Spurs waiting out LeBron’s summer storm
As the second Summer of LeBron heats the NBA landscape and torments the suitors hopeful for his All-NBA services, the Spurs operate at their own pace, as they usually do, generally unencumbered by the goings-on. In truth, the LeBron-a-thon affects basically everyone in the league, given that no team’s roster is complete, and James’ decision-making process has put a league-wide hold on transaction activity involving players that exist beyond lower-tier roster-filler or superstar-seducing veteran running-buddies.
San Antonio finds itself at a very low level of involvement here, however. At this juncture, the front office has the full, $5.305 million mid-level exception at its disposal to spend on a free agent if it A) has the space or B) finds it necessary to do so for a run at a repeat; but there’s where the team is playing the waiting game on free agents like Pau Gasol, who’s been linked to the Spurs in a couple of different rumors. Most teams and players around the league aren’t budging or making a decision until the LeBron chase concludes and the rest of the NBA picture clears.
Meanwhile, the Spurs have been methodically putting the puzzle pieces in place following the franchise’s fifth championship. Tim Duncan opted in to the final season of his three-year deal, Patty Mills agreed to a three-year, $12-million deal despite the news he’ll miss much of the 2014-15 season after exit exams revealed a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, Boris Diaw re-upped for three years and $22.5 million with a partial guarantee for that third year, and Gregg Popovich agreed to a multiyear contract extension on Wednesday (though nobody knows anything about the terms of the deal, per Pop’s request, because of course). The only unresolved situations that remain are Matt Bonner’s unrestricted free agency, Aron Baynes’ restricted free agency, officially signing rookie first-round draft pick Kyle Anderson, and what to do with the MLE money. Once the regular season begins, the roster must contain no more than 15 players, so it’s quite possible either Bonner or Baynes is not on the squad for opening night.
So until LeBron kicks over the first domino, we wait patiently; but we can still take a quick look at updated salary information and what to expect moving forward. Also, if you’ve never played dominos and only paid attention to the NBA’s offseason, you’d probably think the game was officially played by lining each domino up in an awesome design and tipping the first one over until they were all flat on the ground, and man that seems like a weird game. But I digress.
Spurs on cruise control
Considering some of the contracts we’ve seen handed out this offseason, San Antonio retaining Mills and Diaw for a combined annual salary of what appears to be less than $13 million looks like a steal by comparison. The numbers seem more practical than they do a steal, but relative to what the rest of the league is doing, it’s borderline thievery.
The league’s moratorium ended at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday (which means free agents are now allowed to put actual ink to paper), and with that came the release of the league’s financials. Salary-cap numbers came in slightly lower than was projected, slotting the line at $63.065 million and the luxury tax at $76.829 million. So with that, we can see where the Spurs sit currently.
We do not know exact numbers on the contracts yet (there have been reports that Diaw’s deal is front-loaded, and we do know $18.5 million of the $22.5 million is guaranteed), so to keep it simple we’ll just lay them out at a flat rate. Diaw and Mills will be making ~$11.5 million combined during the 2014-15 season, which puts the Spurs’ payroll at roughly $67.5 million, including Anderson’s likely starting salary figure and Baynes’ qualifying offer, and excluding the $7.5-million Bonner cap hold. This leaves them a little more than $9 million shy of the dreaded luxury-tax threshold and in virtually no danger of surpassing it unless the organization becomes suddenly fiscally irresponsible overnight. It also basically guarantees they’ll have the non-taxpayer MLE available to them.
At this point, given the understanding of what the Spurs’ offseason goals were heading into the draft and free agency, things have gone swimmingly. Duncan opting in, drafting perhaps the perfect system fit of the draft in Anderson, bringing back Diaw and Mills, extending one of the greatest coaches ever — all is going according to plan.
