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  1. #1
    5. timvp's Avatar
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    On the surface, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be a team in the midst of a chaotic transition period less than a year after their franchise player abruptly demanded a trade. But digging deeper, it becomes clear that the franchise is destined for a remarkably unremarkable offseason. Wholesale changes are unlikely to be made until next summer, at the earliest.

    While it's true that the coaching staff would undoubtedly prefer to bring back a mostly intact roster in order to foster the much-ballyhooed corporate knowledge that was lost in last offseason's upheaval, the leading reason why this summer promises to be a quiet one can be found in the dollars and cents.

    The Spurs will be busy in the 2019 NBA Draft, with two first round picks (picks 19 and 29) and a second rounder (49th overall), but free agency could very well be limited to one significant addition. In fact, with how the salaries add up, San Antonio is actually incentivized to keep the team together.



    The Spurs have 11 returning players under contract, plus they're still on the hook for approximately $5.1 million of Pau Gasol's contract after buying him out back in March. All told, San Antonio has a total of approximately $99 million in salaries heading into next season. The salary cap for the 2019-20 season is set to be $109 million.

    The team's only free agent of note is Rudy Gay, who is coming off of a one-year, $10 million deal. As always, the Spurs can either re-sign Gay or renounce their rights to him in order to open the most salary cap room possible.

    However, here's where things get a bit counterintuitive. In a scenario where the Spurs renounce Gay and don't use their first round picks (either trade the picks away or select draft-and-stash prospects) to save money, the maximum amount of cap space they can open up is a shade under $9 million.

    On the other hand, if the Spurs re-sign Gay for a market value amount, they will qualify for the mid-level exception of a little bit more than $9 million. Not only is the MLE worth more than the cap space they can open up, they'd be free to proceed in the draft without concern for the salary cap implications.

    Thus, the math ends up being simple: it's better to re-sign Gay and have more money to work with in free agency than to lose Gay, lose draft flexibility and end up with less money for free agents.

    What makes the decision even easier is the fact that bringing back Gay is likely a beneficial move.

    1. The 32-year-old is coming off perhaps the most efficient season of his career. He set career-highs in two-point percentage, three-point percentage and rebounding rate. His assist rate was up 50% over his first season with the Spurs, while his usage rate dropped to its lowest point since his rookie season.

    2. The Spurs were demonstratively better when Gay played well. Including the playoffs, the Spurs were only 16-18 when Gay scored ten points or less. When he scored more than ten points, the Spurs were 35-20. That's the difference between a 34.5-win pace and a 52.2-win pace.

    3. Advanced statistics smiled upon Gay. When he was on the court during the regular season, the Spurs outscored opponents by 4.0 points per 100 possessions. When he was on the bench, the Spurs were outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions. RPM (real plus-minus) graded Gay as the team's second best player on a per-minute basis and a top ten player at his position in the league, no matter if you classify him as a small forward or a power forward.

    4. Considering Gay relies mostly on size and length to score in isolation situations, he should age reasonably well. He'll have to transition more and more to being a full-time power forward but he appears to be capable. It's not a stretch to imagine he could navigate down the Robert Horry-like route: enter the league as a SF and extend his career as a PF.

    5. He fits the DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge timeline. It's very unlikely that he'd command an extended contract. Additionally, by all accounts he not only gets along with DeRozan and Aldridge, he serves a mentorship role for the team's up-and-coming players.

    Unless a team falls in love with Gay and offers him a lucrative, multi-season contract, it shouldn't be too complicated to bring him back into the fold. Would a team give him three-plus seasons at the MLE? Unlikely. Would a team with salary cap space use it on Gay? Even more unlikely.

    Gay made $8.4 million in his first season with the Spurs. This year, he made $10.1 million in his second season. When free agency begins, the Spurs can offer him a one-year, $12.1 million contract. If that doesn't get it done, the Spurs can partially guarantee a second season to match outside offers.

    Preferably, the Spurs are able to get Gay back on a one-year deal to maximize their potential salary cap space next summer. However, a two-year contract is palatable, as it corresponds with what is likely to be the DeRozan and Aldridge window.

    Going longer than two years on a Gay contract would be unwise. That said, if it comes down to it, the Spurs can use their Early Bird rights to sign Gay to a fully guaranteed two-year contract worth more than $36 million. That should be more than enough to match any offer he gets on the open market.

