Despite the NBA Finals ending just mere days ago, the offseason is already in full force. The first domino fell over the weekend when Bradley Beal was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and draft capital. It’s just the first move in what will likely be an active offseason due to new collective bargaining agreement restrictions putting the pressure on teams with a higher payroll.
The Spurs find themselves in the thick of the activity, now that they have a potentially franchise altering talent in tow with Victor Wembanyama. Already they have been linked to Chris Paul, Fred VanVleet and other veteran targets. With roughly $37 million in estimated cap space this offseason, and new rules in the CBA not returning cash to teams below the salary floor, San Antonio should be a spender this offseason.
The new CBA sets restrictions for teams that go over the “second apron,” or $17.5 million over the tax line. ESPN’s Bobby Marks laid out exactly how this works, and the timeline of the restrictions:
Explainer on the Second Apron Rules— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 19, 2023
As you can see below, the restrictions double starting next offseason.
TPE= Traded Player Exception
Marks outlines the severe restrictions for teams with massive payrolls that make it hard to acquire additional pieces at a discounted price. Some teams, like Phoenix will look to “pierce” the second apron, going over it and retaining the players they already have using bird rights. That’s a risky strategy that requires savvy drafting and great player development. Other teams, like Miami reportedly, do not want to go over this second apron.
These looming rules are going to make teams with a high payroll think twice about their rosters. Players who may be talented and overpaid could be moved just to create financial flexibility. The Spurs have a young roster filled with good contracts, and one of the best prospects in recent memories. It’s a great place to be to capitalize on a shifting market.
There are two major benefits to the new CBA applying pressure to teams. The first is the most obvious – there are fewer teams to compete with in free agency. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and now the Washington Wizards can also offer big money with their cap space. It’s hard to imagine those teams having much interest in players like Tre Jones, Keita Bates-Diop or Sandro Mamukelashvili, who San Antonio may look to bring back.
The Spurs have been rumored to target veteran bigs to bolster their front court next to Wembanyama. They could make competitive offers for players like Brook Lopez, Jakob Poeltl, Dwight Powell and Georgias Niang without contenders who typically sign role playing vets breathing down their necks. Houston will likely be a threat to acquire these players with Ime Udoka already stating the need for veteran big men.
Where the Spurs can be an even bigger player is the trade market. They have the cap space to take on bigger salaries that teams fearing CBA restrictions may look to shed. They can pick up additional draft capital in the process. We’ve already seen guys like Jordan Poole, Duncan Robinson, John Collins and Davis Bertans get brought up in trade rumors. Those are large contracts that may need a pick or two attached to get moved. As teams look to cut their losses and abide by new rules, the Spurs can jump in to absorb salary and pick up more assets for their build around Wemby.
Even further, the Spurs can help facilitate superstar trades. The Wizards and Suns are rumored to still be looking for a third team to absorb Paul’s contract to facilitate their trade. With stars like Damian Lillard, Zion Williamson and Zach Lavine in trade discussions, there are going to be ample opportunities for San Antonio to add themselves to three-team trades to acquire picks or young pieces for their rebuild.
As the pressure build for contenders to figure out their financial situation, the Spurs find themselves ahead of the curve this offseason. They have the flexibility to add veterans around Wembanyama or stay patient, acquiring contracts to meet the salary floor while adding draft picks to continue building their young core. San Antonio may need to worry about the second apron one day when they are contending for titles. For now, the new rules may just work out in their favor.