As the 2021-22 NBA season quickly approaches, the San Antonio Spurs have a roster situation on their hands. 17 players with guaranteed contracts are on the team. Only 15 can enter the regular season in October on the main roster, with two slots, one of which is filled, for two-way contracts. So, decisions are fast ahead, especially after signing Keita Bates-Diop to an NBA deal.
This summer’s DeMar DeRozan transaction escalated the roster situation, acquiring Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu in the sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls. It added two veteran forwards on expiring contracts, but with two questionable fits for the opening night roster, given the team’s youth and the aforementioned crunch ahead. Few options make as much sense for the 2021-22 team.
After losing DeRozan and Rudy Gay, the Spurs went bare in the middle of the lineup. However, Thaddeus Young represented an option to fill the wing spot as a return piece of the Bulls trade.
Young is 33 years old and immediately this young team’s oldest player. He brings experience from five destinations and since the 2007-08 season. With the ability to play inside, step out to hit shots and play good defense, the Georgia Tech product remains a solid NBA contributor. The fit just doesn’t make sense on a team this youthful, on an expiring contract, this far into his career.
So far, reports have been limited on Young’s future in the Alamo City, potentially making it likely that he opens the season with the team. Training camp isn’t far away, and this team could use a veteran presence for at least the first half of the season, before the buyout process heats up around the midway point of the year. Perhaps it happens earlier if Young wants to join a contender in either conference.
Trading a $13.545 million salary isn’t the easiest without receiving a fellow expiring money total, either. It’s difficult to imagine the Spurs taking back long-term money in their current situation, leaving Young playing out the season or taking a buyout at some point the likeliest scenarios.
If the Spurs don’t see a fit in training camp, maybe a parting of ways happens earlier. He still brings value, though, and head coach Gregg Popovich would make use of someone to add size to the middle of the lineup.
Perhaps a likelier candidate to leave, Al-Farouq Aminu has appeared in just 41 games the past two seasons after being solid for the Trail Blazers’ perennial playoff teams for a few years. He is owed $10.183 in the final season of a three-year contract signed in 2019.
While his salary is smaller than Young’s, Aminu still makes for a difficult trade candidate. San Antonio can either buy him out or waive him, eating the salary for the entire season. That’s not a typical situation for this franchise, having reached buyouts with veterans like Pau Gasol and DeMarre Carroll in recent years, but a player can opt to hold his salary steady.
Aminu could easily fit as a wing on the Spurs, but Young offers more offensive upside to stick around, and the team’s roster situation thus may force them to choose one or the other. Plus, injuries have hampered Aminu’s recent production, so it makes a potential decision easier.
Drew Eubanks has taken a marginal role with the Spurs the past few seasons, leaving him with an inexpensive salary on the books of $1.762 million in 2021-22 and $1.91 million in 2022-23. This money is small enough to make him expendable for a roster crunch and to absorb into the salary cap, compared to Aminu and Young’s respective situations.
Eubanks brings value as frontcourt depth, but if one of Aminu or Young stays, along with Bates-Diop around, Jakob Poeltl, Jock Landale and Luka Samanic, the three-year man from Oregon State may not have a home in San Antonio for long.
It leaves Aminu and Eubanks on the downside of the roster situation, barring an unmentioned roster decision. A recently-signed player on a small deal is inexpensive enough to depart, but the training camp aftermath will show which direction the Spurs will venture in.