At 5:00 PM CT Friday, free agent negotiations can officially begin for NBA teams and free agents. Let’s go through a rundown of where the Spurs’ roster stands and their options heading into free agency.
Players on Guaranteed Contracts
The Spurs will have 10 players on guaranteed contracts once rookie Devin Vassell signs his rookie contract. Those 10 players are:
DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills, Vassell, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson
Players on Non-Guaranteed Contracts
The Spurs have three players on non-guaranteed deals in Trey Lyles, Chimezie Metu, and Tyler Zeller.
Before free agency begins Friday, the Spurs need to decide whether to guarantee Lyles’ full $5.5 million salary for the season or waive him.
The Spurs have until November 29 to decide whether to partially guarantee $500,000 of Metu’s salary, and they have until February 24, 2021 to decide whether or not to guarantee Metu and Zeller’s full salaries, or waive one or both players.
The Restricted Free Agents
The Spurs have already made Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks, and Quinndary Weatherspoon restricted free agents. This means if those players sign an offer sheet with another team during free agency, the Spurs would have 48 hours to match the offer sheet to its terms, or decline and let the players sign with the new team.
The Spurs have until November 27 to withdraw the qualifying offers from all three players. During that time when the players are seeking offer sheets from other teams, they can accept the qualifying offer and remain with the Spurs for one more season at that salary for Poeltl and Eubanks, or they can try to re-sign with the Spurs using their bird rights. For Weatherspoon, if he accepts his qualifying offer, he’ll remain on a two-way contract for next season.
The Unrestricted Free Agents
Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes will be the Spurs’ only two unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with any team that they come to terms with. The Spurs can also re-sign both players using their bird rights if they had interest in doing so. Once the players sign elsewhere or San Antonio renounces their cap holds, the Spurs can no longer use their bird rights to re-sign them.
The Second Round Pick Tre Jones
Unlike Vassell who has a guaranteed contract as a first round pick once he signs his deal, the Spurs will have to figure out how they want to sign Tre Jones, who was drafted in the second round Thursday night.
With Murray, Mills, and if Weatherspoon accepts his qualifying offer to be on another two-way deal, the Spurs would already be stacked at the point guard position.
The Spurs can sign Jones to a minimum deal, which would be for two years, and if they wanted the deal to be for more than two years, they’d need to use part of one of their exceptions to sign him. There’s also the option for the Spurs to offer Jones a two-way deal or G-League contract, similar to how Weatherspoon signed last season and previous second rounder Jaron Blossomgame signed years ago.
How much money can the Spurs offer outside free agents?
Without any trades, the Spurs will not have any cap space heading into free agency, so any outside free agents they’re interested in signing would have to sign between the tax ($5.7 million) and non-tax ($9.3 million) mid-level exceptions. Which exception the Spurs get access to depends on what happens with Poeltl, Eubanks, and Weatherspoon. The Spurs might also have access to the Bi-annual exception ($3.6 million) and their last way to sign a player is with the veteran minimum exception, which ranges from $898K to $2.6 million depending on how long the player has been in the league.
The sign-and-trade route could also be used if a free agent wanted to sign in San Antonio, but the Spurs didn’t have enough money to offer him a salary north of $9.3 million. This is a difficult deal to complete because it requires the Spurs, the team the free agent is coming from, and the free agent to all agree to make the deal happen.
If we look at how the roster currently stands with guaranteed contracts and if Lyles’ contract is guaranteed, we can see it’s already going to be tough to distribute minutes, especially if the Spurs want to continue to use more of the small ball lineups which were successful in the bubble.
Backcourt (1,2,3): Murray, White, DeRozan, Walker IV, Johnson, Mills, Vassell
Frontcourt (4,5): Aldridge, Gay, Lyles (NG), Samanic
The Spurs might try to sign an outside free agent with all or part of their tax or mid-level exception (whichever they have), but one has to remember what happened last season with DeMarre Carroll, whom the Spurs signed with part of the mid-level exception. The roster was stacked with players at the 3 and 4 in the rotation, so Carroll could never get a chance to crack the rotation. The Spurs ended up buying out his contract so he could join a playoff team.
Using the free agent salary projections from ESPN, let’s look at some free agents in the shooting guard, small forward, and power forward positions who are projected to be in the tax MLE ($4-6 million) range and the full MLE ($6-8 million) range.
Full MLE Range – Wesley Matthews
Tax MLE Range – Avery Bradley, E’Twaun Moore, Alec Burks, Bryn Forbes, Kent Bazemore, Justin Holiday, De’Anthony Melton (Restricted free agent)
Full MLE Range – Rodney Hood
Tax MLE Range – Maurice Harkless, Derrick Jones Jr.
Full MLE Range – Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green
Tax MLE Range – Bobby Portis, Markieff Morris, Harry Giles III, Carmelo Anthony, Juancho Hernangomez (RFA), Frank Kaminsky, Ersan Ilyasova, Chris Boucher (RFA)
Possible Derrick White Extension
Beginning November 22 when free agents can start signing contracts, the Spurs can sign Derrick White to an extension up until December 21. If they don’t sign him to an extension by the December 21 deadline, he’ll become a restricted free agent next offseason.