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NBA Draft 2024: The Spurs reaffirmed their commitment to the long-term perspective with two bold steps

NBA Draft 2024: The Spurs reaffirmed their commitment to the long-term perspective with two bold steps
NBA Draft 2024: The Spurs reaffirmed their commitment to the long-term perspective with two bold steps

The Spurs had an interesting draft night. With the fourth pick overall, they selected Stephon Castle, a promising young player who brings top-notch defense but isn’t a proven shooter, which is arguably what San Antonio needed most. They then traded the eighth pick to Minnesota for a protected 2030 pick swap and an unprotected 2031 first-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It’s not the draft that fans of an accelerated rebuild were hoping for, but it’s a draft that gives the Spurs the tools to potentially build a sustainable winner. Patience seems to be the front office’s greatest virtue, and while no strategy guarantees good results, San Antonio has enough safeties that outright failure seems impossible.

Castle being selected fourth surprises no one, but it’s understandable to be concerned about his fit. He wants to be a point guard, like he was before college, but he doesn’t yet have the traditional skills of a lead guard. Even more concerning is that while his shot doesn’t seem broken, he’s not a threat from the outside at this point. The Spurs have experience developing defensive-minded big guards into versatile offensive players, having done so with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, but those two took years to get reliable jumpers, and once they did, they weren’t wearing the silver and black. On a team level, the biggest concern is whether Castle and Jeremy Sochan can even coexist given their limitations as shooters. Castle could turn out to be a bigger Jrue Holiday, as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said during the draft broadcast, or a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who Castle compared himself to, but it will almost certainly take some time for him to get there.

The upside is worth the wait. Castle is a monster on defense, the kind of perimeter player who sets the tone and makes a basket shooter’s job easier. Murray, White and Holiday are all good comparisons for what he could bring, as is any other elite guard defender. He’s good enough on defense and as a connector that even if he never becomes a primary shot-maker, he’ll bring enough to the table at both guard positions. The shot is a real concern, but every player in this draft had some question marks and there’s no reason to believe Castle can’t start with corner shots and then add to his arsenal. The intangibles are there too, as Castle was happy to play whatever role was asked of him to win an NCAA championship with UConn. He’s a hard worker who has no problem making sacrifices but has the confidence to lead. Even if it takes a while for him to show his value, there’s a good chance he’ll succeed.

Castle is a good pick. The other decision the Spurs made on draft night is the truly controversial one. On the one hand, it prioritizes the long-term, but on the other, it trades the eighth pick for picks so far in the future that Victor Wembanyama will be in his mid-20s when they can be used. The instinctive reaction to a team that clearly needs talent now to avoid another uninspired season blowing the opportunity to sign some will not be positive. But just like selecting Castle despite his current limitations, it’s a smart move that could pay huge dividends.

Let’s break down the impact of the move this offseason in detail. San Antonio traded the eighth pick in what experts widely considered a weak draft for a 2031 unrestricted pick and a 2030 pick swap. In doing so, they immediately created roughly $6 million in free agent salary cap space by removing the eighth pick’s salary cap space. It’s possible, and even likely, that that salary cap space will come in handy when trying to acquire a veteran or two to fill the gaps. The Spurs will also now have another roster spot they can use to sign someone or bring in immediate help. Normally, a rebuilding team would focus primarily on youth and potential, but San Antonio has six players under 21 on guaranteed contracts, including Castle, so the development staff will have its hands full. The trade is about the future, but it also helps the team now.

As for the value in return, it’s better than it seems for a couple of reasons. First, the Spurs should have Victor Wembanyama in the middle of his second contract in 2030, but Anthony Edwards will be an unrestricted free agent after 2029-30. Rudy Gobert is 32 and Karl-Anthony Towns is 28. Minnesota isn’t a free agent destination and they owe all of their future picks to Utah. Rob Dillingham is a dynamic scorer and playmaker, but his size could make him a target on defense. No one can predict the future, but it seems reasonable to assume the Timberwolves might not be good in six years, which would make the trade and pick extremely valuable. And the Spurs have their picks along with two new Hawks picks and some swaps in the near future, so they won’t run out of opportunities to sign young talent until then.

The Spurs are thinking in decades, which only a think tank that has the full support of ownership can do. That can be frustrating for fans who understandably want quick improvement, but the kind of vision and patience the front office is showing could allow them to create a perennial contender that keeps its core together despite the constraints of luxury taxes and secondary deals by signing young, cheap talent through the draft and into Wembanyama’s prime. Or they can wait by amassing assets until the right superstar partner for Wemby is available and outbid everyone else.

Soon enough, the decision-makers in San Antonio will need to deliver results. If Castle doesn’t become a success, someone selected after the eighth pick becomes a star, and the rest of the offseason doesn’t produce progress, attention should and will increase. Right now, with only the information we have on draft day, it’s hard to be angry at a front office that seems to avoid the shortsightedness that often dooms rebuilding franchises.

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