for a new team. McDermott, on the other hand, excels in the area of spot-up shooting. He scores 1.35 points per possession, which is the second-best mark in the league behind Kevin Durant. Teams with a strong defensive foundation and a need for shooting could give up valuable assets for either of them. The Spurs should aggressively take advantage of that.