As I mentioned in my free agent piece yesterday, the Spurs won't likely have cap room but will be below the tax line. That means that if they bring back Mills and Diaw, the only way the will be able to add players is through: a) the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception worth $5.3 million, b) the bi-annual exception worth a little over $2 million and c) the draft.
How I learned to stop worrying and love the Spurs
I find him sitting in his car outside the Kansas City apartment complex where I used to live, head down, a glower marring his face. Though there are some differences, looking at his face is almost like looking in a mirror. But his face is not mine.
That is the most likely scenario by far. But the Spurs could, if they wanted to, carve up some substantial cap room. Unfortunately, it would require some risky or downright drastic moves. Let's quickly explore them, focusing on situations the Spurs can control without making trades:
Parker and Daye are waived, all free agents are renounced.
Parker is on a partially guaranteed contract. If the Spurs waive him before July, only $3.5 million would count against the cap. If they do that and renounce all their free agents, the Spurs would have only around $42 million in committed salary. That's max salary cap space.
It's not going to happen for a multitude of reasons, starting with the fact that there won't be a lot of free agents better than Parker available. But it's technically possible.
Now let's just forget I ever mentioned this.
All free agents are renounced, Daye is waived
If all San Antonio's free agents are renounced, the Spurs would have around $10 million in cap room. But they would need to use that money and the room exception ($2.6 million) to replace two key rotation players, Mills and Diaw. The only way this happens is if the Spurs think Diaw will be overpaid and they have a high caliber replacement like Pau Gasol waiting to sign. Or if they can then convince one of Patty or Boris to re-sign for below market value using the room exception. It isn't worth it otherwise.
Daye is waived, Diaw, Bonner and Baynes are renounced
Mills' cap hold is small enough that the Spurs could not renounce his Bird rights and still have around $6-7 million in cap space if they renounce the other players. Once again they would have to use that cap room to replace Diaw, then go over the cap to re-sign Mills. But most of the players that would sign for $6 million would likely sign for the $5 million the Spurs would have to spend via the MLE if they bring Diaw back. So, again, this only makes sense if they know Diaw is not coming back.
Duncan ops out and retires
If Timmy opts out, everything changes. But we'll discuss crossing that bridge only if we're forced to.
In all likelihood, the Spurs re-sign at least Diaw if not him and Mills both and use the MLE to add someone else. And I wouldn't expect a big trade.
The year of the mid-level exception?
The mid-level exception is no longer tied to the average salary. It's a fixed contract offer. For next year, it will be $5.3 million dollars. In the past, smart teams did all they could to avoid handing out these type of medium sized deals to mediocre players. Last season, the first year of a mid-level exception contract represented 8.8% of the entire cap space on a team. In the past those MLE deals could take up to 10% of the salary cap. That's too much for players that are by definition not that good.
Next season, the MLE will be equivalent to 8.4% of the cap. And if the league's revenue continues to grow as expected (and with it the salary cap), that percentage will continue to shrink despite the actual sums offered getting bigger. So it's possible that a lot of teams that are over the cap will be more likely to use it and could be ready to use it on one player instead of splitting it.
If that happens, it might be harder to retain Mills since someone could offer the full MLE, which I'm assuming is more than the Spurs are willing to pay. It will be interesting to see how franchises deal with the MLE this off-season, including the Spurs. Speaking of which...
Once again, assuming Mills and Diaw are back, the Spurs will have a pretty full roster. But if they can find an upgrade in free agency, they would be foolish not to make a move. The Spurs have needed a reliable fourth big and a big wing for ages now. These are just some of the potential targets, ranked by the money they could command.
Hawes is a stretch five that can hit threes, pass out of the high post and rebound the ball. He might be looking for more than the MLE but I'm not sure he will find it.
McRoberts is a jack of all trades master of none type of player but he has a high basketball IQ, range on his jumper and good passing skills. That's all he needs with the Spurs.
Okafor is an all-around solid center. When healthy, he could have started for a number of teams. But he is coming back from a lost season due to a neck injury. If he's healthy, he might be worth the gamble.
An older player that might still have a good year left in him in limited minutes. He was good for a Hawks team that relied on him too much after Horford's injury.
A solid rebounder and screener who doesn't do anything else particularly well. If Baynes and Bonner don't come back, he might be someone worth targeting with part of the MLE.
Andrei Kirilenko (player option)
AK might decide to return to Brooklyn. But if he doesn't, he should be the Spurs' primary target, just like he was the past off-season. A healthy Kirilenko would make the Spurs even more versatile.
Aminu has the length and athleticism to be a difference-maker on defense. He could fulfill that potential with some guidance, since he is still young.
Marion proved against the Spurs that he is still a solid defender who can play both forward positions and hit the occasional three. He would fit perfectly in San Antonio and do most of what AK would do.
Thabo is not the player that he used to be. But he can still guard 1-3 well enough and could rediscover his shot in a different environment (e.g. somewhere Chip Engelland happens to be).
Williams' career has been a disappointment. But at 28, he seems ready to simply accept his fate and bring energy off the bench at both forward spots. An interesting target with part of the MLE.
We will have draft specific coverage soon. For now, I'm just looking at what the Spurs can do with their picks other than selecting a player
The Spurs have the 30th, 58th and 60th picks in the draft. Those second rounders probably have zero value. The last pick of the first round is problematic because teams are basically taking second round talent but are still on the hook for two guaranteed years and bound by the rookie scale. That's why contending teams often pick international prospects that can be stashed overseas: to avoid committing guaranteed money to marginal talent.
Since the Spurs have a full roster, the best result would be to trade this year's pick for a future first rounder, even if it's heavily protected. But it's hard to see any team biting unless someone that was high on their draft board slips that far down. The other option is to target a team with multiple second rounders. The ideal trade partner would be the Sixers, who have four second round picks. They won't likely trade the 32nd pick. But the 30th for the 39th and the 47th might be something they'd be willing to explore if someone they like falls to the end of the first round. That would give the Spurs two earlier second rounders with which to target either draft-and-stash prospects or cheap, high upside guys to bring to training camp.