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A look at Spurs’ remaining free agent options

Sunday, Matt Bonner confirmed to the media that he was going to be re-signing with the San Antonio Spurs. Saturday the Spurs also re-signed Patty Mills and signed rookie Kyle Anderson. Boris Diaw’s re-signing should be coming in the near future, which would put the Spurs’ roster with 14 guaranteed contracts.

The following article was written on July 7, but as of today (07/14/2014 at 12:38 AM CST), I’m updating with the latest free agent news regarding the Spurs, and their remaining options for the last roster spot on their team.

First, here’s a look at the current depth chart after Diaw and Bonner re-sign. Remember not to focus on default labels like “shooting guard,” because in the Spurs’ system, most players can play multiple positions in different lineups.

Point   Guards Shooting   Guards Small   Forwards Power   Forwards Centers
Tony Parker Danny Green Kawhi Leonard Tim Duncan Tiago Splitter
Cory Joseph Manu Ginobili Kyle Anderson Boris Diaw Jeff Ayres
Patty Mills (injured) Marco Belinelli Matt Bonner
Austin Daye

When looking at what the Spurs might possibly need depth-wise, it’s likely a backup point guard (because Mills isn’t expected to recover anywhere from January until March 2015), and possibly a backup small forward behind Leonard, in the event Anderson spends numerous stints in Austin with the Toros, or he has a shaky rookie year.

So now that we’ve covered what areas the Spurs might look at addressing, let’s take a look at who could fill spot 15 on the roster.

The Spurs’ remaining free agent

Financial Situation: Even though the Spurs will sign Mills to a reported 3-year deal worth $12 million, Diaw to a reported 3-year deal worth $22.5 million, and Bonner to the veteran minimum worth roughly $1.5 million, because the team had cap holds on its own free agents, the CBA allows the team to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents. Like Diaw, Mills, and Bonner’s situation, the same can be said for Aron Baynes. The Spurs will be allowed to sign Baynes over the salary cap, so long as the deal is at reasonable figure.

Aron Baynes: The Spurs have already tendered a $1,115,243 qualifying offer to Baynes since he’s a restricted free agent, meaning if a team signs him to an offer sheet, the Spurs would have three days to match the offer. If the Spurs chose to match the offer, they would retain Baynes. However, if they decided to not match the offer or pull the qualifying offer, Baynes would be able to sign with another team. Baynes is a serviceable big who can be used for spot-minutes, very much like Ayres, but he hasn’t displayed a specific skill set that would allow him to be a key rotation piece.

In wrapping up this scenario, the Spurs can go over the cap to re-sign Baynes to a reasonable contract, but in doing so, all 15 roster spaces will be guaranteed, and there wouldn’t be any room for another addition.

The reported free agent candidates

Financial situation: When it comes to outside free agents like the ones that have already been reported, the Spurs mainly have the Full Mid-Level Exception worth $5,305,000 to use on free agents on the market right now. The team also has access to its Bi-Annual Exception worth $2,077,000, but would likely not use the exception so the team can stay below the tax line. Another resource is the trade-exception worth $1,463,000 from trading Nando De Colo for Daye last season, but the team would only have access to this exception if a sign-and-trade scenario was being put together.

Though there may be other free agents the Spurs have spoken with outside of the public, I’m just going to focus on the reported names that are still on the free agent market and discuss each option from most current, to last heard from.

Anthony Tolliver: From the initial report three days ago, there are six teams in the running for Tolliver. Though he spent a short amount of time in his rookie year with the Spurs, Tolliver has molded himself into the Stretch-4 role for a team.

Rashard Lewis: The only report of the Spurs’ interest in Lewis came on the opening day of free agency, and since Diaw was re-signed, one has to wonder if the Spurs still have interest in a player with the skill set of Lewis. If the Spurs bring back Bonner, then that’ll likely be a clear sign the team doesn’t have any interest in Lewis, since he and Bonner have a very similar skill set.

There’s a chance the Spurs could use the MLE, to sign a free agent, but that would mean Baynes wouldn’t be re-signed.

The Summer League/Training Camp pool

Financial Situation: Like the free agent route, the Spurs could use a portion of the MLE to sign a player from the Summer League/Training camp pool.

Bryce Cotton: Thus far, the only player who is at least guaranteed a shot reportedly at a two-year deal is undrafted Providence point guard Bryce Cotton. The deal states that Cotton must make the roster after training camp, in order for his two-year deal to become guaranteed. Just for being invited to training camp, Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com reported that Cotton will earn $50,000. If Cotton were to actually make the roster after training camp, the rookie minimum would be $507,336 for the first year of the season, though no reports of the contract have been fully clarified.

Ivan Johnson: With a recent report stating Johnson has been working out for NBA teams and will play in the Summer League, it’s seeming more likely that he would fall in the summer league/training camp pool.

Spurs’ past draft picks: Whether it’s a player like Deshaun Thomas or Marcus Denmon, whom the Spurs hold their draft rights, in the scenario either shines in Summer League, then gets an invite to training camp, and then earns a roster spot, this would be another route the Spurs could go as far as filling a roster space.

Other Summer Leaguers/Camp invites: Since Gary Neal, there hasn’t been a strong case where a Summer League player makes his way all the way to a roster spot with San Antonio. However, there’s still a chance this could happen, so it must be proposed as an option.

If the Spurs do see someone that impresses them like Neal did years ago, then there’s a chance Player X could also join the team, however if the Spurs do bring back Baynes, then there wouldn’t be a roster space available.

The International route

Financial Situation: One other route the Spurs could use, is to bring in one of their “draft-and-stash” players from overseas. Outside of Davis Bertans from Latvia, most, if not all of the Spurs’ past draft picks stashed overseas are currently under contract with a team. If the Spurs were considering buying out one of their players under contract overseas, to bring that player on the team, the NBA would only allow the team to spend $600,000 on the players buy-out without it affecting team salary.

Davis Bertans: Bertans recently ended his contract with Partizan Belgrade, so technically he could be offered a contract and roster spot, however the expectation is he’ll seek another deal overseas. According to FIBA.com, he’s expected to miss training with the Latvian National team to come workout individually in the United States.

Erazem Lorbek: On Friday, there was a report that Lorbek and FC Barcelona were in the process of a contract buyout. Lorbek would be a 30-year old free agent, and could be signed in San Antonio, though that situation rarely happens in the NBA for a player with no NBA experience.

So it is possible for the Spurs to bring over one of their international prospects, however the chances seem quite slim at the moment because most of the players San Antonio holds the draft rights to are currently under contract, outside of Bertans.

The Leave-a-spot-open approach

This is an approach the Spurs used last season, and it came in handy, especially in the times when the team dealt with multiple injuries. From players like Shannon Brown, Damion James, and Malcolm Thomas, the Spurs were able to use 10-day deals with D-League or unsigned free agents whenever the option was necessary. In this scenario, the Spurs would either sign just Baynes or Bonner, or just sign one free agent, and let Baynes and Bonner walk.

As free agents have begun signing contracts, it’s probably best for the Spurs that their biggest obstacle in the offseason is trying to find player 15 for the roster. There’s a chance if player 15 is a player that can provide an instant impact, that that player could be added to the rotation and be a key piece for next season. However, there’s also a chance player 15 could also be a young developing piece that may have frequent visits with the Toros, or a piece that could just sit in a suit on most nights of the season. Either way, the Spurs have been able to do what they intended this offseason, bring their championship core back intact.

(Financial figures via the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement and BasketballInsiders.com)

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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