The draft just ended but in this condensed NBA offseason, there’s no rest for the weary. On Friday, at 5 p.m. CT, the free agency period begins. While official signings can’t take place right away, we’re sure to start hearing about deals that have been agreed upon within minutes.
Even though the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as willing as ever to begin a rebuilding process, this free agency period likely won’t feature many fireworks. That said, key decisions will need to be made in the forthcoming weeks that will impact the franchise for years to come.
Potential Big Free Agents the San Antonio Spurs Could Sign
Yep, that’s the list. The way the money aligns in the books after DeMar DeRozan picked up his player-option means that the Spurs are really unlikely to sign a free agent of note. That may change if Jakob Poeltl is lost in free agency — but we’ll get to that in a bit.
How Huge of a Contract Will the Spurs Give Bryn Forbes?
Thankfully, it appears really unlikely that Bryn Forbes will re-sign with the Spurs. San Antonio NOT re-signing Forbes was my No. 1 offseason hope. Not to jinx it but it looks like my hope will come to fruition.
The Spurs don’t have much wiggle room beneath the luxury tax threshold. Factoring in the uncertain financial future of the league going forward, there’s just no way San Antonio’s small market ownership would give the front office the okay to dip into the luxury tax to keep together a team that will be underdogs to make the playoffs.
The Spurs also just selected a pair of guards in the draft. Add in Dejounte Murray no longer being on a minutes restriction, Derrick White being obviously ready for a leading role, Lonnie Walker IV’s need for consistent minutes and the meteoric rise of Keldon Johnson and the front office would be certifiably insane to bring back Forbes. There’s no money, there’s no need and there’s no proof that Forbes is anything but a detriment on the floor.
I’m still holding my breath but, unless a monumentally bad decision is made, the Spurs will finally be able to turn the page on the failed experiment that was Forbes as a starter. I wish him well — he’s a great human being, by all accounts — and would be glad to root for him … from a distance.
The Trey Lyles Decision
On Friday, the Spurs have to decide what to do with Trey Lyles. They could waive him and pay him a $1 million parting gift. Alternatively, the Spurs can guarantee his second season in San Antonio. If the Spurs decide on the latter option, they’ll owe Lyles $5.5 million for the 2020-21 campaign.
With the luxury tax threshold looming, there’s a chance that the Spurs say goodbye to Lyles. However, I think that’d be a mistake. Lyles obviously isn’t a great player but he easily showed enough promise last season to bring him back. For the role he could fulfill, $5.5 million is an extremely reasonable price tag.
In today’s league, you need mobile bigs that can pass, hit threes, handle the ball a little bit, move their feet on both ends of the court, rebound and not get pushed around. Lyle fits the bill well enough. And at 25, he’s still young enough to improve.
It wouldn’t be a huge loss if Lyles is allowed to leave but I think it’d be the wrong move. Keep him around for another year and at the very least he’ll be a useful cog. At best, he could grow into a player who is worth keeping around on a long-term basis.
Derrick White’s Potential Contract Extension
For the moment, this isn’t a pressing concern. The Spurs and Derrick White have until Dec. 21 to agree to a contract extension. Much like Dejounte Murray’s extension last year, there probably won’t be any movement until the final few days. White and his extension will soon take center stage — but not quite yet.
Jakob Poeltl, the Biggest Domino
Jakob Poeltl will be a restricted free agent and will be free to sign an offersheet with another franchise, however the Spurs will be given a chance to match it and bring him back.
This is by far the most important free agent decision the Spurs will make this offseason. Figuring out how much Poeltl is worth is complicated. From people in the industry who I’ve talked to, they believe Poeltl is going to command a contract that starts at around $10 million. But while the Austrian is a good, valuable player, I’m just not comfortable with the Spurs giving him a contract that big.
1. Traditional centers like Poeltl who are limited offensively, can’t shoot and rack up fouls in bunches just aren’t that valuable anymore. While you can’t find centers as good as Poeltl on the scrap heap, a decent center can easily be had for around $5 million.
