After the retirement of the Big 3 and Kawhi Leonard forcing his way out of town, the San Antonio Spurs chose a path not frequently taken by franchises undergoing major changes. Instead of bottoming out and stockpiling draft assets, they continued pushing for playoff relevancy by blending together their young core with a number of veterans. Whether or not this approach can be considered a success depends on one’s expectations of the team during this period of transition.
Despite the Spurs’ reluctance to enter a full rebuild, they still ended up missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons and are going into an offseason unlike any they have had in a very long time as every veteran on the team over the age of 30 will be an unrestricted free agent. Whether or not the Spurs should look to re-sign some of these veterans will be a conversation for another day (though I might throw in a guess or two). For now let’s focus on what the Spurs’ salary cap situation looks like this summer.
When reading through the numbers below, keep in mind that the NBA has projected the salary cap for the 2021-2022 season to be $112 million with the luxury tax line set at $136.6 million.
Fully Guaranteed Salaries
|Lonnie Walker IV||$4,447,896.00|
The Spurs have eight players with fully guaranteed contracts for the 2021-2022 season, with their combined salary totaling just under $55 million. The only real decision to be made from this group is whether or not to extend Lonnie Walker IV, but that is not relevant to this discussion since an extension would not kick in until after the upcoming season.
Partially or Non-Guaranteed Salaries
|Player||Dead Cap||Cap Figure|
|Player||Dead Cap||Cap Figure|
Besides the eight players with fully guaranteed contracts, Drew Eubanks has a partially guaranteed contract and DeQuan Jeffries has a non-guaranteed contract.
Eubanks feels like a lock to have his salary guaranteed for the 2021-2022 season. He has shown flashes of being a viable backup to Jakob Poeltl, or at the very least a luxury depth piece at the center position on a very reasonable contract.
Jeffries is a bit of an unknown commodity at this point as he was signed near the conclusion of the regular season. The Spurs will almost certainly keep him into training camp, but he’s another 6’5” guard on a roster full of 6’5” guards.
For the purposes of this article I will assume that the Spurs fully guarantee Eubanks’ contract before the August 20th deadline and that they ultimately waive Jeffries.
Keeping Eubanks on the roster would bring the Spurs’ salary up to $56,746,084 with nine players under contract.
Additional cap figures impacting the Spurs’ salary
Beyond the contracts already discussed above, the Spurs still owe $1,242,340 of DeMarre Carroll’s contract, increasing the Spurs’ salary to $57,988,424.
The Spurs are currently projected to own the 12th pick in the NBA draft. While the NBA draft lottery has yet to take place, this article will assume that the Spurs keep and make this pick. The projected first-year salary of the 12th pick in the 2021 NBA draft is between 80-120 percent of $3,289,000. Teams almost always sign the player to 120 percent of this amount, so this article will assume that the Spurs will have a draft pick cap hold in the amount of $3,946,800. This increases the Spurs’ overall salary to $61,935,224 with ten players under contract.
Every free agent comes with a cap hold. This prevents teams from using their cap space to sign a bunch of free agents then use bird rights to go over the cap to sign their own players. This process can still happen, but if a team wishes to maintain their own free agent’s bird rights, they will need to keep that player’s cap hold on the books until that player is signed. Cap holds are the reason the Spurs (and most teams) will start the offseason over the salary cap.
It’s pretty safe to assume that the next contract for DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and Trey Lyles will all have a starting salary in an amount less than their current cap hold (e.g. Mills will almost certainly have a salary of less than $20 million next season). Because of this, it makes the most sense for the Spurs to make decisions on most of their free agents before looking to sign other team’s free agents. Going back to the Mills example, if Mills’ market ends up being in the $9-10 million/year range, the Spurs could make the decision to sign Mills for that amount or to renounce his rights. Either way his $20 million cap hold would be removed from the Spurs’ overall salary. If the Spurs re-signed Mills, his cap hold would be replaced by his new contract amount.
Gorgui Dieng has a reasonable cap hold of $1,669,178 because he was bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies and signed for the minimum with the Spurs. This means his cap hold is going to be in the amount of a two year veteran’s minimum. In theory, if the Spurs maintain his Non-Bird Rights they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him. In actuality this is highly unlikely, as the Non-Bird exception means the Spurs would be limited in offering Dieng 120 percent of the his previous salary (with the Spurs, which was $1,000,000) or 120 percent of the minimum salary, whichever is greater. Dieng will likely command more than that, so if the Spurs wish to re-sign him, it would make the most sense to renounce his Non-Bird Rights and re-sign him using cap space or the Room Exception (projected to be worth just under $5,000,000). I think it’s safe to assume the Spurs will ultimately renounce Dieng’s rights.
The Spurs’ two-way players from last season have small cap holds that wouldn’t have much of an impact on the Spurs’ ability to sign other team’s free agents using their available cap space. If I had to guess, I would expect the Spurs to keep the cap hold of Keita Bates-Diop and renounce the rights of Quinndary Weatherspoon. Bates-Diop has size that the Spurs lack, especially if Gay signs elsewhere. He also looked pretty solid when given minutes. Weatherspoon, on the other hand, is part of a crowded guard group and hasn’t done much over the past couple seasons to warrant another contract with the Spurs.
Incomplete roster charges
If the number of players under contract plus the number of cap holds the Spurs currently have is under 13, then for each spot they need to add a rookie minimum salary to their overall salary as an “incomplete roster charge.” This amount is projected to be $925,258 for each spot. This charge gets removed from the overall salary once another player is added to the roster.
Assuming the Spurs don’t make a trade, they guarantee Eubanks salary, they end up making the 12th pick in the draft, and they renounce the rights of all their free agents, the Spurs will have a total of $61,935,224 in guaranteed salary heading into free agency. With a projected salary cap of $112 million for the 2021-2022 season, that would give the Spurs roughly $47 million of cap space to work with to fill out the rest of the roster ($50 million minus roughly $3 million for the three incomplete roster charges they would incur for only have 10 players signed). They would also have access to the room exception worth around $5 million.
To be completely honest, it’s not a great year to have cap space as the free agent class is considered especially weak. If the Spurs miss out on their top free agent targets, an option would be to sign players to short term contracts to fill out the roster and kick the cap space down the road. This would hopefully allow the Spurs to focus on evaluating their promising young core instead of the youngsters having to defer to high usage veterans that aren’t really moving the needle anyhow.
As far as the Spurs’ own free agents are concerned, I think Patty Mills is the most likely veteran to re-sign with the Spurs. He’s the longest tenured Spur on the roster by a mile and is the Spurs’ biggest threat from distance. I think Rudy Gay is at the point in his career where he looks to sign with an instant contender. That’s not the Spurs. I think the New York Knicks make DeRozan a big offer. They need offense and playmaking and have the defense to cover a lot of his mistakes on that end. It seems like a great fit, and the Knicks are going to be alongside the Spurs as one of the teams with the most cap space this summer. I could see Lonzo Ball being their top target, but if that doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised if DeRozan ends up in New York. After what happened to Lyles this year I can’t imagine he’ll be looking to re-sign with the Spurs. Dieng would be a good, inexpensive signing who can provide floor spacing and depth at the center position for those times Jakob Poeltl gets into foul trouble.
As Jesus Gomez recently pointed out, the Spurs’ new front office will have a lot of work to do this summer. It’ll be fascinating to see how they navigate having this much cap space, as it’s not something the Spurs’ front office is accustomed to having.