The trade deadline is just a week away, so you can expect the rumors to heat up. The Spurs have been reported to be "unusually aggressive" in pursuit of an upgrade, so there could be some moves coming. But before getting ahead of ourselves, let's start from the top.
If you are familiar with how trading works in the NBA, skip this part.
- Teams that are over the cap, such as the Spurs, have to match salaries in trades, according to NBA rules. This table courtesy of Larry Coon's CBA FAQ has the details:
Teams over the luxury tax face even more restrictions. These provisions shouldn't be a problem for the Spurs, as they have their own expendable players that can be used for salary-matching purposes on trades up to about $10 million dollars.
- Teams can't trade consecutive first round picks. That means the Spurs can't send out their 2014 and 2015 picks but they could trade their 2014 and 2016 picks. Considering Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili should be gone by 2016 and there will be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Spurs' future, I believe there is virtually no chance they trade future picks past this next year's.
What that means is the Spurs won't be able to trade a player making very little money for one that makes a lot and they won't likely use multiple picks to sweeten the pot.
The Spurs' cap situation
The Spurs salary cap situation is fantastic right now. San Antonio is over the cap but far enough down the tax line that they can afford to take on around $5 million in salary without exceeding it. They are obviously still bound by the salary-matching rules for over-the-cap teams but have some flexibility lacked by other playoff teams who are much closer to the tax line, or over it.
Additionally, the Spurs future cap situation is also very comfortable. In two years, everyone but Tiago Splitter -- and probably Kawhi Leonard -- will be off the books, provided the Spurs don't extend Parker, or sign anyone to a multi-year deal next off-season. That means that if the right player comes along, the Spurs can pull the trigger without having to worry about the future ramifications of the deal as seriously as for example Indiana, who has to reserve room under the tax line for next year, when Lance Stephenson is due to receive a serious raise.
The Spurs' assets
Any trade involving one of the Big Three is likely out. The same goes for Leonard, who is both extremely productive and cheap. Of the rest, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are probably safe, provided there is not a sure-fire upgrade available, because big men are at a premium and they both fit perfectly next to Tim Duncan. Belinelli and Mills are performing so far above their career averages that selling high could be enticing. But the Spurs could use confident shooters in the post season, and most suitors probably realize that the system is largely responsible for their improvements.
That leaves the deep bench (De Colo, Joseph, Baynes) and the three rotation players whose skill sets seem the most replaceable (Bonner, Green, Ayres). A combination of De Colo, Joseph, Baynes and Ayres could be enough on a horizontal trade in which two teams exchange players that are out of their rotation. They could also serve as a cheap throw-in, but that's likely it.
Matt Bonner's mid-size expiring contract could be enticing to teams that are rebuilding and still have aging role players on the books. Recent examples include the Courtney Lee for Jerryd Bayless trade, and Atlanta moving Marvin Williams for Devin Harris. However, with teams like Philadelphia (vastly under the cap) and OKC (trade exceptions) able to absorb salary immediately, the value of expiring contracts should be down even more than usual.
Danny Green is under contract for one more season after this one and his contract is very team-friendly for a guy that knows his strengths and plays to them. Green also figures to be a good locker room presence, as he has spent both his collegiate and professional careers with great teams and has never butted heads with anyone. The problem is that Danny doesn't seem to have any untapped potential left and is likely to settle in as a 3-and-D guy for the rest of his career. Don't expect any teams to trade a star -- or even an above average starter -- for Danny.
The Spurs pick won't be perceived as particularly valuable, as they will almost certainly pick in the bottom five.
The Spurs have a pretty well-rounded roster when healthy. Their only "need" would be a wing with size, preferably a combo forward. A mobile big man that can protect the rim would also come in handy but those are hard to come by and likely out of the Spurs' reach.
The main reason there is an expectation for the Spurs to make a move, is this post from Ken Berger, who -- while attending the D-League showcase -- mentioned that San Antonio was "aggressively pursuing an upgrade." Since then, the only rumor that has come from a reputable source indicates the Spurs could be interested in Sixers G/F Evan Turner.
Why a trade could happen
The Spurs have not been healthy and have struggled against the elite teams, which could cause them to rethink their roster. The starting lineup that was amazing last season has often looked discombobulated, and in the meanwhile, other top teams seem to have gotten better. (OKC, I'm looking at you.) If the Spurs are in fact seeking an upgrade, few teams could be as motivated to make a move.
If the rest of the contenders play it safe and focus on the financial side of the equation, a potential Spurs' offer would be the best some teams could get. The Spurs could bundle together a package combining Bonner's expiring contract, Danny Green, Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes, Jeff Ayres, Nando De Colo and a first round pick. That's not sexy but it's better than nothing.
Why it's unlikely the Spurs make a move
It's hard to say who is available and at what price. The rebuilding teams should all be sellers, but since they are generally in comfortable financial situations, no one seems to be in any hurry to deal away quality players for expiring contracts. the asking price for most players on the trading block seems to be: A) a first round pick, B) a young player with potential, or C) both A & B. The Spurs have those in name only, as their only tradable player under 25 is Cory Joseph and their end-of-the-first-round draft pick isn't much of an enticement.
With the assets the Spurs have, it's really hard to make a move for a player that would represent a serious upgrade. And if a player that could move the needle on the title race becomes available, the Thunder seem in a better position to take advantage of it, as they have both trade exceptions and a potentially valuable first round pick (Dallas' top 20 protected pick), not to mention younger players with more potential.
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So there you have it. That's all the info you need on the Spurs as we close in on the trade deadline. As news develops, we'll keep you updated. For now, use the comments section to post trade rumors or ideas.