The only low points have been the Mills and Manu Ginobili injuries, though they shouldn’t be a huge factor. Ginobili should be ready for training camp, and his stress fracture might keep him out of the FIBA World Cup, which is both a huge bummer for the Argentines and a muffled sigh of relief for Spurs fans. It also sounds like Tony Parker will be taking it easy this summer and not playing with the French National Team.
So, what’s next, besides dealing with Bonner, Baynes, and free agency?
Kawhi Leonard’s gonna get paid
If there’s anything we can take away recent reported signings, it’s that San Antonio’s 23-year-old Finals MVP is about to make some money. With the likes of Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons being offered max extensions (or something close) coming off their rookie deals, Kawhi Leonard would absolutely be maxed if he hit the open market. Fortunately, for the Spurs, that doesn’t have to happen, as Leonard is eligible for extension this summer.
With the release of the new salary-cap information, we’re now able to see numbers on maximum salaries more clearly. The NBA released numbers on Wednesday, putting the max on players with zero-to-six years of experience at $14.746 million for the 2014-15 season. Now, Leonard’s extension wouldn’t kick in until the 2015-16 season when the cap is expected to jump to around $66 million, so his starting max would be around $15.6 million if that is indeed the argreement he reaches with the Spurs.
A quick note on salaries: It’s a common misconception that these max-contract numbers are derived from a percentage of the actual salary cap — in the case of these zero-to-six-year players, 25 percent — when in fact they’re taken from a different portion of the NBA’s BRI (basketball-related income). Maximum-salary negotiations and actual cap negotiations were done separately when the league and its players agreed to (I believe) the 2005 CBA, and so the two have since been uncoupled. The percentage of the BRI from which max contracts are derived is slightly less than the number that determines the salary cap, so max contracts are always slightly cheaper than what the same percentage of the actual cap would be.
Leonard is probably worth the second-contract max, and, again, he’d be a lock to receive it on the open market, but weird things have a way of happening in San Antonio. The Spurs are often accused of witchcraft or sorcery or wizardry or magic, given their history of finding ways to pay less or rope teams into trades that benefit the silver and black significantly, but this is the post-Duncan future of the franchise at stake here. The team also has a ton of cap space and flexibility moving forward, so a max deal wouldn’t exactly do a ton of damage to the pocketbook.
The rest of the NBA has set the salary bar, but if the Spurs are able to secure Leonard for a few dollars cheaper, I’ll be the last one in shock.
The Spurs Las Vegas Summer League roster has been released, and there will be some familiar faces out in the desert. Among the names included are Anderson, Jeff Ayres, and Austin Daye, as well as draft-and-stashers Marcus Denmon, Deshaun Thomas, and Ryan “Summer League” Richards.
Also in the mix is Bryce Cotton, an undrafted point guard from Providence the Spurs recently signed to a deal that would become guaranteed should he make the roster out of training camp in October. Given the Mills injury situation, it makes sense the Spurs would take a look at a point guard, especially one they could potentially get on the cheap.
Cotton fits that description, and he also exhibits a set of skills similar to that of the injured Mills. He’s a good shooter and was a very good scorer off the dribble at the collegiate level. He’s quite undersized at six feet, 163 pounds, however, and we obviously haven’t seen how his talents translate to the NBA level. But this is a no-risk deal. He’s guaranteed just $50,000, and the team is allowed to carry up to 20 players on the roster during the offseason, so his inclusion shouldn’t affect how San Antonio handles its business with Bonner, Baynes, and other possible free agents.
With Parker and Cory Joseph as the only two point guards (officially) on the roster, expect the Spurs to take a long look at Cotton. But, also remember that Diaw and Anderson are both very good ball-handlers at the forward position, and Ginobili — and to a lesser extent, Belinelli — can also run the show. The problem would come on rest nights or if one or more of these guys suffers an injury. Still, there’s plenty of time to sort all of this out.
48 Minutes of Hell will be in Las Vegas for most of, if not all Spurs games, so keep locked in here.