Summer agenda: San Antonio Spurs
The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a 20-year executive with the Nets, offers his thoughts on the offseason plans of NBA teams whose seasons have ended.
THE PLAN GOING FORWARD
Shift in philosophy
The Spurs are heading into unchartered waters in the future.
Long built through the draft and finding under-the-radar prospects in free agency and trades, the Spurs' philosophy has changed as their core players grow in age and become more of role players instead of a foundation pieces.
The 2015 free-agent signing of LaMarcus Aldridge when San Antonio traded former first-round pick Tiago Splitter and withdrew the qualifying offer of Cory Joseph to create cap space signaled that.
Now comes the hard part for Spurs management: Identifying free agents that fit into the role in the locker room and on the court of former All-Stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Unlike building through the draft and trades, there is an unknown element when it comes to free agency.
The problem with creating cap space
The Spurs' sense of loyalty will be tested this summer. Rarely does a 67-win team face as many roster questions and possible turnover. What direction the Spurs go this summer, however, will not be determined until the last week of June.
With player options on David West (June 22), Ginobili (June 22), Duncan (June 29) and the partial guaranteed contract of Boris Diaw (June 30), the Spurs' cap space will not be cleared up until a decision is made on all four players. Until those roster issues are finalized, San Antonio will not have cap space.
If West, Ginobili and Duncan do opt out or retire, Diaw is waived, former first-round-pick holds are released and the cap holds of free agents other than Boban Marjanovic are released, the Spurs would create cap space ($16 million) but not enough to create a max-salary slot. Factor in also that the Spurs would need to be creative in filling the voids of Duncan, Ginobili, West and Diaw in an average-at-best free-agent class will challenge Spurs management.
The Spurs do have assets in Parker (last year of his contract), Danny Green (below-market contract) and Patty Mills (solid backup), but moving players just to create cap space would be counterintuitive, especially in a free-agent year with a lack of quality point guards and unrestricted wings.
The impact of draft assets
To their credit, the Spurs have been known for developing their own players through the draft.
However, as their homegrown players grow in age, the Spurs will need to find that next layer with either former draft picks currently playing in Europe or with their first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Two players that could be in a Spurs uniform this summer are ones not picked in the first round: current Laboral Kutxa teammates Davis Bertans and Adam Hanga, both picked in the 50s of the second round.
The 23-year-old Bertans has recovered since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament to shoot 48 percent from the 3-point line. The lanky 6-foot-10 Bertans can play both forward positions, but is still a project – albeit one with tremendous upside. Hanga, four years older than Bertans, is a 6-7 lockdown, tough-as-nails defender. He doesn't have as great upside as Bertans, but is a great athlete who could prove his worth during summer league. Because both players were drafted in the second round there is no cap hold that negates against cap space.
Although picked in the first round, Nikola Milutinov and Livio Jean-Charles are both development projects and not ready to make the leap to the NBA. The 21-year-old Milutinov played sparingly in Greece this year while the development of 22-year-old Jean-Charles has stagnated. Leaving both players in Europe would give San Antonio $2 million in additional cap flexibility.
The Spurs have an advantage with two foundation pieces in Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge.
However, as the Oklahoma City series showed, both players cannot do all the heavy lifting by themselves.
Although starting point guard is an area of concern as Parker's production has dropped, throwing big money at a free agent this July should not be the primary focus. Both Parker and Mills are both serviceable enough to keep things afloat until the summer of 2017, when the Spurs will have a better crop of free agents to target.
Outside of the free-agent decisions of Duncan, Ginobili and West, the Spurs will need to address their bench issues (outside of Mills). The loss to the Thunder exposed a Spurs bench with many holes including a lack of shooting.
Although Aldridge can shift to center if Duncan retires, San Antonio will also need to address the void at starting power forward or center, including a backup power forward if West were to opt out and not return.
SPURS' SUMMER CAP BREAKDOWN
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Kawhi Leonard
3. Tony Parker
4. Danny Green
5. Tim Duncan
6. Patty Mills
7. Manu Ginobili
8. David West
9. Kyle Anderson
10. Boris Diaw
$3M guaranteed; full protection after June 30
11. Jonathan Simmons
FA cap holds
12. Boban Marjanovic
13. Kevin Martin
14. Matt Bonner
Full Bird rights
15. Andre Miller
Own first-round pick (No. 29) $983,400
Nikola Milutinov (No. 26) $1,026,300
Livio Jean-Charles (No. 28) $990,799
FA cap holds
PROJECTED CAP SPACE
Several different phases will determine the Spurs' cap situation this July.
San Antonio currently does not have cap space this summer. However, that could change based on the player options of Duncan, Ginobili, West and the partial guaranteed contract of Boris Diaw.
If all three players opted out of their contracts and Diaw is waived, the Spurs will have $14 million in room. Cap space could increase based on the direction of first-round cap holds of their own pick, including former first-round picks, Milutinov and Jean- Charles. The Spurs currently have $3 million in first-round cap holds.
San Antonio will have to balance its books with regards to Marjanovic. A restricted free agent with non-Bird rights could have the Spurs forced to use cap space to re-sign him.
JUNE DRAFT PICKS
First round: Own (No. 29)
Second round: To Sacramento
San Antonio has all of its future first-round picks.
Key rights to: Nikola Milutinov (2015, Round 1, No. 28); Cady Lalanne (2015, Round 2, No. 25); Nemanja Dangubic (2014, Round 2, No. 24); Livio Jean-Charles (2013, Round 1, No. 28); Adam Hanga (2011, Round 2, No. 29); Davis Bertans (2011, Round 2, No. 12).
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