After stocking up on future draft picks, Spurs now must decide how to use them

French basketball player Victor Wembanyama with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, during the 2023 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on June 22, 2023. The San Antonio Spurs selected Victor Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French basketball star, with the No. 1 overall pick in the N.B.A. draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (Hiriko Masuike/The New York Times)
French basketball player Victor Wembanyama with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, during the 2023 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on June 22, 2023. The San Antonio Spurs selected Victor Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French basketball star, with the No. 1 overall pick in the N.B.A. draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (Hiriko Masuike/The New York Times)

HIRIKO MASUIKE/NYT

In the NBA, draft picks are both bankable assets and tradable currency. In that sense, the Spurs have amassed enough wealth to spark envy in just about every other franchise.

The Spurs could have as many as eight first-round picks and eight second-round picks over the next four drafts, with much of those gained through recent trades centered around DeMar DeRozan (to Chicago), Dejounte Murray (to Atlanta) and Jakob Poeltl (to Toronto). They could wind up with two lottery picks this year alone if the Raptors’ first-rounder falls outside the top six.

After finishing with the league’s fifth-worst record, the Spurs have a 10.5% chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick for the second straight year and can fall no lower than ninth in the draft lottery. Toronto finished with the sixth-worst record, though there’s a 54.2% chance the Raptors’ pick falls outside the top six and conveys to San Antonio.

Even second-round picks have grown more enticing thanks to the evolution of the G League and the introduction of roster-friendly two-way contracts, which allows NBA teams to send players to their minor league affiliate for development or rehab and recall them with less hassle.

The question now — one even coach Gregg Popovich and general manager Brian Wright don’t have an answer for yet — is what the Spurs will do with that attractive cache of picks.

They’re expected to hold onto their own first-rounder this year with the hopes of finding another young complementary star to pair with 20-year-old Victor Wembanyama, whose impressive rookie season made him a finalist for both the league’s Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Beyond that, though, the front office appears to be weighing all options so as to avoid tumbling headlong into a risky move that could trigger a setback.

“There’s two ends of the spectrum,” Wright said. “Run it back because you saw progress and don’t change anything. (Or) hey, we only won X number (of games), so we need to change everything.”

“The reality is your answer is somewhere in between.”

The current going trade rate for a star is at least a few first-rounders and either a quality starter or a youngster (or two) with considerable potential. To wit: Indiana sent three first-round picks plus Bruce Brown and Jordan Nwora to Toronto for 2019 champion and two-time All-Star Pascal Siakam this January.

The asking price is steeper for an MVP-caliber superstar like Anthony Davis, who netted the Pelicans three first-rounders, one pick swap, future All-Star Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart in a 2019 deal with the Lakers. Davis and LeBron James went on to lead L.A. to the 2020 NBA title in the Disney World “Bubble.”

As usual, the NBA has no shortage of headliners and complementary stars who seem to be growing disenchanted with their current organization, or vice versa. Atlanta guards Trae Young and Murray, Cleveland guard Donovan Mitchell, Chicago guard Zach LaVine and Minnesota big Karl Anthony-Towns have all been invoked in trade rumors, and any one of those All-Stars would immediately lift the Spurs’ prospects of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.

As proven stars and valuable role players hit the trade block this summer, the Spurs will have to decide whether they want to part with some of the coveted picks they’ve stockpiled in order to speed up the rebuild. Popovich, Wright and even Wembanyama have all preached patience, but if a franchise-altering veteran does become available they’ll have more than enough trade chips to work out a deal.

“I don’t pretend to know what we’re going to do,” Popovich said in March. “We have a lot of possibilities ahead of us, whether it’s money in the bank or draft picks or being creative trade-wise. All those things are on the table. But aren’t they for every team? I don’t know why we’re any different. We’re just younger.”

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