Trae Young will have an all-star backcourt partner on the Atlanta Hawks.
Murray, 25, established himself as an elite on-ball defender early in his career before breaking out as San Antonio’s leading scorer last season. The 2016 first-round pick averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists in 2021-22, earning his first all-star selection and leading the Spurs to the Western Conference’s play-in tournament.
SAN ANTONIO I LOVE YOU FOREVER…..🖤 Thank You @spurs And The Whole City For Believing In Me And Embracing Me From DAY ONE. I Want To Write A Whole Book But It’s Not Easy. We Are Family And Its Always Going To Be Bigger Than Basketball!!! pic.twitter.com/wMrmZanTbj— Dejounte Murray (@DejounteMurray) June 30, 2022
The Hawks, who reached the 2021 Eastern Conference finals, entered the offseason seeking a major talent upgrade after a disappointing first-round playoff exit to the Miami Heat. In that series, the 23-year-old Young struggled to score efficiently while facing extra attention from the Heat’s defense.
Murray’s arrival will give Young, one of the NBA’s top playmakers, a reliable secondary ballhandler and creator on offense. Perhaps more importantly, Murray, an elite point-of-attack defender who led the NBA in steals per game last season, can cover for Young’s defensive deficiencies by tackling the most difficult backcourt matchups.
Young’s presence should make Murray’s life easier, too. San Antonio ranked 30th in the league in clutch offense with Murray at the helm, often struggling to generate good opportunities due to his poor outside shooting and his limited supporting cast. Young will continue to serve as the lead option late in games, freeing Murray to be an off-the-dribble threat when defenses load up on Atlanta’s closer.
Trading Murray represents another step toward a more dramatic rebuilding effort for the Spurs, who have missed the playoffs in the past three seasons and have languished since trading Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in 2018. At February’s trade deadline, San Antonio sent guard Derrick White to the Boston Celtics for future draft picks.
After shipping out two of their most productive players, the Spurs could find themselves in position to compete for a top selection in the well-regarded 2023 draft, which will include highly coveted French prospect Victor Wembanyama.
The Spurs got a strong haul of picks for a non-superstar, and they could have two lottery picks in 2023, depending on where the Hornets finish. Gallinari, 33, averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench last season and is on a $21.5 million expiring contract that is partially guaranteed.
For San Antonio, parting with Murray, who was taken with the 29th pick in the 2016 draft, couldn’t have been an easy decision. The long-armed, 6-foot-4 guard’s development was a point of pride for the post-Leonard Spurs, who helped longtime coach Gregg Popovich become the NBA’s all-time winningest coach in March. A grateful Murray presented the game ball to Popovich.
“Coach Pop, you deserve it,” Murray said at the time. “We all love you and we’re glad we’re here to be able to enjoy this moment with you.”
Murray had spent six years in San Antonio, and the franchise had made little progress at surrounding him with the talent necessary to seriously compete with the West’s best. Murray had teased the possibility of a trade on social media in recent days, and both players appear excited about their new partnership.
“This just got real,” Young wrote on Twitter. “Let’s get busy my Brotha.”
After outperforming a four-year, $54 million extension that he signed in 2019, Murray will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. If Murray’s pairing with Young works out as expected, Atlanta will be positioned to keep the two guards, who are both represented by Klutch Sports, together throughout their primes.
Earlier Wednesday, the New York Knicks agreed to trade veterans Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Detroit Pistons in a salary cap-clearing move that should aid their free agency pursuit of Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson. The Washington Wizards also agreed to trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to the Denver Nuggets for Monte Morris and Will Barton.
Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden also decided to decline his player option for the 2022-23 season, making him an unrestricted free agent. The 10-time all-star is expected to re-sign a multiyear contract with the 76ers.