Should the Spurs trade for Dejounte Murray?

San Antonio is reportedly exploring a reunion with their former All-Star point guard, and there are lessons to be learned from Atlanta’s team-building blunders.

SAN ANTONIO — Should the Spurs pursue a reunion with Dejounte Murray? San Antonio is reportedly exploring the possibility, and fans are split.

Shams Charania reported Tuesday that the Hawks are likely to escalate conversations to move the 27-year-old point guard now that he’s eligible to be traded, adding the Spurs are among the teams with “a level of exploratory interest.”

“Spurs obviously building around Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell, among their young talent, budding young talent, they have a stable of draft assets as well,” Charania said. “They have a ton of draft picks moving forward and I think they’re going to take a very patient approach in their building process. There’s not a real level of urgency of going out there immediately, but they’re gonna be patient and I think they’re gonna pick and choose exactly the spots—whether that’s this season, in the summer, next season, they have a runway. There’s not a real urgency, but they have a runway to make things happen potentially if they want to.”

It’s not exactly breaking news that the Spurs are being patient and strategic with their assets as they work to eventually build a contender around Wembanyama, but this particular possibility offers a wonderful opportunity to examine what they need to consider as they continue that project.

The report prompted polarized and passionate responses from Spurs fans who argued back and forth about whether or not they want the team to get back with their ex and how much would be too much to give up in a trade, conversations that may also be happening inside San Antonio’s shiny new practice facility.

Advocates will point out that the Spurs clearly operate better with a point guard, and Murray was a triple-double machine at the position his last season here as a high-usage All-Star. The potential with Wemby on both ends seems high given Murray’s pick-and-roll skill, defensive ability and improved shooting. He knows how Pop does things, he’s played with some of these guys and he’s never played with a threat like Wembanyama.

Detractors will argue that Murray has already shown his peak, and he’s not nearly as locked in on defense as he was when he made an All Defense team in his second season. He’s a very good all-around point guard, but is he worth the four-year extension worth $120 million that kicks in next year? He leads the league in tweeting and deleting (probably), and he said some not-so-flattering things about the Spurs on his way out.

San Antonio drafted Murray in 2016, and he showed continual improvement through the 2021-22 season, when he made the All-Star Game as an injury replacement averaging 21 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and two steals. That campaign was good enough to carry the Spurs into the play-in game, but no further. 

The Spurs traded Murray to Atlanta right after that season at the absolute peak of his value, getting back three first-round picks as well as a first-round pick swap.

That trade set the Spurs on a path where they lost 60 games and won the lottery with a 14% chance of grabbing Victor Wembanyama. Murray famously said the Spurs organization would be losing for 15 years, then made it clear that it’s all love between him, Coach Popovich, his old teammates and the fans.

Murray has played well for the Hawks as Trae Young’s backcourt partner, but they went .500 last season and this year they’re searching for answers at 14-21. If the season ended today, they’d miss the play-in.

Atlanta paid a heavy price to bring him in just a year after their unlikely Conference Finals appearance as part of an effort to get back to that point and maybe even beyond. They’ve gone the opposite direction, though, and the decisions they made to get into this mess of mediocrity will limit their options for how to get out of it.

Should they blow it up and tank and start over? Definitely not. They could win the lottery in 2025, ’26 and ’27 and all of those blue chip talents would just go to San Antonio.

That being the case, Atlanta’s best option is to try to build a contender around Trae Young. What assets do they have to do it? More bad news for them there. They have their own first-round pick in 2024, as well as Sacramento’s provided the Kings make the playoffs, but then the Hawks don’t have a single first-round pick until 2028.

If the current roster isn’t working, trading away some complimentary talent for picks or flexibility or pieces that fit better might be one of the only possible escape routes. See John Collins, who had three years and $78.5 million left on his contract when Atlanta punted him to Utah for Rudy Gay and a second-round pick basically just so they could try something else. (Jalen Johnson has made a really cool leap, by the way.)

Charania said it’s not immediately clear what the market would be for Murray and his current contract, which will average $30 million per year over the next four seasons. The Hawks signed him to that big-dollar extension this past offseason. We don’t know if the Spurs would have been willing to pay that amount, but the Hawks pretty much had to after they gave up what they did to bring him in just a year earlier.

Learning lessons

Atlanta is a cautionary tale about what happens when you rush into mistakes that compound themselves. Think about a hitter who steps to the plate hunting a homer, takes a few big hacks and finds himself behind in the count. The goal quickly shifts from “smash it” to “stay alive” and the batter’s early aggression means he probably won’t see another good pitch. It takes discipline and luck just to survive, and what if simply surviving just isn’t enough? 

If this season and next season go poorly for the Hawks, where do they go? They’ll be on the hook for potentially three more years of paying Trae Young an average of $46 million a year, three years in which they do not control their own pick. They could try to trade him for a star, but what would his value be at that point? What if he wants out?

It’s not an enviable position Hawks GM Landry Fields finds himself in, standing at the bottom of a hole with not much more than a shovel and some regrets. It probably wouldn’t feel great to reach for the hand of the guy who encouraged you to dig and is now in a unique position to both profit off your misfortune and help you escape it.

Those first-round picks in 2025, 2026 and 2027 look on track to be quite valuable, but they would be most valuable to the Hawks themselves if they believe the only way up is down. Atlanta can’t justify a full blow-it-up rebuild in the next four years unless they take back control of their own draft destiny, and the only way they can do that is by making a big trade with the Spurs. 

So, to review: pretty much the only viable way Atlanta could tank in the next few years would be to send Trae Young to San Antonio for all the picks they traded to bring in Dejounte Murray as a sidekick for Trae Young, which would be more ironic than anything Alanis Morissette was singing about.

The Spurs, meanwhile, have no shortage of options or assets as they build a future around Wemby. If they reach back into their past and bring Murray in, it would be a big commitment they’d have to be comfortable with. If they don’t, they’ll be in position to make a move for the next guy who makes sense for them, or the one after that, or the one after that. 

That’s the beauty of the flexibility they’ve built. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely they’ll give up too much of that flexibility just yet.

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