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Here's how the Spurs can sign LaMarcus Aldridge while also bringing back "The Big Four"

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Spoiler Alert: They will not.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

First, before we get to the basketball stuff, let me clear up something right away. I know there's been a lot of speculation, and I admit ESPN's offer to head up Grantland was intriguing on many levels, and certainly would've been considerably more lucrative, financially. However, in the end I've decided I just can't leave all of you, so I turned them down.

In my last story, I wrote about Manu Ginobili's impending decision on whether to retire or keep playing for another season, and wondered if the Spurs are even being wise in wanting him back. In the column, I referenced whether it'd be wise for the Spurs to even bring him back, given their stated goals of "re-tooling" the roster and expectations that the 2015-16 team will look quite different from the one we've watched the past four years.

The question on everyone's mind is obvious: Can the Spurs bring back Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Danny Green, unrestricted free agents all, AND sign a max-level free agent such as Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge? The Blazers big-man has been something of a mild curiosity for San Antonio fans contemplating basketball A.D. (After Duncan), but recently he's turned into an obsession, ever since ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Aldridge, a native Texan who played for the University of Texas, has expressed interest in the Spurs.

I've crunched the numbers, and I have good news and bad news.

The good news is yes, it is theoretically possible.

The bad news is that it is so unlikely and would take so many convoluted steps to make it happen, that it is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY. Like, less than one percent unlikely.

Also, and this can't be stressed enough: I'm not even sure if the Spurs would be a better team even if they pulled it off.

Just for the sake of argument though, let's go through the exercise, step-by-step. The NBA's salary cap is projected to be $67.1 million next season. It's slated to jump to $89 million next year, but that doesn't do us much good now, unfortunately. In the table below, is a table from basketballinsiders.com, showing San Antonio's salary commitments for the 2015-16 season. Ignore the guys I have in bold, because they're all restricted free agent salary figures. In almost every case the Spurs won't offer those salaries and if they did, it'd be moot because the players in question could find better salaries elsewhere. The number that matters is at the bottom, the Spurs have a guaranteed commitment of $34,159,326, for five players: Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson.

 

Name

2014-15

2015-16

Tony Parker

$12,500,000

$13,437,500

Tim Duncan

$10,361,446

 

Tiago Splitter

$9,250,000

$8,500,000

Boris Diaw

$8,000,000

$7,500,000

Manu Ginobili

$7,000,000

 

Danny Green

$4,025,000

 

Patty Mills

$3,842,105

$3,578,947

Kawhi Leonard

$2,894,059

$4,433,683

Marco Belinelli

$2,873,750

 

Aron Baynes

$2,077,000

$2,596,250

Cory Joseph

$2,023,261

$3,034,892

Jeff Ayres

$1,828,750

 

Kyle Anderson

$1,093,680

$1,142,879

Austin Daye (waived)

$1,063,384

 

Matt Bonner

$915,243

 

Reggie Williams

$344,036

$1,185,784

 



Guaranteed Total:

$70,379,233

$34,159,326

 

"That's great," you're saying. "That leaves a ton of cap room for Aldridge and the team can use their Bird rights to go over the cap and re-sign everyone else!"

Not so fast, mis amigos.

The league has something called "cap holds," which are salary figures stuck to your cap sheet on free agents. The cap holds count toward your salary cap unless you re-sign said free agents or renounce them. If you renounce them, you give up their Bird rights, meaning you can't go over the cap to re-sign them.

Here are the Spurs cap holds. May I recommend that you enjoy a stiff drink or two before scrolling down?

....

....

....

Name

2014

2015

Danny Green

 

$7,647,500

Kawhi Leonard

 

$7,235,148

Aron Baynes

 

$3,946,300

Matt Bonner

 

$947,276

Jeff Ayres

 

$2,377,375

Tim Duncan

 

$15,542,169

Marco Belinelli

 

$3,735,875

Cory Joseph

 

$5,058,153

Manu Ginobili

 

$10,500,000

Total:

$0

$56,989,796

 

Don't say I didn't warn you. That's $56,989,796 on top of the $34,159,326, so bye-bye cap space. To open some up room, the Spurs will have to renounce some guys, or to re-sign the ones they want to keep that they can get for lower than the cap hold figure.

