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NBA MONDAY: Can The Spurs Really Land Chris Paul?

Steve Kyler takes an in-depth look at the math behind the Spurs ability to sign Chris Paul.

Steve Kyler

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The Spurs Want To Go Shopping?

On Saturday, ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped a nugget suggesting that the San Antonio Spurs were “exploring the feasibility” of making a free agent run at LA Clippers guard Chris Paul in July. Our Moke Hamilton laid out the case for why Paul in San Antonio could make some sense, as well.

But before we get too far into this, keep in mind as the Spurs sit today, they would have no meaningful salary cap space, nor would they be able to offer Paul anything close to what the Clippers can in a new contract. Paul is in line for a new five-year deal worth roughly $205 million. Paul is also 32 years old and likely looking at his last major NBA contract.

But let’s explore where the Spurs find themselves:

Name Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario 4
LaMarcus Aldridge $21,461,010 $21,461,010 $21,461,010 $21,461,010
Kawhi Leonard $18,868,625 $18,868,625 $18,868,625 $18,868,625
Pau Gasol $16,197,500 $16,197,500 $16,197,500 $8,098,750
Tony Parker $15,453,126 $15,453,126 $7,726,563 $7,726,563
Manu Ginobili $21,000,000
Danny Green $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $815,615
Patty Mills $6,800,000
Dewayne Dedmon $3,028,410 $3,028,410
Tim Duncan (stretched) $1,881,250 $1,881,250 $1,881,250 $1,881,250
David Lee $2,328,652 $2,328,652 $2,328,652 $2,328,652
Kyle Anderson $2,151,704 $2,151,704 $2,151,704 $2,151,704
Dejounte Murray $1,312,611 $1,312,611 $1,312,611 $1,312,611
Livio Jean-Charles (waived) $1,035,200 $1,035,200 $1,035,200 $1,035,200
Jonathan Simmons $1,671,382 $1,671,382 $1,671,382 $1,671,382
Davis Bertans $1,312,611 $1,312,611 $1,312,611 $1,312,611
Guaranteed Total: $124,502,081 $96,702,081 $85,947,108 $68,663,973
Salary Cap Space ($23,502,081) $4,297,919 $15,052,892 $32,336,027


The Cap Picture

As things sit today, the Spurs have $73.476 million in salary committed for the 2017-18 NBA season. According to our cap guru Eric Pincus, the salary cap is expected to come in at roughly $101 million.

The Spurs will open July with cap holds for guards Manu Ginobili ($21 million) and Patty Mills ($6.8 million). They will likely have a qualifying offer worth $1.671 million on forward Jonathan Simmons, as well as player options on Pau Gasol ($16.197 million), Dewayne Dedmon ($3.028 million) and David Lee ($2.328 million).

Gasol has said he was leaning towards opting in into the final year of his deal, although that’s a still a variable the Spurs can try to manage.

Lee suffered an injury during the playoffs that will not require surgery, but it does make it more likely than not that he opts into his deal for financial reasons.

Dedmon may have outplayed his $3.02 million deal, which makes his number less likely to be on the Spurs cap as he may seek a more lucrative deal with another team.

For the purposes of discussions, let’s assume all money and options are picked up. The Spurs would open July with $124.502 million in commitments and holds, or $23.5 million over the cap line and over the expected $121 million luxury tax line.

Their Own Holds

The Spurs have a few options with their own cap hold players. In the case of Ginobili, it’s more likely that if he opts to play another year, he signs early and reduces the cap hold to whatever his new deal is. Equally, the Spurs could renounce his rights and use a cap exception to sign him later, so it’s unlikely Ginobili is on the books at anywhere close to $21 million.

Mills may be a different story. His $6.8 million cap hold is likely far less than the value of his next deal’s first year. If the Spurs want to keep Mills, it’s going to cost them his hold value in cap space. They can exceed the cap to re-sign him, however, that would be the last action after spending any space they can open up.

The risk for the Spurs is that someone else comes calling and that’s a real question the Spurs will have to answer.

