It's September, which means the NBA world has gone into hibernation. Even the Olympics have come and gone, so we don't even have that to talk about. We won't have significant news for a few weeks and we won't be able to watch ball for even longer.
That means speculation reigns and there's no more fertile ground for it that in the fringes of the roster. Bryn Forbes, Ryan Arcidiacono and Patricio Garino — three undrafted free agents — have a shot at the 15th spot. In all likelihood, the Spurs will make a couple more additions before camp to compete with them, as well.
Yet is entirely possible — if not likely — that all those new names will be gone from the roster by opening night. So why are we paying attention to guys on training camp contracts? Heck, why even add players if their chances of making the final cut are so slim? Let's take a closer look.
Teams get extra roster spots for camp and are wise to use them
Before the season starts, teams can carry up to 20 players. Right now the Spurs have 17 players under contract, with 14 of those fully guaranteed, so don't be surprised if there are more additions on non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed deals to the training camp roster. It just makes sense to use those extra spots to bring in players that either have a shot at making the team or could be potential targets in the future.
We've already seen rumors about Argentine point guard Nicolas Laprovittola potentially joining the Spurs. Someone might get waived before the season and become available. There are always unsigned veterans looking for one last shot, as we've seen when San Antonio brought over Corey Maggette, Eddy Curry and Rasual Butler. Only the last one made the roster, though, so don't be blinded by any recognizable name that might pop up as a possibility.
The roster for the season is essentially finalized but the Spurs have these temporary extra spots they can use to familiarize themselves with other players and give them a shot at earning a permanent place, as improbable as that seems. It's good that they are doing their due diligence.
Camp contracts offer a way to keep the young guys close, but not in the roster
So do the young guys on non-guaranteed contracts have zero chance of making the team? Not really, but it's highly unlikely that they do. Those signings very likely have a lot more to do with the D-League allocation rules than anything else. Patricio Garino's manager admitted as much, saying that Pato knows his chances of making the final roster are slim and he will likely develop in Austin.
Garino's agent said Pato's chances of making the final roster with SA are slim. He's likely going to the D-League. https://t.co/Eh1dCopqmP— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) August 29, 2016
So how do things work? Teams can allocate four players they waive from those 20 they carry before the season to their D-League affiliate. They don't keep exclusive rights to them but get to keep them around to monitor their development. For undrafted free agents, meanwhile, getting into training camp with a team makes the D-League path more lucrative and competitive with a potential European offer.
All three of Arcidiacono, Forbes and Garino have gotten a guarantee that ranges from $75 thousand to $125 thousand. Even if/when they are cut, they are getting that money. That's huge, because a D-League salary goes only as high as $26 thousand dollars a year. These guys are getting more than they'd get in a year in the minors in just a few weeks, because the Spurs want to keep them close.
Can we learn anything from the players the Spurs are targeting?
Again, reading too much into these signings is never the best idea, but they do offer a small glimpse into the thought process of the front office. Last offseason, the Spurs loaded up wings, keeping Reggie Williams around, signing Jonathon Simmons, bringing along Butler and giving DeShaun Thomas a shot. It's obvious they wanted someone to push Kyle Anderson and potentially compete with him for minutes. Butler made the team and did just that before being waived to make room for Kevin Martin.
Now, the focus seems to be at the guard spots, especially at lead guard. Arcidiacono is a pure point guard while Forbes is a combo guard. As for other possible additions, Laprovittola is a lead guard with some international experience and the Spurs reportedly had a workout with veteran Sebastian Telfair. If they do bring in a point guard to the camp roster, that could signal that they want Dejounte Murray to develop at his own pace, just like Cory Joseph did.
This is all speculation, of course, but the players that the Spurs have brought in at this point and Gregg Popovich's history with handling raw rookies suggest that if that 15th spot is in fact filled, it's probably going to be with a point guard.
What if the Spurs want to keep two of the camp players?
The Spurs have 14 players on guaranteed contracts and if history is any indication, they will likely carry only those into the season. If someone from the camp roster stands out, they can just guaranteed his minimum deal and keep him around as well, as mentioned. That's what they did last season with Butler. To keep two players on non-guaranteed contracts they would have to waive or trade someone else, which means it would take a really impressive performance to make it worth the hassle.
That said, the Spurs are so far below the luxury tax that they can afford to waive someone on a guaranteed deal without having to worry about that. Last offseason they waived Jimmer Fredette despite having guaranteed him $500 thousand, which is roughly what Davis Bertans is set to make. Jonathon Simmons is not much more expensive. It's technically possible for the front office to fall in love with two prospects and decide to keep them, even if it costs money to do so.
The chances of that happening, however, are minuscule. The 14 players on guaranteed deals are in all likelihood safe, not only because getting rid of them would involve losing money but also because it's extremely unlikely that two camp bodies perform well enough to force the front office's hand.