Spurs Q&A: Thoughts After San Antonio Brings Back Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks

The San Antonio Spurs didn’t waste much time. Shortly after the NBA’s free agency period commenced, the Spurs have reportedly agreed to a three-year, $27 million dollar deal with Jakob Poeltl. San Antonio also is said to have reached an agreement with Drew Eubanks that will pay him $5.29 million over the next three seasons. 

Additionally, Chimezie Metu was officially waived. That move saves the Spurs $500,000, as his contract was to become partially guaranteed if he hadn’t been waived prior to Nov. 29. On a related note, San Antonio didn’t waive Trey Lyles by the midnight deadline, which means his entire $5.5 million contract for this upcoming season is now guaranteed. 

What do you think about the Spurs re-signing Jakob Poeltl? Did they pay him too much or is that a good deal for San Antonio?

Value-wise, the Spurs did fine. The market for comparable centers ended up being hotter than I expected it to be, so if you’re focusing on value, there’s no reason to be upset with Jakob Poeltl getting $27 million over three years. Considering that Mason Plumlee got $25 million over three seasons, San Antonio has to be pleased. Poeltl is better than Plumlee and five years younger, so paying $2 million more over three years can be classified as a win.

That said, I’m not sold on whether this was the right move for San Antonio. Going into free agency, I advocated for setting the budget at $7 million for Poeltl. As it turned out, his contract will start at $8.3 million. Judging this transaction on the budget I set, the Spurs went over budget by $1.3 million — which obviously isn’t a huge deal in a league where the salary cap is well north of $100 million. It’s essentially a rounding error in the grand scheme of the NBA salary cap world. 

Another silver lining of Poeltl’s deal is it was (just barely) small enough to keep the Spurs under the luxury tax threshold. If it was even just a little bit larger, the Spurs would have had to do some potentially costly salary cap gymnastics to avoid paying the tax. In such a scenario, the Spurs may have been forced to give up desirable young players or picks. That was avoided with the contract Poeltl signed, which is a definite plus.

But, again, I thought the best way forward was for the Spurs to open as much salary cap room next summer as was reasonably possible. Does it make sense to use more than $8 million in what have been salary cap room to lock up a player who appears destined for a backup role for at least another season? Unless something changes, that’s at best iffy. Good signing in terms of value, questionable signing when focusing on salary cap management.  

If the Spurs turn around and trade LaMarcus Aldridge, would that change your view on Poeltl’s signing?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. My critique of the Poeltl signing is assuming the Spurs stand pat and basically do nothing else until next summer. If the Spurs turn around and move LaMarcus Aldridge now that they are assured Poeltl will be returning, that would change everything. Depending on what the Spurs get back in a hypothetical trade involving Aldridge, it’s highly likely that signing Poeltl to a three-year, $27 million contract was a no-brainer.

In fact, to change the dynamics of how Poeltl’s contract should be viewed, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Aldridge getting traded. For example, if the Spurs trade DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills or Rudy Gay in a deal that brings back draft assets attached to a bad contract, that would make this Poeltl contract look much better in retrospect.

However, if the Spurs simply run it back, don’t make any notable moves and remain in a holding pattern, the decision to eat into their 2021 cap space to secure the services of a backup center will continue to look dubious. 

Why worry about potential cap space? Why would cap space help next summer?

As promising as some of the young players on the roster appear to be, it’s glaringly obvious that the Spurs need an infusion of talent if they are going to become legitimate contenders anytime soon. In the NBA, the three paths to acquire that type of talent is either through the draft, via trades or in free agency. By opening up a massive amount of cap space, the Spurs would have had the opportunity to travel down any of those three paths.

Of course, the Spurs could use the cap space to sign a big-time free agent or two, depending on how much space they had. Sure, signing free agents is always difficult for San Antonio, however it’d be advantageous to at least have that opportunity.

But, even if you don’t believe in the benefits of the free agency aspect of cap space for the Spurs, the cap space would potentially help the Spurs in the draft and in trades. First, with regards to trades, cap space is the ultimate lubricant to get deals done. The need to match salaries essentially goes out the window, which makes it easier to consummate trades. The Spurs could get aggressive and look to acquire talent and wouldn’t be held back by the most typical barrier — the salary cap itself.