The $1.671 million qualifying offer to Simmons isn’t meaningful to the Spurs cap, however, given his status in the NBA, he will be limited in what can be offered by a competing team. Because Simmons has less than four years in the NBA, the most a team can offer him in an offer sheet is a starting salary equal to the non-taxpayer mid-level, which is expected to clock in at $8.4 million. This status is also referred to an “Arenas Rule” player.

Now, an opposing team can make things tough on the Spurs in offering Simmons what’s often called a “Poison Pill” offer, where they use cap space to offer a hefty third and fourth contract year in an offer. This is where the Spurs may have to make a choice. While Year 1 and Year 2 of a new deal are somewhat cost controlled, Year 3 and Year 4 could go all the way to max salary if a team has the average amount of the deal in cap space to offer it.

Timing will matter on this, as the Spurs will have to decide to match an offer sheet quickly this year, as the time between receiving an offer and a decision to match gets reduced to just two days. Therefore, a team that strikes a deal quickly with Simmons could force the Spurs’ hand. However, just because Simmons is offered a deal does not mean he has to accept it. The clock on a decision starts as soon as the Spurs receive the signed offer sheet.

Tony Parker and Pau Gasol

The big issues for the Spurs are the final $15.453 million owed to Parker and the $16.197 million that Gasol can pick up.

It’s these two contracts that really limit the Spurs ability to play in free agency, but they do have options.

The Spurs could choose to waive and stretch Parker’s final contract year. That would free up half of his deal’s value this year and spread out what’s owed over two more seasons. The Spurs could do the same with Gasol if he forces their hand by opting into his deal.

Unlike Parker, Gasol could opt to pass on his option year and sign a new deal with the Spurs for less than his $16.197 million. That would allow him to remain with the team and possibly free up some cap money to add to the roster, likely in exchange for another contract year, possibly two.

So How Much Space?

If the Spurs do nothing but hang on to their own players, they will not have any meaningful cap space. They would get the tax payers mid-level worth $5.2 million, but would have the means to re-sign all of their own players.

If the Spurs opted to pass on Ginobili and Mills, they could open up roughly $4.297 million in cap space. That’s not enough to really matter.

If the Spurs pass on Ginobili, Mills and waive and stretch Parker, they could get to $12.024 million. That number increases to just over $15.05 million if Dedmon passes on his option year.

The Spurs could add $10 million to any of those values if they opt to trade away guard Danny Green and his $10 million deal without taking meaningful money back in return.

For the Spurs to really get space, they would have to pass on Ginobili, Mills, waive and stretch Parker and Gasol, while trading away Green. Those moves would get the Spurs to roughly $32.336 million in space. Said another way, about $3.014 million less than Paul’s max value with the Clippers.

So, to recap, there is a way for the Spurs to get to serious cap space, but it would require dumping five core roster players from this year’s team.

In the Spurs history, they have never gutted a roster this aggressively for any player, let alone a 32-year old guard that’s had injury concerns.

If Not Paul, Then Who?

So, if the Spurs can’t get to a full max deal for Chris Paul, there are other names and options to consider.

If the Spurs are serious about adding a high-level point guard, pending Knicks free agent Derrick Rose becomes a cheaper option than Paul, as would Pelican’s pending free agent Jrue Holiday. Both are far more likely to fit into a $18-$20 million per year salary slot which would be easier for the Spurs to sell to Gasol in taking a new deal at a slightly lower value.

The Spurs would also retain their “room exception,” worth $4.3 million, which they could offer to Ginobili.

The big wrinkle in all of it is Simmons, who could help the Spurs out by signing an offer sheet last.

While getting Paul is not impossible, especially if a sign-and-trade deal is involved. It’s just unlikely, mainly because the Clippers have no motivations to help the Spurs or Paul if he is walking away.

The Spurs do have the means to add to the roster, especially if they are willing to eat Parker’s salary. The Spurs are likely losing Mills if they are aiming for cap space, not for any reason other than they can’t get to cap space keeping him.

Gasol does have some power to help the Spurs, as do Lee and Dedmon if they opt for free agency.

