So as we approach the end of the NBA season, with the possibility of the Cavaliers commemorating 10 years since LeBron James's first Finals appearance with another sweep, some would argue that the NBA postseason has been somewhat anti-climatic. The teams that were supposed to win generally won, there never was any real question of an upset. Looming on the Spurs' radar though, outside of the general well-being of Kawhi Leonard's ankle, is the off-season, a time of relative uncertainty, especially if the Spurs expect to be big players, a role that they have generally avoided during the Tim Duncan era. The lone exception was the courtship and signing of LaMarcus Aldridge two seasons ago.
Looking at the Spurs this off-season there are a lot of needs to be addressed. I'm hoping to put out a series of posts that detail some of the options we have at each position this off-season. However, before we get there, we have to understand the situation that the Spurs have on their hands. That means a quick (and casual) look at the Spurs' salary cap situation.
From a cursory glance, we can surmise that the salary cap for next season will be $101 million, which is the important number for us. Another slightly less important number is the $121 million luxury tax threshold. (Note: salary figures provided by HoopsHype). I'm not going to get into the cap holds for players on the Spurs' roster entering free agency, but will simply illustrate the best case scenario here. Let's also not forget that many are already looking towards the 2018 free agent class which includes both Paul George and LeBron James.
Let's assume Manu retires and all players with options opt out. This means that the Spurs will have about $72 million in salary wrapped up. Sounds good right? However, if we look at the roster under that assumption:
PG - Tony Parker, Dejounte Murray
SG - Danny Green, Bryn Forbes
SF - Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson
PF - LaMarcus Aldridge, Davis Bertans
While we're technically still paying for Livio Jean-Charles, I don't know that he's coming back to the roster anytime soon.
As reference, let's look at all of the Spurs' draft-and-stash players they have available to them: Adam Hanga (SG/SF), Nemanja Dangubic (SG), Nikola Milutinov (C). We'll discuss them as their position comes up.
A quick look at the point guard position tells us we might be okay. Granted, Parker is on his last legs at the ripe NBA age of 35. However, I've been really impressed with the poise that Dejounte Murray has carried onto the floor. Normally, I would say, let's fast track that development, and with Bryn Forbes seeing limited time at PG on the floor it may work out. However, it's not that easy. When Tony Parker got injured in Game 5 of the Houston Rockets series, Spurs fans all were collectively holding their breath. Any injury to Tony was bad, but coupled with his advancing age, this was not ideal. I remember wincing very hard when I heard it was a ruptured quadriceps tendon. Now, it's not an injury I know a lot about, but when any tendon is ruptured (e.g. an achilles) it just sounds bad. While Tony plans on returning to NBA basketball, he's not projected to do so until January, and even if he does, we're not sure about his efficacy on the court. We all saw how much Kobe Bryant fell off after his return from a ruptured achilles tendon.
That simply means that if we don't pick up a PG, we're running with Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes at the point until January. Not super ideal. If you do the math, we have just under $30 million in cap space to spend, and we need to use that (plus any minimum contracts) to fill at LEAST 4 additional roster spots.
Now let's consider the options. I'm not really going to explore to many trade options because that's a whole other conversation.
Many people have been jumping in on the idea of Chris Paul leaving the Clippers for San Antonio. I only mention this because this is the most popular story out there right now, so I figure out would address it on the get go and get it out of the way. The only way I think this is a good idea is if Chris Paul asks for less than a max deal, which I don't think he will. In order to make enough room to sign Paul to a $34 million max deal, the Spurs would then have to get rid of either Danny Green or LaMarcus Aldridge and all of their available cap space, it's not a situation I think the Spurs would be successful in.
