Even championship organizations sign bad deals sometimes, which is why the San Antonio Spurs are left in a financial bind for this season and the next.
Though the financial situation for the San Antonio Spurs could be better, it could also be much worse than it is right now. The team’s cap sheet for the 2019-20 season is at $111,732,253 including $11,917,163 in dead cap which will fall to $6,167,887 next year.
With the way the NBA is structured financially, small-market teams like the Spurs have to over-pay for mid-value players to stick around as opposed to chasing contracts in larger markets that may offer greater visibility and marketability. Even with that being the case, Texas offers athletes the opportunity to pay no state income tax, so contracts go farther with the Spurs than they would with teams in Los Angeles or New York City.
Still, San Antonio has a few loyalty contracts that pay their veteran players more than their market value to keep them in town and thank them for their services. The pros of this are that the team proves how much its players mean to it and pays them for their fit with team culture in addition to their on-court services.
However, this leaves the team with a loaded cap sheet and minimal flexibility when chasing free agents on the offseason. For example, San Antonio won’t have much money to use in the 2020 free agency market unless star wing DeMar DeRozan opts out of his contract or they trade one of their more expensive players.
With that in mind, these are the team’s most harmful contracts as of the 2019-20 season.
Next: The ultimate loyalty contract
Patty Mills: Two years, $25.7 million
Originally, the Spurs signed veteran point guard Patty Mills to a four-year, $48 million contract back in 2017 to make him one of the highest-paid players on the team. Since then he’s gotten even better with improved confidence as a shooter, playmaker and leader off the bench.
Mills is an extremely valuable player for the Spurs because of his community involvement, championship experience, on-court leadership and guiding voice in the locker room. However, he’s way overpaid for who he is as a player and unless he can take another step at 32-years-old, it’ll get even worse next season when his salary increases to roughly $13.3 million.
Yesterday, I wrote about why Mills should be considered for the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year award, mostly for what he means to the team and the organization. If he were playing on a level where he could realistically earn it, then this would be a feasible salary, but he’s not going to become the second 6MOTY in franchise history (The first is was great Manu Ginobili).
This is the kind of contract that makes you swallow your pride and accept the fee because of what MIlls brings to the table. He’s a wonderful spark plug off the bench and fills in during big moments when the team needs him to step up to the plate. However, he’s not a starter in the modern NBA because of his size and moderate athleticism, so he shouldn’t be getting paid like one.
Next season is the last of this four-year deal and San Antonio will likely look to bring him back on smaller contracts. It’d be surprising to see Mills finish his career anywhere else, but Tony Parker went elsewhere to make some money before ending his run, so anything is possible.
Next: Paying respects for a career-year
Rudy Gay: Two years, $32 million
For all intents and purposes, Spurs forward Rudy Gay earned his two-year, $32 million contract last season. Having recovered from a torn Achilles tendon in San Antonio, Gay stepped up to the plate last season by shooting career-highs from the field (50.4%) and three-point range (40.2%) in the most efficient year of his career.
Now that he got his payday, Gay fell back to Earth in this 2019-20 campaign that’s seen him shoot his lowest percentage from the field since the 2012-13 season and the same lowly three-point percentage he shot the year before last.
I’m not sure what’s changed for Gay because he has completely lost a step, but remains an effective scorer from within 20 feet who uses post-ups and crossover moves to create his own shot. He’s a skilled bench scorer who provides buckets in bursts and still erupts with a thunderous slam or two when he sees fit, but he’s not playing up to the contract San Antonio gave him this past summer.
The risk level on this deal is relatively low considering there’s only one year left. Furthermore, the team is slated to open up a world of cap space in a 2021 free agency class that’s jam-packed with star talent. Holding on to Gay through the duration of that deal and opening up his cap space in 2021 wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world despite him being vastly overpaid through the end of next season.
Again, this is a case of the loyalty contract not really being worth the price tag but still being given.
Next: A ghost on the payroll
DeMarre Carroll: Three years, $14.3 million
Let’s recount the tragic events that led us to this situation. Yes, I know it’s been rehashed time and time again, but I still have to talk about it: The Marcus Morris fiasco. This past offseason, the Spurs agreed to a deal with free-agent forward DeMarre Carroll early into free agency. Later, they agreed to a two-year deal with Marcus Morris using that same Mid-Level exception.
To make the deal work, San Antonio facilitated a deal with Washington for Latvian forward Davis Bertans. They did this so they could acquire Morris and still make good on their commitment to Carroll, who subsequently had a year added to his deal in the sign-and-trade. Then, Morris backed out of the deal and screwed the Spurs over, signing with the New York Knicks instead.
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This left the Spurs with a decrepit Carroll, who barely played for the team because he couldn’t get the hang of head coach Gregg Popovich’s system. San Antonio bought him out of his deal and now, he’s owed $14.3 million across this season, the next and a significantly smaller sum in the final season.
Without a doubt, this was the Spurs’ biggest blunder in quite some time. Even during the Kawhi Leonard fiasco, they weren’t in the wrong all of the time because Kawhi and the infamous Uncle Dennis were acting shady and operating behind closed doors to meet their needs. However, San Antonio ended up with an empty roster spot and barely enough money to sign anyone of interest with that final opening.
That mess left San Antonio’s fans scratching their heads in bewilderment and disbelief. The model organization of the NBA did something blatantly dumb and finished their offseason with only one real signing: power forward Trey Lyles.
Now, the stench of Carroll’s contract will linger over the team for another two seasons. Yuck.