NBA MONDAY: Can The Spurs Really Land Chris Paul?

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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.

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