Does It Matter If The Spurs Pay DeMar DeRozan?

I miss watching “You’re The Worst” on FX(X?). This was a show that was short, funny and biting and did I mention only twenty-minutes long or so? I knew, going in, each episode at the very least would be good. It may not always be great but Stephen Falk’s sitcom was never going to be bad. However, I was never able to talk about this show with anyone because it seemed like nobody watched it, but everyone heard it was good. It lived and thrived in anonymity where the expectations were limited and those who actually watched it knew they were getting a good product. That’s kind of what the San Antonio Spurs have been since the Kawhi Leonard trade  -- nobody watches them anymore, but everybody seems to still appreciate them, universally agree they’re a good team, but the lofty expectations are no longer there. They can’t win a title, and “You’re The Worst” was never going to push “Game Of Thrones” in popular culture, but both could still be counted on to be just fine. 

This what makes the report out of San Antonio that the Spurs might offer DeMar Derozan, the crown jewel in their haul from Toronto in the Kawhi trade, the max so interesting. Per Sporting News, “DeRozan could re-sign before 2019-20 for a 10+ YOS deal that would pay him, as the salary cap grows each season, slightly more than $38 million this season to just more than $48 million in 2023-24 for a five-year total of just shy of $217 million.” This is a lot of money for the 30-year-old wing, who doesn’t shoot 3s and had a plus/minus of -5.0, per Basketball Reference. Still, on a team littered with role players, somebody has to create and get shots up. Without DeRozan navigating tight windows inside the arc on a nightly basis, do the Spurs still have the best 3-point percentage in basketball last season? Who knows. What we do know if the Spurs pay DeRozan, keep Aldridge around for at least another season, this club will continue on as the “You’re The Worst” of the NBA: A team you can count on to be good at the bare minimum.

Paying DeRozan has other ramifications, too, as the Spurs’ current collection of guys is an odd bunch -- a bunch of guards Basketball Twitter adores, but a big and wing rotation held together by a thread. If Lonnie Walker profiled as a point forward, maybe you look at this team and where they could go a little differently. It seems like everyone loves the Keldon Johnson pick, and they may be right, but he’s another guard in a backcourt that’s already as crowded as 285 in Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. Sure, DeRozan played 75 percent of his minutes at the three this season, where he belongs in today’s game, but he also led San Antonio in minutes a season ago, and with Dejounte Murray back, Derrick White blossoming, and Walker just needing minutes, how does Coach Pop allocate his minutes? Is there anything more important for Spurs fans next season then seeing how Murray, White and Walker look on the floor at the same time next season? DeRozan is just too good to not let him gobble up lots of minutes at the two and three, but if the Spurs are to rejoin the contender conversation -- one of these guards have to pop, but if DeRozan is always on the floor, is that possible?

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Still, the DeRozan conversation is more complicated than just looking at his on-court value. Yes, who he blocks matters, but if Coach Pop sees something that I nor any other outside observer can see, can you really get all that riled up about one of the league’s smartest teams prioritizing a contract extension for DeRozan? The former Raptor has spoken glowingly in the past about just calling the Team USA boss to talk. Lots of organizations like to claim that they’re a family, but with the Spurs’ mandatory team dinners, the random phone calls between Pop and players, it seems more genuine than in other locations. If you’re Pop, maybe you see the type of leader in DeRozan who is the perfect veteran to help White and Walker and Murray get to where they need to be for the Spurs to ultimately get to where they need to be. Perhaps DeRozan knows that his most important task as a veteran wing on this team is that while these guys get more comfortable being professionals he makes it that much easier and that much more likely they make All-Star teams in the future. With the Spurs prioritizing this kind of substantial financial investment to a pseudo-star, there has to be more there, and with what we know about DeRozan off the floor, it’s easier to understand why this kind of deal makes sense for San Antonio -- it’s bigger than basketball.

The Spurs paying DeRozan now reminds me of the Warriors paying David Lee years ago. Sure, it was a sign-and-trade with New York that led to the former Gator’s big payday, but Lee was a divisive figure among basketball fans and analysts. Some people loved him, some people loathed him. At the minimum, Lee was an important player for those early Golden State teams that ultimately concluded with Lee sacrificing his starting spot for the betterment of the team. Championships followed. Lee could have handled his demotion like Tate Martell in Miami, but he didn’t. With Mark Jackson, Lee started and averaged 33 minutes a night on a good team. With Steve Kerr, he fell out of the rotation, but eventually played pivotal minutes in 2014 in the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the Warriors to get to that next level, Lee had to be moved to the back-burner. With DeRozan, his Defensive RPM figure was -0.46 last season, good for 52nd among shooting guards in the NBA. At some point, his limited shooting range compounded with his below-average defense is going to require the former All-Star to move to the bench, to move into a sixth man role for the good of the team. Like, Lee, though DeRozan is ostensibly the kind of guy who could understand and get on board with it. 

But what matters to DeRozan? This report comes from the perspective of the Spurs, not DeRozan. Would he be interested in signing a max deal with a team that has a lot of young ball handlers who need playing time and to, well, umm, handle the ball. DeRozan is a number of things, off-the-ball assassin isn’t one of them. Maybe if you’re DeRozan, you appreciate the team wants to keep you around long-term even with the roster-construction concerns, and you choose to stay with an organization that isn’t likely to flip you for a more intriguing player in a year or so. In a league where every team wants you shoot all of the 3s, the Spurs shot the least of anyone. They adjust their style to their stars. When they make a mistake, like with Aldridge a few seasons ago, they rectify it. These things might matter to DeRozan, or DeRozan could see that he’s 30-years-old now, and would like to play for a contender for the remainder of his prime. If he were to ask for a trade to Miami to play with Jimmy Butler for a couple of seasons, nobody would blame him. Maybe he’d like to go North again and play with Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. Maybe he’d like to go be The Guy in Orlando for a couple of seasons. Who knows, but what we do know is the Spurs and DeRozan can do whatever and we know both will be fine, we know the product will be good and we know the expectations will be limited. Can you beat that if you’re the Spurs and DeRozan? I guess we’ll find out.