One of the strangest chapters in franchise history came to an end on Monday when the San Antonio Spurs agreed to buyout the contract of DeMarre Carroll. During free agency, Carroll came to San Antonio after agreeing to a three-year contract with $15 million in guaranteed money over three seasons. He was brought in to fortify the defense and provide spacing on offense. Instead, Carroll played only 135 minutes in 15 games this season.
This season, Carroll went from barely playing to not even getting into games during blowouts to leaving the team entirely before the start of the Rodeo Road Trip. Considering that Carroll is known as a high-character player and a good teammate, this sudden divorce is something no one could have predicted coming heading into the season.
The 33-year-old is now reportedly going to sign with the Houston Rockets. To gain his freedom, Carroll likely had to give up some of the $10.3 million still owed to him by San Antonio. Since he’s not exactly a hot commodity after his odd breakup with San Antonio, it’s unlikely Carroll gave up more than a couple million dollars.
After buying out Pau Gasol last season, the Spurs still had to pay him $5 million this season. Now more dead money will be added to the books — probably extending to the 2021-22 steason.
Why Didn’t the Spurs Play DeMarre Carroll?
It’s completely unclear why DeMarre Carroll never even got close to entering the regular rotation for the Spurs. He looked okay in the preseason; he wasn’t great but he looked to be on the same level he was the prior season with the Brooklyn Nets.
DeMar DeRozan has gobbled up most of the minutes at small forward this season, which is likely Carroll’s most natural position. However, DeRozan was playing more and more at small forward last season, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise for the front office.
Behind DeRozan at small forward, head coach Gregg Popovich has relied on a combination of Lonnie Walker IV and Marco Belinelli. Did the front office underestimate Walker’s ascension and Pop’s continued trust in Belinelli? It’s possible.
At power forward, another position Carroll can play, Rudy Gay has remained healthier than usual. DeRozan has also spent a notable amount of time at PF.
The most likely reason why Carroll found himself on the outside looking in is the fact that Trey Lyles has played much more than what was expected coming into the season. Lyles went from scrap heap signing to starting 44 of the 54 games for the Spurs. While he hasn’t exactly exploded on the scene, Lyles’ averages of 5.4 points and 5.6 rebounds on 18.4 minutes per game have been enough to hold down his starting gig without much trouble.
That said, the Carroll debacle is still strange. How does he not even get a legitimate shot to earn a spot in the rotation after the Spurs guaranteed him $15 million? How does the relationship fail so catastrophically in half a season that he leaves the team completely midway through his first campaign? It’s confounding.
Where do the Spurs Go from Here?
Going forward, nothing much changes for San Antonio. Carroll wasn’t playing and didn’t appear to be causing a distraction, so the Spurs are in the same boat they arrived at the All-Star break in.
In terms of the salary cap, while it’s poor cap management to have dead money on the books, there’s a decent to good chance that it won’t really impact things in a tangible way. It didn’t appear that the Spurs were going to dip under the salary cap this upcoming summer, so the dead money shouldn’t come into play beyond the ownership having to pay another player who is no longer in San Antonio.
The most troubling aspect of this whole situation is that, for the first time in decades, there appears to be a gulf between the front office and the coaching staff. The front office wasting money on a player who didn’t fit in the coaches’ rotation from the get-go? That’s not something Spurs fans have ever seen since Popovich took over the head coaching reins.