If Uncle Dennis and Kawhi Leonard wanted to exit gracefully, with Kawhi’s lovable robot reputation intact, they could have done so.
Who could have blamed The Klaw for wanting to leave a franchise that continually makes all the wrong moves?
In the summer of 2017, all the Spurs had to do was not sign anyone and they would have had acres of cap room.
Patty & Pau
Instead, they blew all their money on Patty Mills (4 years, $48 million) and Pau Gasol (3 years, $48 million with last year guaranteed for $6.7 million).
Patty Mills is a top 3-point shooter in the league but he’s a role player who needs stars to open up the floor for him. He’s only 6′ tall and while his position is point guard, he can’t play it: He can’t dribble, he can’t handle defensive pressure, his court vision is horrible, and his defense is of the traffic cone variety.
With Leonard out last season and the Spurs looking to extract their pennies out of Mills, Patty was moved to starting point guard and it was a disaster.
Still Mills is somewhat excusable: He can shoot threes in an era where you must be able to. Not only that but he’s given a lot of value to the Spurs in previous years.
Gasol’s contract is an abomination. The backstory here is the Spurs asked Pau to opt out of the remaining $16m on the last year of his contract (player option) so they could have a shot at signing Chris Paul to a max deal.
Obviously the Spurs had to sweeten the deal to make it worth his while but they went overboard giving him another year at $16m and then a final year partially guaranteed at $6.7m to boot. Pau cashed in and the Spurs got left holding an empty bag – all for a guy (CP3) who wouldn’t have put them past the Warriors and would have crippled the franchise financially in the future.
This is all on top of the fact that Gasol is a worthless player. He’s way, way past his prime and can’t rebound or move his feet. His best attributes are his length and passing ability but the center era is dead in today’s NBA. When you add everything up, Gasol was a liability on the Spurs balance sheet WHEN he signed his contract.
But it wasn’t just who the Spurs blew millions on, it was who they didn’t pay up for. One player that was very notably not signed was Jonathan Simmons.
Simmons is an ultra athletic, 6’6 wing player who can defend, slash to the bucket, shoot a little bit, and stepped up and played huge against Golden State after Zaza Pachulia undercut Kawhi.
Simmons isn’t a star player in the NBA but he is a guy that can play big minutes, make big plays, and isn’t afraid of the pressure. (Think of Trevor Ariza’s role on the Rockets.)
Also, he was Kawhi’s one real friend on the Spurs (see the tweet below, posted on July 12, 2018). And Pop gladly kicked him to the curb; it doesn’t even look like the Spurs made him an offer.
Kawhi in Vegas with Simmons.
Him & Jonathan were close. pic.twitter.com/OdVA3BAODE
— Eric Salinas (@EricSal_7) July 12, 2018
Pathetically, the Spurs lost Simmons to the Orlando Magic. J-Simms got a 3 year, $20m deal with the last year only guaranteed for $1m. Simmons’ on the court value easily exceeded that contract – I would have been happy if the Spurs locked him up for 3 years, $30m fully guaranteed.
But if you tack on the Kawhi-relationship value that Simmons offered, it made it all the easier to sign him to a slightly above market value contract.
And here’s another wrinkle that isn’t talked about: Given how close the two were, it’s reasonable to expect part of Kawhi’s departure could be from Kawhi requesting the Spurs keep Simmons and Pop figuratively spitting in his face, insisting that he calls the shots.
Even if Leonard said nothing, as an executive you need to read between the lines. Kawhi isn’t a guy that makes a lot of friends – he was never close to any of the other Spurs. Clearly he was with Simmons. You might want to keep him just to give your mega star someone to talk to and keep him happy. If you take his one friend away, how much incentive does he have to stay beyond money?
I’d call this an oversight but the Spurs knew exactly what the situation was. Pop just doesn’t care. He sees the Spurs as an organization where he calls all the shots and you deal with it as a subordinate.
Problem is he was left groveling in a San Diego restaurant even as chief commander.
Another summer special: Crybaby LaMarcus Aldridge “LA” had problems with the Spurs offense and wanted to be traded so what did Pop do?
