The San Antonio Spurs did not make a trade before the trade deadline, even though they were rumored to be working to trade Pau Gasol, according to Sporting News’ Mitch Lawrence. Even though the trade deadline has passed, the Spurs still have several options to move Gasol or add a player – specifically through the buyout market.
If the Spurs were to buyout the remainder of Gasol’s contract, they would waive Gasol and lower the remaining guaranteed amount of his contract by an amount both parties agree on. If Gasol wanted to join a playoff team, he would have to be bought out by the Spurs by March 1st.
The impact of a Gasol buyout on the Spurs cap sheets cannot be determined until the Spurs actually waive Gasol, but a factor of how much the Spurs can save is described in Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. If the Spurs waive Gasol and another team signs him, the remaining salary cap impact of his contract will be reduced by “one-half the difference between the player’s new salary and the minimum salary for a one-year veteran during the season in which the player is waived” according to Coon.
This is referred to as set off rights and can be waived during a buyout. If Gasol is bought out, it is unlikely that another team will sign him for more than the minimum for this season, so set off rights wouldn’t apply, but if he is signed for more than the minimum and the Spurs don’t waive his set off rights during a buyout, the Spurs can gain some extra cap relief.
There are several players that have already been bought out or waived by their previous teams. Carmelo Anthony, Wesley Matthews, Wayne Ellington, Enes Kanter, Zach Randolph, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, and Ben McLemore have all either been waived or are expected to be waived soon. Jabari Young of the Athletic tweeted that the Spurs are interested in signing a wing from the buyout market. Of the players that have already been bought out, Ellington or Matthews appeared to be the best fits for the Spurs. Matthews is already planning on signing with the Indiana Pacers though, according to Shams Charania of the Athletic, and Ellington is close to a deal with the Pistons, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The Spurs don’t have many tools to sign players on the buyout market. They currently have $1,648,690 remaining on their Mid-Level Exception this season, which is less than the minimum for players with 5 years of experience or more. This means that for most players, the minimum salary is the most the Spurs can offer. Since the Spurs currently have a full roster, they would have to waive a player to sign a new player.
This summer, the Spurs will probably operate over the cap and use their Mid-Level exception, which I am estimating to be about $9,245,870 based on an expected 7% rise in the salary cap, and their draft picks to fill their roster. The Spurs can create cap space this summer, but it may be challenging. Assuming that the Spurs waive Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter’s cap holds, the Spurs already start the off-season almost $19 million over the cap, estimated to be $109 million next season, according to reporting by Shams Charania.
This means that even if they were able to move Gasol’s contract while taking no salary back, the Spurs would still be over the cap. Two reasons for this are Rudy Gay’s $13,113,360 cap hold and the cap hold of the Spurs’ two draft picks, which are currently projected to be the 19th and 28th picks, equaling $4,648,800.
The Spurs could draft both players and sign neither. This would drop them below the cap, but only by about $2 million. In this scenario, the Spurs would still be using their Mid-Level exception to sign free agents. In this hypothetical, if the Spurs’ didn’t re-sign Rudy Gay, they would gain a roster charge of $897,158 due to only having 11 players on their roster, but would have about $14 million in cap space. Since they would fall more than the amount of the Mid-Level Exception below the cap, they would lose access to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception and gain the Room Mid-Level exception, which I am projecting to be around $4,760,430.
The Spurs would not be able to combine their $14 million in cap space with their room exception to sign a single player, and they only have this much cap space in this hypothetical when trading Gasol and receiving no salary in return, which is incredibly unlikely. In my opinion, there is not a player that the Spurs’ could sign for $14 million that would be more beneficial to them than Gay is, so keeping Gay and using the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception is the Spurs best option this summer.
Another option for the Spurs is waiving and stretching Pau Gasol’s contract. The Spurs would owe Gasol $2,233,333 for the next three seasons, and, assuming that the Spurs’ re-sign Gay and sign at least one of their draft picks, this probably wouldn’t give them any space, depending on the contract Gay signs. In this scenario, even if Gay re-signs for the same salary he is making this season, the Spurs would be over the projected cap. If the Spurs are going to waive Gasol this summer, not stretching his contract may be the better option as his contract won’t hit the Spurs’ cap space for the following seasons.
Salary information obtained from basketballinsiders.com. Pick projections obtained from tankathon.com. Rookie scale and minimum contract information obtained from basketball.realgm.com. Current mid-level exception amounts obtained from hoopsrumor.com. The list of players currently on the buyout market obtained from SI.