Since choosing Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft the Spurs have not entered draft night with a pick higher than the 20th overall selection.
Somehow, they have managed to emerge from subsequent draft nights with two likely Hall of Famers, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and a third, Kawhi Leonard, whose career is on a similar path.
Only time will tell if Dejounte Murray, the 6-foot-5 guard from the University of Washington whom the Spurs chose with the 29th spot in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft, will follow in the footsteps of those stars.
The hard truth of 19 straight draft nights picking no higher than 20 – with 12 picks 26 or lower – is this: only 11 Spurs draftees have worn silver and black in regular season games since the Duncan draft. The fact general manager R.C. Buford’s basketball operations department has been able to find eight players among those 11 who have become productive starters, either for the Spurs or other teams, bespeaks its talent and tenacity.
Murray played just one season at Washington but opted for the NBA draft after averaging 16.1 points per game, as well as 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Though he acknowledged he had hoped to go higher in the draft order, Murray got a reassuring phone call from a friend and advisor that his selection by the Spurs had been a blessing. In the middle of a telephone conference call with San Antonio reporters at the Spurs practice complex, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James phoned Murray on a separate line and told him, “you’re going to one of the best organizations in the NBA.”
Murray is represented by Klutch Sports Group, the agency run by Rich Paul, one of James’ closest friends.
Buford said the Spurs had made “millions of calls” attempting to move up in a confusing draft, none producing a deal they wanted to make. They felt fortunate when Murray was still available at pick No. 29.
“This draft was one of the more difficult ones to figure out because there were so many teams ahead of us that we really had no clarity on,” Buford said. “But, at the end of the day, there was a very limited number of players that we would have tried to move up for and, fortunately, one of them came to us.”
Murray told reporters in Brooklyn that getting to play for Gregg Popovich and with veterans like Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker will help him improve his game.
“Great coach, one of the greatest coaches that ever coached,” Murray said, “and I’m just excited to learn from all the vets, pick their brains about the game, on the court, off the court, and just get to work.”
Murray compared his work ethic to that of Leonard and believes it will give him a chance to make an impact for the Spurs.
“(I have) a high motor, like Kawhi Leonard, a dude that’s willing to work,” he said. “I’ll never settle for less, never get comfortable. I love working on my game.”
Some 36 hours before the Philadelphia 76ers began Thursday’s selections by making LSU forward Ben Simmons the No. 1 overall selection, the Spurs were informed that two of their veteran players had opted out of the final years of their contracts, news that was neither surprising nor distressing.
Ginobili, who will turn 39 on July 28, opted out of the final season of the two-year contract extension he signed last summer, passing up a guaranteed $2.94 million.
Power forward David West, who turns 36 in August, opted out of the final year ($1.55 million) of the veteran minimum contract he signed last summer.
Both players become unrestricted free agents, their salaries removed from the Spurs player payroll for salary cap purposes.
Ginobili will use the Olympic tournament to gauge his desire to return for a 15th season with the Spurs. Some club officials believe he is leaning towards a return, even at age 39.
A year ago, West opted out of the final year of his contract with the Indiana Pacers, a season that was to pay him $12.5 million, to join the Spurs last season for the veteran minimum of $1.5 million. With the NBA salary cap expected to rise from $70 million to $92 million, it made perfect sense for him to opt out of his $1.55 million deal with the Spurs, as next season’s veteran minimum salary is expected to exceed $2 million.
There was additional Spurs news on Thursday when All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard announced his withdrawal from the pool of players under consideration by USA Basketball to represent the United States in the 2016 Olympic tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
Leonard, No. 2 in voting for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player Award, did not cite a reason for his withdrawal. However, he recently became a father for the first time, a fact that likely played into his decision.
Top image: Dejounte Murray shakes hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected number twenty ninth overall by the San Antonio Spurs during the 2016 NBA Draft on June 23, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images.