    After the draft and with the inevitable re-signing of Gay, the Spurs could turn their attention to how to best use the MLE. While they are allowed to split the $9-plus million MLE, with how the roster is constructed, it'd likely be best to consolidate their spending and use it on a single player.

    Sure, the roster isn't exactly brimming with talent, but it does -- due specifically to the return of Dejounte Murray and the hopeful ascension of Lonnie Walker IV -- have most of the available minutes already accounted for going into next season.



    Even with those lowball estimates for each player's minutes per game, there are only 16 more minutes available for a tenth man. Considering it's unlikely that any of those nine players will be dropped completely from the rotation barring a notable addition, there's already a minutes crunch -- and that's not even factoring in Walker, Marco Belinelli, Chimezie Metu or any of the three draft picks.

    Viewing the roster by position paints a similar picture.



    Point guard and shooting guard are already stuffed to the gills. If another player is added at either one of those positions, it'd probably do more harm than good as a deserving youngster (namely Derrick White, Murray or Walker) would see a minute reduction.

    It's now clear that DeRozan is a full-time small forward; during the playoffs, that was basically the only position he played. Considering his rebounding prowess and his deceptively poor lateral quickness on defense, SF makes the most sense for him going forward -- and he's going to eat a lot of those minutes as long as he's around.

    Adding a bigman would come with the consequence of negatively impacting minutes for either Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl or Gay.

    How should the Spurs spend the mid-level exception? The most obvious answer is to use the MLE on a defensive, rangy wing to fortify the backup small forward and power forward spots. San Antonio doesn't have a defensive small forward on their roster, nor do they have an athletic power forward who can both move out on the perimeter defensively and hold their own in the lane. But note, adding such a player for the MLE likely bumps Bertans out of the rotation -- or possibly, but less likely, Poeltl (if the MLE player can also play center) or Gay (if he's a scorer).

    The other, less pressing, need is a third string center (unless Metu takes a giant step forward). However, it'd be a questionable decision to invest too much here because, barring injury, it's virtually impossible that the player would be in the rotation during the 2019-20 season. And in today's NBA, third string centers are a dime a dozen.

    If the front office is pleased with the current depth of the rotation, the other leading option is to use part of the MLE to bring over 2015 first round draft pick Nikola Milutinov. The 24-year-old center prospect is highly regarded ... but a rotation featuring both him and Poeltl isn't going to happen as long as Aldridge is still around, so this would be a move done with the post-Aldridge future in mind. The rest of the MLE, in this scenario, could be used to bring in a long-term prospect that may help the transition when the DeRozan and Aldridge window closes.

    Compared to most Spurs summers, this one appears to be easy to predict, as there just aren't many avenues to travel down that make a whole lot of sense. In forthcoming writeups, I'll investigate various topics including:

    -The best fits in the 2019 NBA Draft
    -Specific MLE possibilities
    -More on the pros and cons of opening up cap room this summer
    -Player by player reviews and projections
    -Estimating Milutinov's NBA value
    -How long to extend the DeRozan and Aldridge window
    -The nuclear option to blow up the team next summer
    -Max free agent hunting in 2021

  2. #2
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    Thanks! Still hoping you'll leak your insider info on the break up from last summer.

  3. #3
    A neverending cycle Trainwreck2100's Avatar
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    If GS has to pony up that luxury tax money Spurs owners gonna get a fat check

  4. #4
    Believe. Degoat's Avatar
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    I’d imagine the spurs split up the MLE among 2 players but is there a potential player worth giving the entire MLE to this summer??

  5. #5
    Veteran illusioNtEk's Avatar
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    How the is Derrick white in the bottom of the list and patty is the 3rd highest paid.

  6. #6
    Believe. Degoat's Avatar
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    I like Davis but 7 mill is kinda pricy for a guy who got benched in the playoffs too lol

  7. #7
    Believe. Degoat's Avatar
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    Marcus Morris, Aminu, Ariza, Wes Matthews, Rodney Hood.. one of them being best case scenario or somebody else??

