NBA Free Agency: Grading the Spurs' Day 1 Moves

The Spurs got one starter cheap and jettisoned another to make room for a big free agency splash.

It was crazy and exciting in the first day of the NBA's free agency period. No player or team can sign an actual contract for another week, but many deals were agreed upon in principle.

The Spurs are one of the biggest players in free agency this year and have already made some moves in attempt to become the favorite to knock off the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Were they sensible deals in line with how San Antonio operates? Or were some of the decisions less than ideal? Let's break them down below.

No-Brainer of a Deal

Locking up Kawhi Leonard was the best thing the Spurs could do. He's the new face of the franchise and one of the best players in the league, as he ranked 11th in our nERD metric this season.

He was also one of just a few players to average at least 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 steals per game in 2014-15.

Russell Westbrook 7.3 8.6 2.1 0.2 28.1 .455 .536 10.6
LeBron James 6.0 7.4 1.6 0.7 25.3 .535 .577 10.4
Kawhi Leonard 7.2 2.5 2.3 0.8 16.5 .520 .567 8.6
Paul Millsap 7.8 3.1 1.8 0.9 16.7 .518 .565 8.3
DeMarcus Cousins 12.7 3.6 1.5 1.7 24.1 .468 .545 6.0

Leonard finds himself in really good company with his all-around game. He is not as prolific a scorer as the other four players, but we see that he contributes all over court. Leonard ranks third in Win Shares in the above table, averaged slightly more steals per game than Russell Westbrook and is the second best shooter if we sort by Effective Field Goal percentage.

Though Leonard's five-year, $90 million contract is the max he could get from the Spurs, the team will still make out like bandits when the salary cap takes a big jump next season.
Grade: A+

Bye-Bye Tiago

With the trade of big man Tiago Splitter, the Spurs weren't worried about what they would receive from the Hawks in return -- they were more concerned with dealing with the present. While Splitter has been serviceable for the Spurs, an upgrade in the front-court was necessary for the Spurs to continue to remain a contender in the West.

It's not as Splitter was bad for the Spurs last season -- his per 36 minutes efficiency stats were comparable across the league. His 15.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes were matched or exceeded by only a few players: Paul Millsap, Pau Gasol and teammate Tim Duncan. Splitter has value playing center for any team, but with the Spurs' wanting an upgrade at the position and a replacement for Duncan at the same time, Splitter had to go.

Trading Splitter allows the Spurs to pursue a big name free agent they've never truly pursued before. It's the summer of big men, as DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe and others look to cash in. Splitter's $8.5 million allows the Spurs to offer a max deal to one of many options.
Grade: Incomplete (It all depends on which free agent they sign. If unable to cash in, this trade receives a C-.)

Hometown Discount

There were just 16 players in 2014-15 who attempted at least three three-pointers per game and hit at least 40% of their three-point attempts. Danny Green had the sixth best three-point shooting percentage of the bunch, beating out Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving.

Player Tm 3P 3PA PTS 3P% ▾ eFG% WS
Kyle Korver ATL 2.9 6.0 12.1 .492 .671 7.5
Eric Gordon NOP 2.3 5.2 13.4 .448 .512 2.9
Stephen Curry GSW 3.6 8.1 23.8 .443 .594 15.7
Klay Thompson GSW 3.1 7.1 21.7 .439 .555 8.8
J.J. Redick LAC2.6 5.9 16.4 .437 .583 6.7
Anthony Morrow OKC 1.9 4.4 10.7 .434 .578 5.7
Danny Green SAS2.4 5.6 11.7 .418 .566 7.8
Jose Calderon NYK 1.4 3.4 9.1 .415 .499 0.9
Kyrie Irving CLE 2.1 5.0 21.7 .415 .532 10.4
Bradley Beal WAS 1.7 4.1 15.3 .409 .489 3.7
Paul George IND 1.5 3.7 8.8 .409 .459 0.0
Mike Dunleavy CHI 1.7 4.2 9.4 .407 .546 4.1
Khris Middleton MIL 1.4 3.4 13.4 .407 .530 6.7
Kevin Durant OKC 2.4 5.9 25.4 .403 .578 4.8
Hollis Thompson PHI 1.6 4.0 8.8 .401 .518 2.6
C.J. Watson IND 1.2 3.1 10.0 .400 .518 4.0

Danny Green also brings some value as a defender, not something many three-point specialists can say. In the table above, Green comes in as the second-best defender with a 100 Defensive Rating, though he should probably be first. Paul George had a 99 Defensive Rating, but that was just from six games of play in the regular season.

If we widen out our search to three-points specialists that hit at least 37% of their attempts, that gives us 48 players with at least 3 attempts per game still. Green is still second on the list, ahead of Khris Middleton (102 Defensive Rating), James Harden (103) and DeMarre Carroll (104).

Middleton and Carroll signed contracts yesterday as well. Middleton is set to receive $70 million over 5 years from Milwaukee while Carroll will cash in $60 million over the next 4 years. Green signed an extension for just $45 million over 4 years, leaving $12 to $20 million on the table, a huge win for the Spurs.
Grade: A+

Next Steps

The Spurs are currently $40 million under the salary cap with the jettison of Tiago Splitter. They just tied up approximately half of that with bringing back Green and Leonard, though final contract (and salary cap) numbers could dramatically change all that. While the true numbers are being crunched by the team's experts, it does seem that the Spurs have the perfect pitch for Aldridge, the consensus top choice of the Spurs.

However, there are still other pieces that have to fall into place. Tim Duncan hasn't stated what he wants for coming back -- neither has Manu Ginobili. Granted, both could come back for cheap if the Spurs locked up Aldridge, but that's no guarantee and may mean that Aldridge wouldn't get the full maximum contract from the Spurs. And there's still the possibility the Spurs may have to trade away Boris Diaw or Patty Mills, or both.

Three things are for certain though. The Spurs are the center of free agency talks for the first time in a long time -- each move they make could have a ripple effect through at least the rest of the Western Conference. The price tag for DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe and others could go up or down considerably depending on what the Spurs do.

Second, the Spurs are legitimate contenders to land a big-name free agent, something they've never had a big chance to do. Even if they don't land Aldridge, there are still plenty of options that would fit for the Spurs, namely David West or Greg Monroe. Aldridge is the top choice, but the Spurs' front office is bound to have a Plan B (and probably Plan C, D and E).

Lastly, with the great first day at the start of free agency, the Spurs have put the Warriors and the rest of the NBA on notice. The Spurs understand their core is aging, but they have been grooming the next core to take over without missing a beat. The Spurs are reloading and ready to make another run at multiple championships.

And they're not done making moves yet.