The first day of free agency was quiet for the Spurs, which is hardly surprising after the monumental trade that sent Dejounte Murray to Atlanta. San Antonio is choosing to rebuild, so there’s no rush to make winning signings now.
Brian Wright has a chance to play it slow and try to find bargains and opportunities, and he seems to be taking advantage of it, but there could be a few more moves to come in the offseason. With that in mind, let’s take a look at where the Spurs stand and what the next steps might 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 coming season while freeing up a roster spot. Here’s a quick look at the Spurs’ salary cap situation.
Spurs salary cap situation after Murray trade (estimated)
* Waived. Dead salary. Maximum estimate of what you are owed.
**Maximum allowed (120% of novice scale)
***May be guaranteed (Deadline: 08/01)
The cap is set at around $123 million, so the Spurs will have between $35-40 million in cap space depending on roster cash charges and cap withholdings, which is a huge amount. They already have 12 players on their roster, assuming the Jones deal is guaranteed, and they could also guarantee Keita Bates-Diop’s deal for $1.9 million. The Spurs still have Joe Wieskamp’s qualifying offer against the cap, as far as we know, but they can rescind it at any time unless it’s accepted.
Now, having limited space does not mean that it will be used. The Spurs are under the $111 million minimum salary right now, but they’ll have until the end of next season to get over it. If they don’t, there is no penalty. The money they didn’t spend would simply be distributed among the players under contract. Considering the roster is pretty full, this could be on the table, if no big opportunities present themselves.
Bottom line, 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 decide to use their cap space before the season starts, they have two main ways to do it: sign free agents or facilitate a trade. Let’s look at both options.
free agent signing
The Spurs could look to enhance their roster with young free agents while still focusing on developing their recent draft picks. It can be difficult to get the best possible lottery odds while adding talent, but the right pieces might be worth the risk.
The two biggest names still on the market are Deandre Ayton and Collin Sexton. Ayton seemed like a better fit for San Antonio when Dejounte Murray was still around, but he could still be a viable option, assuming they don’t trade him to the Nets for Kevin Durant. The big man is still 23 years old, just a year older than Keldon Johnson and three years younger than Jakob Poelt. It would probably take a max contract to move him away, but if the front office thinks Ayton could eventually become a centerpiece thanks to his two-way impact, it could be worth the money the Spurs have to spend.
Sexton could be a good replacement for Murray. The 23-year-old shooting guard missed most of last season with injury, but the last time he was available and healthy he averaged more than 24 points and four assists. He might not make sense on a Cleveland team that already has Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio at point guard, but he clearly has talent. The Spurs could get him under the max, but an offer in the mid-$20 million range would probably be needed to prevent the Cavaliers from calling.
In theory, the Spurs could get both via sign-and-trade deals, but they could be difficult to pull off, even with their cap flexibility.
Other potential young targets could include former lottery picks Jalen Smith (22, unrestricted) and Jarrett Culver (23, restricted), but those signings would be considered minor.
One reason to postpone any signing, no matter how important, would be to preserve as much salary-cap flexibility as possible to facilitate trades as a third team. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving reportedly available, there should soon be some big deals that the Spurs’ draft assets could generate for their troubles.
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 a potential partner for Kyrie Irving, as an example. Brooklyn likely won’t want to face Russell Westbrook for $47 million and is reportedly looking to remain competitive, so a future Lakers pick probably wouldn’t move the needle for them. However, it might be tempting to get solid role players on smaller, short-term contracts like Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott or Jakob Poeltl to support Ben Simmons while salary is cut. The Spurs would get a future first-rounder from the Lakers for their cap space and buy Westbrook, in this hypothetical scenario. There are other setups that could work as well, involving other teams.
Then there is the possibility of simply facilitating a direct salary discharge. The Hornets, for example, reportedly decided to retain Miles Bridges (at least before the horrific domestic assault allegations against him became public), and may be looking to cut payroll to accommodate his new contract. Using a future first-rounder to trade Gordon Hayward for Doug McDermott, as an example, would allow them to immediately cut $16 million in salary while maintaining their depth at small forward. It’s possible that Jakob Poeltl and the 2023 Charlotte pick protection the Spurs got in the Murray trade could also come into play if there’s a deal with the Hornets.
That is just one example. There are always teams looking to lose salary and the Spurs could help them in exchange for picks or young prospects. Taking on players who have contracts that extend beyond this season, like Hayward, wouldn’t 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 they could still be active in the days ahead. 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 whatever flexibility the team currently has to speed up the rebuild.