LeBron domino doesn’t affect Spurs much, but Bosh might
LeBron James decided to “return home,” announcing he would be signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. As Matthew Tynan recently touched on, what LeBron does doesn’t have a direct impact on what the Spurs do the rest of the offseason, they were mostly focused on bringing Boris Diaw and Patty Mills back. They did so and at fair deals no less.
Between then and now, the LeBron bombshell happened and now other dominoes will fall and the first one appears to be where Chris Bosh will go. The reports have been out all week that the Houston Rockets are going to make a max contract offer and that domino should matter greatly to the Spurs. A Chris Bosh-Dwight Howard front line would rival Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as the most dynamic in the league and is probably a little more well-rounded due to Bosh’s outside shooting and defensive ability. The Houston matchup becomes particularly problematic for the Spurs because as bad as their perimeter defense is, a Bosh-Howard duo can erase a lot of those deficiencies. More importantly it also spreads Houston’s offense out even more. Last season, the Rockets were constantly looking for an answer at power forward, eventually settling on Terrence Jones. Jones was effective, but not the floor spacer the Rockets coveted at the position. Say what you want about Houston’s nearly non-existent defense last year and whether Kevin McHale is a good coach, this is a problem the Spurs.
So can the Spurs counteract this move? Do they need to? The obvious answer is to counter a skilled big man with one of your own. The Pau Gasol rumors persist and you can’t help but think his passing, post play and smarts would fit in perfect with the Spurs. There are durability concerns, but with Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw all in the rotation, managing Gasol’s minutes seems like something that wouldn’t be difficult to accomplish. Gasol isn’t the player the Spurs need, but the thought of what the Spurs offense would look like with Gasol inserted in it is incredibly exciting.
But again, is adding Gasol, or anyone using the mid-level exception (MLE) necessary for the Spurs to be considered favorites in the Western Conference next year? The potential of Bosh in Houston, not to mention Kevin Love in Golden State, makes navigating through the Western Conference about as fun as watching Oliver Stone’s Alexander (it’s been in the HBO rotation lately, just don’t). All the depth you can get helps, especially when you’re talking about someone like Gasol.
However, there are long term implications to think about when using the MLE. After next season, the Spurs will have roughly $18.5 million in committed salaries, assuming the reported numbers for Diaw and Mills are accurate. However, Kawhi Leonard’s extension is coming and as Tynan noted, a max contract for him starts at $14.75 million. And considering Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe are about to get maxed out, you can be sure Leonard is getting the max or really, really close to it. Say what you want about the Spurs getting guys to take less, you can’t count on a guy taking less on his first big pay day. That puts the Spurs salary at $33.25 million for 2015-2016. Then the fun begins for next summer. Tony Parker is an unrestricted free agent and with teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks potentially having max salary money to spend next summer, Parker’s going to be in demand. What if he gets a max offer? He’s never gotten paid like a superstar and this might be his last chance. Just guessing, but his next contract probably looks something three years, $45 million ($15 million a year).
So that puts the Spurs payroll at just over $48 million. The futures of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili won’t be known until after the season. Then you have to factor in Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayers’ expiring contracts. The salary cap will go up from $63 million, most likely in the $67 million range. This means the Spurs won’t have max money to spend, but very close if you exclude any cap holds. If you add in an extra $5.3 million to their salary, it reduces their options. That’s not to say they shouldn’t use it to upgrade their roster, but there are short term and long term goals to think about.
The summer of 2014 is just getting going for the NBA. It likely won’t be very exciting for the Spurs, but the dominoes that are starting to fall and they’re going to have an impact on the Spurs quest for a repeat. Whether they choose to react to those dominoes remains to be seen.