Newest Spurs Intel as Free Agency Gets Underway

With their latest maneuverings, the San Antonio Spurs now have just shy of $40 million in salary cap space. However, despite being armed with more cap space than any team in the NBA, the Spurs were very quiet during the first day of free agency. In fact, according to a source, the Spurs didn’t make an offer to a single free agent on Thursday.

1) In order to complete the Dejounte Murray trade earlier than originally planned, the Spurs included Jock Landale in the deal with the Atlanta Hawks. In the end, San Antonio traded Murray and Landale to the Atlanta Hawks for Danilo Gallinari, a protected 2023 first round draft pick from the Charlotte Hornets, an unprotected 2025 first round draft pick, an unprotected 2027 first round draft pick and an unprotected 2026 first round pick swap.

To complete the trade, the guaranteed money in Gallinari’s contract was elevated from $5 million to around $12 million. Once he was officially acquired, the Spurs waived Gallinari to avoid owing him another $9.5 million. 

2) If Landale wasn’t included, the Spurs would have needed to wait a few more days to make the trade official. Why the rush? It’s safe to say the Spurs valued the ability to maximize their cap space on Day 1 of free agency more than they valued having Landale around on an unguaranteed minimum contract. 

Landale brought an interesting combination of toughness, shooting ability and basketball IQ at the center position. Unfortunately, the Australian big man had trouble on the defensive end due to a lack of athleticism. With Zach Collins on track to play a full season and the drafting of Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio felt confident enough in their big man depth to throw Landale into the Murray deal.

3) Hours after extending the qualifying offer to Lonnie Walker IV to make him a restricted free agent, the Spurs rescinded the qualifying offer. Walker promptly signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to a person close to the situation, Walker asked the Spurs to rescind the qualifying offer so that he could maximize his value in free agency by becoming an unrestricted free agent. As it turned out, Walker’s contract with the Lakers (one year for $6.5 million) was basically identical to his qualifying offer. 

After the Spurs drafted Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft, it became clear that Walker’s future with the Spurs was all but over. His contract from the Lakers doesn’t sound like much (relatively speaking, of course) but a few scouts I talked to were surprised that he was even able to get that much.  

4) Pulling Walker’s qualifying offer increased San Antonio’s cap space from around $26 million to nearly $40 million. So, what do the Spurs plan to do with all that room? As expected, it doesn’t appear like the Spurs will make a move for restricted free agent Deandre Ayton.

The likeliest outcome is the Spurs renting out their cap room. For example, they could absorb a bad contract (say, Russell Westbrook) in exchange for draft capital (say, two minimally protected first round picks). Expect the Spurs to be patient in this regard, especially after the news of Kevin Durant demanding a trade. A team desperate for Durant could very well overpay the Spurs for the cap flexibility San Antonio can provide if it means completing a trade with the Brooklyn Nets.

5) When it comes to free agents, while there have been no firm offers made, a source tells me the Spurs have discussed parameters of a deal with Jalen Smith, a big man who averaged 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 22 games with the Indiana Pacers last season. Smith, 22, was originally selected 10th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2020 draft, one spot ahead of Devin Vassell.

However, actually signing Smith is complicated by San Antonio’s wishes to retain their cap flexibility. This will be an interesting balancing act to follow in the coming hours and days.

6) The Spurs did have one free agent acquisition on the first day of free agency: Brett Brown. The former assistant coach in San Antonio and the former head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers returns to the Spurs as an assistant coach. Brown, 61, joins Mitch Johnson, Darius Songaila, Matt Nielsen and Chip Engelland on head coach Gregg Popovich’s staff.

Considering that the Spurs have entered a full-on rebuilding mode after trading away Murray, the hiring of Brown makes a whole lot of sense. Brown was the head coach during The Process, Philadelphia’s infamous multi-season rebuilding plan that actually resulted in the NBA flattening the lottery odds. 

In his previous stint with the Spurs, Brown drew rave reviews for his work with young players and his ability to help develop talent. Considering that the Spurs roster is more youthful than ever, he’ll be a busy man.