The Runner Sports

What The Pau?!

The numbers are in, the chips are down. And as the dust settles on contract negotiations, through the fog emerges the diagnosis:

3 years, $48 million.

No, the San Antonio Spurs didn’t sign Kyrie Irving to an enviable, discounted contract for a chance to be a Spur and effectively turn ‘Believeland’ into plain old ‘Leaveland’.

No such luck. Those are instead the numbers of Pau Gasol’s new contract extension with the Spurs.

You may remember Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers’ back-to-back championship days of 2009 and 2010. More recently, you may remember him wearing a Bulls jersey alongside Derrick Rose during Rose’s post-MVP days.

Now Pau is older, wiser, slower, and more three-point trigger-happy than anyone could have imagined. He has since hooked up with the number one prime old-guy destination in San Antonio. Perhaps he saw the Dennis Rodman’s, Antonio McDyess’s, and Tracy McGrady’s of the world come to San Antonio in the twilight of their careers and thought, “Hey, if they can do it, so can I.”

Well Pau, you were right. And apparently, all it takes is a little opt-out shoulder massage to turn your contract negotiation into a full-fledged back scratching extravaganza.

It is likely that Pau’s willingness to opt out of his extra expensive 2017-18 player option was the Spurs’ asking price for his chance at one final major pay day. And now he’s got another $48 million coming to him over the next three years.

Moving forward, the Spurs’ cap situation was looking so carefully and methodically tame next season it made the Brooklyn Nets look like the Knicks’ payroll circa Isaiah Thomas. But as of this week, $16 million of that beautiful cap space will officially belong to Marc’s older, less chunky brother for another three seasons.

It might seem like a ludicrous move, and it definitely doesn’t feel like a beneficial one, at least on the surface level. Especially when the Golden State Warriors made Pau look like he was running underwater on defense during last year’s Western Conference Finals.

Sure, he added a mildly effective top of the key three-pointer to his game as recently as last year; but at what price? He couldn’t have defended the rim from a dunking Kevin Durant if he wanted to, and he couldn’t stay in front of a driving Steph Curry if he tried. That sort of thing used to matter to the Spurs.

But on the other hand, he is a big body, and the way the league is going, if he can stay home and at least not be a liability on defense, even if that just means maintaining a defensive rating that hovers around 104 (not terrible, but definitely not David Robinson either), he can help the Spurs on offense with his passing and the occasional weakside dunk. He does have a high basketball IQ, and he’s been winning games in this league for lots of years.

The important thing to remember here, though, is that the Spurs had high hopes for this offseason that didn’t happen. They couldn’t land Chris Paul, Dewayne Dedmon left for Atlanta, and Jonathon Simmons sneezed at $9 million a year for a chance to ride the trolley at Disneyworld. Their plans for cap space usage was kaput by the time Gasol opted out. It isn’t Pau Gasol’s problem, or anyone’s fault, that the offseason played out the way it did. And suddenly it was time to pay up for Gasol’s dutiful decision to opt out of his contract and help the Spurs out. It was time to get that reciprocal back scratch, and he cashed in.

The Spurs’ cap situation isn’t completely ruined now. There are just 16 million reasons it might be more difficult to lure free agents in 2018. Gasol is aging, and now he will most likely end his career in San Antonio. If LaMarcus opts out of his player option and Danny Green offers himself up at a discount to stay in San Antonio too, moves can still be made. Rudy Gay will only be on the books until next season too, which frees up another $8 million come 2019 if he doesn’t stick around. Manu Ginobili is only signed to the vet minimum (love you, Manu) and Tony Parker will likely stretch his contract a la Tim Duncan. That is assuming Tony Parker isn’t sent to Cleveland in a hasty package for Kyrie Irving. But this simply will not happen, as the Spurs are loyal, and they in turn garner loyalty. This is just as much a reason Tony Parker won’t be traded to Cleveland as it is the driving motif behind Pau Gasol signing the deal in question.

Only Tim Duncan’s stretched contract (his final $1 million paycheck) is considered dead money on the books next year. The Spurs have no hot potato contracts that need to be bundled into a trade to be dumped –unless you include LaMarcus Aldrige’s $20 million; chances are good he leaves anyway, so presumably, they take their lumps with this one and move forward. Besides, that’s not a dump as much as it is a trade asset. Some buyer out there would want LaMarcus, right? (*I’m not saying he’s not good. I’m just saying $20 million is a lot for what the Spurs got out of LA during last year’s postseason.)

Just in time for the cap to continue and flatten out next season, the Spurs will have about $27 million to spend before they are anywhere near the luxury tax in 2018, and $6 million of pure cap space. And if anyone knows how to make lemonade out of $6 million, it’s RC Buford and Peter Holt.

All of this is to say that for now, Pau Gasol is in San Antonio to stay. And just like Pau’s defense, it looks bad, but it might not turn out to be quite as terrible as it looks.

Hopefully, he shoots 40% from the top of the key on his way to another championship or two. But if he truly can’t stay on the floor because of his defense and continues to miss bunnies at the rim due to aging legs, the 2017 offseason is going to look like a rather impotent time in the history of San Antonio Spurs’ money management.

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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