  8. #8
    Believe.
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    Thanks! Still hoping you'll leak your insider info on the break up from last summer.
    Yes please would like to know also.
    Maybe we can start a #kawhiback2SA

  9. #9
    Believe. KGB POP's Avatar
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    Thanks! Still hoping you'll leak your insider info on the break up from last summer.
    Yes, I agree. Trading top a 3 player who still had a year on his contract is not exactly indefensible, but it would be nice to know the context in which the decision was made. Specifically, why exactly did the Spurs feel the situation with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was untenable? It's a fair question the local media has not reported on at all.

    With that being said, this post by TimVP is more informative than anything the Express has put out since Ludden left.

  10. #10
    Believe.
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    How the is Derrick white in the bottom of the list and patty is the 3rd highest paid.
    Meet Greg Popovich. His responsibilities include head coach, the front office, and the local alcoholic.

  11. #11
    Veteran tbdog's Avatar
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    In my preview post, I said the Spurs would use the the full mle on a combo 3d forward, eg Morris, trade 2 of Mills, Forbes, Beli, Bertans for a defensive wing, and resign Gay to a 3 year contract.

  12. #12
    OH YOU LIKE IT!!! slick'81's Avatar
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    Agreed on no more then two seasons for gay

  13. #13
    Machacarredes Chinook's Avatar
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    The Spurs aren't good enough to need to run a nine-man rotation. Even the 2014 Spurs had sizeable 10th- and 11th-man contributions from Joseph and Ayres, respectively. Even in Murray's "breakout season" in 2017, dude averaged 22 mpg. White averaged 26. It makes no sense to slate them for an 10mpg increase, especially considering Murray's injury. It also doesn't help that you essentially have White, Murray and DeRozan playing together a ton, and there's a really good chance that doesn't happen. In the very least, it's not beyond a "low-ball" projection to assume one of White or Murray will come off the bench and play at 24-ish mpg role. Manu did it. Obviously, you can counter by saying that he would have played more if he were younger, but the point stands that those 22ish minutes he played were plenty for a sizeable role.

    I think there's an obvious place for a new rotation player, especially if you leave Beli out of the "locks". Two of Mills/Forbes/Murray/White will start, and the other two will be on the bench. DeRozan and Aldridge will start. Gay will be on the bench. Even if you also have Bertans as a lock (and I don't; he's likely competing with Beli and Walker and maybe a draft pick of free agent), that still leaves a forward spot open, likely the starting one between DMDR and LMA. Of course, if the team wants to keep the same rotation plus Murray, then they can do so and not add anyone. But that's still a 10-man rotation, and it's not nearly out of the question that the club could use the MLE or draft to upgrade some of the weaker spots in that rotation.

    But here's the kicker: Let's say PATFO decides to not have Beli or Bertans (or Forbes or Mills) in the rotation. All of the sudden, trading them is an option. I got the sense last off-season that Bertans wasn't happy with his role, and while it seemed like he was going to be good this year, I think getting benched in the playoffs will wear on that trust. Beli of course is old and not all that great. Very expendable, even though he's great when he's great. Anyway, trading any of those guys either opens up cap space or opens up paths to new rotation players beyond free agency. If the team is desperate enough for space to stash a top-20 pick, they could likely use that pick or the Toronto pick to really make more cap space. You make the moves to open up $20ish Million, and you might be in the market for a different player than Gay. Or maybe you strike a deal for a rotation player that better fits what the team needs.

    I don't think it's straight-forward at all. I mean, obviously, the team is likely to be business as usual and not make any splash. But that's because that's how PATFO operates, not because they don't have options. You can argue the team needs to make an aggressive move if they aren't going to blow up their core, and they have the pieces and incentives to make such a move.

  14. #14
    NostraSpurMus phxspurfan's Avatar
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    lets do Chernobyl on this thing! Nuclear!

  15. #15
    Believe. Rusty's Avatar
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    that Patty Mills contract

    my goodness.....no wonder Kawhi left

  16. #16
    Veteran spurs10's Avatar
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    Great information, thanks! Why wouldn't Gay, or his agent rather, not push hard for the team to indeed use their Early Bird rights and do everything possible to get the two year fully guaranteed +36 million? I think PATFO does indeed want him back and it will likely be his last big contract. Again thanks for this breakdown, makes sense.

