The San Antonio Spurs won the offseason by selecting Victor Wembanyama with the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. However, with a plethora of cap room entering free agency, the Spurs might have added a few pieces here and there to boost the team’s chances of making a splash next season.
However, despite having a lot of cap space, the Spurs did not end up being major free-agent players. Instead, they used their cap space wisely to absorb unattractive contracts from other clubs in exchange for draft compensation. Inserting themselves into the Grant Williams sign-and-trade was a stroke of genius on the Spurs’ behalf.
That isn’t to suggest the Spurs haven’t made any free-agent moves. They elected to re-sign starting point guard Tre Jones to a two-year, $20 million contract, bringing back a key player for the squad. Furthermore, they signed Julian Champagnie, who was on the team on a two-way contract last year, to a four-year, $12 million contract extension to keep him in town for the long haul.
Those maneuvers may not appear to be the most inspiring at first glance. But here’s why the Spurs did well with those transactions.
Here are the grades for the Spurs’ free agency moves in 2023.
Spurs’ free agency grades
Re-signing Tre Jones to a two-year, $20 million deal: A-
Tre Jones isn’t the prototypical point guard that clubs seek to lead their attack these days. Jones isn’t the fastest floor general, and he doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the rim. In that aspect, he’s similar to his brother Tyus in that he prefers to finish with finesse (floaters and pull-ups) rather than going all the way to the hoop. Tre, on the other hand, isn’t a lethal threat from the depths like his brother. Jones concluded last year with a less-than-ideal 28.5 percent three-point percentage, making only 45 of 158 attempts.
Even yet, Jones leads the offense with poise, essentially acting as an extension of head coach Gregg Popovich while he’s on the field. He ensures that the Spurs, who nearly always had a talent deficit during the 2022-23 season, run and execute plays to the best of their abilities. He averaged 6.6 assists per game last season, which is nothing to scoff at given the Spurs’ dearth of consistent shooters (even Keldon Johnson was prone to bad shooting nights).
Jones is a fighter on defense, but he can only do so much with his 6’1 body. He makes up for it by picking up ballhandlers down the floor, and he exploits his intelligence to be a nuisance in passing lanes, averaging 1.3 steals a night last year.
Tre Jones, who is only 23 years old, should have a lot of space for improvement, but how far he proceeds in his career will be determined by how far his jump shot progresses. For the time being, however, $10 million a year for a player who will start games for the Spurs isn’t a bad price to pay, and it’s also a bet on the young point guard’s ability to progress from here on out.
Signing Julian Champagnie to a four-year, $12 million deal: A+
The Spurs have found a few diamonds in the rough over the years. That’s what made them so difficult to dethrone at the top of the league’s food chain. And now, with Julian Champagnie, they may be upholding the team’s longstanding heritage by signing yet another player who has demonstrated the ability to stick around for the long haul.
Champagnie’s career reversal has been nothing short of amazing in recent months. In February, he was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Spurs claimed him off waivers. He didn’t get much playing time in his first few weeks with the squad, but Champagne went on fire at the end of the season, scoring in double figures in the final five games of the season, including three 20-point performances.
With the Spurs revolving around Victor Wembanyama, having guys who make the Frenchman’s life simpler will be essential. And Julian Champagnie’s ability to space the floor will allow him to do just that. And, as Champagnie shown in Summer League, his season-ending success was no fluke.
The Spurs could have a player shooting in the high-30s from deep for an average of $3 million over the next four years for an average of $3 million. Given how much importance the NBA places on outside shooting these days, that will be nothing short of a steal, especially if the 22-year-old forward continues to develop his game.
Re-signing Sandro Mamukelashvili to a minimum deal: B
Bringing back Sandro Mamukelashvili is the essence of a low-risk signing, giving the Spurs some depth behind Victor Wembanyama and Zach Collins. Mamukelashvili showed off his offensive variety when the Spurs rested their regular rotation players after the season, and he impressed the Spurs brass enough to justify a return.
To continue establishing himself, the 24-year-old big man will need to improve his defense, particularly when guarding in space.