Lookin' at you, Duncan and Ginobili.

The Spurs legends have a combined cap hold of $31,042,169. What they actually made last year was $17,331,446. Realistically, they can both be brought back for something between $12 and $15 million, I'd venture.

Sadly, it might as well be $150 million, if you want LMA or Marc Gasol.

For our purposes, the two of them would have to take the 10-plus year veteran minimum for 2015, which is $1,499,187, according to RealGM.com. Multiply that times two and you have $2,998,374. Renounce everyone else besides Leonard and Green and that gets us to $34,159,326 + $2,998,374 + $7,647,500 (Green) + $7,235,148 (Leonard) or $52,040,348, for eight players.

And that's still not the minimum commitment the Spurs can present on their cap sheet. They also need to set aside $500,000 as cap holds for five minimum-salary free agents plus $1,000,000 for their first round pick. Add those up and we've got $55,540,348.

The aforementioned salary cap is $67.1 million, meaning that even by signing Duncan and Ginobili to minimum contracts (LOL) and renouncing the scrubs, the Spurs would open up only $11,559,652, far short of the max contract first-year salary of $19 million.

In other words, TIAGO GOTTA GO.

Okay, so say the Spurs ship out Splitter (no, I'm not saying he's "bad" or whatever, I'm saying I'd prefer Aldridge or Green over him) and give up their first-rounder to somebody (like the Sixers, with Brett Brown, for example) for the trouble. Get Splitter's $8,500,000 off the books, plus the million cap hold for the first-round pick and add another $500,000 for another minimum salary roster spot and that gets us to $20,559,652 in cap room. The Spurs will still be way over the cap re-signing Green and Leonard using their Bird rights, but who cares?

So, basically, what I'm saying is that you should just order your Aldridge Spurs jerseys now.

You'd have a nine-man rotation of Aldridge, Duncan, Leonard, Green and Parker starting, with Diaw, Anderson, Ginobili and Mills on the bench, along with five people from the stands who'll win that day's raffle drawing. I don't see what could go wrong with that plan, other than the everything.

Duncan and especially Ginobili need to play fewer minutes, not more. Parker needs to have a credible backup behind him, if not two, since he hasn't had a healthy campaign since 2013. We have no indication whatsoever that Anderson is even a legitimate NBA player. Last but not least, expecting Duncan and/or Ginobili to sign for the veteran minimum for the good of the team would be terribly insulting, regardless of what wink-wink under-the-table promises are made for post-career ambassadorial positions with the franchise.

The better, more rational, option would be to bring back almost everyone, again using their Bird rights, and then to use the Mid-Level ($5,464,000) and Bi-annual ($2,139,000) Exceptions to fortify the roster in July. Realistically speaking, once Gregg Popovich expressed the intention of bringing Duncan and Ginobili back, he essentially punted on a max free agent then and there. It's a safe bet that he had some intel telling him that those guys weren't ever going to pick the Spurs regardless. He told USA Today back in February that he expected Duncan to return, then expressed again he expected both Duncan and Ginobili back on the podium right after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers, and then hit on that message a third time with his end-of-season session with local media.

Really, we're right back to where we were when I wrote about this stuff on Jan. 22. Aldridge is fun to daydream about, but it's never been remotely realistic for the upcoming season and it doesn't make much sense, if the goal is to win. The Spurs would have no bench with him for a year and wouldn't be much better than the Blazers team he's supposedly leaving once Duncan and Ginobili retire. It's better for the Spurs to play this straight, make a couple of quality under-the-radar signings and to wait until 2016, and the bigger salary cap, to explore the market.

The way I figure it, if they re-sign everyone but Leonard and Green to one-year deals, and those two combine to make something like $27 million in 2016, then the Spurs would have around $26 million to work with next season, once they renounce everyone's cap holds. It'd be $33 million if they decline Diaw's option. Maybe the best-case scenario is for them to hope that Aldridge opts in for one more season in Portland.