So let's look at our options:
Re-sign Patty Mills
In terms of chemistry and corporate knowledge I think this is a pretty safe bet. Unfortunately, Patty may command more than we are willing to pay for him. Patty has been a stellar backup PG that can control the offense and make big shots when he's called upon. His contract this year was only $3.2 million, but with his stellar play both this past season and especially in the 2014 NBA Finals, he's due for a raise. Would it be a good idea for the Spurs to match a Cory Joseph type contract? That's really hard to say. We know that Patty probably won't be any more than a stellar backup. The closer that annual salary number gets to $10 million the harder it becomes to justify.
The stopgap veteran pile
The one thing I don't think Pop gets enough credit for is his ability to mitigate individual defensive weaknesses with his team defense schemes. I don't think Tony Parker, David Lee, or Pau Gasol are considered elite defenders, at best they are poor to average. Yet, in spite of all of that, the Spurs had the best defense in the league. Granted, having a defensive genius like Kawhi Leonard and stellar perimeter defenders like Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons helped, but I think there's something about the way Pop designs defensive sets that gets the most out of all of his players, included supposed defensive sieves. That being said, I would just like to point out that while some of these names may not fit the mold of exactly what we want, I think the lack of defense may not be as bad as some might think. Without further ado, let me throw out a couple of names that won't WOW anyone but I think would be serviceable until Tony returns and won't take up too much money, maybe minimum to a small 1 year contract with a team option or something.
To start off this list I would like to consider Jose Calderon. Look, Calderon is also 35, yes, but he plays a controlled brand of basketball that is effective. He boasts a high basketball IQ and shoots well from outside. I'd like to think of him now at best as a poor man's Cory Joseph, which, isn't stellar, but, I think until we know for sure what Tony Parker will look like in January, the Spurs will be in a sort of state of limbo. Thrown into this pile I would also include stalwarts such as Beno Udrih (with whom Pop is already familiar), Raymond Felton, and perhaps even Deron Williams.
The serviceable pile
Most of these names won't blow you away, and frankly, they could get expensive enough that we might as well just re-sign Patty Mills. These would be names like Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Shelvin Mack, Ty Lawson, Ramon Sessions, or even Aaron Brooks. So if Patty is cheaper than these guys, take Patty.
The reach pile
I frankly don't think we'd get him, but it would be a good story if he was at a reasonable price that didn't compromise the Spurs' future cap space. That name is George Hill. Perhaps his injuries have lowered his value, but we have to remember that he made a young Jazz core look very formidable. When he played he averaged a strong (but not stellar) 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists on just under 47% shooting per game. Beyond that, he's played off-ball with Tony before, so he understands how to run an offense but doesn't need the ball in his hands to be successful. Maybe throw Ian Clark in here.
The redemption projects
These are guys that I think still have a lot of potential, but of course, their lack of development has put their work-ethic and desire to win into question. While I have the utmost confidence in the shot development of assistant coach Chip Engelland, and his resume speaks for itself (see: Richard Jefferson's three ball, Tony Parker's three ball, Kawhi Leonard's jumpshot, Tiago Splitter's free throw, etc...), one has to wonder if a) he can fix anybody's shot and b) if he will have time considering how he will be working a lot with Dejounte Murray.
Evans was put into a bad situation where he couldn't win. We get that. But he could be so much more. I don't think he's entirely suited to play the PG, but I think with spot minutes his versatility and size would be valuable. He might be a bargain given his stock isn't very high, and one would think that the Spurs' shot doctor could turn him into something special if he doesn't break the system. This is a character question which I would defer to Pop and Bud.
Another former ROY. He kind of has a broken jumpshot so nobody guards him beyond 10 feet, but his size and ball-handling ability make him intriguing. Perhaps he'll turn into Shaun Livingston 2.0, perhaps he could be pre-injury Shaun Livingston, who knows? Again, character becomes an issue as to the efficacy of the shot doctor.
The last two players I don't know a whole lot about, but I think also bear intriguing possibilities especially as their stock is kind of at a low are Brandon Jennings and Trey Burke, but like all prospects in this category, their character remains a large question mark, which may be enough for Pop and Bud to pass over them.