A few examples from just today’s headlines: Enes Kanter took $5 million rather than become a free agent, JaVale McGee took $4.2 million rather than become a free agent and the Suns declined a $5.2 million option to bring back Frank Kaminsky. Again, Poeltl is better than these centers, but if you can get a suitable replacement for around $5 million, can you really justify giving Poeltl a multi-year contract starting at approximately $10 million?
2. Poeltl’s value lies in him being a useful part of a winning team. If the Spurs are actually planning a rebuild, having Poeltl on the roster suddenly isn’t as important. In fact, you’d probably want to give minutes to a big with a higher ceiling if you’re in the middle of rebuilding.
3. Poeltl has made no secret that he wants more minutes. Unless LaMarcus Aldridge is moved, there’s no guarantee that more minutes are in his future. Aldridge, 35, is a center-only going forward and won’t be able to play next to Poeltl much anymore at his age. Thus, even in a scenario where the Spurs will make another push for the playoffs, Poeltl’s value will be muted unless Aldridge is traded — and there’s no evidence that San Antonio is willing to (or, even, knows how to) make moves on the trade market.
4. Most importantly, if the Spurs keep their books clean, they could open an obscene amount of cap room next summer. We’re talking comfortably north of $45 million in cap room. That’s a franchise-altering opportunity that can’t be wasted. If the Spurs give Poeltl a multi-year deal, that will directly eat into that potential cap room, dollar for dollar.
The best case scenario is that Poeltl signs his qualifying offer, which would keep him in San Antonio for another year for approximately $5 million. Unfortunately, that’s not likely at all unless the free agent market crashes even more than is anticipated.
If another team comes along and offers Poeltl a long-term deal starting at $10 million, I truly believe that the Spurs have to let him walk. He’s a solid contributor but there’s just no way to justify eating up that much potential cap room to keep him around. The Spurs may be able to work out a sign-and-trade in such a scenario but matching the offersheet would be a costly mistake.
The most difficult decision will be if Poeltl signs a smaller offersheet. I could stomach the Spurs giving him a deal that begins at $6 million. I might be able to close my eyes and go along with going up to $7 million. But any more than that is simply too much. Watching Poeltl leave for nothing would be difficult but it’d be the right move for the franchise with an eye on the future.
If Poeltl is lost, the Spurs could use part of the mid-level exception to bring in a Kanter/McGee/Kaminsky-esque center on a one-year deal to fill the void. Or, if they believe they could fill the hole in the middle with in-house pieces, they could take a flier on a middling free agent on what should be a one-year placeholder contract.
Signing San Antonio’s Rookies
The Spurs will probably try to poor-mouth Devin Vassell’s agent in hopes of him signing for a little bit less than the maximum amount the rookie scale would allow in order to get more breathing room beneath the luxury tax threshold. Unless Vassell and his agent feel charitable, that’s unlikely to work.
Tre Jones’ contract will be more interesting. Last year, for example, Quinndary Weatherspoon was drafted with the understanding that he’d get a two-way deal. I highly doubt was the case with Jones. His stock was too high for him to agree to a two-way deal. If he has halfway smart representation, he should have rather gone undrafted than settle for a two-way.
My guess is that the Spurs will offer him a multi-year contract similar to the one they gave Chimezie Metu. However, with Jones’ brother being in the NBA, he might not value security as much as the average second rounder and may instead opt for simply a one-year, minimum deal.
A Look at the Other Free Agents
Marco Belinelli can’t be brought back after how bad he was last season. That’d be almost as disappointing as bringing back Forbes.
The Spurs have until Nov. 29 to decide whether to guarantee Metu his $500,000 contract or to cut him loose. Since his development stalled last year and he was surpassed by Eubanks in the developmental big man hierarchy, it’s very likely that the Spurs will opt to cut him loose. That could change if, for example, Poeltl or Lyles is lost, but even then this is probably the end of the line for Metu.
Weatherspoon showed enough promise to warrant another two-way deal. A two-way deal doesn’t impact the cap and he won’t get more elsewhere so there’s really no reason not to keep him around.
Drew Eubanks will need to be upgraded from a two-way deal to a real contract. Most likely, a guaranteed minimum contract should be enough. Like Poeltl, Eubanks will be restricted. I’d be rather surprised if another team comes knocking … but we’ll find out, beginning Friday.