The first day of free agency was a quiet one for the Spurs, which is not surprising after the monumental trade that sent Dejounte Murray to Atlanta. San Antonio is choosing to rebuild, so there’s no rush to make any win-now signings.
Brian Wright has the opportunity to play it slow and try to find bargains and opportunities, and seems to be taking advantage of it, but there could be some more moves still to come in the offseason. With that in mind, let’s take a look at where the Spurs stand and what the next steps could be.
The Spurs have a lot of cap space, but they don’t have to use it
The Murray trade actually decreased the amount of guaranteed money on San Antonio’s books this upcoming season while freeing up a roster spot. Here’s a quick look at the Spurs’ cap situation.
Spurs’ cap situation after Murray trade (estimate)
*Waived. Dead salary. Max estimate of what he’s owed.
**Maximum allowed (120% of rookie scale)
***Likely to be guaranteed (Deadline: 01/08)
The cap is set at around $123 million, so the Spurs will have between $35-40 million in cap space depending on roster spot charges and cap holds, which is a massive amount. They already have 12 players on their roster, assuming Jones’ bargain deal is guaranteed, and could also guarantee Keita Bates-Diop’s deal worth $1.9 million. The Spurs still have Joe Wieskamp’s qualifying offer counting against the cap, as far as we know, but they can rescind it at any time unless it’s accepted.
Now, having cap space doesn’t mean it’s going to be used. The Spurs are under the salary floor of $111 million right now, but they’d have until the end of next season to get over it. If they don’t, there’s no penalty. The money they didn’t spend would simply get distributed among the players under contract. Considering the roster is pretty full, this might be on the table, if no great opportunities present themselves.
Simply put, there’s no reason for the Spurs to make big signings unless they want to, which is something to keep in mind.
What the Spurs can do with their cap space
If the Spurs do decide to use their cap space before the season starts, they have two major ways of doing so: signing free agents or facilitating a trade. Let’s look at both options.
Signing free agents
The Spurs could look to improve their roster with young free agents while still focusing on developing their recent draft picks. It might be hard to get the best lottery odds possible while adding talent, but it could be worth the risk for the right pieces.
The two biggest names still on the market are Deandre Ayton and Collin Sexton. Ayton looked like a better fit for San Antonio when Dejounte Murray was still around, but could still be a viable option, assuming he doesn’t get traded to the Nets for Kevin Durant. The big man is still 23-year-old, just a year older than Keldon Johnson and three years younger than Jakob Poelt. It would likely take a max contract to pry him away, but if the front office believes Ayton could eventually become a centerpiece thanks to his two-way impact, he could be worth the money, which the Spurs have to spend.
Sexton could be a good replacement for Murray. The 23-year-old guard missed most of last season with injury, but the last time he was available and healthy he averaged over 24 points and four assists. He might not make sense on a Cleveland team that already has Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio to man the point guard spot, but he’s clearly talented. The Spurs might be able to get him for under the max, but it would likely take an offer in the mid-20-million-dollar range to prevent the Cavaliers from matching.
The Spurs could in theory get both by working sign-and-trade deals, but those might be tough to pull off even with their cap flexibility.
Other potential young targets could include former lottery picks Jalen Smith (22 years old, unrestricted) and Jarrett Culver (23 years old, restricted), but, those signings would be considered minor.
One reason to hold off on any signings, no matter how significant, would be to preserve as much cap flexibility as possible to facilitate trades as a third team. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving reportedly available, there should be huge deals coming soon that could net the Spurs draft assets for their trouble.
It’s hard to be too specific here, because it’s unclear what deals the Nets are discussing, but let’s take the Lakers as an potential partner for Kyrie Irving, as an example. Brooklyn will probably not want to take on Russell Westbrook at $47 million and is reportedly looking to remain competitive, so a future Lakers pick wouldn’t likely move the needle for them. Getting solid role players on smaller, short-terms contracts like Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott or Jakob Poeltl to put around Ben Simmons while trimming salary, however, could be enticing. The Spurs would get a future Lakers first-rounder for their cap space and would buy out Westbrook, in this hypothetical scenario. There are other configurations that could work as well, involving other teams.
Then there’s the possibility of simply facilitating a straight salary dump. The Hornets, for example, have reportedly decided to retain Miles Bridges (at least before the horrific domestic assault allegations against him became public), and could be looking to reduce their payroll to fit his new contract. Using a future first rounder to move Gordon Hayward for Doug McDermott, as an example, would allow them to immediately cut $16 million in salary while maintaining their depth at forward. It’s possible Jakob Poeltl and the protection on the 2023 Charlotte pick the Spurs got in the Murray trade could come into play as well if there’s a deal with the Hornets.
That’s just one example. There are always teams looking to shed salary, and the Spurs could help them in exchange for picks or young prospects. Taking on players that have contracts extending past this season, like Hayward, would not be ideal, but if the return is good enough, it should be on the table.
The Spurs have likely already made their biggest move of the offseason, but could still look to be active in the next few days. From signing free agents to making trades that add young talent or picks, they have options.
Hopefully the front office will navigate the rest of the offseason wisely and use the flexibility the team currently has to accelerate the rebuild.