The Spurs and Hawks, opponents on Thursday, are inexorably tied by a risky and franchise-defining transaction. The trade of Dejounte Murray solidified Atlanta’s commitment to short-term success at the expense of potential, while also affirming San Antonio’s decision to rebuild and strive for a true championship contender through the draft.
The implications of this move will have long-lasting effects on both teams, ultimately shaping the judgment of the front offices that orchestrated it. Yet, the unexciting truth is that it was truly the only logical choice for both franchises at the time.
The Spurs sent Murray to the Hawks in the summer of 2022, catching many off guard as San Antonio had previously avoided bottoming out, and Murray had just come off an All-Star season. Atlanta already had an established point guard in Trae Young and did not appear to be one piece away from contention. Despite initial signs that a trade was improbable, it came to fruition. The Hawks went all in, trading three first-round picks and a pick swap for Murray, while the Spurs embraced their rebuilding phase.
Even then, most agreed that the Spurs came out on top. Murray is a great talent but not a franchise player, leading to the perception that the Hawks sacrificed their future for a chance at lower-seed playoff appearances. This has fueled speculation of a return to the mediocrity that characterized the Joe Johnson era. Although better players became available at a similar price after the trade, Atlanta at least extended Murray, preventing him from leaving with no return. However, unless the Hawks manage to overachieve or secure another star, they may be viewed as shortsighted and unambitious in hindsight.
In reality, the Hawks were being pragmatic. They likely knew that acquiring Murray wouldn’t make them a contender, but with Trae Young growing restless, Dejounte was their best option. With the goal of maintaining relevance after a successful playoff run in 2021, trading for talent was necessary. It’s difficult to judge the decision too harshly when considering these circumstances.
Conversely, the Spurs seem bold and ambitious for prioritizing a future contender, but they, too, were guided by forced pragmatism. The franchise had endured respectable mediocrity before and seemed willing to continue down that path. While it’s easy to assign hindsight foresight to their decision in light of subsequent events, this may be overly generous given their aimless track record in past years.
If current trends continue, the Spurs, armed with extra picks and cap flexibility, will likely rise near the top of the standings in the next few years. In contrast, the Hawks, committed to a solid but not transcendent backcourt duo, may struggle to make a leap while missing the picks surrendered for Murray.
The narrative may depict one franchise as clever and the other as shortsighted, but in reality, both made the most sensible decision at the time to rectify past mistakes and mitigate adverse outcomes. Timing, fortune, and circumstances matter more in the NBA than many decision-makers would like to admit.
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