One of the more gloomy aspects of the Lakers' future is that their salary commitments put them in cap hell. Getting swept in the first round is hard enough but knowing that you don't have the flexibility to make changes makes it even worse. Fortunately, that's not the case for the Spurs. In the brief pause between the first and second rounds, let's take a short look at the franchise's future focusing specifically on this upcoming off season, which could be an important one. Now, a lot of it will be pure speculation because my crystal ball is on the fritz, but I think it's important to keep this stuff in mind even if all we care about right now is seeing Tim get one for the thumb. Hopefully, knowing where the Spurs stand looking ahead will allow us all to focus solely on the rest of this season. So let's start.
The Spurs have the following players under contract for next season:
Tony Parker $12,500,000
Tim Duncan $10,361,446
Boris Diaw $4,702,500 (player option)
Matt Bonner $3,945,000 (only $1 million guaranteed)
Danny Green $3,762,500
Kawhi Leonard $1,887,840
Nando De Colo $1,463,000
Patty Mills $1,133,950 (player option)
Cory Joseph $1,120,920
Aron Baynes $788,872
To that we have to add the qualifying offers to Splitter and Neal, but only if the Spurs want to make them restricted free agents. If they do, that would add around $6 million to the Spurs' cap number. Ginobili and Blair are unrestricted free agents. The salary cap will likely be around $58 million for the 13/14 season. That makes the Spurs $17 million under the cap without including qualifying offers and $11 million including them.
Can the Spurs use that cap space immediately?
Unfortunately, there is a thing called "cap holds." What that means is that, unless they are renounced, Ginobili and Blair (as do all free agents) count against the cap. A cap hold is usually 150% of the salary a player received in the last year of his contract. So, for example, Manu's cap hold would be $21 million, effectively killing the Spurs' cap space. Cap holds were instituted so that teams wouldn't use their cap space to sign free agents and then resign their own.
So at the beginning of the free agent period next season, the Spurs won't have cap space until they resign or renounce Ginobili. If they renounce Manu and Blair, don't extend qualifying offers to Neal and Splitter, and waive Bonner, the Spurs would have over $20 million to play with in free agency to remake the team. That means cap room for a max free agent and some change. I don't see the Spurs doing this, considering attracting free agents to San Antonio is not easy and (assuming Chris Paul and Dwight Howard stay put) there are no real max guys out there. But they could resign some of their free agents and retain some cap room to make some smaller signings.
Who can be expected to be resigned?
I think we can safely assume Blair is not coming back. The situation is not as clear with Neal, since he seems to have Pop's trust, but the Spurs will have guys at his position already under very favorable contracts. Splitter is due for a big payday, but I think the Spurs will make him a restricted free agent and match any offer on him unless some team gets silly and offers something starting in eight figures. Ginobili has said he wants to come back and has cited the Duncan negotiation as the reason why he is not worried. I'm assuming he returns at a pretty significant discount. Needless to say, McGrady is probably gone.
All in all, the Spurs could bring back everyone, including a resigned Splitter, and wouldn't pay the tax as long as they spend less than $29 million. It seems very doable, even if Splitter gets a significant pay raise. But, as I mentioned, I don't think everyone is coming back. Blair is very likely gone and I would be surprised if the Spurs brought Neal back. I think having slipped all the way to the bottom of the rotation almost ensures Patty Mills opts out. If Blair, Neal and Mills leave and they resign Ginobili and Splitter, that would almost inevitably put the team over the cap or very close to it and would give them 12 players under contract, one less than the league minimum. But they would still have whatever chunk is left, or the full mid level exception, to fill out the roster.
How would the team look and what are the other possibilities?
The depth chart would be:
PG: Parker - Joseph -De Colo
SG: Ginobili - Green
PF: Duncan - Diaw - Bonner
C: Splitter - Baynes
There is still that perennial hole at back up small forward, but the Spurs are showing they can survive without one and they could likely make due with a veteran on the cheap, since Leonard will take up most minutes anyway. That's a good, deep team and that's not including whoever the Spurs get with the MLE. The Spurs could simply stay the course and without doing anything drastic, likely remain a contender. As I mentioned above, they could also go a completely different rout and remake the team on the fly by renouncing all or most of their free agents and trying their luck at signing guys like Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, etc. They could opt for a middle ground approach which would mean letting their minor free agents go, waive Bonner, bring back Splitter and Ginobili, and round out the roster with whatever cap space is left. The possibilities are endless.
I know what you are thinking and yes, there will be time to speculate on free agent acquisitions and salaries later; right now the obvious priority is the playoffs. But for those of you worriers out there, knowing that this is likely not the Spurs' last stand and that there are lots of options in their future might provide some comfort and allow you to enjoy the ride a bit more.