San Antonio Spurs: Ranking the Franchise’s Potential Free Agents
By Rob Wolkenbrod
May 22, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives direction to his team against the Golden State Warriors during the first half in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
A handful of players can leave the San Antonio Spurs this summer. However, who should be a priority to re-sign?
The San Antonio Spurs had a successful regular season, which gave them the No. 2 seed in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. However, upon reaching the Western Conference Finals, they were swept by the soon-to-be-champions, the Golden State Warriors.
The goal should be to top the Warriors next season and end their three-year reign as the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals. That’s easier said than done, but one way the Spurs can work toward this, is in free agency.
This will begin with the team’s own free agents, some of which will remain while others depart. Who should be at the top of the list to stay? How about at the bottom?
Oct 3, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Joel Anthony (30) boxes out Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
7. Joel Anthony
Joel Anthony played his first season with the San Antonio Spurs, sticking as a role player. However, this came on the deep end of the bench, as he played in just 19 games in 2016-17. Anthony averaged just 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in 6.4 minutes.
The two-time NBA champion should be a low-cost option for the Spurs if they choose to bring him back as the 11th or 12th man again. He wouldn’t warrant anything more than a one-year deal for the veteran minimum.
6. David Lee
Once upon a time, David Lee’s game fit the mold of a starter in the NBA. As the league transitioned to big men shooting three-pointers, Lee struggled, got hurt and moved to the bench, where he’s found some success. He did so with the Spurs last season, averaging 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds.
It’s no guarantee Lee leaves in free agency, as he has a player option for next season. With the NBA’s salary cap ballooning, he may be able to make more than $1.6 million next year, even as the eighth or ninth man off a team’s bench. That could price the former New York Knick draft pick out of San Antonio.
Lee is replaceable, however. There should be options in free agency to fill the backup power forward spot if he departs.
Next: Manu Ginobili
May 22, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee (1) defends during the first half in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
5. Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili would rank higher if not for him being down to two options: playing one more year with the San Antonio Spurs or retiring. Seeing him leave would be shocking, given his loyalty to the organization for 15 years.
Ginobili is 39-years-old and not the player he used to be, mostly operating as a role player off the bench. He did this last season, only shooting 39 percent from the field. However, this came with a 39 percent mark from beyond the arc, which salvaged some of the on-court value he’s lost.
Bringing back a veteran presence like Ginobili would be beneficial to a team that’s still transitioning from the Tim Duncan-era, along with Tony Parker’s injury that’s keeping him out until January. He can help the younger wings and work with Kawhi Leonard, who looked like a superstar last season.
There’s also the chance of one more NBA championship. That means taking down the Golden State Warriors, who have made the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons. It’s a daunting task, but if the team can stay healthy and add pieces this offseason, a competitive series would be a possibility with the defending champions.
Next: Dewayne Dedmon
Feb 15, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) reacts after making a basket in the act of getting fouled against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
4. Dewayne Dedmon
In the 2016 offseason, Dewayne Dedmon signed to be a low-cost backup off the bench. He played this role for the first three seasons of his career, but still got a pay raise out of the San Antonio Spurs, making nearly $3 million in the 2016-17 campaign.
Dedmon played up his value throughout the year. He got the chance to start in 37 games, play the most minutes per game of his career, and mostly average career-highs across the board. The USC product’s Per 36 and Per 100 Possessions stats made him look even better and should get him an eight-figure contract.
While Dedmon was valuable as a part-time starter, the salary he’ll potentially get in free agency will likely place him outside of San Antonio. It would be a positive to see Dedmon return and continue the progress from last season, but after opting out of his deal for 2017-18, he’ll look for the big payday this summer.
If someone like Pau Gasol declines his player option for next season, the chances of Dedmon returning will increase. That may not stand, though, given Gasol’s fading play and high salary for this fall. So expect the 27-year-old to find an opportunity elsewhere.
Next: Jonathan Simmons
May 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Jonathon Simmons (17) points in game four of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
3. Jonathan Simmons
Jonathan Simmons rose up from out of nowhere in 2015-16, as he became a steady role player. This continued this past season, playing in more games and seeing his minutes increased.
Simmons isn’t a great shooter (42 percent from the field, 29 percent from beyond the arc last season), but he provides quality defense off the bench. He can guard a team’s shooting guard and be a serviceable 8th or 9th man.
Simmons will get a larger salary than the $875,000 he previously made, but it shouldn’t require the Spurs to break the bank for him. That may lead to him coming back on a two or three-year deal to potentially improve or continue in the role he’s succeeded in.
However, won’t play in Simmons’ favor is Adam Hanga’s impending arrival from overseas. The two play a similar game, so might the Spurs choose the fresh face over the player they already know (h/t The Step Back)? Hanga can replace Simmons, while the front office looks for a scoring threat off the bench, something that may need to be addressed this offseason.
Suddenly, Simmons remaining in San Antonio doesn’t seem like a sure bet. Another franchise would take him for its bench, but if Hanga is about to arrive, would the Spurs keep two players that play almost identical?
Next: Pau Gasol
Feb 24, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) attempts a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers during the third quarter at Staples Center. The San Antonio Spurs won 105-97. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
2. Pau Gasol
When Pau Gasol signed with the San Antonio Spurs last offseason, he looked like a capable player to at least make up the production Tim Duncan left. At that stage of the Big Fundamental’s career, in the box score, it wasn’t much, so Gasol’s 16.5 points and 11 rebounds he brought over from the Chicago Bulls looked great.
However, last season, Gasol’s numbers dipped. It came in just 25 minutes per game, but he put up 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds; the former was his career-low of over 4 points.
Defensively, Gasol didn’t look the same, either. His blocks per game average was cut in half from last season, leaving his rim-protecting skills on a downslope.
While the decline in play won’t excite anyone, Gasol can still put up quality numbers as a backup or while splitting time with someone. That will likely come with a $16 million price tag, which is the number he can exercise for next year. At age 36, with big contracts behind him, don’t be surprised if he sticks around.
Next: Patty Mills
May 16, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) during the first quarter in game two of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Spurs 136-100. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
1. Patty Mills
Topping the list is Patty Mills. He wasn’t the most productive player of the San Antonio Spurs’ potential free agents, but given the circumstances around the point guard position, he became more important to keep around for next season.
Mills is already six years into his time in San Antonio, mostly providing quick offense off the bench. He’s done this as a backup to Tony Parker and an undersized two guard. It never stopped this Aussie from shooting consistently well, though, which is how he kept a spot in the league.
With Parker out until January, the Spurs must find a way to cover the point guard position. Dejounte Murray already remains for next season, but he can’t do it alone. If the front office can’t sign someone like Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry or another notable name, then look for Mills to become an even bigger priority.
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Even if the Spurs bring in Paul or Lowry, Mills is still worth keeping to come off the bench as a scoring threat. Ginobili could be lost to retirement and Danny Green is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, so that takes two options away for the bench. They can bring back the former Saint Mary’s star on a short-term deal and have him fill in this scoring role, along with filling in as a temporary starter.