Offseason Outlook: San Antonio Spurs

June 18 at 5:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (30th overall)
  • 2nd Round (58th overall)
  • 2nd Round (60th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $33,644,820
  • Options: $10,361,446
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $9,813,384
  • Cap Holds: $33,924,656
  • Total: $87,744,306

Three years ago, the Spurs had finished three consecutive seasons without winning a single game in the second round of the playoffs. There was little reason to think then that Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would be celebrating their fourth championship together in 2014. Now, after having lost in the conference finals in 2012, lost in the Finals in 2013 and won the Finals in 2014, there’s a strong chance that a repeat championship, the lone goal that has eluded the Spurs, is in the offing.

Surely that thought is on the minds of Popovich, Duncan and Ginobili, whose collective willingness to continue is the key to San Antonio’s hopes in 2014/15. Only Duncan left any noteworthy doubt about his desire to play next season, saying that he hadn’t made up his mind. Still, he’s given no indication that he’s been leaning toward walking away. The forward’s other comments have made it seem like he’s operating as though he’ll be back, and that’s been the working assumption of the Spurs. The 38-year-old will cost San Antonio slightly more than originally thought thanks to the NBA’s adjustment of his contract, which had originally been ratified in spite of terms that violated the collective bargaining agreement, but the $361,446 difference doesn’t loom large. He’s still a bargain, just like so many of his teammates.

There’s also a decision of sorts surrounding Parker, but there’s no realistic chance that San Antonio will waive him and pocket the $9MM in non-guaranteed salary on his contract. Doing so would give the Spurs the chance to open more than $17MM in cap room, but it’s doubtful that San Antonio would be able to attract anyone better, and certainly not anyone more knowledgeable of the Spurs complicated system, than Parker.

The Spurs will have the chance to clear about $8MM with Parker on board, but the cap holds for Boris Diaw and Patrick Mills, which the team seems unlikely to renounce, makes it most likely that the Spurs operate as a capped-out team. That means the club can use the mid-level exception — probably the higher, non-taxpayer’s variety — to add a valuable piece to the championship mix. The Spurs split the mid-level on Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres last summer, with Belinelli becoming a rotation mainstay and even starting 25 regular season contests. The championship luster adds shine to even the smallest of markets, and Popovich and GM R.C. Buford shouldn’t have trouble finding takers for their free agent money. The caveat, as always, is finding someone with the humility and on-court sophistication necessary to play for San Antonio. Pau Gasol seems to check all the necessary boxes as a skilled passer with an admiration for the Spurs who’ll probably command the mid-level and could add to the club’s unprecedented number of players from outside the U.S., but he’ll have plenty of other suitors. Finding playing time for Gasol or any outside addition will be a challenge on such a deep roster, particularly if Diaw and Mills return.

There’s apparently some trepidation in rival front offices about the ability of Diaw and Mills to perform as well outside of the San Antonio system as they did in it. That’s certainly valid given that Diaw played so poorly that the 2011/12 Bobcats, the team with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, agreed to a buyout to cut him loose at midseason. Still, his stint with the Spurs rescued what appeared to be a foundering career, and given that he’s a big man whose insertion into the starting lineup sparked three straight blowout victories, he’ll no doubt command plenty of attention on the market. It’s conceivable that a team that admires his selfless style of play floats an offer akin to the $5.035MM non-taxpayer’s mid-level, but the Spurs, who have Diaw’s Bird rights and paid him almost as much this past season, would probably be willing to shell out similar money to keep him. The sticking point will likely come down to the number of years and the amount of guaranteed money on the 32-year-old Doug Neustadt client’s next deal.

The situation regarding Mills is somewhat more delicate, since unlike Diaw, there’s a report indicating mutual interest between him and another NBA team. That club is the Knicks, but it’s not entirely certain whether Phil Jackson shares the sentiments of the rest of the Knicks brass, who’ve long held the Creative Artists Agency client in high regard. Mills would nonetheless make sense for a team looking for a new starting point guard but with tight restrictions on the salary it can dole out. Mills doubled last year’s scoring average this season, meriting a raise on this season’s $1.134MM salary. The Knicks probably wouldn’t be able to sign him for a starting salary of more than $3.278MM, and while the Spurs have full Bird rights on Mills, it’s worth wondering if they’re ready to nearly triple the salary of someone who averaged just 18.9 minutes per game in the regular season and 15.3 MPG in the playoffs.

The end of Matt Bonner‘s contract will probably help the Spurs clear room for Mills and others. The Red Rocket still made a contribution this past season, but he was overpaid on $3.945MM for career lows of 3.2 PPG and 11.3 MPG. Bonner and San Antonio seem like the proper fit, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return on a new deal, but probably for the minimum salary or an amount just marginally more than that.

The Spurs will probably approach negotiations for next season with 2015/16 as much in mind as 2014/15, if not more so. A new deal for Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t kick in until after next season, but if there was any doubt that he could command the maximum salary in rookie scale extension talks this summer, his Finals MVP award erased it. The only questions are whether he and his representatives at Impact Sports Basketball will consent to a discount, as many of his teammates have, and if so, what sort of sacrifice the Spurs would ask for. San Antonio only has Tiago Splitter‘s $8.5MM salary on the books for 2015/16, and that combined with rapidly escalating projections for the salary cap and luxury tax line give the Spurs all kinds of long-term flexibility. Leonard is only in line for a max equal to 25% of the salary cap, as opposed to the 30% or 35% that others can make, so the Spurs might do well to make a gesture of good faith and give the 22-year-old a full, five-year max extension. That would make him San Antonio’s Designated Player, but the team doesn’t have any other up-and-comers on rookie scale contracts who’d make the Spurs regret committing that status to Leonard.

Still, the lack of young talent aside from Leonard is a concern, even given San Antonio’s knack for turning castaways into productive players. Splitter, Mills and Danny Green are all key contributors under the age of 30, but moving forward from the retirements of Duncan and Ginobili with a core of those three, Leonard and an aging Parker doesn’t sound promising. The Spurs will have to make the most of their well-honed scouting chops to come up with more gems later in the draft, and Parker’s deal to buy the majority stake in French team Asvel Villeurbanne can only help. That club produced Spurs 2013 “draft-and-stash” first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles, among others, and any edge that San Antonio can gain overseas will be crucial to a franchise that’s thrived on international imports.

Buford knows that the retirements of Duncan and Popovich will be “numbing and changing” for the franchise, and he probably feels the same way about Ginobili, too. Yet it seems that those retirements are at least a year away. The Spurs, as ever, are no doubt preparing for the eventuality of them, but for now, the goal is to win back-to-back titles. Popovich doesn’t anticipate major changes to the roster this summer, and there doesn’t appear to be any need for such. The key is retaining Diaw and Mills and adding a rotation-worthy player with the mid-level exception, though none of those tasks appear daunting. Hard work is a cornerstone of the Spurs organization, but coming up with another championship roster for next season won’t be rigorous.

Cap footnotes

* — Duncan’s cap hold would be $15,542,169 if he opts out.
** — Parker’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before June 30th.
*** — Daye’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before June 30th.
**** — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why Horry and others listed in parentheses below his name technically remain on the books for the Spurs.
***** — The cap hold for Baynes would be $915,243 if the Spurs elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
****** — The Spurs hold the draft rights to Jean-Charles, who’s yet to sign an NBA contract. He was the 28th overall pick in 2013, and his cap hold is equal to 100% of the rookie scale for the 28th overall pick in this year’s draft. The Spurs can erase his cap hold from their books and still retain the draft rights to Jean-Charles if he and the team agree in writing that he won’t sign during the 2014/15 season.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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