  17. #17
    5. timvp's Avatar
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    In my preview post, I said the Spurs would use the the full mle on a combo 3d forward, eg Morris, trade 2 of Mills, Forbes, Beli, Bertans for a defensive wing, and resign Gay to a 3 year contract.
    Good stuff; I enjoyed the read. Although, I disagree regarding Gay. If he demands a three-year deal, you have to let him walk. One is preferred and two has to be the max when you factor in the long-term contract planning.

  18. #18
    5. timvp's Avatar
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    Great information, thanks! Why wouldn't Gay, or his agent rather, not push hard for the team to indeed use their Early Bird rights and do everything possible to get the two year fully guaranteed +36 million? I think PATFO does indeed want him back and it will likely be his last big contract. Again thanks for this breakdown, makes sense.
    It'll come down to leverage. The Spurs would have to see a reason to budge from the one-year, $12 million. I can see a partially guaranteed second year if Gay is offered two-year contracts at the MLE. For the Spurs to get all the way to two years and $36 million, there'd have to be a team out there offering three or four years at the MLE ... and that's unlikely given Gay's age and injury history.

  19. #19
    Veteran spurs10's Avatar
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    It'll come down to leverage. The Spurs would have to see a reason to budge from the one-year, $12 million. I can see a partially guaranteed second year if Gay is offered two-year contracts at the MLE. For the Spurs to get all the way to two years and $36 million, there'd have to be a team out there offering three or four years at the MLE ... and that's unlikely given Gay's age and injury history.
    Gotcha, makes sense. Thanks!

  20. #20
    Veteran BG_Spurs_Fan's Avatar
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    I don’t see that much playing time for Murray after the injury he’s had and I’d expect him to sit out at least 15 games. That plus inevitable injuries will open up another rotation spot, whether for Walker or a MLE guy. I like Jeremy Lamb for that role although he might be more expensive.

    On the other hand it’s not impossible that they don’t use the MLE at all if they value 2020 cap space too much albeit not sure who they might target in an awful FA class. I’d be happy for if they use it on Milutinov if he’s fine accepting something like 3yr/15 mil. He’s good enough and has the NBA body to play right away. I don’t believe they’ll go in the season with only Metu as a back up center, in fact I don’t think they even view him as a center but more of a homeless man Siakam. The need for a back up center will create a bit if a roster spots problem if we’re assuming they go the safest route - keep everyone, re-sign Gay, add two picks, use MLE. Something’s got to give, whether it’s a 2 for 1 trade, a draft and stash or something. I can also see Bertans being traded somewhere into cap space, maybe back to Indiana. Beli could be an option too if Walker steps up.

    Like Chinook said there’s a very serious possibility that the projected starting lineup doesn’t work due to poor spacing, so balancing the roster better will be very important and with the minutes crunch there could be many options to make more moves and come up with a not so changed team talent-wise but much more balanced.

  21. #21
    Klaw apalisoc_9's Avatar
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    Good stuff; I enjoyed the read. Although, I disagree regarding Gay. If he demands a three-year deal, you have to let him walk. One is preferred and two has to be the max when you factor in the long-term contract planning.
    Yeah signing gay for three years is silly considering players like White would be entering their primes in that third year and Derozan will mostly likely be declining as a player if they do choose to resign him.

    The best case scenario here is to just sign gay for a year but the more likely scenario is a two year contract with a partially guaranteed money for the 2nd.

    If they can retain gay, they'll likely attempt to add more penetration skills coming from wing player but will probably be content with a any wing that can potentially help them in the playoffs.

    No way should the spurs use any of that MLE for Militunov. Potelt is fine as a center. They'll sign a wing and draft a wing at 29

  22. #22
    5. timvp's Avatar
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    The Spurs aren't good enough to need to run a nine-man rotation. Even the 2014 Spurs had sizeable 10th- and 11th-man contributions from Joseph and Ayres, respectively.
    Didn't mean to insinuate that Pop would run a 9-man rotation. The Spurs have gone at least 10 deep for more than a decade now.

    I was merely pointing out that even after lowballing the top nine players' minutes, there's only a little bit of room left at the dinner table.

