Never in my (somewhat short) career writing about basketball have I come across this many San Antonio Spurs rumors on an almost daily basis. It’s unsettling, and weird, and mind-melting, and clearly indicative how their current core, in its present state, is nearing its end.
Keeping with that theme, we now know the Spurs may try to trade Tiago Splitter to create extra cap room ahead of free agency—flexibility they would use to pair Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge with Tim Duncan. Per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:
The working assumption nonetheless persists that the Spurs, with maestro executive R.C. Buford as their offseason point man, will manufacture at least $20 million in salary-cap space this summer to go after Aldridge — or Memphis’ Marc Gasol — even if Leonard is maxed and Duncan returns.
One scenario on the personnel grapevine gaining steam is the notion that the Spurs could elect to explore the possibility of dealing away Tiago Splitter to create more financial flexibility. Splitter has two years left on his contract valued at just under $17 million and is quietly regarded as a key contributor in San Antonio given how well he fits as a frontcourt sidekick next to Duncan. But if you’re the Spurs — and if the increasingly loud rumbles about Aldridge having San Antonio as the preferred destination atop his wish list prove true — examining Splitter’s trade market might suddenly become unavoidable.
Unloading Splitter won’t be a problem. He’s on the books for $8.5 million in 2015-16 and $8.25 million in 2016-17, making him a huge bargain in the latter year, when the salary cap erupts. And make no mistake, he’s worth this coin. He’s limited offensively, but he can protect the rim and allow his frontcourt partner (in this case Duncan) the opportunity to freelance as a block-chaser.
What that does for the Spurs is a bit complicated. If they intend on keeping Manu Ginobili and Duncan around, they’ll need to re-sign both before they go free-agency hunting, otherwise their combined cap hold will exceed $26 million (150 percent of 2014-15’s salary before a new deal is signed). Now, the Spurs could renounce the rights to both, but they lose their Bird rights in that case. Neither is up for a max deal, so that’s not a problem. But it disallows the Spurs from going over the cap to re-sign them.
To really maximize their flexibility, the Spurs should re-sign both first, and go from there. Both have accepted discounts in the past, so it’s not impossible they take steep pay cuts. Duncan went from the third-highest paid player in the league in 2011-12 to the fourth-highest paid spur in 2012-13. Taking less is nothing new.
How much less remains to be seen. They both basically took 50 percent pay cuts on their last deals. Doing that this time around means the Spurs would be handing them under $9 million combined. That seems beyond unrealistic.
Still, moving Splitter would be the first step to becoming a major free-agency player. The Spurs likely won’t do it if they’re not assured of bringing in at least one of Aldridge and Gasol anyway, and at that point, they’ll also have an idea of what’ll cost to keep Duncan and Ginobili.
Basically, I’m saying stay tuned.
It’s gonna be a busy offseason in San Antonio.