When it comes to model professional sports franchises, the San Antonio Spurs are usually one of the first ones that come to mind. After all, the team has won five NBA Championships since 1999 and have made six NBA Finals appearances. With a coach that has been around for two decades and players that rarely ever want to leave the culture created in San Antonio, they are doing things the right way.
A lot of that starts with the NBA Draft, where the Spurs have been very good. In the two times that they have had the top overall pick, the Spurs ended up with Hall of Fame talent in the form of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. They don’t get many chances at drafting that high, so it’s good for them to get it right when the opportunity arises.
After the top pick, though, not everything has gone totally right for the Spurs. There have been some hiccups in the franchise’s draft history, but it hasn’t crippled them. For those that don’t care for the Spurs, why don’t you have a look at the 15 times that the Spurs weren’t the perfect franchise, as here are the biggest mistakes they have made regarding the yearly NBA Draft.
15 The First Draft
1977 would end up being the first NBA Draft that the Spurs participated in. Before they could even make their first selection, the Spurs would end up trading their first round pick for 1977’s draft in November 1976. The Spurs acquired Mack Calvin from the Lakers, a five-time All Star before then. Calvin’s career in San Antonio would only last for 35 games, and he put up some poor numbers.
Calvin scored 8.8 points per game as a Spur with 3.0 assists and barely registering on the rest of the stat sheet. The Lakers would end up taking longtime player Brad Davis, who put up some good seasons. However, the big mistake here was losing a chance to draft a player like Norm Nixon or Rickey Green at their original spot, two players that would combine for five All Star appearances.
14 Passing on Bill Laimbeer
Back in 1979, there were 10 rounds in the NBA Draft (due to there being just 22 picks per round), meaning that you had plenty of available talent in the second and third round unlike today...since there isn’t even a third round. The Spurs had just two notable picks in the 1979 NBA Draft and they missed badly on both of them. Wiley Peck was the first round pick, while Sylvester Norris was their third round selection.
Both of those men would play for just one season on the Spurs roster, and it was clear that they needed a center in the third round. Norris was the center they chose at the 63rd overall spot and two more picks would pass before Bill Laimbeer was drafted by the Cavaliers out of Notre Dame. Norris played in only 17 NBA games in his only season while Laimbeer was a two-time champion and four-time All Star.
13 Skipping Stockton
The 1984 NBA Draft is regarded as one of the best of all-time. After all, Hakeem Olajuwon was the top overall pick, while Michael Jordan went third and Charles Barkley went fifth. The Spurs sat on the seventh pick in the draft and they picked up Alvin Robertson, a guard out of Arkansas. San Antonio doesn’t draft in the top 10 very often, and they typically don’t miss when they do. Even Robertson wouldn’t be considered a miss in most cases.
Robertson spent five seasons with San Antonio where he was selected as a three-time All Star that scored 16.2 points per game with 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The only thing that makes this pick a mistake is the fact that there was another guard on the board. That guard was John Stockton out of Gonzaga, who would go on to become one of the greatest guards of all-time for the Jazz.
12 Hughes Mistake
Despite drafting Alvin Robertson in the first round of the legendary 1984 NBA Draft, the Spurs were in the market for another shooting guard. Perhaps they would have selected Karl Malone if he would have fallen that far, but the Jazz scooped him up just one selection before the Spurs could get a chance. Instead, they settled for Alfredrick Hughes out of Loyola Illinois.
Hughes would end up playing just one season in the NBA before heading overseas and then playing semi-pro ball the rest of his career. The Spurs could have selected Joe Dumars out of McNeese State, who went with the 18th pick to Detroit after the Spurs had the 14th pick. Dumars would go on to become a two-time NBA Champion and six-time All Star.
11 Slick Willie
In 1987, the Spurs had the first overall selection and would end up hitting a home run when they drafted David Robinson out of Navy. Their pick would rise up to the 10th spot in the 1988 NBA Draft as a result, where some very good players were selected in front of their spot. There wasn’t much left on the board, but they passed up on Dan Majerle, the small forward from Central Michigan.
Majerle would become a three-time All Star that was named to a pair of All-Defensive teams. Instead, the Spurs went with Willie Anderson. Anderson started off hot as a rookie and then regressed quickly, never really matching his All-Rookie Team campaign. Anderson would remain with the Spurs until the 1994-95 season before being sent off to Toronto, ending his career two years later.
10 What a Mass
While this isn’t the biggest mistake on the list, you wonder what the Spurs could have done with some of the other names available in this situation. In the 1990 NBA Draft, the Spurs didn’t have a lot to work with. In the first round, they went with the unknown Dwayne Schintzius, but there wasn’t all that much available in the later part of the first round. The mistake here comes in the second round.
The Spurs would select Tony Massenburg out of Maryland, who played in just 35 games as a Spur before heading overseas thanks to an injury. Massenburg was the 43rd overall pick, just in front of two players that would make an All Star team. Antonio Davis went with the 45th overall pick to the Pacers while Cedric Ceballos was the 48th selection to the Suns.
9 Not Joining the Fun
Prior to the 1996 NBA Draft, the Spurs made a couple of deals that would ensure that they didn’t have a single selection in the draft. The Spurs would wind up getting Dennis Rodman and the number 18 pick for Sean Elliott and David Wood. However, they turned around and packaged the pick with J.R. Reid and Brad Lohaus, sending them to the Knicks for both Charles Smith and Monty Williams.
