Let’s take a moment to remember a few things. The last time Popovich coached the preseason and missed the postseason was never. And the Spurs have missed the playoffs just once since 1989, which means they’ve missed the postseason only once in DeRozan’s lifetime.
In other words, this organization and coach have earned the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t win 50 games for the first time in this millennium last season, but adding DeRozan to a team that won 47 isn’t likely to make them worse.
Sure they don’t have Kawhi Leonard, but they basically didn’t have him last year, either. He missed all but nine games in 2017-18, and San Antonio was only 5-4 when he played.
DeRozan becomes the best offensive player on a team that needed offense; now all the Spurs need is one of the greatest coaches in history to figure out how to utilize him.
They could use more motion. DeRozan did have a career-high 5.2 assists last season. The Spurs don’t have a lot of deadly shooters, but they do have scorers like Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol who can do fine with secondary actions off the ball.
Alternatively, they could try to pound the ball, slow the game down and force the opponent to play their brand of basketball. The Spurs were 28th in pace last year, so that wouldn’t be a stretch for them.
If the Spurs can force opponents to play their brand of basketball—with two of the best mid-range shooters in the league—they could win 50 games.
There could be some concern that DeRozan won’t be happy in San Antonio. He wasn’t thrilled about the trade and says he’s “done” with the Raptors president.
However, while DeRozan is close with Kyle Lowry, he also maintains a strong friendship with Gay, who was a teammate of his in Toronto in 2013.
DeRozan told ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes that he contacted Gay about the trade right after it happened:
“I’m still in shock. Second person I talked to that night, that I’m close friends with, was Rudy Gay. I was upset. And I called him, like, ‘Man, dude’s just traded me.’ Rudy was like, ‘What? To who?’ And I was like, ‘To y’all.’ He started laughing. He said, ‘Look, I don’t mean to lie, but I got my boy back. You gon’ be aight, man. Don’t worry about it.’ I was like, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have called you. I should have waited until it came out and you called me.’ It was cool to be able to call somebody that’s close in my life that’s on the Spurs too. So he made it easy.“
It’s easy to take the analytics approach and just say “Too many long twos!” and assume there’s no way DeRozan and Aldridge can work together. For 29 out of 30 teams in the NBA, that might be true. But this one is coached by Popovich, and this one is stocked with veteran NBA talent that has gone through wars playing that kind of game.
As the league’s defenses move more and more toward defending the stretchiness of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, there’s a place for a team predicated on slowing things down and posting players up. Granted, that will only get them so far, but it will be enough to keep their playoff run going and let Pop live out what seem to be the final years of his coaching tenure in peace.