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.
While Spurs fans are still in celebratory mode, the league keeps marching on. The draft will be on the 26th, and in July, players that were on the last year of their contracts will officially become free agents. So here's an overview of San Antonio's cap situation going into the off-season.
Tony Parker $12,500,000
Tim Duncan $10,000,000
Tiago Splitter $9,250,000
Manu Ginobili $7,000,000
Danny Green $4,025,000
Kawhi Leonard $2,894,059
Marco Belinelli $2,873,750
Cory Joseph $2,023,261
Jeff Ayers $1,828,750
Austin Daye* $1,063,384
Aron Baynes** $1,115,243
*Only 250,000 guaranteed if he is waived before July
I'm going to assume that Timmy comes back. The total is $53,458,204. The salary cap is expected to be $63.2 million, according to Larry Coon's projections. So in terms of committed salary, the Spurs would be about $10 million under the cap. But we need to add cap holds to the salary on the books.
Cap holds are assigned figures for a team's own free agents that count against the cap, thus closing a loop hole that would have allowed teams to use their cap space to sign other team's free agents, then go over the cap by re-signing its own using their Bird rights.
Here are the Spurs' cap holds, again, courtesy of Shamsports.
Boris Diaw $8,934,750 (190% of previous salary)
Matt Bonner $7,495,500 (190% of previous salary)
Patrick Mills $2,154,505 (190% of previous salary)
Aron Baynes $915,243 (if no QO offered)
30th pick $920,000 (estimate)
Adding the cap holds, the Spurs are well over the cap. Those cap holds can be erased from the cap sheet by either re-signing a player (in which case, his new contract replaces the cap hold) or by renouncing the Bird rights to a player, which means the team can't go over the cap to re-sign him later.
It's very unlikely the Spurs renounce Diaw and Mills, so they will be effectively over the cap.
The Spurs can bring back Diaw and Mills
The luxury tax line, which the Spurs don't want to cross but have had no problem getting close to in the Duncan era, is projected to be set at $77 million. As mentioned they will have ten players under contract (assuming they keep Daye) at $53 million. That means they could spend over $20 million on their own free agents and still be under the tax line. The league's minimum is 13 players. The Spurs could get there by simply bringing back Mills and Diaw and signing their first round pick.
So the Spurs will have a ton of room under the tax line to easily retain Diaw and Mills. But overspending this year would compromise their cap position in the future. So they won't just fork over whatever Mills and Diaw ask for. With that in mind, what could be considered a fair salary for those two?
Boris Diaw's new contract
Diaw made $4,702,500 this past season. His performance clearly warrants a raise. And Boris is 32, which means this next one will likely be the last big contract he signs. So expecting him to leave a lot of money on the table might not be very realistic.
At the same time, Diaw's past will severely limit his suitors. His stint with the Bobcats will scare off any non-contending team from trying to pry him away. At this point in his career there is plenty of evidence that, as talented as he is, Bobo needs to be in the right system and in the right mindset to succeed.
That obviously helps San Antonio's position enormously, as most contenders don't have enough cap space to outbid the Spurs. If all he gets from other teams is mid-level exception offers, Diaw might as well just stay in San Antonio for the same money.
In negotiations with Diaw, the Spurs will have to find the balance between ensuring they retain a key piece of the puzzle without offering more than anyone on the market is willing to offer. They can't afford to low ball him but they do have significant leverage.
A reasonable offer for Diaw could be a three-year, $18 million contract. That's around what elite sixth men and third bigs get. It would represent a significant raise and it would lock down Diaw until he is 35. Ideally, that third year would only be partially guaranteed to ensure the Spurs more flexibility.
Patty Mills' new contract
Mills made a ridiculously low $1,133,950 last season. He will definitely get a sizable raise. But at 25, Mills finds himself at a crossroads. Does he go for the glory or the playing time?
There will be plenty of suitors. He is young enough to keep improving but has already showed that he can score, cares about defense and is a great locker room presence. He could fit with rebuilding teams as a young veteran or with contending teams as a bench scorer. And while there are a lot of quality point guards in the league right now, he could even get an offer from a middling team (looking at you, Lakers and Knicks) to be a temporary starter.
The Spurs simply can't offer Mills a starting position or even more playing time than the 19 minutes a game he received this season, unless Pop goes with two point guard lineups more often. In fact, with Parker not playing during the summer, he should be healthier which could affect the amount of minutes Patty gets. If Mills wants a bigger role, then he will probably have to go elsewhere to find it.
What the Spurs can offer is a chance to contend and to stay with a group that has embraced him. There are other contenders that would be happy to add him and offer him a slightly bigger role but that's where the scales could tip because of San Antonio's ability to offer more than the tax payer's mid-level exception.
There is a recent precedent of a small scoring guard that excelled on a championship team and earned a raise. J.J. Barea earned himself a four year, $18 million contract from the Wolves by playing the part of Mills for the Mavericks. It's not crazy to assume someone will be willing to offer Mills that kind of salary. In fact, most good backup PGs (Ramon Sessions, Andre Miller, Luke Ridnour, Steve Blake) get around that money.
Fortunately, the overabundance of PGs in the market could lower Mills' price tag or at least keep it in check. No one will go crazy and offer him $7 million when they can get Aaron Brooks for $2 million or Shaun Livingston for $5 million.
So what Barea got seems reasonable. A three year, $14 million contract would be good for both parties. Unless, of course, the Spurs feel like the younger, cheaper Cory Joseph is ready for a bigger role.
What about Bonner and Baynes?
Baynes is in similar position to Neal's from last season. I can see the Spurs extending the qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. But if there are offers that go over that number, they will probably withdraw it and let him go. The Big Banger is 28 years old already and might crave a bigger role. And the Spurs have Ayres locked down for another year for cheap. If he accepts the QO, I can see Baynes coming back. Otherwise, it doesn't look likely.
As for Bonner, his experience and locker room presence might be his most valuable traits. I doubt he gets another big contract, but a two-year, $4 million offer from a young team trying to transition into the playoffs doesn't seem out of the question. With Daye on a very affordable deal, I'd be surprised if the Spurs bring Matty back unless he is willing to take close to the minimum.
If they do bring back one of those guys plus Diaw and Mills, the roster would be pretty much set.
Keep an eye out for part two, where we'll take a look at draft and free agency options.