Will the Spurs Bring Back Tre Jones? Spurs Quietly Pick a Path

Understandably, news about Tre Jones fell through the cracks on draft night. On an evening that was all about celebrating the arrival of Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs general manager Brian Wright briefly gave an update on the team’s incumbent starting point guard during his press conference. 

“Tre will be a restricted free agent,” Wright announced, “and so we’ll have to work through that process.”

That’s a notable quote because Jones is currently eligible to sign a contract extension that’s worth a maximum of $58 million over four years. Jones will remain extension eligible until June 30th.

However, Wright said that Jones will become a restricted free agent. That means he won’t get an extension and will instead be given a qualifying offer of approximately $5.2 million in order to make him a restricted free agent when the NBA’s free agency period opens on Friday at 5pm CDT. As a restricted free agent, the Spurs will have the ability to match any offer he signs. 

Prior to the draft lottery, a source told me that Jones and the Spurs would discuss extension possibilities depending on the outcome of the lottery. Apparently, San Antonio winning the rights to Wembanyama has changed the front office’s outlook enough to allow Jones to set his own market as a restricted free agent.

Tre Jones’ Highs and Lows During the 2022-23 Season

Overall, it’s fair to say that Jones had a success campaign last season. As the team’s starting point guard in 65 of the 68 games he participated in, Jones averaged 12.9 points, 6.6 assists and 1.3 steals. Throughout San Antonio’s struggles, his steady play kept things relatively orderly.

With his new responsibilities after the Spurs traded away Dejounte Murray and were forced to exile Joshua Primo, Jones did a lot of good. He increased his scoring rate by 22% and attempted three-pointers nearly twice as often. His rates for assists, steals and free throw attempts all went up. Defensively, he rarely appeared to be overmatched as a starter.

That said, the news for Jones wasn’t all positive last season. He shot only 28.5% from three-point range despite rarely being defended beyond the arc. While he passed the ball well in transition, his halfcourt playmaking remained rudimentary at best. Though his assist rate was up, his turnover rate was up even more. 

Jones also had trouble finishing in the paint. Coming off of a season in which he hit half of his shots between three and ten feet, Jones shot only 38.5% from that range last season. Specifically, his floaters and runners weren’t nearly as dependable. As a result, his two-point percentage decreased from 54.2% to 50.6%.

Despite the high and lows, head coach Gregg Popovich has remained an ardent supporter of Jones. In fact, as I previously reported, Popovich has told the front office that his strong preference is that the Spurs retain Jones. The soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach raves about the point guard’s importance in the locker room and his competitive nature.

Wright echoed those sentiments during the Wembanyama press conference: “[Jones] has been great for us. He has meant a lot to the program. He is quiet glue.”

What Will a New Contract for Tre Jones Look Like?

When I’ve asked scouts and capologists to estimate Jones’ next contract, most opinions land somewhere in the $40 million over four years ballpark. However, a recent article by John Hollinger discussed the possibility of Jones signing a four-year, $70 million contract. 

From Wright’s remarks, it sounds like the Spurs will put the onus on Jones and his agent to find an offer in free agency. Going into free agency, only six other teams appear to be in line to have salary cap space: the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Of those six teams, the Rockets (Amen Thompson), Jazz (Keyonte George), Magic (Anthony Black) and Thunder (Cason Wallace) picked point guards in the first round of the draft. The other two teams already have point guards — the Pacers have Tyrese Haliburton and the Pistons have both Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. Thus, it really doesn’t look like Jones would be a priority for any of those teams.

Without a team with cap space chasing him, it looks doubtful that Jones will be able to reach Hollinger’s $70 million estimate.

If a team throws a mid-level exception at Jones, he could make a maximum of about $53 million over the next four years. Then again, there are only expected to be a handful of teams that are willing or able to offer an MLE contract this summer.

Looking at what comparable players received last summer, it’s safe to say Jones lands somewhere between what his big brother Tyus Jones got from the Memphis Grizzlies ($29 million over two years) and what Delon Wright got from the Washington Wizards ($16 million over two years). 

Tyus and Tre also share the same agent, so that could give us some insight on what to expect. Tyus’ second contract in the league was worth approximately $26.5 million over three years.

Factoring in all of that information brings me back to the four-year, $40 million estimates I’ve been hearing for a few months now. The Spurs could frontload the contract starting at $11.5 million. By the fourth season, Jones would be making approximately $8.7 million at a time when the salary cap is expected to balloon to north of $181 million. Spending less than 5% of the cap on a player as good as Jones would be a very good deal for San Antonio. 

Ultimately, it looks likely that Jones will return to the Silver and Black. Even if he gets interest at around $50 million over four years, the Spurs can frontload the contract to where San Antonio will only be paying him 6% of the cap by the fourth year.

With a salary cap that is expected to grow 10% each year, the Spurs will likely hope to lock Jones into a frontloaded four-year contract. However, if he goes his brother’s route and asks for a two- or three-year deal, that’d work too. For example, a two-year, $20 million contract would likely be amenable to the Spurs because that’d be less guaranteed money on the books and it’d be an easier contract to trade.

Will the Spurs play hardball? That’ll be the most interesting aspect of the negotiations. If the Spurs force Jones to get a contract offer from another team before beginning their own negotiations, it might take a while to come to terms.

What’s the Future Hold for Tre Jones?

For a contending team, I think Jones is a backup point guard. A damn good backup point guard, mind you, but I don’t think he’ll develop into a good enough shooter or a good enough playmaker to be a long-term starter for a successful team. 

That said, that doesn’t change what I think will happen in free agency. I expect Jones to re-sign. A four-year, $40 million contract or a two-year, $20 million contract sounds about right. Even if he doesn’t start another game for the Spurs, I think that’s a fair amount of money for what Jones brings to the table.