    Even in Murray's "breakout season" in 2017, dude averaged 22 mpg. White averaged 26. It makes no sense to slate them for an 10mpg increase, especially considering Murray's injury. It also doesn't help that you essentially have White, Murray and DeRozan playing together a ton, and there's a really good chance that doesn't happen. In the very least, it's not beyond a "low-ball" projection to assume one of White or Murray will come off the bench and play at 24-ish mpg role. Manu did it. Obviously, you can counter by saying that he would have played more if he were younger, but the point stands that those 22ish minutes he played were plenty for a sizeable role.
    1) Murray averaged closer to 27 MPG after he became a starter. Pop has continually gone out of his way to stress how big of a part of the future Murray is so I do think 28 MPG qualifies as a lowball. A torn ACL really isn't a load management situation. Playing him 28 MPG wouldn't put him in any extra danger, especially since he'll be about a year out from the surgery date by the time next season starts. If Murray starts, which is likely (IMO, at least), he'll probably average closer to 30 MPG.

    2) There would literally be riots if White came off the bench and only averaged 24 minutes per game. Like literal riots

    3) Ginobili came off the bench and averaged 28-30 MPG in his younger days ... and he was a player who was easily fatigued. Don't see how that points to either White or Murray averaging "22ish" minutes.

    I think there's an obvious place for a new rotation player, especially if you leave Beli out of the "locks". Two of Mills/Forbes/Murray/White will start, and the other two will be on the bench. DeRozan and Aldridge will start. Gay will be on the bench. Even if you also have Bertans as a lock (and I don't; he's likely competing with Beli and Walker and maybe a draft pick of free agent), that still leaves a forward spot open, likely the starting one between DMDR and LMA. Of course, if the team wants to keep the same rotation plus Murray, then they can do so and not add anyone. But that's still a 10-man rotation, and it's not nearly out of the question that the club could use the MLE or draft to upgrade some of the weaker spots in that rotation.
    Yeah, as far as I can tell, we came to the same conclusions here.

    But here's the kicker: Let's say PATFO decides to not have Beli or Bertans (or Forbes or Mills) in the rotation. All of the sudden, trading them is an option. I got the sense last off-season that Bertans wasn't happy with his role, and while it seemed like he was going to be good this year, I think getting benched in the playoffs will wear on that trust. Beli of course is old and not all that great. Very expendable, even though he's great when he's great. Anyway, trading any of those guys either opens up cap space or opens up paths to new rotation players beyond free agency. If the team is desperate enough for space to stash a top-20 pick, they could likely use that pick or the Toronto pick to really make more cap space. You make the moves to open up $20ish Million, and you might be in the market for a different player than Gay. Or maybe you strike a deal for a rotation player that better fits what the team needs.
    I see where you're coming from but it's difficult to come up with an equation that makes sense. On one hand, you can re-sign Gay, use your draft picks however you want and still have the entire MLE to spend. Is there really a realistic scenario out there where you let Gay walk, use your assets to salary dump two or three players (in a realistic scenario, you probably would need to trade away both first rounders to even have hope of opening up $20 million) and find a player to add who makes it all worthwhile? I just don't see it. Are the Spurs one $20 million free agent away (while subtracting Gay, at least) from being a championship contender? That would need to be the case if you're going to throw away assets in a win-now move.

    And that's another reason why re-signing Gay makes sense: not only do they avoid wasting assets in the short-term, they keep the books clean for the long-term while remaining in playoff contention -- and given the DeRozan trade, that's their preferred route.

    I don't think it's straight-forward at all. I mean, obviously, the team is likely to be business as usual and not make any splash. But that's because that's how PATFO operates, not because they don't have options. You can argue the team needs to make an aggressive move if they aren't going to blow up their core, and they have the pieces and incentives to make such a move.
    Personally, I'd rather the Spurs keep the tinder dry, their assets plush and wait for a better time to make a splash. With a team built around DeRozan and Aldridge, I don't see them being an "aggressive" move away from taking a big step forward. Patience, IMO.

  23. #23
    hope and change
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    If GS has to pony up that luxury tax money Spurs owners gonna get a fat check
    Don't teams have to be under the cap to get that money?

  24. #24
    Veteran superbigtime's Avatar
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    This is awesome. Thx for addressing the Milutinov mystery.

  25. #25
    Remember kobyz's Avatar
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    To me going for another year of treadmill team like op suggest to achieve at best first round exit is pointless...
    there should be two legitimate plans for the off-season: 1. trying to unload Bertans/Bellinelli/Mills using the draft picks and young assets to open room for max player 2. trading away DeMar and LMA and go tanking...

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