The Runner Sports

Patty Mills, Jonathon Simmons, And The Spurs’ Cap Situation

Chris Paul just cleared the Houston Rockets’ bench. Lots of people thought he would swoop in to San Antonio with that same depletive contract and empty the roster of supplemental pieces, because who wouldn’t want Chris Paul on their team, right? Two days before the beginning of free agency, and we already have a pretty good idea what sort of domino effect the new CBA negotiation causes when a player like CP3 packs his bags and buys a house in the Woodlands. As the president of the Player’s Association, Chris Paul poured his time and energy into that CBA negotiation, in part so he could collect an almost $200 million paycheck for a final five-year contract with the Clippers. It was all going to be so perfect.

But the dominos fell, and as we near free agency, the Spurs now have to find a way to tip their own dominos in favor of a strengthened roster. Plenty of different scenarios could play out here, and in the wake of Chris Paul’s move to Houston, it is becoming increasingly clear that retaining key roster components is now of the utmost importance. But there are lots of moving parts, especially where the Spurs’ salary cap is concerned that have to fall perfectly into place first.

The Spurs’ luxury tax next season is right at $122 million. If they bring everyone back, their payroll would be about $117 million. If Manu Ginobili doesn’t return [retires], if they stash their first-round pick Derrick White [a risky scenario for a 22-year-old, as another year might be too late] and keep him off the payroll, or if they waive Bryn Forbes [a last resort, as the Spurs really like this kid], they would give themselves a few million dollar cushion to chase free agents. But instead of looking outward, what the Spurs need now is a long, hard look in the mirror and find a method of retaining the two men destined to carry the Torch of Frenzy from Manu as he retires: free agents Jonathon Simmons and Patty Mills.

As one headline puts it “The Spurs Can Re-sign Dewayne Dedmon This Summer; But It Will Cost Them.” Half of that article argues that Mills’ cap hold and lack of Dedmon’s Bird Rights significantly reduces the Spurs’ ability to compete for Patty Mills this summer.

But Dedmon is likely moving on to greener pastures, and since then Pau Gasol has opted out of his $16 million player option in order to make room for off-season acquisitions. Could one of these acquisitions facilitate the re-acquisition of Patty? Sure, Pau will have more money coming to him over time now, and that might actually affect the cap negatively. But in the short term, the Spurs have some wiggle room.

As far as Jonathon Simmons is concerned, the ball is now in his court. The Spurs have extended him an offer, and his decision will come down to whether he is more focused on making money or contending for a championship. In this way, Simmons and Patty Mills are similar. Which is more important to the two most energetic pieces in the Spurs’ current rotation? A good thing to keep in mind here for both of them would be how guys’ careers often play out once they leave San Antonio. Look at examples Marco Belinelli, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, the list goes on. Do they want to become those guys? Is a big house in Brooklyn with a losing record more important than a big house in the Hill Country with a hardware room? The Spurs’ summer will be filled with deep existential questions such as this, for organization and player alike.

Patty Mills is an unrestricted free agent, so he can technically sign with any team for the right price. His free agent cap hold is about $7 million next season. Cap holds are in place to help teams focus on free agents in order of importance; it is a combination of percentage made in the last year on your contract, and your individual contractual agreement with the team. Whether or not he’s under contract, that $7 million owed to Mills stays intact. Navigating the waters of renouncing a player’s cap hold but retaining the player gets fairly complicated, so let’s steer away from that topic completely.

There’s a pretty good chance now that the Spurs don’t go after any big names until at least next season, although there is one guy I can think of who is now officially on the market and might look to a different, small market championship contender for a chance to bring down the Warriors. His name is Blake Griffin; you might know him from his Kia commercials, Sesame Street cameos, Red Bull commercials, and other show-business endeavors.

Blake Griffin officially opted out of his contract last week, making him a free agent. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently wrote a beautiful piece explaining all the ways Griffin could end up a Spur. Kevin O’Connor also once wrote an in-depth breakdown of the multiple injuries that have plagued Griffin through his career. The Spurs know better than to take that chance, especially for the price. The only thing we know for sure about Blake is that without Chris Paul there, he has no reason to stay in Los Angeles besides the stand-up comedy circuit.

So what about Paul George? Maybe next season, per the salary cap. Amid a league full of superhuman backcourts (add Houston to that list now), Kawhi Leonard and George could totally be the next MJ/Scottie small forward duo. There are some recent rumors of an Andre Iguodala trade to the Spurs, too; but to be honest, beyond taking away one of the more important pieces in the Warriors’ death lineup, Iggy might turn out to just be another aging player with high-IQ but questionable durability.

The only solution here is to let go of the cap space hogged by LaMarcus Aldridge and trade him for a solid rebounder and rim defender. Maybe that means letting Danny Green go too. If there is a way to get Pau Gasol to leave next year, that would also free up a lot of room. David Lee will most likely leave, and thanks to Tim Duncan’s retirement deal, he has become the antithesis of the LaMarcus Aldridge contract. The Spurs only owe Duncan just over $1 million each year until his salary is paid. This has been and will continue to be a tremendous help to San Antonio’s cap situation. Hopefully, it’s enough to keep the Australian sharpshooter and the latest Spurs’ come-from-nowhere masterpiece.

Free agency officially begins on July 1. Or as they’re saying in New York City, free agency begins two days after The Great Phil Jackson Liberation of 2017. What a time to be alive.

Justin Heller
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Justin Heller

NBA Spurs Lead Writer at The Runner Sports
NBA guy. Manu apologist. Tim Duncan clergyman. Van Exel admirer. Embiid fan club. Players Tribune articles can never be bad. The three most important letters in the NBA are g-i-f.
Grew up all over, ended up in San Antonio, where I live currently. Come enjoy the churros with me, Chuck.
Justin Heller
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