How the 76ers cost the Spurs their beloved Boban Marjanovic

Boban happy. (Layne Murdoch /Getty Images)
Boban happy. (Layne Murdoch /Getty Images)

Well, this is both extremely complicated and splitting hairs as it pertains to million-dollar athletes, but it’s also an awfully interesting look inside the complexities of the NBA’s salary cap restrictions.

You know, if you’re a nerd like me.

And if you’re a fellow basketball nerd, you understand how beloved Boban Marjanovic came to be in San Antonio, for his gigantic hands and a 7-foot-3 frame that frightened Tyler Hansbrough as well as his surprisingly skilled per-36-minute contributions of 21 points and 13.7 rebounds on the Spurs.

It was the combination of all those attributes that earned Marjanovic a healthy three-year, $21 million offer sheet from the Detroit Pistons in restricted free agency this summer. As Pistons coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy said at Boban’s introductory press conference this week, “He’s somebody that we think gives us a totally different dimension with our team. You look at his efficiency on the offensive end as both a pick-and-roll guy and a low-post player. In the minutes he got in San Antonio, he was one of the absolute best scorers and rebounders in the league.”

And it’s those characteristics that also left San Antonians hoping the Spurs would match that offer sheet, but according to Yahoo’s own Adrian Wojnarowski over at The Vertical, a lucrative free agent offer to Manu Ginobili by the Philadelphia 76ers helped send the sizable Serbian packing to Detroit.

“It forced San Antonio to have to raise their offer, and it ultimately help cost San Antonio Boban Marjanovic, their 7-foot-3 restricted free-agent center, who signed an offer sheet in Detroit.”

Here’s how it most likely went down. The Spurs entered free agency with $68,609,488 in guaranteed contracts committed to seven players. Even if San Antonio renounced every one of its free agents — including Ginobili — another $2,717,355 in cap holds equal to five rookie minimum salaries would have counted against their salary cap figure, in order to fulfill a requisite 12 spots on the roster.

That new figure of $71,326,843 would have left Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and team president Gregg Popovich $22,816,157 under the salary cap. With that cap room, they could have signed free agent Pau Gasol to his two-year, $30 million deal and matched Marjanovic’s three-year, $21 million offer, all for a combined rate of $21,669,927 in 2016-17. The remaining $1,146,230 in cap room wouldn’t have been enough to sign a renounced Ginobili, but the Spurs could have still given the 38-year-old their $2,898,000 million room exception — the same figure Wojnarowski reported to be the team’s initial offer (and, believe it or not, a slight increase from Ginobili’s $2,814,000 salary in 2015-16).

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However, once the Sixers offered a two-year deal that would have guaranteed Ginobili $16-17 million in 2016-17 — and the two-time All-Star showed enough interest in a salary that would have blown away any in his previous 14 seasons — this created a series of salary cap issues for San Antonio.

If Ginobili would not accept the $2,898,000 room exception and if Popovich wanted him back in the fold — both of which have since become readily apparent — the Spurs could not renounce the former Sixth Man of the Year’s Bird Rights, which allow them to exceed the salary cap to keep their veteran free agent. As a result, one of those rookie minimum cap holds instead became a $5,346,600 cap hold for Ginobili, leaving San Antonio’s cap figure at $73,412,617 before dealing with Gasol or Marjanovic.

Gasol’s first-year salary of $14,669,927 pushed that number to $88,085,544, and the remaining $6,060,456 was shy of the $7 million annual salary Detroit offered Marjanovic. Hence, bye-bye Boban.

In the end, it wasn’t just Philadelphia’s desperation for a veteran free agent in the backcourt that led to Marjanovic’s departure from San Antonio. Gasol could have taken $1 million less in 2016-17, and the Spurs could have both matched Boban’s offer sheet and given Ginobili his well-deserved pay raise.

So, maybe — just maybe — the Spurs weren’t all that worried about losing Marjanovic. Rather than signing Gasol and Boban into cap space and bringing Ginobili back with the room exception for a combined $53.898 million in future salaries, the Spurs signed Gasol into cap space, used Ginobili’s Bird Rights to bring him back on a one-year deal and signed 7-foot free agent Dewayne Dedmon (13.0 points and 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2015-16) with the room exception for the next two years.

The end result was $3,971,590 in savings and future cap flexibility compared to the alternative, so maybe Popovich and Buford outsmarted us all again. Thus concludes today’s nerdy economics lesson.

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Ben Rohrbach

is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!