Project Spurs mailbag: Offseason edition

The San Antonio Spurs are the 2013-14 NBA champions (in case you’ve been living under a rock). Tim Duncan, franchise cornerstone, opted in to his $10.3 million player option, ensuring at least one more season with the Big Three.

The Spurs don’t figure to be major players this offseason but, seriously, who knows? The NBA is wacky. In this edition of the Project Spurs mailbag, I answered the full gamut of offseason questions — from the draft to Pau Gasol (maybe?) to, gulp, even the post Big Three era.

To have your questions answered in next weeks mailbag, tweet @quixem or email him at quixemramirex@gmail.com.

Hans Schenker asks, “Should we draft some versatile big guys, athletic wings or maybe some playmaking guards that can go to the rim?

Of the three attributes you listed, I’d rank them like this (in order of need): Athletic wings, versatile big guys, playmaking guards. The Spurs have the playmaking guards covered, though they could always address it to cover for the eventual retirement of Manu Ginobili and as Patty Mills insurance. Versatile bigs are always in demand and they face the same hole when Tim Duncan retires.  I’m putting athletic wings atop the list, because that’s the only negligible immediate hole on the roster. Kawhi could use a breather. Someone who can guard small forwards for a few minutes is ideal.

Randall Thomas asks, “Would you assume the safest bet is to take a foreign player at No. 30?”

I don’t think “safest” is the correct word here. At the 30th pick, there are no “safe” picks. Plenty of players bounce out of the league after a few seasons. Some don’t even make it to the NBA level. It’s a crap shoot. These players, by their very nature, are flawed players — 3-point specialists, pure athletes, non-scorers, rebounders, pure motor guys and some are just too raw to make an immediate impact. The Spurs have had some success mining the foreign prospects in the past and turning Kawhi into a gem. Where the player is from doesn’t matter much.

Demetrius asks, “Who is the prospect you see the Spurs drafting?”

This is like throwing darts — blindfolded. No one has a clue. But, for the sake of this question, I’m limiting to five names (though there are way more guys in the fold). In no particular order: Bogdan Bogdanovich, Walter Tavares, Mitch McGary, K.J. McDaniels.

Bogdanovich is a 6-foot-6 international guard with playmaking ability (sound familiar?). He’s drawn comparisons to Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and Nando De Colo — for obvious reasons — he’s turning 22 in August, he projects as a competent 3-point shooter and his 6-foot-11 wingspan should help him stay in front of most shooting guard/wing players in the league. For what it’s worth, Draft Express projects the Spurs to take Bogdanovich with the 30th pick. He’d be the very Spurs-y pick.

Tavares, a massive 7-foot-2 center, is also enticing. His wingspan, 7-feet-10, is the second highest ever recorded. He’s a bit of project (he first picked up a basketball in 2010), but he averaged a pace-adjusted 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes last year. A massive big man that can protect the rim is one of the most valuable assets in the NBA. Just one problem: He has a contract overseas, though it is a malleable contract that has several opt-out clauses, allowing him to enter the NBA fold as early as next year. With Tim Duncan aging, the Spurs could do well to fortify their front court for the post Big Three era. Tavares reportedly worked out for the Spurs last week.

You’ve probably heard of McGary if you follow college basketball. He played two seasons with Michigan, averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes for his career. He’s a high-motor guy slated to be picked in the 20-35 range. USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt reported the Spurs won’t pass on him if he slides to 30.

K.J. McDaniels, a three-year Clemson product, is an athletic small forward who is devastating in transition. He doesn’t project to be a star — but, frankly, who is in this range? — but he could potentially slide in to a backup role playing 10-15 minutes a night behind Kawhi Leonard which just happens to be the Spurs’ most pressing need.

I’m going to go with Bogdanovich, but there’s almost no point in guessing who the Spurs select. He probably won’t be even on this list.

