The San Antonio Spurs released an announcement on Wednesday stating that they are once again shutting down Kawhi Leonard indefinitely. While coach Gregg Popovich told reporters that Leonard is not shut down for the rest of the season by any means, it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that Leonard will be performing at the level of play he produced throughout the 2016-2017 season for only a small fraction of this season, if at all.
It would be unlikely, however, that any of this deters the Spurs from offering Leonard a supermax contract extension this summer, the first off-season he will be eligible for the extension. This helps bring perspective, then, to the Spurs’ ultra-conservative approach to Leonard’s current injury situation. If Leonard signs a supermax extension this summer, he will be under contract with the Spurs for the next six seasons.
The Spurs’ primary goal currently is maximizing their success during Leonard’s prime. The Spurs are doing what they can in the present, even at the cost of games this season, to ensure he will be fit to perform at the highest level in the most important moments throughout his prime. This is not only the Spurs’ philosophy in regards to Leonard’s health, but most likely their philosophy in free agency, trades, and the draft as well: surround Leonard with players that maximize the Spurs’ ceiling.
With the trade deadline several weeks away, it can be useful to review what assets the Spurs have. Since the health of the team has limited the amount of time that several key rotation players have played, it is unlikely the Spurs make a move that shakes up the dynamic of the team since it is difficult to gauge what the team’s ceiling would be if they were fully healthy. The Spurs do have an interesting off-season ahead that could determine their cap flexibility for seasons to come.
Danny Green, Rudy Gay, and Joffrey Lauvergne have player options this coming off-season. Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes, and Davis Bertans will each be restricted free agents this summer if the Spurs extend qualifying offers to them. Tony Parker is an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Paul’s contract for next season is non-guaranteed.
The seven remaining players currently account for $78,410,994 in guaranteed contracts after including the final season of Tim Duncan’s stretched contract. With the cap projected to be $101 million dollars for the 2018-2019 off-season, this would appear to leave the Spurs with $22,589,006 in cap space. This is not exactly the case, however. If the Spurs were to waive each of their free agents’ cap holds and waive Paul, they would only have 7 players on the roster, resulting in roster charges equaling $4,156,555 in total, taking their potential cap space down to $18,432,451, which is about half of what the Spurs’ would need to sign a veteran max-contract level player.
If Manu Ginobili retires this off-season, the Spurs would be able to stretch his contract for next season over three years and only owe $833,333 next season. This, however, would result in another roster charge of $831,311 against the Spurs’ cap space, meaning that move would only open about $840,000 in cap space.
If the Spurs’ wanted to open max space this off-season, the easiest path would be trading Pau Gasol to a team with the cap space to absorb his contract. The Spurs’ would most likely need to include one or multiple draft picks and a young, talented player, such as Dejounte Murray, for the other team to accept absorbing a $16.8 million dollar contract. Trading Gasol and Murray to shed space next off-season would free San Antonio’s cap space up to $35,950,136, after accounting for roster charges and assuming Ginobili retires and the Spurs’ stretch his contract. This would leave the Spurs with only four players under contract and just enough space to sign a veteran free agent, however, which makes the series of events unlikely for the Spurs.
If any of the players with player options for next season opt-in it would make opening max space incredibly difficult without multiple trades. The most important contracts the Spurs may be signing this summer, then, may be the supermax extension they will almost certainly offer to Leonard, and what they offer Danny Green and Tony Parker to return. If Green were to walk, the Spurs would have great difficulty replacing his production on the defensive end. The contract that Parker signs, if he returns, could also determine the flexibility for future off-seasons.