Offseason outlook: San Antonio Spurs
Early termination option (ETO) -- Allows a player to terminate his contract early.
Player option (PO) -- Allows a player to accept or decline the final year of his deal.
Team option (TO) -- Allows a team to accept or decline an option year.
Unrestricted free agent (UFA) -- Allowed to sign with the team of his choosing.
Restricted free agent (RFA) -- Subject to the right of first refusal from incumbent team.
Cap situation: Working room
Draft picks: No. 30, No. 58, No. 60
• What's the biggest priority for San Antonio this offseason?
Continuity. That's an odd thing to say of a championship team with two vital players who will be 37 or older by the end of the summer, but San Antonio can ride out the careers of Duncan and Manu Ginobili while remaining competitive. Parker can step into an even larger role if needed. NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who turns 23 in two weeks, is evolving by the minute and already registers the impact of a star. Moves will need to be made eventually to transition one era of Spurs basketball to the next, but they can wait if Duncan and Ginobili are willing to go another round. Assuming that's the case, San Antonio would contend for the Western Conference crown again. Earning a return trip to the Finals, however, should prove even more difficult against a crop of contenders (including the Thunder, Warriors, Clippers and Rockets) with room to grow.
The title defense starts with securing the status quo. Diaw and Mills were instrumental in the playoff run, especially Diaw during the Finals. The 32-year-old forward is in a position to command more than the $4.1 million he made this season, and the Spurs -- who have a tidy cap sheet -- may be in a position to oblige him. Determining Diaw's market value, however, is tricky. A big man with his playmaking abilities could be useful in many contexts, but because of a well-honed system predicated on ball movement and spacing, San Antonio is suited to maximize those talents in a way that other teams are not. Otherwise, Diaw isn't a rim protector, doesn't pile up rebounds (he averaged just 5.9 per 36 minutes this season) and rarely acts as a concerted scorer. How much is a player like that worth to any team that isn't the Spurs?
• How can the Spurs improve this offseason? Through free agency? The draft? Trade?
Free agency or trade. The Spurs' cap figure depends largely on Duncan's decision (he has a $10 million player option) and Diaw's negotiations. If he's feeling particularly generous, Duncan could decline his option and commit to an even smaller deal, freeing San Antonio to lock up players like Diaw and Mills while exploring a wider range of free-agent options. If Duncan accepts his option, however, Diaw and Mills could wind up eating into much of the team's theoretical room under the cap. That said, while Diaw and Mills are helpful players, they are not so essential as to leave San Antonio without other options; it is possible that both are let go as the Spurs engage other free-agent targets.
Regardless, the Spurs tend to redeem incredible value no matter their amount of financial flexibility. Diaw, Mills and Danny Green were all brought in on minimum deals. Tiago Splitter was had for a portion of the mid-level exception. The front office does an impeccable job of identifying affordable players who fit its system -- many of whom were discarded by other teams. The trade market could provide another means of acquiring underutilized talent, with Splitter, Green and Marco Belinelli all enticing players on reasonable contracts. Splitter and Green wouldn't be dealt easily because they fill such valuable roles for San Antonio, but it's not out of the question for some trade partner to overpay for a contributor with championship glow.
And, of course: Should Duncan decide to retire, all bets are off. It's impossible to project a Spurs team without Duncan (and possibly without coach Gregg Popovich) because we haven't seen San Antonio's management team operate without that all-time great anchor at the center of its play and culture. If Duncan calls it a career, "improvement" would come secondary to a franchise rebirth.
• Will the Spurs sign Leonard to an extension?
This summer marks San Antonio's first chance to extend Leonard's rookie-scale contract. (If no agreement is reached, Leonard would become a restricted free agent in July 2015.) No player is more important to the Spurs' future than Leonard. Even if he lacks the skills as a shot creator to function as a traditional star, his intuition, developmental curve and fill-the-gaps game make him one of the league's most intriguing players. One could easily argue that Leonard deserves the max, with Paul George's lucrative extension with the Pacers serving as a template.
The George comparison is a fair one. The two up-and-comers are asked to play different roles, but within those responsibilities both are skilled shooters, developing ball handlers, terrific positional rebounders and worthy All-Defensive team selections. Leonard might not be at George's level in some respects, but he's an attractive piece to build around because of his ability to be whatever the Spurs need from possession to possession. General manager R.C. Buford will ensure that Leonard sticks around, but the Spurs have an impressive track record of persuading quality players to accept less than their market value. Perhaps the same will be true in this case, whether a deal is struck this summer or through restricted free agency next year.
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