Devin Vassell will undergo knee surgery and will be out indefinitely, the Spurs’ announced. The wing, who played through pain this year and missed eight games before this decision was made, will be sidelined for the foreseeable future as the team focuses on his long-term health.
It’s a tough blow for San Antonio, as Vassell was one of the team’s brightest spots this season thanks to his much-improved offensive play, but it’s hard to argue with the direction the franchise has picked. This year was never going to be about short-term success, so as unfortunate as this development is, it won’t derail any grand plans.
That said, not having Vassell around will have an impact on what the Spurs do on the floor and potentially off it too. So let’s take a look at what it could mean
There should be no hesitance to tank now
The Spurs made it clear that their goal this season wasn’t to win as much as possible, but they also seemed to not fully embrace tanking. There were some absences from players that could have probably played through the pain, but the roster still had veterans getting regular minutes and the best performers were in the rotation. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that all change now.
Without Vassell for what could be weeks if not months, the team now only has arguably two starting-caliber NBA players on its roster in Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl. The rest is a collection of journeymen, young and old, and unproven young prospects. Without the team’s best player — and despite Johnson’s recent string of good performances, Vassell was the one — it’s extremely unlikely to imagine the Spurs being successful. Granted, it was tough to envision a big push up the standings even with Vassell around, but it made some sense to try to surround the two core wings with a competent supporting cast to facilitate their development and gauge their potential. There’s no need to do that anymore
Johnson will continue to have his ups and downs with being a first option, but he’ll be in San Antonio for the long haul since he signed an extension. Poeltl is in the last year of his contract and is probably too old to be considered a core piece. The rest are role players right now, including the rookies. Everyone is interchangeable, but it makes a lot more sense to try to see what the younger guys can do than to go with reliable but lower-ceiling guys. Everyone on a non-rookie contract should be on the block. Would it be better for Jeremy Sochan’s development to have a proven shooter like Josh Richardson around him to space the floor? Probably, but Sochan is 19 years old, and has three more years left on his rookie contract after this season. There will be time to maximize his potential. Now is the time to maximize the chances of getting Victor Wembanyama.
This beef requires us to remember who Ben Simmons was at the start of his career. So let’s allow our minds to travel back to the late 20teens, when we were young and hopeful and had more energy and my dog was still alive, and Ben Simmons was considered the second coming of Magic Johnson. He was 6’10” but moved and ran and drove and passed like a point guard. Sure didn’t really shoot, but we didn’t worry, there was so much he could do! Jared Dudley also didn’t worry. Why worry, the guy who couldn’t/wouldn’t shoot was his defensive assignment in the 2019 playoffs. Instead of worrying, Dudley simply told everyone that actually, Ben Simmons was not the second coming of Magic Johnson, he was average in the half court. Beef ensued. Enjoy.