Free agency is slowing down to a crawl, with most notable players already signed. Teams are rounding up their rosters and few spots remain available. The Spurs are no exception, as they brought back the vast majority of their championship team from last season and don't look like they will spend the mid-level exception to bring in reinforcements. Their roster is pretty much set. Yet there's still one loose end: Aron Baynes.
Baynes has not established himself as an NBA player yet. The Aussie center averaged nine minutes per game last season and didn't do much to distinguish himself from the other big bodies that are available. That being said, he does have the size, the strength and the skill to warrant another look, and worse players have received contracts in the past. So why hasn't he?
It's important to be familiar with the concept of restricted free agency when trying to understand the situation with Baynes. From the invaluable Salary Cap FAQ written by Larry Coon (The emphasis is mine):
Restricted free agency exists only on a limited basis. It is allowed following the fourth year of rookie "scale" contracts for first round draft picks. It is also allowed for all veteran free agents who have been in the league three or fewer seasons.
In order to make their free agent a restricted free agent, a team must submit a qualifying offer to the player between the day following the last game of the NBA Finals and June 30. The qualifying offer is a standing offer for a one-year guaranteed contract, which becomes a regular contact if the player decides to sign it. This ensures that the team does not gain the right of first refusal without offering a contract themselves.
Baynes is a restricted free agent by virtue of having been in the league two seasons. The Spurs have early Bird rights on him and they tendered a qualifying offer (QO) worth a little over a million dollars, which gives them right of first refusal. What that means is the Spurs can go over the cap to sign Baynes to a contract up to the equivalent of the mid-level exception ($5.3 million) and they can match any offer sheet any other NBA team signs him to.
Obviously, Baynes is not going to get a $5 million a year deal. In fact, most teams might be hesitant to even offer a multi-year deal. And that's a problem for him as a restricted free agent.
When a restricted free agent wants to sign with another team, the player and team sign an offer sheet, the principal terms of which the original team is given three days to match. The offer sheet must be for at least two seasons (not including option years).
That means that to even make him an offer, another team would have to be willing to sign him for at least two seasons. It's hard to see anyone interested in Baynes enough to make that commitment. They could leave that second year fully unguaranteed, of course. But doing that would severely reduce a team's chances of actually procuring his services because, unless the other club is ready to overpay him, the Spurs would in all likelihood match that type of small, short term offer. Remember, we know that they want Baynes back for one more season at the QO price range or else they would have rescinded it by now.
So Baynes has very little bargaining power. The Spurs have no reason to offer more than the QO unless someone else offers more first (and it's unclear whether there even is interest in Baynes for more than the minimum). Then, if they think the offer is fair, they can match it and keep Baynes. And because other teams know that, they know that they would have to overpay for Bangers, or offer multiple guaranteed years if they hope to pry him away, which makes no sense because he hasn't yet shown that he's anything besides a marginal talent. And that's why we've nearly reached September without a resolution.
So what happens next is unclear. Baynes could wait until after the World Cup to make a decision. There's always the risk of an injury, but a good showing there could get another NBA team interested. Or he could sign the qualifying offer, come back for one more season for a low salary and try restricted free agency again next off-season. The only other thing Baynes can do to try and expedite things is to threaten to leave for Europe, which he has sort of done. But again, there's no reason for the Spurs to fall for his bluff, it that's what it is, because if he leaves, then he leaves. He is valuable, but only at a bargain price, which makes him eminently replaceable.
It definitely looks like the Spurs only want Baynes back for the $1.1 million, one year-deal they offered in their qualifying offer; otherwise, they would have re-signed him by now. So don't expect San Antonio to make any overtures. They seem to consider the ball now in Baynes' court. If he can procure a better offer for himself, they might match it. If not, the only way he will remain in the league is by signing the QO. It all sounds a bit ruthless but the Spurs would be silly not to take advantage of such a clear position of power.