When the San Antonio Spurs traded Richard Jefferson for Stephen Jackson, one of the benefits was Jackson's contract had one less year on it, giving the Spurs more financial flexibility moving forward. Between Jackson's $10 million and Manu Ginobili's $14 million, one would think the Spurs have room to make some moves this summer via free agency or trading for a guy and using the cap room to sign a guy like Paul Milsap or even Josh Smith. Alas, the NBA salary cap is not that simple. Long story short, the Spurs need to figure out how much they're going to pay Manu Ginobili next year before any other moves are made.
Right now, the Spurs have a combined $30 million in contracts coming off the books this summer. That's Manu, Jackson, Tiago Splitter (restricted free agent), DeJuan Blair (restricted) and Gary Neal (restricted). Matt Bonner's contract is only guaranteed for $1 million if he's waived by June 29th, so that could be an extra $3 million off the books. Additionally, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills have player options on their deals. We'll assume they don't opt of their deals but the Spurs do waive Bonner and say they have approximately $33 million in expiring contracts which would get them about $23 million in cap space.
While that number looks great, it's actually fools gold because of the cap holds that are associated with Ginobili, Jackson and Splitter. I'm by no means an expert on the salary cap, so I enlisted some help from ShamSports' Mark Deeks, who I would consider a cap expert. Despite what we think about the Spurs' expiring contracts, Deeks says it's very unlikely the Spurs will have any "significant" cap space this summer, mostly because of Manu's hold.
"The size of a free agent's cap hold is determined by the size of his previous contract and the status of his Bird rights, a combination of which leads to a calculation of the cap hold size," Deeks said. "In Manu's case, his cap hold will be bloody enormous, equal to the maximum salary of a ten or more year veteran."
That means somewhere in the $20 million range, which would put the Spurs just a few million dollars under the salary cap. So basically, they're stuck until both sides decide on a deal. Deeks also pointed out that there's one other way around cap holds, which is just to simply renounce the rights of the free agent. It wouldn't surprise me if this happened with Jackson, who has a $15 million cap hold of his own and they could likely re-sign using left over cap space or the mid-level exception.
Another important reason to get Ginobili re-signed soon is so the Spurs will know how much money they will have to re-sign Tiago Splitter. The Spurs can match any offer teams make for Splitter, but make no mistake about it, he's going to get paid this summer. The bar was pretty much set for Splitter this summer when Omer Asik signed a three year, $25 million last season putting up far worse numbers than Splitter. Same theory applies for Nikola Pecovic but NOT for Timofey Mozgov. Deeks wouldn't set a price on Ginobili's next contract, but suggested Ginobili would be paid somewhere along the likes of Steve Nash, another over 35 year old recent free agent.
"He could be the best paid 36 year old in the league. If a precipitous decline was going to happen, it probably would have started by now. His effectiveness will taper off a bit – I'd suggest it already has – and he'll be a mere 20 mpg player soon enough," Deeks said, "But if a player is better in those 20 mpg than most others are in 35mpg, he'll still get his."
If I were a betting man, I'd bet Ginobili re-signs for two years and $14 million while Splitter gets three years and $27-30 million. That'd give them about $5 million extra to play with if they renounce Jack. This is all contingent on Manu deciding he's coming back for another season, which isn't guaranteed.
Follow Mark Deeks on Twitter.