The San Antonio Spurs are no strangers to long-term projects, and 2015 second-round pick Cady Lalanne could become the franchise's next success story.
A 6'9" center who attended the University of Massachusetts, Lalanne won't don a San Antonio uniform during an NBA regular-season game for a couple more seasons.
Though his first professional jersey will read "Spurs," the team's location will be Austin. Per Alicia DelGallo of the Orlando Sentinel, Lalanne agreed on draft night to spend his first season with the Development League squad.
DelGallo notes San Antonio Spurs director of scouting and Austin Spurs general manager Brian Pauga noticed progression during summer league action. Pauga said:
We see a lot of potential there. Like any rookie, it takes time to get up to speed on the system and the speed of the game, but we've had seven games now, and he's done a nice job of continuing to move in the right direction and get better.
He's got long arms, a good, strong body for a big guy, [and] he's not afraid to be physical in the paint. He didn't get a chance to shoot a ton at UMass from the perimeter, but we feel with some work and development, he can become a pretty good shooter.
Lalanne spending a season in Austin is a perfect situation for the NBA club, since San Antonio doesn't have immediate minutes available for him.
Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner are each returning to the Spurs, who also signed LaMarcus Aldridge, David West and Boban Marjanovic. Bonner and Marjanovic—if he indeed makes the roster—will basically only see action when Duncan rests or the game is a blowout.
Consequently, there's no chance Lalanne would've been on the NBA floor this season. But the 55th overall pick of the 2015 draft isn't quite ready yet, either.
Not only is a development-focused year the best option, it could pay an important dividend for him and San Antonio in the future.
Comments from Pauga and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford suggest the organization is looking to groom Lalanne into a jump-shooting big man, a role previously held by Bonner.
Almost fortunately for the Spurs, though, Lalanne isn't ready to assume that position.
During 10 summer league appearances, he started every game and tallied 6.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. The 23-year-old connected on 26 of 67 shots from the floor and buried 11 of 15 free throws.
However, Lalanne misfired on all nine attempts from beyond the arc this summer. Additionally, he only knocked down three triples in 18 tries as a senior at UMass.
San Antonio shooting coach Chip Engelland and his assistants will now be tasked with helping Lalanne increase his range. But as Buford said, Lalanne already has "really good" form, so the Spurs certainly aren't starting from scratch.
Admittedly, Bonner isn't a glamorous comparison. But when considering his effectiveness as a role player through nine seasons with San Antonio—and as a member of two championship-winning teams—it's a compliment, too.
The Red Mamba played at least 60 games during each of the last eight seasons. He drilled better than 40 percent of his triples five times and paced the league with a 45.7 three-point mark in 2010-11.
Most impressively, Bonner secured his place in the rotation without offering much impact as a defender. Although Lalanne needs to bulk up in order to handle NBA forwards and centers, he blocked 197 shots while at UMass.
Aided by NBA-caliber teaching, Lalanne can refine his existing skills and become a quicker, more versatile defensive asset who disrupts shots at any distance. Of course, a 7'5" wingspan (per DraftExpress) definitely doesn't hurt in that regard.
Per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, the rookie acknowledged he's "still learning the game" and is entering a "great" situation in San Antonio. Lalanne said: "A team like this really knows how to develop players. That would be a great way for me to start my career, a team like this to help develop me and teach me to play the game the way that they play it, the right way."
Since Duncan, Bonner, West and even Diaw will likely retire or sign elsewhere within a few years, the Spurs will need fresh faces. They're getting an early start on a potential replacement with Lalanne, and perhaps the second-rounder will have started to reach his potential when that time comes.
For now, though, he's spending a year in the D-League and out of the spotlight—a tremendous opportunity to develop as a player.
Most importantly, it will give Lalanne plenty of chances to show San Antonio why it should consider him an important rotational piece for the future.
Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.