Forgetting for a minute that Paul helped negotiate terms into the new collective bargaining agreement that favor him the most if he stays with the Clippers. The Spurs can’t get to the kind of cap space it would take to poach Paul unless he is really willing to leave some $63 million in guaranteed money on the table.

As much as fans like to talk about players leaving for a chance at a title, we’ve never in the history of the sport seen a player leave $63 million to walk to another team, but maybe the Spurs can swing it. They have made crazier things happen. It’s just not very likely.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton@jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_ and @Ben__Nadeau.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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NBA Daily: Three Teams Treading Water In The West

While the Clippers have surged into the playoff picture, the Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are barely staying afloat out West.

Buddy Grizzard

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While the L.A. Clippers have surged into the Western Conference playoff picture on the crest of a six-game win streak, the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans are stumbling toward the All-Star break with records around .500 over their last 10 games.

All four teams are within a game of each other and hovering around the playoff cut line. For teams that are treading water, the second half of the season will be a struggle for consistency in a brutal playoff race that promises to leave a good team on the outside looking in.

Although Richard Jefferson is winding down a storied career and barely playing for the Nuggets, he often takes the role of elder statesman in media scrums. After the Nuggets became the latest victim of the red-hot Clippers Wednesday, Jefferson said they should not be underestimated.

“They’ve been a playoff team for many, many years,” said Jefferson. “They’ve dealt with some injuries but, for the most part, I think they’re going to be in the hunt for the playoffs just like we are.”

Jefferson was also asked about the Nuggets’ late-game execution and pointed to the team’s overall youth with major addition Paul Millsap missing extended time due to injury.

“We’re getting to a spot of being a little bit more consistent in those moments,” said Jefferson. “But ultimately, I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans experienced its own setback Wednesday in a loss to an Atlanta Hawks team that’s tied for the second-worst record in the league. For now, the Pelicans hold the seventh seed. It will be up to the continuing evolution of the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins pairing to keep New Orleans trending in the right direction.

“For us, we’re two guys who can shoot the ball, handle it, pass,” said Davis after the loss in Atlanta. “We’ve got a lot of guys around us who are capable of making plays. I think we compliment each other. There’s still some stuff we still want to get better at as a unit.”

Davis went into further detail about what makes the rare pairing of two elite big men work.

“Cuz is always spacing the floor,” said Davis. “One guy’s inside, the other one’s outside. We set screens for each other, throw lobs for each other. So it’s tough for bigs to try to play that. When we set a pin-down for myself or DeMarcus, most four or fives are not used to that.”

Davis came into the game with 30 or more points in three straight games and seven of the previous 10—he’s been on a massive roll. However, that streak came to an end as Davis hit only two of eight shots for eight points. Hawks rookie John Collins scored 18 while dealing with the issues Davis described.

“You’ve got A.D. on the one hand and then you’ve got Boogie on the other hand,” said Collins. “[They’re] some of the best bigs in the league, very skilled guys, obviously a handful to deal with.”

Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 20 points and hit the final shot in the waning moments to secure the victory. Bazemore is a player the Pelicans could conceivably pursue at the trade deadline to address wing issues.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are dealing with questions of whether a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can become competitive with the West’s upper echelon. Marc Stein of the New York Times went so far as to predict that Portland’s backcourt could be broken up this year.

“No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline,” Stein wrote. “But Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.”

This is the time of year when NBA teams take stock and have to decide if they are properly constructed or need to look at changes. With the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Nuggets barely keeping pace in the playoff race, few other teams will be more heavily scrutinized — internally as well as externally — as the trade deadline approaches.

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NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season

Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.

Basketball Insiders

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With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.

This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.

We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.

Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors

This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.

There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.

At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.

Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.

“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”

Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.

With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.

Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.

– Lang Greene

DeAndre Jordan and Paul George

Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.

The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.

Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.

He’s definitely a player that should be watched.

Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.

There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.

– Moke Hamilton

Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.

The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.

“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”

The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.

– Lang Greene

Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.

Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.

It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.

And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.

There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.

The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.

– Moke Hamilton

Only 21 Days To Go…

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.

For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.

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