But most importantly is how cap space could help San Antonio in the draft. If both the free agency path and the trade path aren’t promising, the Spurs could at the very least use the open cap space to take on bad contracts with draft picks attached. With as excellent as the Spurs have been in the draft historically, even getting two quality first round picks could alter the future of this franchise for the better.

Add it all up and opening a gigantic amount of cap space would be an amazing opportunity for the Spurs. It’s not too difficult to imagine a future where San Antonio’s youngsters grow and naturally close the gap to contending once again — and then talent acquired through cap space is able to put the Spurs back over the top to the point where they could avoid a full teardown completely.

If you think about a future without cap space, what exactly are the Spurs going to do to improve? As it is, the path they’re on looks to be one filled with late lottery picks, no appetite for trading and an ever-shrinking amount of money to play with due to a lack of discipline in terms of their future salary cap-related obligations. 

What’s puzzling is the Spurs have historically been overly cautious regarding the salary cap but now that cautiousness is nowhere to be found. As an even better example than this Poeltl signing, the Spurs had already wasted 2021 salary cap space by buying out DeMarre Carroll’s contract. It wasn’t long ago that such undisciplined salary cap maneuverings would be unheard of in San Antonio. Now? The lack of any discernible masterplan has me worried.

One more point worth adding: the opportunity for the Spurs to open salary cap space can’t simply be pushed forward indefinitely. Why the summer of 2021 looked like such a golden opportunity is that it’s right after the current contracts for the veterans expire and it’s before the promising young players cost too much. This window will only be around for a limited time, which is why it made sense to me to use it to the fullest extent possible.

But, hey, even with Poeltl now on the books, the Spurs appear destined to have at least $40 million in cap space next summer. That’s nothing to sniff at. But I’d be more confident if that number was north of $50 million and if it was clear that the Spurs are indeed planning to use it as a weapon to supercharge their rebuilding process. Right now, I lack that confidence.

How about the re-signing of Drew Eubanks? Was it a mistake to give a three-year deal to someone who appears likely to be a third string center?

I’m very happy with Drew Eubanks’ contract. The Spurs now control him for the next three years and he’s only owed the minimum. I’m convinced that he’s at least good enough to be on the active roster, so there’s really no downside to his deal. Due to rules in the collective bargaining agreement, the fact that he was signed for the minimum means it barely impacts San Antonio’s salary cap space.

On one hand, I’m a bit surprised that Eubanks would sign such a deal with the Spurs. Players have started to shy away from signing these longer minimum-level deals because it’s basically trading a little bit of security for potentially a lot more money. But on the other hand, it’s understandable because Eubanks has been on a two-way contract the past two years since going undrafted out of Oregon State. While players with an NBA contract count their money by the millions, two-way players count their money by the tens of thousands. In Eubanks’ two-way world, a $5 million deal would have been difficult to walk away from.

On the court, Eubanks very likely is a 11th or 12th man at worst. At best, it appears to be possible that he could be in a regular rotation. He had his moments in the bubble and since he only got serious about basketball late in high school, the 23-year-old should still be relatively early in his growth curve. 

Off the court, Eubanks is loved by his teammates. He’s also a hard worker who puts in the hours. All in all, this is really good news for the Spurs and I’m happy for Eubanks. 

Will Trey Lyles be back for sure? Why didn’t the Spurs announce anything?

Yes, Trey Lyles will be back. The Spurs had until midnight to waive him but it ended up that they didn’t need to. I thought it was clear that San Antonio should keep him in any scenario due to his promising first campaign and the fact that he’s definitely worth a $5.5 million, one-year contract. The only way the Spurs were possibly going to be forced to waive him is if Poeltl’s asking point went over about $9 million. Thankfully that didn’t happen, so Lyles was able to be retained at a very reasonable rate.

As for why the Spurs haven’t said anything, they just didn’t need to. The Spurs don’t announce when they have decided not to waive a player. That’d be awkward. 

Any thoughts on Chimezie Metu being waived?