Changed his offensive philosophy, forcing a 90s style post up game into the Spurs once feared motion offense and then, in October, extended Aldridge’s contract with LA having no leverage and his market value at an all-time low.
LA had a player option for $21.4m left on his contract for 2018. The extension was for 3 years/$72.3m with the final year partially guaranteed for $7m.
Again, the Spurs didn’t need to commit this money. If nothing else, they could have waited until after the season to resign him.
The Spurs should have moved away from Aldridge anyways. Iso post ups are a losing proposition in today’s NBA and LA had done nothing to disprove that during his stint before the extension.
The only actually good thing San Antonio has done this summer is to let Kyle Anderson become a Memphis Grizzly (Memphis will regret this one later, Kyle has potential to be good but he refuses to cash in on it and his downside will begin to shine through).
Other than that, the Spurs have signed Marco Belinelli for 2 years, $12 million, Bryn Forbes for 2 years, $5 million, Davis Bertans for 2 years, $15 million, and Rudy Gay for 1 year, $10m.
The only one of those that makes any sense is Gay.
Otherwise, why are you signing all of these role players for two years?
Also, Bryn Forbes isn’t an NBA caliber player. Why are you signing him at all?
If the Jazz really wanted Bertans for $7m/year, let them have him.
And Belinelli for the 2nd year at $6m — WHY???
On top of all of these signings, they let franchise legend Tony Parker walk out the back door for 2 years/$10m to the Bobcats (PS Tony is currently better than Dejounte Murray as is).
What the hell is going on in San Antonio?
If Gregg Popovich’s name wasn’t on the nameplate, people would be trashing this storied franchise left and right. The truth is they’ve played everything horribly. The Kawhi Leonard situation is helping to mask it but it’s not like the national media would ever call out the Spurs anyways.
Before this offseason’s debacle, I had a theory that the Pau & Patty abomination’s were the work of one RC Buford, that Pop had finally bestowed true GM power and he had royally screwed everything up and wrecked the car as soon his dad handed him the keys.
But no, it looks like Pop is still in control and has fallen off the deep end; it looks like he’s lost it.
The Demar Derozan Trade
For some reason Pop has always wanted to move Danny Green. I don’t know why but Pop has looked for every which way to get rid of him and Green always ends up in trade rumors. When Danny’s free agency came up, the Spurs lowballed him to the tune of $20m less than the open market and he still choose the Silver & Black.
Danny Green was one of my favorite Spurs.
But he got shipped away with Kawhi as an expiring contract.
And the Spurs didn’t get the quiet prize of the deal: OG Anunoby.
I think Derozan will do well for San Antonio but I also think this deal falls short for SA.
Toronto gets a ton of upside and complete optionality because they too can deal Kawhi later on in 2019. They also shed a huge contract and clear enormous cap space at the end of the year. This is important to remember when you think that this team really wasn’t going anywhere with Demar.
On the other side, the Spurs did get a 65% return on Kawhi but for what purpose?
A core of Derozan and Aldridge is at best a 5th seed and second round and out in the West.
This team is going nowhere and the future is bleak because outside of Lonnie Walker, there’s nothing in the way of prospects and draft picks. This is where Pop and maybe RC really screwed up: they didn’t capture any upside in the deal.
What’s worse is they very likely could have waited and got the same package (the Raptors really wanted out of Demar’s contract) while keeping their options open.
The end game for the Spurs proved to be staying a middling good but not very good team in the West, keeping their playoff streak alive, and not much else.
The Uncle Dennis Robertson-Everyone Loses Effect
I’d call Kawhi’s “group” or “”agency”” amateur hour but to do so would be to harshly condemn amateurs. Kawhi’s uncle accomplished none of their objectives while tarnishing the superstar’s reputation, and costing him tens of millions of dollars.
Kawhi’s career will never recover from this debacle and, what was likely lost in the shuffle, is the Spurs were tailor made specifically for him to be a superstar. He will not be as good on any other team.
This is what happens when you throw in a supercharged net negative into center of something: everyone involved loses.
A small secret is Kawhi has a much greater chance of being a Laker or Clipper right now if Uncle Dennis doesn’t leak every thought in his head to the media.