Jordan A. Ziemer asks, “Which international asset is closest to joining the Foreign Legion? Is Bertans healthy yet?”

I’ll go with Davis Bertans. Hanga is more polished, but Bertans played well with Partizan. Remember, he’s barely a year removed from tearing his ACL. His percentages (49 percent on 2-pointers, 48 percent on 3-pointers) are there, and his offensive game is rounding out. He’s 21, with two years remaining on his contract. If all goes well, he could be a nice acquisition in 1-2 years.

Pablo Joel Gallaga asks, “Is the team making moves to compete with a particular team or staying pat?”

It’s the other way around. The Spurs are the defending champions. They’ll likely stand pat, make a minor move or two and win a lot of basketball games.

Randall Thomas asks, “Reasonably, who is the biggest free agent San Antonio could be targeting?”

Pau Gasol. He’s on the decline — he averaged 31.4 minutes last year, down from 37.4 in 2011-12 — but he’s still one of the better big men in the league even at 34 years old. He’s plenty skilled, which should help him stave off Father Time (much like Tim Duncan). After all, he’s just one of six players to average 19 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes last year. If things don’t work out with Boris, he might be an option (a more expensive one, at that).

Roger Barajas asks, “What is the percentage of Spurs acquiring Pau Gasol?”

Less than five percent. His market value is conceivably higher than Boris’ and they’ll be teams with deeper pockets than the Spurs. Other than the fact that he would make a very logical fit alongside Duncan and Splitter, there isn’t any reports of him seriously considering San Antonio. Dallas and Memphis, with his younger brother Marc Gasol, appear to be the frontrunners.

Manuel Hinojosa asks, “What is Kawhi’s contract situation? Think he will command the maximum?”

Kawhi is a pretty hot commodity, to say the least. He’ll earn $2.89 million next season before his $4.05 million qualifying offer in 2015-16. The Spurs could go one of two ways.

The extension way: With Kawhi improving every year and drawing interest, the Spurs can delay his free agency clock by signing him to an extension. He’s eligible for an extension until Oct. 31, giving the Spurs three months to agree to terms. Kawhi can sign an extension worth 25 percent of the salary cap — let’s just say $16 million for simplicity sake. The Spurs would likely extend him for four additional years, meaning they’ll have team control until after the 2019-20 season, when he’ll still be 26-freaking-years-old. The actual money is difficult to prognosticate, but Kawhi could earn anywhere from 58-70 million for his extension. The Spurs won’t have Duncan and Manu Ginobili then, and Parker will be on the decline. Kawhi will be franchise lynchpin and they’ll have plenty of money to build a team around him.

The restricted free agency way: Or the Spurs could forgo the extension and extend the qualifying offer to him, making him a restricted free agent. They still have a leg up on the competition, since they can match any offer sheet, but this puts them in a more vulnerable position, where Kawhi’s market will dictate his price.

Don’t sweat it, though. The Spurs (almost assuredly) won’t lose Kawhi in either scenario.

James Molina asks, “What do you make of the Spurs’ salary cap situation? Can we keep Boris and Patty and get a high quality free agent?”

Here’s a brief breakdown: They have 11 players under contract (including Aron Baynes’ $1.1 million qualifying offer). Including cap holds — the money attached to outgoing free agents Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Patty Mills — the Spurs’ payroll is $73.5 million, just $3.5 million below the luxury tax line.

Boris and Patty will entertain free agency and likely get a few offers, but I’m anticipating the Spurs bring back the band for another season. Once they re-sign them to deals (again, not a complete certainty), they can eliminate their cap holds from the books, opening up some room to dip their toes in the free agency waters. Austin Daye’s non-guaranteed deal and Aron Baynes’ qualifying offer are also in play here, but they aren’t huge dominos in the ground scheme of things.

