Thursday, July 15, 2010

Part 2: Executing The Plan

Reigning Black


Tiago Splitter is officially a Spur.

Matt Bonner will be a Spur for another 4 years (should he see the end of his new contract).

Richard Jefferson?

They're working on it -- all signs point to Jefferson donning the Black and Silver sometime shortly, but as the saying goes: Don't count your chickens until they've picked up their $15.2 million option.

And with that, we look to what we've learned, what we know, and where the Spurs go from here.

What We've Learned

If you were to ask anyone knowledgeable of the NBA or its finance over recent weeks and months about the going rate of a certain first-class Brazilian bigman, chances are they'd tell you most -- if not all -- of the Spurs' Mid-Level exception would be about right. The Spurs were in dire need of Splitter's services -- a player that was getting paid quite well by his Spanish club -- and being three years removed from his 2007 draft class, Splitter was now eligible to eschew the rookie pay-scale and garner the Mid-Level exception from the team which held his rights. It wasn't a forgone conclusion Splitter would receive the whole Mid-Level exception, but the smart money was on him securing the majority of it and probably winding up at a number around $4 million in his first year.

Not quite.

According to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, Splitter signed a 3-year contract valued at $11.016 million with a starting salary of $3.4 million -- leaving $2.365 million left of the Spurs' Mid-Level exception. To say the signing of Splitter was a coup -- in a market where Amir Johnson receives $34 million over 5 years and Johan Petro walks away with $10 million over 3 years -- would be an understatement. Simply put, Splitter's signing couldn't have gone any better for the Spurs; Chad Ford and at least one G.M. agree.

On Tuesday, Bonner officially re-upped with the Spurs for 4 more years. The contract is believed to be valued at $16 million but we've yet to get real confirmation. But if the contract is for 4 years and $16 million dollars, Bonner could receive $3,455,724 in his first year on a max-ascending contract. (Bruno -- via RealGM -- has suggested Bonner's first year might actually be worth $3.05 million which would suggest what we already know: we don't exactly know.) Not bad for a supposed fifth bigman.

The fact that Jefferson opted out and Splitter was re-signed at such a reasonable rate allowed the Spurs to splurge on Bonner. Unable to use anything other than the Bi-Annual exception and their left over money from the Mid-Level exception, the Spurs would have only been able to sign a player with a maximum value of $2.365 million or a veteran minimum to take Bonner's place. In terms of the player the Spurs could have acquired to fill the role, the Spurs definitely signed the best player. It can be argued that the best player isn't necessarily the "right" player, but he was the best nonetheless -- The Spurs were allowed to pay for the best player available because they held his rights.

What We Know

With the signings of Splitter and Bonner, the Spurs officially have 8 players with guaranteed contracts going into next year: Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Blair, Bonner, Hill, McDyess and Splitter. The Spurs also have 4 players with partially or non-guaranteed contracts: Gee, Jerrells, Hairston and Temple. James Anderson has yet to officially sign and Ryan Richards status is unknown at the time -- thought to be an option for the Toros this year, Richards may be contractually bound or otherwise made to remain overseas for a year. That leaves the Spurs currently with five bigmen and three guards under contract and on the roster.

The Spurs still have the remainder of their Mid-Level exception and their Bi-annual exception to add a player or two, and they have the ability to use their partially and non-guaranteed contracts as an asset to make or sweeten a deal; Richard Jefferson could still be used in a sign-and-trade.

Raja Bell once again has been linked to the Spurs and James Jones has become a player of interest, as it's been stated he'd sign for more than the minimum if a deal can be finalized with San Antonio.

The luxury-tax threshold surprisingly rose to $70.307 million and the Spurs now have the ability to be a non-tax-paying team, should they choose.

Where The Spurs Go From Here

While the Spurs only officially have eight players under contract, it's safe to assume they have at least twelve roster spots locked up -- Anderson will be signed, Jefferson is reportedly only a matter of time, and two of Hairston, Temple and Gee will most likely make the team (and possibly all three).

The Spurs' frontline is pretty much set, the only real addition possibly coming in the form of Richards or a project to be sent down to the Toros. The backcourt features three of their four best players, their rookie and All-Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson, and the promising Garrett Temple.

Which brings us to the small forward or swing position.

Richard Jefferson is the only true small forward on the roster, and he technically isn't even on the roster. But if we're to assume that he will be manning the position for the Spurs this year, having a player of his caliber playing 35 0f a possible 48 minutes available at the position wouldn't normally be much to worry about -- you can always go a little smaller with a shooting guard or a utilize a low-cost option for limited minutes. But it's just not as simple as that with Jefferson. The Spurs need a real presence outside of Jefferson at the position. More succinctly, they need a better and more impactful defensive presence on the wing.

