I suppose I should start by mentioning that technically, every team except Cleveland and the Clippers will open this summer with cap space. Durant or not, the Spurs will enter this summer around $3 million below the projected $90 million salary cap. However, the moves they’d need to make to clear out max space are relatively benign, and that’s relevant because umm… potential 70-win teams don’t usually get to add former MVPs in their primes without breaking up their core.
Let’s break this down by category (all salaries estimated via Basketball-Reference):
LaMarcus Aldridge $20,500,000
Kawhi Leonard $17,500,000
Danny Green $10,000,000
Tim Duncan $5,500,000
Patty Mills $3,578,948
David West $1,552,000
Kyle Anderson $1,192,080
Jonathan Simmons $874,636
All told, this is the most expensive construction of their roster the Spurs can keep while clearing out enough space to offer Durant his maximum salary. There are slightly altered constructions here that depend on multiple variables. They could save money by convincing Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili to return at pay cuts totaling less than $5.5 million. They could let Duncan and Ginobli retire and dump West (who is on a player option, but could theoretically decline it and re-sign for the minimum later) in order to keep Boris Diaw. But this is the most likely roster the Spurs would keep around Durant.
Combine the salaries of these eight players and you get $59,145,664. We also have to add minimum cap holds. When a team holds the rights to less than 12 players, their salary cap is burdened with minimum salaries that get the team back to 12. So with eight players, the Spurs need four. The minimum salary for the 2016-17 season is going to be $543,471 (via Larry Coon). So add those holds and the Spurs get to $61,319,548. However, a Durant signing would add a player to the roster, so functionally, their cap number would be $60,776,077
As a nine-year NBA veteran, Durant’s maximum salary is 30% of the salary cap (projected at $90 million). That leaves him with a max of $27 million. Add that to their previous salary figure and $87,776,077. They have around $2 million left over, but they’d likely be cautious with such space in case the cap ends up slightly below projections.
That’s why Manu Ginobili isn’t listed here. If the cap balloons to around $91 million, above projections, then they could afford to keep him at his current cap number (around $2.9 million). But in all likelihood, for this plan to work, Manu will end up declining his player option and either retiring or accepting the veteran’s minimum. The other alternative is to decline Jonathan Simmons’ team option, but as a valuable young player with upside the Spurs would prefer not to do this. In any case, this leaves the Spurs with nine players on their roster, all likely playing in their rotation, along with a room mid-level exception left to spend along with minimum-salary offers. They may be sacrificing a bit of depth, but the upside of pairing Durant with Leonard and Aldridge is too tantalizing to pass up.
Of course, getting to these cap figures is going to require some work. The Spurs have tough choices to make over who they’d want to get rid of. Here are the most likely candidates:
Who Gets Renounced:
No one here is particularly important, and all but Boban could potentially be back on minimum contracts. In order to clear the necessary cap space, the Spurs must renounce their rights to these players, which in laymen’s terms means that they cannot re-sign any without using cap space unless it’s to a minimum contract.
That likely ends Boban’s brief but beautiful Spurs tenure. He’s young enough and has the physical tools to command a multi-year deal. San Antonio would probably rather keep him, and could keep his cap hold on the books through some other machinations, but ultimately he’s the odd man out between himself, Anderson and Simmons. Again, to get Kevin Durant, I don’t think the Spurs would mind giving up Boban.
Who Gets Traded:
These are the toughest pills to swallow. Both Parker and Diaw have won championships for the Spurs and are major parts of their team culture. In fact, trading either might hurt them from a recruiting standpoint, as continuity is one of their major selling points.
But Parker is probably the easiest of the holy Duncan-Ginobili-TP trinity to trade. He’s been mentioned in trade rumors before, and as the youngest of the three he’s the most likely to have a few years to craft a satisfying final chapter for his career. He may not be the player he once was, but there’s certainly a market for Parker.
Remember, 28 teams are going to have cap space. If a big market team like the Knicks or Rockets is afraid of striking out in free agency they could save face by grabbing Parker beforehand for free. Older fringe contenders like Dallas and Memphis could find plenty of use for Parker, and if he were willing to become a backup, joining former Spurs deputy Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta as a mentor to Dennis Schroder makes sense. There are options here, and the Spurs would work with Parker to find one.
Diaw’s deal is less appealing. Though $7 million isn’t particularly crippling, most takers would probably demand a first round draft pick to surrender that much cap space. That actually works out nicely for the Spurs, as these cap figures don’t account for draft picks. So it’s a two birds, one stone deal.
Assuming these two trades could be made without adding additional salary, the stage would be set for the Spurs to sign Durant to a max contract.
Rounding Out the Bench:
Let’s ignore that two million sliver of cap space and assume the Spurs are capped out after adding KD. How would they finish the roster?
Their biggest tool would be the room mid-level exception. It usually amounts to around half of the typical mid-level exception (or half of the average salary for an NBA player) for no more than two years. We don’t know what this summer’s figure is going to be, but we can guess it’ll end up around $4-5 million.
The most pressing need on the roster above is a penetrating guard. Neither Mills no Green is much of a slasher, so the Spurs will need someone on the roster who can get to the hoop. There’s no shortage of candidates. The problem is that most of them are reclamation projects. Ty Lawson, Lance Stephenson and Dion Waiters will all be out there, ripe for the plucking, and would be bargains considering their talent. The Spurs have more reason than any team to think they could fix any one of these guys, so any would merit consideration.
Otherwise, the market is a bit iffy. Jeremy Lin would be perfect, but will likely fall out of their price range. The same goes for Brandon Jennings, and Leandro Barbosa wouldn’t leave Golden State. The pipe dream would be Dwyane Wade, but it’s a pipe dream for a reason. There’s a meaningful chance that the player who ends up filling this role for the Spurs is someone we haven’t heard of yet.
After that, they’re looking for ring chasers. That means pretty much anyone from this group is in play: Kirk Hinrich, Thabo Sefolosha, Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams, Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Smith, Chris Kaman and Alan Anderson. Of course, the Spurs will likely use one or more of their spots and players already within the Spurs system, like Bonner, the players above are merely potential options.
Of course, if you can trot out Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Tim Duncan, David West, Kyle Anderson and Jonathan Simmons as your top-nine, does it really matter who else is on your roster?