The Spurs have a few exceptions in their back pocket — the mid-level exception (worth $5.3 million), bi-annual exception ($2.1 million) and the Nando De Colo trade exception ($1.4 million). For a much more detailed explanation on exceptions, read this. If they waive Daye, shaving off some salary and, more importantly, a roster spot, they could sign a player on the cheap to fill out the roster, likely in the 3-5 million range. Nothing exciting. But it’s something.

Tommy asks, “Has Patty Mills played himself into a big contract this offseason? Any chance that contract is with the Spurs?

Yes and yes. Mills’ value skyrocketed, certainly. He filled in for Tony Parker, the Spurs’ best player, in a pinch. The Spurs scored more points per 100 possessions than Mills on the floor than when he sat, an indictment of A) the efficacy of the bench unit and B) Mills’ value has a capable point guard in Gregg Popovich’s system. He’s going to get paid between $3-6 million. He’s a high-energy defender and efficient scorer. The New York Knicks are reportedly interested and there will be other suitors, but the Spurs have his Bird Rights and can go over the cap to re-sign him if necessary. I’m betting he stays.

Spurs Talk asks, “If the Spurs can only re-sign Mills or Diaw, who would you sign? Who is more important?”

I’m going with Diaw, though it’s closer than some may think. The age gap (seven years), for one, though the Spurs are still very much in win-now mode more than anything. Statistically, Mills produced more win shares in nearly 400 fewer minutes and more win shares per 48 minutes — two metrics that account for total production on the court. The Spurs’ net rating with Patty (+10.8) beat Boris’ by nearly three points (+8.0). A point guard who can move the ball and create on his own is an asset for the Spurs.

Diaw is still more important in my eyes, namely on the offensive end. He’s a better shot creator than Mills is, and he opens up the floor, making him a crutch Popovich can use to instill extra life in the offense. Mills is a fine player, but the Spurs will still score bunches of points in his absence just because they already have several other avenues to use. The final death knell in Mills’ case: He’s a point guard and there are plenty of cheap options, including Cory Joseph, who is already on the roster.

The Spurs would like to re-sign both, but Diaw should be the priority. By a few hairs.

Randall Thomas asks, “Do you really believe the Spurs would benefit moving on from Mills and Diaw?”

Pounding the Rock’s Michael Erler brought this up yesterday in his recent post. It’s an interesting take, for sure. He brought up a couple of alternative names — Phoenix’ Channing Frye, who opted out of his $6.8 million option, and Washington’s Marcin Gortat. Gortat, a skilled big-man passer, and Frye, a stretch four, do have their place in the Spurs’ system. Perhaps they go that route if Mills and Diaw’s contracts become too prohibitive, but I wouldn’t say the Spurs “benefit” from not having them. They are comfortable with the team, the system and the culture. Corporate knowledge, the catch-all term you hear a lot from the Spurs, takes precedence over new blood. Either way, I wouldn’t worry about the Spurs.

Diego asks, “What player can we get from free agency to cover the backup PF position, considering Diaw, Mills and Baynes (are possibly) staying?”

Here’s just a few: the aforementioned Gortat and Frye, Pau Gasol (not likely if Boris re-signs), Elton Brand, Greg Oden, Lavoy Allen etc etc. I wouldn’t expect much here if they do indeed re-sign Diaw and keep Baynes.

Los512 asks, “If this is the Big Three’s final run, should we be concerned about post Big 3 Era?” 

Not at all. They’ll have Kawhi under control for long while, Parker will be in his mid 30’s, Tiago and a lot of empty roster spots. If Ginobili is any indication, Parker should have more life in his body than most mid-30’s point guards on account of Popovich’s liberal rest regimen. The post Big Three era is still at least another year away and the Spurs have a stable of young-ish prospects. It would be premature to be concerned. Let’s play it out before coming to a conclusion.

Quixem Ramirez

About Quixem Ramirez

Quixem Ramirez is the sports editor for the University Star, the content editor for Toros Nation, and a staff writer for Project Spurs. He enjoys basketball and pie -- sometimes in that order.