Given recent reports, it makes sense for Spurs fans to operate under the assumption that Rudy Gay will come back for a third season in Silver and Black. The 32-year-old forward looked more comfortable as his time in San Antonio went on, and he’s become a respected voice in the locker room. The Spurs would undoubtedly be a better team next season if they’re able to retain him, and there’s something to be said for familiarity for a journeyman in his 30s.
That said, anything is possible. Gay will almost certainly be looking for a multi-year deal, likely at a number that is representative of his post-Achilles bounce-back. If that figure gets too high or PATFO decides to prioritize long-term financial flexibility, it’s not hard to see him linking up with a contender or taking the best offer out there in a summer where plenty of teams have cap space.
It’ll be tough to replace all Gay brought to the table, starting with the lineup versatility he offered. While not an elite defender, his switchability and lack of weaknesses in his game made lineup-building easier on a Spurs team that has redundancies at other positions. Of all the guys who soaked up minutes at the 4 or 5, Gay was the most compatible sharing the floor with everyone else. He was also instant offense that Pop was able to turn to when both DeRozan and Aldridge sat, and the team will either need his replacement or a group effort to shore up his scoring.
The Spurs will have 13 players on the roster going into free agency if you factor in the two rookies. They haven’t always gone into the regular season with a full 15, but you can be sure they’ll need to add at least one guy to make up for everything they lose with Gay. Here are a few ways to go about it.
A. Internal re-jigging
For all these options, I think we should look at two tracks for this team: 1) They replace Gay with another guy who can play the 3 or 4, or 2) maybe they pivot off Gay’s exit and move firmly back to last season’s two-big starting lineup.
The latter would call for at least one more big to join the rotation, and the team would have a few options internally by either signing Eubanks (who played last year on a two-way contract and, I believe, may carry over onto one in 2019-20) or giving the rookie Luka Samanic early minutes. Purely from seeing him in pregame warm-ups, I was intrigued by Ben Moore, last season’s other 2-way guy, but this tweet from The Athletic’s Jabari Young would suggest his time in San Antonio is nearing an end.
Forwards: Ben Moore
True bigs: Drew Eubanks
If they go this way: Eubanks by default, but only after being priced out of a few other options in the beginning of July.
B. Via trade
This is the more open-ended of options. You would think most possibilities here would involve SA moving one of its many perimeter players for a front court guy.
If they go this way: The demand for versatile wings is as high as ever, so it’s hard to think of too many that teams are looking to move. Would it cost much to pry Jae Crowder from Memphis?
C. Veteran depth signings
Older players potentially available on cheaper one-year deals fall into this category. Some may take part of the mid-level exception, but most should go for less.
Forwards: Jeff Green, Jared Dudley, Jonas Jerebko, Wilson Chandler, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Thabo Sefolosha, Wesley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver
True bigs: Boban Marjanovic, Daniel Theis (RFA), Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe, Kyle O’Quinn, Mike Muscala, Greg Monroe, Salah Mejri, Tyson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, Ekpe Udoh, Luke Kornet, Tyler Zeller, Kevin Seraphin, Frank Kaminsky
If they go this way: Sefolosha makes sense if they also grab a big. Muscala if not.
D. Free agency upside moves
These names vary as subjective interpretations of the word, “upside”, but they’re all 25 or younger. None are ready to start straight out of the box, and some may not pan out, but all could be seen as something of an investment at the right price.
Forwards: Jabari Parker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trey Lyles (RFA), Stanley Johnson, Alex Poythress (RFA), Kelly Oubre (RFA), Mario Hezonja
True bigs: Thomas Bryant (RFA), Willie Cauley-Stein (RFA), Richaun Holmes, Ivica Zubac (RFA), Jahlil Okafor (TO), Jordan Bell (RFA), Noah Vonleh
If they go this way: Vonleh or Johnson are both younger than Derrick White, which is wild to me, but either one is an interesting play.
E. Remember these guys? free agency moves
Remember these guys?
Forwards: Corey Brewer, Michael Beasley, Carmelo Anthony, Shabazz Muhammad
True bigs: Pau Gasol
If they go this way: Nope.
F. Free agency swings for a starter that require other moves
These would be the priciest moves and would probably require the Spurs to clear additional space to make happen. The team would have to really like someone in this tier to go through the trouble and sacrifice long-term flexibility they’ll want to allocate towards the many young guys who will be coming off rookie deals in the coming years.
I’m leaving Harrions Barnes (who reportedly has an offer on the table from Sacramento) in here for now, as his alleged price (4 years, $90 million) gives a decent idea of what players on that level may get.
Forwards: Nikola Mirotic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza, Harrison Barnes, Julius Randle (PO)
True bigs: Dewayne Dedmon, Jonas Valanciunas, Bobby Portis (RFA)
If they go this way: Bogdanovic feels like the obvious choice here given rumors of Spurs interest, although ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently noted that the Pacers will look to retain him. They may still need to venture into Group C here, unless the cap-clearing move they make also nets another big man in return.
G. More doable free agency swings for a startable player
Last are guys who may be able and who the Spurs may be able to get for anywhere from a multiyear deal utilizing the $9.2 million Mid-Level Exception or less. You may not
Forwards: Thaddeus Young, Marcus Morris, James Ennis, Danuel House (RFA), Mike Scott, DeMarre Carroll, Jake Layman (RFA), Dorian Finney-Smith (RFA), Maxi Kleber (RFA), JaMychal Green
True bigs: JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, Ed Davis, Kevon Looney, Khem Birch (RFA)
If they go this way: Young already feels like an honorary Spur, although outbidding the Rockets on House is a thought. Young can’t space the floor like Gay did last season, but I wouldn’t hate the fit. There could also be a quality big available in this range given the way the league is going.
The best thing that could happen to the Spurs this summer is to retain Gay for a reasonable price, but if that doesn’t work there are plenty more options out there. We’ll find out what happens sometime beginning with 5 PM CT Sunday.