Offseason In Review: San Antonio Spurs

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

  • Acquired 2014 pick No. 54 from the Sixers in exchange for 2014 pick No. 58 and 2014 pick No. 60.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Kyle Anderson (Round 1, 30th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
  • Nemanja Dangubic (Round 2, 54th overall): Playing overseas.

Camp Invitees

  • Bryce Cotton
  • Josh Davis
  • Fuquan Edwin
  • JaMychal Green
  • John Holland
  • Robert Vaden

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

  • None

The NBA has learned not to mess with the team from south Texas, and the team from south Texas has learned not to mess with success. The Spurs have begun 2014/15 with a roster almost identical to the one that steamrolled the Heat in the Finals last season. The only difference is that Damion James, who scored just six points in five regular season games and didn’t appear in the playoffs, is no longer around and Kyle Anderson, the last pick of the first round this year, is in his place. Still, it’s not as if GM R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich, who carries the dual title of coach and president of Spurs basketball, were without decisions to make in the offseason.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota TimberwolvesBefore Buford and Popovich could make their decisions, Tim Duncan had to make his. The franchise icon had a player option for 2014/15, one that the league adjusted from $10MM to more than $10.361MM, and he briefly considered retirement before ultimately opting in for a chance to win back-to-back titles for the first time. There were also questions surrounding Manu Ginobili‘s willingness to return for another season, but Ginobili had no player option on his contract, which runs through this season, and he said in April that he was “pretty sure” he would be back for this season. He confirmed that in June, saying that he plans to play through 2014/15 and maybe 2015/16.

The future of Duncan and Ginobili reportedly played into extension talks with Kawhi Leonard last month. Leonard had been seeking the max in the months after winning the 2014 Finals MVP, but such a commitment would have compromised San Antonio’s potential to open significant cap space this coming summer. That’s space the Spurs are apparently thinking about using to pursue marquee free agents if Duncan and Ginobili retire. The Spurs have close to $34.2MM in salary commitments against a projected $66.5MM salary cap for 2015/16. That doesn’t count cap holds for the seven players whose contracts expire at season’s end, including Duncan, Ginobili and Leonard. The Spurs could renounce their rights to Duncan and Ginobili if they retire, but because the team decided against an extension for Leonard, his cap hold will only take up slightly more than $7.235MM. San Antonio could spend up to the cap and still give Leonard a new deal, or match another team’s offer sheet, via Bird rights. Several league executives told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that the Brian Elfus client will command max offer sheets in the summer, but the Spurs would almost certainly match any offer sheets that come his way, Wojnarowski wrote. So, it seems that San Antonio’s decision to pass on an extension for the 23-year-old has more to do with timing and salary cap strategy than doubts about his ability, even though Leonard’s three straight games of 20 or more points in the Finals constituted the first such stretch of his career.

It’s not as if the Spurs are opposed to extensions. They handed out a rare veteran extension to Tony Parker, giving him the maximum amount such an extension would allow. Parker could have signed a new contract with the Spurs or another team next summer for much more in annual salary and either four or five years instead of the three that the veteran extension rules allow. Instead, he again gave San Antonio a discount, just as he did when he signed his last extension. Parker made it clear that he wants to eventually finish his career in San Antonio, underscoring the unusual, if not unique, deference that he, Duncan and Ginobili so often give to the only NBA organization for which they’ve ever played. Parker very well could have commanded a salary in the neighborhood of $20MM for 2015/16, depending on where the maximum salary is set, but with only about $13.438MM coming his way, the Spurs have significantly more spending power to replenish their roster should Duncan and Ginobili retire.

It’s no surprise that the organization decided to recommit itself to the man at the controls of that culture of sacrifice, signing Popovich to a multiyear extension. Popovich has been the NBA’s Coach of the Year two out of the last three seasons, and he’s done so while wielding front office power in tandem with Buford, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year. The 65-year-old Popovich has joked that he’ll walk away from his job when Duncan retires, but he’s reportedly eager to coach four or five more years, and he’s suggested that he promised Parker that he’ll continue for the duration of the point guard’s extension, which runs through 2017/18.

Boris Diaw‘s contract will also keep him in San Antonio for that timeframe, providing the Spurs continue to want him around. San Antonio lavished better than mid-level money on the versatile big man, protecting themselves with non-guaranteed salary at the back end and some creative clauses, including incentives tied to Diaw’s ability to keep his weight in check. The Blazers were the only other team linked to the Doug Neustadt client, so it was a bit surprising to see San Antonio pay a premium on a long-term deal to a 32-year-old who only started 24 regular season games last season. Still, Diaw’s unselfishness on offense, which fits snugly into San Antonio’s philosophy, and his ability to guard multiple positions on defense helped prove his value.

The Spurs balanced their expensive deal for Diaw against a discount for Patrick Mills, whose shoulder injury derailed his free agency. The point guard reportedly had mutual interest in the Knicks, but once he received his diagnosis, it became clear he would re-sign with the Spurs. The Hornets, too, apparently planned to go after Mills but changed their minds when the injury surfaced. The 26-year-old will be making salaries roughly equivalent to the taxpayer’s mid-level exception the next three years, which is a team-friendly arrangement for a point guard who emerged as one of the league’s best backups last season.

San Antonio spent much of the summer with 14 players under fully guaranteed contracts for this season while negotiations dragged on with restricted free agent Aron Baynes, who eventually became the 15th. The Spurs spent time mulling sign-and-trade possibilities and Baynes cast an eye toward signing with a European team. San Antonio reportedly looked at alternatives including NBA veterans Ray Allen, Gustavo Ayon, Michael Beasley, Jamaal Franklin and Hakim Warrick, among others. San Antonio was particularly persistent with Ayon, who wound up heading overseas after a pair of Spanish teams resolved a dispute over his rights. That left the Spurs to circle back to Baynes, though San Antonio reportedly continues to eye Allen.

Change will eventually come to the Spurs, but for now, just about everyone involved has agreed that the chance to a repeat as champions, perhaps the lone accomplishment the Popovich-Duncan era team hasn’t achieved, is enticing enough to stick around for. San Antonio is the rare team that’s been able to maintain its success while keeping plenty of flexibility for the future, thanks in large measure to sacrifice from Parker and others, and while Duncan and Ginobili near the end, San Antonio’s run as an elite team seems poised to continue for the foreseeable future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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