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.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
Coming off a season in which they came within a miracle Ray Allen three-pointer of a title, the Spurs had the opportunity to go in a couple different directions this summer. The direction San Antonio ultimately chose was likely the safer of its two potential courses, and was certainly the less exciting option. But given the flexibility afforded to the Spurs heading into the offseason, that decision must not have come easy.
With Manu Ginobili‘s and Tiago Splitter‘s contracts set to expire and Matt Bonner‘s 2013/14 salary only partially guaranteed, the Spurs had less than $40MM in guaranteed salary committed to the roster for this season. If the club had let Ginobili, Splitter, and Bonner walk, it would have created nearly enough cap space to make a maximum offer to Dwight Howard — that’s why we heard a little offseason speculation that San Antonio could get involved in those sweepstakes.
Even if they chose not to pursue Howard, the Spurs could have used that chunk of potential cap room to sign an impact player. Al Jefferson, for instance, has long been considered a possible target for the Spurs. Signing him to an annual salary of $12-13MM would still have left the team some money to add another complementary player or two. The same could be said for Josh Smith, another player who signed for about that amount and may have been a fit with the Spurs.
For a team whose window is perpetually thought to be closing, the opportunity to replace a declining veteran like Ginobili with a younger star must have been tempting. Losing Splitter would have been a tough pill to swallow, but at age 28, the Brazilian big man is unlikely to continue improving much, and isn’t exactly a future Hall-of-Famer.
Still, while pundits may be ready to dub the Spurs “too old” every October, last year’s Finals are proof that the veteran team isn’t over the hill quite yet. Ginobili is slowing down, but Tony Parker remains one of the league’s best point guards, and Tim Duncan was as productive as ever in 2012/13. Throw in the fact that Kawhi Leonard emerged in the postseason as one of the NBA’s rising stars, and it’s easy to see why the Spurs decided to stay the course for another year or two.
Staying the course meant bringing back Ginobili, Splitter, and Bonner rather than claiming that potential cap space. Ginobili, who never seemed likely to sign anywhere else, inked a two-year deal worth $14.5MM. Splitter drew more interest from rival teams, reportedly receiving a four-year, $36MM offer from the Trail Blazers, which the Spurs were willing to match. I’d expected Ginobili to receive a salary in the neighborhood of the mid-level, so that extra $1-2MM annually is easy enough to swallow. As for Splitter, even if we’ve seen his best, an annual salary of $9MM is a reasonable rate for a productive big man — it’s a tradable contract and compares favorably to recent deals for players like JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan.
By the time those three Spurs were back on the books, San Antonio’s cap room had vanished, but the club still had its mid-level exception available, which it used to add a pair of players. Jeff Pendergraph, who became Jeff Ayres after signing with the team, will add some depth to the frontcourt, but Marco Belinelli was the more notable signee. It’s still very early in the year, so we can’t necessarily expect Belinelli to maintain his career-high shooting percentages and PER all season, but he looks like a great fit in San Antonio. He should make for a great option when Ginobili is struggling, or when the team needs a shooter besides Danny Green.
At some point, the Spurs will move on from the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili era and get younger, but it looks like we’re still a couple years away from that reality. The four-year deal signed by Splitter ensures that he’s the only Spur on the books long-term, with every other player’s deal set to expire by 2015. As such, I expect we’ll see the current core take two more runs at a title – this season and next – before the team once again finds itself at the crossroads it faced this summer. In 2013, it made sense to bring the whole gang back. By 2015, San Antonio may finally be headed in another direction.