It was a move that hurt the Spurs as Rodman became a member of the Bulls in 1995 and David Robinson would get only six games in the 1996-97 season. The Spurs missed out on a first round that included players such as Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal. And that was only in the 13th through 17th spots in the first round, where the Spurs could have landed.
8 Seeing Redd
The Spurs would wind up making some great moves to end the 1990s as they unsurprisingly took Tim Duncan with the top selection in 1997 and then snagged Manu Ginobili in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. 2000 was a different story, though, as they traded away their first round pick and had to wait until the 41st spot to select Chris Carrawell, a shooting guard out of Duke.
If the Spurs were concerned about bolstering their shooting guard depth, they should have selected Michael Redd, who was the 43rd overall pick by Milwaukee. Redd would end up averaging 19.0 points during his career (including 26.7 PPG in 2006-07) while Carrawell would never end up playing in an NBA game. The Spurs even traded to get that pick, too.
7 Speedy Delivery
It’s always nice to have some depth at point guard, though the Spurs went in a direction that might not have been the best idea. In the 2002 NBA Draft, San Antonio would trade John Salmons to the Philadelphia 76ers after selecting him 26th overall out of Miami. The Spurs also threw in a few extra pieces, all in the hopes of landing Speedy Claxton.
Although he had a decent NBA career overall, Claxton would only end up playing in 30 games for San Antonio with 5.8 points and 2.5 assists per game before heading to Golden State. Salmons, on the other hand, would play for more than a decade in the NBA as he scored upward of 18.3 points per game, finishing with 9.3 in his career to go along with 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
That wasn’t the only mistake that the Spurs made in the 2002 NBA Draft. The team would also end up drafting Luis Scola with the 56th overall selection from Spain after making a trade to acquire the pick from the Lakers. The Spurs waited until 2005 when they entered into contract negotiations with Scola. However, he was playing for Tau Ceramica, who requested $3 million in exchange for his contract.
The Spurs could not afford Scola in the end because the $3 million was over their limit of $500,000 to buy out a player’s deal. Scola did not want to make up the money himself and stayed overseas until 2007 when the rival Rockets traded with the Spurs to acquire Scola. He would end up having a fine career that lasted almost a decade, averaging as much as 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game at his best.
5 Swap City
The 2004 NBA Draft had some solid names, but nothing compared to the 2003 version. However, the Spurs would miss out on an opportunity to take a solid small forward in the second round. The 42nd overall pick was all over the place. The Hawks received the pick from Orlando, who got it from Philadelphia, who got it from Golden State. The pick would be Viktor Sanikidze, who was then traded to San Antonio.
The Frenchman would not play in the NBA and the Spurs should have targeted the 43rd overall pick instead of the 42nd. That player would be Trevor Ariza, who was drafted by the Knicks and is still playing in the league. Ariza has averaged 10.4 points per game in his career, as well as 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
4 New York Miss
The Knicks would end up getting a solid player right under the Spurs nose for two years in a row, with this one coming in 2005. The Knicks ended up with the 30th overall pick after a three team deal that involved the Suns. The Spurs traded the pick that they acquired in a trade featuring Leandro Barbosa and they ended up getting Nazr Mohammed and Jamison Brewer in the deal.
In the end, the Spurs had the 28th overall selection, still two ahead of the Knicks with their original pick. The Spurs selected Ian Mahinmi, who would only play for two underwhelming seasons before finding greener pastures in Indiana. The Knicks, on the other hand, would end up taking future All Star David Lee. Had Lee joined the Spurs instead, he could have been better for even longer.
3 Goran Gone
The Spurs would make a move in the 2008 NBA Draft’s second round, which included the 45th overall pick. The Spurs ended up making a great choice with the selection when they picked up Goran Dragic out of Slovenia, but he didn’t stick around. Instead, the Spurs decided to send him off to Phoenix in exchange for Malik Hairston, cash considerations and a second round pick in 2009.
Hairston would play in just two seasons with San Antonio (a total of 62 games). He scored just 2.4 career points per game with 1.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists. Dragic, though, has been a success in the NBA. Dragic put up his career high in 2013-14 with 20.3 points per game, and he has averaged as much as 7.4 assists per game. Now, he’s the top point guard for the Miami Heat.
2 Almost Perfect
In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Spurs had a chance to draft what might have been the greatest class of the past 25 years. With the 15th overall pick, San Antonio struck gold when they traded with the Pacers to acquire Kawhi Leonard, who is now an MVP candidate. Later in the first round, the Spurs had the 29th overall pick that they used on Cory Joseph, a guard out of Texas.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, Joseph would not be much of a contributor. His best season came in the 2014-15 season when he averaged 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Then, Joseph would join the Raptors. So who did the Spurs miss out on that would have made their class an all-time great? Jimmy Butler was selected with the very next pick by the Bulls.
1 We’re Not Done Yet
The Spurs weren’t quite done just barely missing out on what definitely would have rounded it out to make their class the best of all-time. With the final two picks in the draft, it was down to San Antonio and Sacramento. The Spurs used the 59th overall pick to select Adam Hanga out of Hungary. Hanga would never play in an NBA game and is currently in Liga ACB where he has been alright.
Meanwhile, the 60th and final pick of the draft ended up being Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has been a revelation that is currently with the Celtics, who is coming off of a season where he scored 22.2 points with 3.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Just to think, the Spurs almost had a team that had Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas.