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What to make of the Spurs’ latest trade

The Spurs made a small move that was mostly about money but could signal that they are getting ready to make bigger trades.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs traded a veteran on Thursday, but not the one most were probably expecting. In a small deal focused more on cap management and money than talent, San Antonio waived Gorgui Dieng and sent a protected second-rounder to the Celtics for Noah Vonleh and cash considerations.

It’s a tiny transaction in the grand scheme of things but one that gives us a glimpse into the Spurs’ thinking and could potentially foreshadow bigger moves to come. So let’s take a look at the deal and see why it happened.

It was mostly about money

The simple explanation as to why the trade happened is money. The Celtics are over the tax line and by trading Vonleh, someone they had no use for, without getting any salary back they not only shed his contract from their books but also make luxury tax savings of around seven million. They have also opened a roster spot they could potentially use to make a signing soon, but more likely they will use it to sign someone to a 10-day contract. January 5 is the first day teams can ink players to that type of deal, so the timing points to that being something the Celtics probably considered. The cost for Boston was money, as they very likely sent enough in cash to cover what’s left of both Vonleh’s and Dieng’s contract and some more to entice the Spurs.

For San Antonio, this was a simple way to use the immense cap space they still have. Even after waiving Dieng, absorbing Vonleh’s deal and waiving Vonleh, the Spurs are still firmly below the salary floor, which means that if they don’t spend around $15 million more they will have to spread that money between the players they do have under contract. There is no incentive for the Silver and Black to save, at least up to the floor, so deals like this simply make sense. Since the contract they took on is so small, the asset they got back isn’t really meaningful, but netting some extra cash is always going to sound appealing. The second-rounder they sent back is probably going to be heavily protected and extremely unlikely to be conveyed.

Again, it’s all about money and cap and roster management. The Celtics saved some tax money, the Spurs got some cash and now both teams can give some players tryouts on 10-day deals if they so choose. There are no losers here, except for perhaps Dieng and Vonleh, who could struggle to find a new home.

Hopefully this is just the beginning of trade season in San Antonio

While the deal in itself is minor and will have no impact on the floor for either team, it does seem to signal that the Spurs are officially open for business when it comes to trades. It’s something that most front offices probably knew, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see more rumors start soon. After all, San Antonio just waived a veteran leader who was by all accounts well-liked in the locker room to create a roster spot and get some cash. Other teams that are in a similar predicament to the Celtics will surely be making calls to see how much it would cost to have the Spurs absorb some contract they don’t want anymore. We could see small deals like this one happen a few more times, especially now that 10-day contracts are allowed and teams will be tempted to get roster spots and start tryouts.

Hopefully, this also means that we’ll start to see bigger moves being discussed as well. The extra spot could come in handy in a two-for-one trade, which could be necessary for salary-matching purposes for teams inquiring about veterans on large contracts like Doug McDermott or Josh Richardson. Talks about small transactions like the Vonleh one can get front offices going further into other potential deals, as well. The NBA often sees decision-makers hold off on making moves until others start making them, and even a largely meaningless swap like this one might start a chain reaction. There’s still time before the trade deadline arrives on Feb. 9, but now that some teams have an idea of how their season is shaping up to be and know the Spurs are open to finalizing trades. they could be motivated to deal sooner rather than later.

There’s no guarantee that this trade will actually precede a bigger one. It’s completely possible the Spurs just use the extra spot to convert one of their two-way contracts into standard ones or use it on 10-day guys as they wait for the trade deadline to come. There’s no rush for a team in such a flexible position as San Antonio.

There is a chance, however, that these small moves are a sign that the front office is ready to deal. If that’s the case, fans could be in for some entertaining weeks ahead.