Not really. With the luxury tax threshold looming, the Spurs would have struggled to keep Metu even if they valued him as a prospect. But when Eubanks passed him in the rotation last year, that signaled the end. In fact, I assume that the Spurs would have waived him even without factoring in the luxury tax. Metu simply didn’t progress enough as a prospect since being drafted. 

In Metu’s defense, he was struck down by untimely injuries at inopportune times. He broke his wrist one year in summer league and missed another summer league due to a foot abscess. Unfortunate luck. 

So, how much room do the Spurs have under the luxury tax threshold?

Not much. If my numbers are right, the Spurs will be beneath the luxury tax threshold by $600,000 or $700,000 after signing Devin Vassell and Tre Jones. That means the Spurs are unlikely to sign anyone else. Even a minimum contract would push the Spurs into the luxury tax.

However, it’s…

Wait, so the Spurs aren’t going to re-sign Bryn Forbes?

Correct. It already looked like the Spurs didn’t have a spot on the roster for Forbes. Add in their current financial situation and it’s basically impossible to bring him back (or Marco Belinelli, for that matter) unless they want to pay the luxury tax. And I can’t imagine the ownership group will give the okay to wade into the luxury tax with the league in its current, pandemic-crippled state. 

But, anyways, as I was about to type, the Spurs will probably add a two-way player. As it stands, the Spurs have 14 players and it’s likely that Quinndary Weatherspoon will be re-signed on a two-way contract.

DeMar DeRozan: $27,739,975
LaMarcus Aldridge: $24,000,000
Rudy Gay: $14,500,000
Dejounte Murray: $14,286,000
Patrick Mills: $13,535,714
Jakob Poeltl: $8,650,000
DeMarre Carroll: $6,167,887
Trey Lyles: $5,500,000
Devin Vassell: $4,033,440
Derrick White: $3,516,284
Lonnie Walker IV: $2,892,000
Luka Samanic: $2,824,320
Keldon Johnson: $2,048,040
Drew Eubanks: $1,620,564
Tre Jones: $898,310
Quinndary Weatherspoon: Two-Way

This season, two-way players will reportedly be allowed to be active for 50 games. That means that 14 players on the active roster and a pair of two-way players will be plenty.

My guess is the Spurs will invite a handful of two-way candidates to training camp and then pick one to keep for the season. Two-way players don’t count against the cap so it’ll be a small price to pay for some extra insurance. 

What about trades? I thought the Spurs were actively shopping LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay.

I’m sure the Spurs are still open to trades. However, it’ll now be much more difficult to complete a trade. Their best chance was during the draft. Now, it’ll be a challenge for multiple reasons.

A) The 2021 and 2022 drafts look very promising. Teams will be very hesitant to give a first round draft pick for any of the vets the Spurs put on the market. 

B) Expiring contracts aren’t as valuable as they used to be. Not long ago, expirings were the next best thing to actual cap room. But changes in the CBA have diminished their value. It’s not nearly as common these days for teams to actively collect expirings.

C) The Spurs will need to continue tiptoeing around the luxury tax threshold. Typically, salaries in trades don’t have to exactly match. But with the Spurs so close to the threshold, there’s almost no room to take on more salary than they send out. That makes things more difficult. If the Spurs made a trade during the draft, the Spurs could have adjusted by waiving Lyles or not re-signing Poeltl. Now there’s basically no wiggle room going in that direction.

That said, it’s not impossible that the Spurs will make a trade. They should at least be looking to deal. We’ll see if that amounts to anything — but it’d be unwise to hold your breath waiting for a trade, to say the least. 

Are the Spurs done for the offseason?

Yeah, pretty much. Expect them to sign a two-way player, as mentioned above, but they’ll probably wait until training camp to do that. They still need to officially sign Vassell and Jones. Vassell is locked into a contract worth around $4 million, while Jones’ contract isn’t as clear. Most likely, it’ll be a minimum deal for a year or two. There’s also an outside chance that he agrees to sign a two-way contract. 

The Spurs have up until the start of the regular season to give a contract extension to Derrick White. That’s the next major domino.