The San Antonio Spurs will go into the summer of 2013 with a luxury that has become quite foreign to them in the past decade: cap space.
Due to the dominant trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, the Spurs have been forced to use a majority of their cash paying their three stars. But with a few contracts coming off the books, the Spurs will have the opportunity of completely revamping their core in hopes of striking it rich.
It all starts with this season, though. Tim Duncan is an unrestricted free agent and will be looking for his last payday. Don't expect "The Big Fundamental" to leave the state of Texas, as it is widely assumed he will finish his legendary career with the Spurs.
Depending on the size of his next contract, the Spurs may find themselves in ideal territory to add the next face of the franchise in the offseason of 2013. The organization will most likely try to front-load his next contract with hopes of preserving the cap space available next year. Duncan could command anywhere from the mid-level exception to $15 million per season.
Other free agents include the rejuvenated Boris Diaw, sharpshooter Danny Green and facilitator Patrick Mills. The latter two are restricted free agents, where Diaw is unrestricted. Obviously, Patrick Mills wasn't essential to this season's success and will likely move on from the organization. Green and Diaw, on the other hand, were vital parts to the puzzle.
Diaw will probably sign for cheap, as he has good chemistry with the friends and fits well in coach Gregg Popovich's system. The power forward may even go for the veteran's minimum.
Green, however, is looking for his first big contract. After a breakout season with the Spurs, there will surely be many suitors for the marksman's talents. The Spurs, though, can't become sentimental and overpay the restricted free agent by matching a ridiculous offer; much like the Clippers did with DeAndre Jordan last season.
After all, Kawhi Leonard is more than capable of assuming a bigger role in next year's offense.
Next summer is where it becomes interesting, however. With the foursome of DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Derrick Byars and Gary Neal being restricted free agents, the Spurs have the ability to unload tons of money off their payroll without losing much in terms of talent.
Blair and Splitter have developed into decent backups, but they are definitely replaceable. As for Neal, there are a plethora of guards who can hit the the three-ball with his efficiency.
But, the real money saver is the end of Stephen Jackson's contract.
Due to the trade that saw Richard Jefferson and a conditional first-round draft pick sent to the Warriors in exchange for Stephen Jackson, the Spurs save almost $11 million. With Jackson's contract coming off the books, the Spurs will have enough money to pursue a star.
The one problem is Manu Ginobili's contract ending in 2013. The Spurs will have to find a way to retain their star shooting guard without destroying their hard-earned cap space.
Now comes the fun part! Who can the Spurs actually acquire off the open market?
Atlanta Hawks' troublesome forward Josh Smith, Los Angeles Clippers' leader Chris Paul, Los Angeles Lakers' center Andrew Bynum, Orlando Magic's disgruntled big man Dwight Howard and Utah Jazz's forward Al Jefferson could all be available for the San Antonio Spurs.
The fact that the Spurs could have upwards of $30 million to spend next season should make the city of San Antonio quite happy. The franchise may even be able to pursue both Paul and Howard if they can find someone to take current point guard Tony Parker.
Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Al Jefferson are better suited, though, for the Spurs due to the possibility of pairing any of these big men up with the Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan. Signing CP3, instead, would start a controversy regarding who would start between Parker and him.
Another avenue the franchise could take is avoid maximum contracts and add exceptional depth. The team, essentially, could resign Stephen Jackson for cheap, add Devin Harris of the Utah Jazz, obtain David West of the Indiana Pacers and bring back Richard Jefferson all in one offseason.
None of the aforementioned players would likely command more than $10 million, as they will all be in the twilight of their careers.
The best bet, though, is to sign a big man star. Much like David Robinson did with Tim Duncan in the late-1990's and early-2000's, the longtime Spur could mentor the new big man until he decides to hang the jersey up.
It worked last time, and there is no reason it can't work once more.
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