The San Antonio Spurs have limited financial flexibility this offseason, but they could turn to the restricted market to fill some holes on their roster.
The San Antonio Spurs will enter this year’s free agency period with about $9-10 million to spend as part of the non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception unless they make some sort of trade that frees up more cap space before July 1st (ahem, Patty Mills).
We’ve discussed the potential unrestricted free agents that the Spurs could target with that Mid-Level Exception, but we haven’t talked much about the restricted market yet this offseason.
The restricted free agent market can be a good way to add young talent, but it is often a difficult market to navigate.
The team that holds the restricted free agents rights has the opportunity to match any offer made by another team, and they can wait a few days before they decide to match so the team trying to sign away that restricted free agent has their money tied up while unrestricted free agents are flying off of the board.
It’s a risky game to play, but if that risk pays off the Spurs could add a missing piece to their already-strong core of young players that includes Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Jakob Poeltl.
If San Antonio chooses to go down the restricted road this summer, here are a few names worth keeping an eye on.
Next: Willie Cauley-Stein
Willie Cauley-Stein will hit the restricted market this offseason after spending the first four years of his career in Sacramento.
The Kings’ frontcourt rotation was extremely crowded this season, but the former Kentucky big man managed to average 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 55.6% from the field.
Cauley-Stein was also solid on the defensive end even though he didn’t rack up a ton of blocks ranking 18th among 72 centers in defensive real plus-minus.
Cauley-Stein will turn 26 next season, which allows him to be considered for either the Spurs’ current timeline with DeRozan and Aldridge or being a piece of San Antonio’s future with their group of younger players.
The seven-foot center is more athletic than the big men that currently sit on the Spurs’ roster, and I think he could improve his overall defensive impact in Gregg Popovich’s system.
I’m not sure how the market will shake out for Cauley-Stein this offseason. While I do think he’s a solid player, I don’t think it’s worth tying up the Spurs’ limited money in giving him an offer sheet.
Next: Bobby Portis
Bobby Portis is a fellow member of Willie Cauley-Stein’s 2015 Draft class that will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Portis put up the best box score numbers of his career last season with 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds in a year split between Chicago and Washington. He’s also shown the ability to hit the three-ball at a decent rate knocking down 39.3% of his 3.8 attempts per game from downtown last season, following a year where he hit 35.9% from deep on 3.1 attempts per game in 2017-18.
Portis does have some flaws in his game as he rarely ever makes plays for his teammates (1.4 assists per game last season), and he was one of the league’s worst defenders at the power forward position last year ranking 94th out of 100 players at his position in defensive real plus-minus.
While he would provide some much-needed spacing in the Spurs’ offense, I think Portis’ deficiencies are simply too glaring for San Antonio to sign him to the sort of contract he will get this offseason.
Next: Thomas Bryant
Thomas Bryant is another intriguing Washington Wizards big man who will be on the restricted free agent market in about a month.
Bryant scored 10.5 points per game with 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game with Washington this season, and he led the league in two-point field goal percentage at an astounding 68.5%.
Those season-long numbers would’ve been even better if you take out the months of October and November where he was unable to enter the regular rotation with Dwight Howard in the starting lineup.
Bryant’s defensive real plus-minus numbers were slightly below average for a center this season, but he has plenty of time to get better on that end of the floor as he is still just 21 years old.
With Bryant’s upside hitting the restricted free agent market at this young age, he is one of the few restricted free agents I would be targeting if I were in the Spurs’ front office as long as his price doesn’t get too high.
Next: Ivica Zubac
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Like Thomas Bryant, Ivica Zubac is another young center worth taking a gamble on as long as his market doesn’t get out of control.
The Bosnian big man averaged 8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game in his age 21 season that was split between the NBA’s two Los Angeles franchises.
The Lakers foolishly traded him across the hall to the Clippers in a move that made absolutely no sense, and the Clippers gladly scooped up the young Zubac in one of the biggest steals of the trade deadline.
However, L.A. may have to pay him a pretty penny if another franchise identifies Zubac as their center of the future.
Zubac has a reputation as a relatively weak defender, but the advanced stats disagree with that conclusion as he ranked 23rd among 72 centers in defensive real plus-minus this season ahead of Kevon Looney, Steven Adams, and Clint Capela among others.
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I’d love to see what the Spurs’ player development staff could do with a player that has Zubac’s level of talent. If San Antonio is looking to add another young center to their roster, it may be worth the risk of playing the restricted free agency game to acquire him.