What the Spurs do have is the promise of Malik Hairston and the use of their exceptions to bring in another player or two. Seeing as the Spurs' coaching staff seems to be pretty high on Hairston and Jefferson is assumed to be signed shortly, the Spurs will probably only be looking to bring in one player -- Raja Bell being their No. 1 target.

Correction, was their No. 1 target -- Marc Stein has reported the Jazz and Bell have agreed to terms on a 3-year deal worth nearly $10 million

With Bell now eliminated from the equation, the Spurs could now turn their attention to a player that's apparently found his way onto their radar: James Jones

A 29-year-old, 7-year veteran of the NBA, Jones possesses prototypical size for the small forward position -- measuring a full 6-8 -- and he's made his way in the league due in large part to his ability to shoot the ball from deep.

Roughly a 40-percent shooter from the three-point line in both the regular season and postseason, Jones' attractiveness to the Spurs is no secret. But it's also no secret that Jones has only managed to appear in 76 games the past 2 seasons and his defensive prowess has never been his calling card. A capable defender and even noteworthy at times, Jones has utilized great length with respectable quickness and footwork to get the job done in years past. But due to both age and injury, Jones' respectable quickness isn't quite what it used to be. And given the lack of time he's been able to log on the court to work himself back into the shape he was prior to the injuries of the last 2 years, it's impossible to know exactly what the Spurs would be getting physically. The acquisition of Jones could be one that has pundits claiming the Spurs "did it again," but it could just as easily -- and perhaps more easily -- end with the Spurs and their fans rather underwhelmed.

The Spurs would be wise to gauge the interest of players like Josh Howard and Rasual Butler before using their Bi-Annual exception or the remainder of their Mid-Level exception on Jones. They may even find it a more prudent move to entrust the defensive responsibilities to guys like, Hill, Hairston and Anderson -- could James Anderson be to the Spurs what the Orlando Magic found they had in Courtney Lee on their way to the Finals; and would they be better off finding out what they truly have in their youth and addressing their needs at a later date after missing out on Bell? Things to take into consideration.

Recently Jim Bob Breazeale of Ticket 760 Sports broke news stating Richard Jefferson was on the verge of being signed this week. And though it's midweek and the re-signing as yet to occur, what could be taken away from the statement were the words chosen and his closing sentence:

"Spurs had a plan and started executing it last night," Breazeale said.

One couldn't help but harken back to last year, and specifically a piece written by the former Spurs beat writer, Johnny Ludden. It was there where Spurs loyalists were given some rare insight into the Spurs' front office -- a famous challenge in the way of, "time to pony up."

With Jefferson opting out, the Spurs are no longer a tax-paying team. At least, they aren't for the time being. And conventional wisdom would tell you that the Spurs would look to fill in their roster with salaries that will keep them below the luxury-tax threshold -- and you can put good money on that being the case to start the season.

But this all comes back to that "plan" Jim Bob Breazeale alluded to.

ike always, they had one.

The Spurs are run and owned by some extremely smart people. Their business approach will never be accused of being haphazard or reckless. But there's an emotional chord that strikes us all -- Duncan's sincerity when discussing the prospect of future titles with the legendary Bill Russell certainly struck a chord with Holt. It's what makes us fans, drives players and coaches to greatness and even encourages owners to not only consider the bottom line. And when greatness is in your midst and under your watch, you pay special attention; if you're smart you do everything in your power to nurture, grow and sustain it for as long as possible.

The Spurs had a plan and wound up receiving spent money that they can either choose to spend or pocket. They went to Vegas with an "all-in" bet, managed to lose and, yet, still walked away from the table with a sports coat full of chips they never expected to find.

The Spurs don't have the option of tossing around cash in hopes of winning some jackpot, but there will be opportunities presented -- salaries will looked to be shed this year with the looming CBA negotiations (and the parties don't look to be all that close at the moment, by the way).

Because of years of running their organization the right way financially, the Spurs allowed themselves the opportunity to compete for a title in the waning years of the Duncan era. The inflated spending wasn't so much a departure in philosophy, but a cashing in of the Duncan 401k.

The Spurs have had a plan all along. They allocated and said goodbye to millions, only to see an unexpected sum find its way back into their account.

Greatness is in their midst, we'll see how smart they really are.

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