The Spurs announcement that they had released Josh Primo was the ultimate Friday evening news dump that caught the entire league by surprise. Lottery picks don’t get waived heading into their second season, and definitely not an hour before tipoff for a regular season matchup without forewarning. The 456 days between the Spurs drafting Primo after his freshman season at the University of Alabama and his unceremonious exit was the quickest a first round pick has ever been waived.
The only other lottery picks waived in fewer than two-years were Kendall Marshall and Georgios Papagiannis. Marshall was a 22-year-old bust who was traded to Washington and then waived, while Papagiannis was a mid-second round prospect the Sacramento Kings reached on during their absurd stretch of drafting miscues in the 2010s.
In a peculiar written statement made by Primo on Friday night, the 19-year-old guard acknowledged he’d be stepping away from basketball to deal with “previous trauma”and to focus on his mental health. However, the Spurs aren’t the type of organization to dump a player dealing with a “mental health” crisis, especially with Gregg Popovich in charge. Organizations invested long-term in prospects like San Antonio don’t waive their No. 12 overall pick two weeks into his sophomore campaign. During a season in which the Spurs have been angling for an opportunity to lose their way into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, letting Primo make mistakes in live game action or take time away wouldn’t have been an issue. It was crystal clear this was a P.R. team maneuvering to get ahead of embarrassing or even criminal behavior being publicized.
By Saturday, ESPN’s NBA reporters Ramona Shelbourne and Adrian Wojnarowski’s sleuthing unveiled the allegedly lecherous behavior that led to Primo’s release. Primo is facing accusations that he’d exposed himself to multiple women. The number of incidents involving Primo are unclear at the moment, but one woman, a former Spurs employee, hired attorney Tony Buzbee to pursue a civil case. Buzbee is the same attorney representing a majority of the women suing Deshaun Watson for sexual misconduct.
On Monday afternoon, Primo will likely clear waivers and become a free agent. Any one of the NBA’s 29 other teams may believe they can squeeze the latent potential out of Primo amid the attached scandal by claiming him off waivers or in free agency if he goes unclaimed, but that would be a mistake. Primo should remain unsigned indefinitely.
The San Antonio Spurs demonstrated how competent of an organization they have been for the past 30 years by taking the inverse path of the Houston Texans’ Watson playbook by swiftly severing their link to Primo rather than trading him or placing him on indefinite leave, à la Boston’s Ime Udoka. The extent of Primo’s allegedly gross behavior is still shrouded in mystery — as is the next stage of his NBA saga.
Primo was just beginning to establish himself as a rotation player on the Spurs roster, but his upside was tantalizing. His secondary ball handling, pinpoint shooting, length and his status as the youngest player drafted in 2021 made him a fascinating prospect for the Spurs, who have a track record of developing raw players into All-Stars. Primo was the next ball of clay in the Kawhi Leonard, Dejounte Murray mold.
In the short-term, Primo’s absence won’t affect San Antonio’s outlook. San Antonio is dead set on a rebuilding year. Primo was still a year or two away from cracking a starting lineup. Reports of Primo repeatedly flashing women depicts a young man who is either maliciously testing how much he could violate women or who possesses a severe lack of self-control. At 19, Primo’s career may eventually continue in some form, but that should wait.
If there’s one thing that should be learned from Watson’s fiasco over the past year and a half, it’s that professional organizations passively enabling behavior by turning a blind eye to it only worsens the situation for the team, player and victims. Primo is a liability to have around an NBA milieu and his focus should be on getting therapy to curb his lewd behavior and owning up to his transgressions before resuming his basketball career.
If the Texans had followed the Spurs playbook by ordering Watson to receive counseling before the NFL mandated it or cutting ties with him much earlier instead of covering up for his lasciviousness by providing him with NDAs when the organization caught a whiff of misconduct, they could have stopped him before he victimized dozens of massage therapists. The Houston Texans doomed themselves, Watson and the women he abused while the Spurs continued to exhibit why they’re a cut above most organizations. Even in a tanking season, they showed the rest of the league how it’s done.
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