How To Get LeBron Vol. 1 – Spurs Edition

The San Antonio Spurs Dynasty is one of the most underappreciated dynasties in all of sports.

They have been a potent force for two decades now, navigating the many different iterations that the NBA has evolved into. The mystique of the Spurs resonates with their ability to evolve, both ahead of and contrary to the rest of the NBA.

In their first form, they dominated with the Twin Towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, but even between their two championship end points of 1999 and 2003, they had morphed from a dreadfully slow, low post oriented team that bludgeoned you to death with defense and size (1999) to a high post, oriented team, that was still stout defensively, but was also much more ruthless and precise in their offensive efficiency. The personnel shifted between those eras as well … Avery Johnson, Mario Elie and Sean Elliot gave way to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson as the Spurs grew into a dual-sided monster.

The Spurs would win two more titles in 2005 and 2007, as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli continued their ascendance, and the NBA became a league dominated by pick and roll basketball (Jerry Sloan and Mike D’Antoni never get the credit they deserve). The Spurs adapted to the changing tides, but never abandoned their defensive stronghold and the ability to play through Duncan.

The last championship Spurs team was very different than the previous teams. They were still a very good defensive team of course, anchored by an ageless Duncan and the burgeoning star that was Kawhi Leonard, but the most salient aspect of that team was it’s passing and spacing. They were lethal, and they were one of the forerunners of the modern day NBA.

The architect of all of these Spurs teams was the man I consider the greatest coach of all-time, Greg Poppovich. He is the person who has seamlessly interwoven all of these parts, and elicited buy-in from a host of stars and otherwise malcontents over the years. He intends to get a meeting with LeBron, and I think he will be successful. And he can offer LeBron James something that the players he’s often compared to enjoyed, but that he’s never truly had: elite coaching (no disrespect to Erik Spoelstra).

But how, you may ask, can the Spurs get LeBron? Look at their cap: (courtesy of Spotrac.com). Even if they renounce all of their restricted and un-restricted free agents, they are only about 600k under the cap. That’s about 30 million short of what they need.

However, they also have two players with player options for 2018/2019 in Rudy Gay ($8.8 million) and Danny Green ($10 million). They have a third player in Pau Gasol ($16 million)  who is under contract this season, but only has about $6.9 million of his 16 million guaranteed for the 2019/2020 season. What does all of this mean ? It means the Spurs have assets and options.

The easiest route for LeBron to get to San Antonio would be for Rudy Gay and Danny Green to both opt out of their contracts. If that happened, all San Antonio would need to do is move Pau Gasol + a first round pick to a team that has cap space and they would have 35 million in cap space to make the magic happen … That’s more than enough. Or even if Gay opted-in and Green opted out, they would be set, as moving Gasol + Green off the books would open up 26 million in cap space. That would be a pay cut for LeBron, but when you factor in that Texas has no state income tax, it would only be a pay cut of a couple million dollars … He’s taken bigger pay shaves than that in the past.

However, the downside to using this method to sign LeBron outright is that San Antonio would lose the rights to go over the cap to re-sign their free agents, as they would need to be renounced. The Spurs would also lost the ability to use their mid-level-exception to fill out the roster as well, as all exceptions have to be renounced when a team goes under the cap. It makes more sense to try and trade for a re-signed LeBron if you want to maintain flexibility … However you would need to be creative and involve a 3rd team as it is unlikely that Cleveland would be eager to help out the team they are losing LeBron to … without some incentives …. Creativity is not an issue for me *puts GM hat on*:

A 3 way trade that make sense: 

Spurs get: LeBron James 

Clippers get: Danny Green + Pau Gasol 

Cavs get: Danilo Gallinari + 2019 Spurs first round pick (lottery protected) + 2019 Clippers first round pick (lottery protected) 

Why for Cavs: Getting two first round picks + a solid if injury prone wing in Gallinari is about the best haul they could hope to expect if LeBron is actually leaving. Compare that with what the Clippers got for an out-the-door Chris Paul and this is much, much better.  The Cavs will not have any cap space until the summer of 2020 with or without Gallinari, so he does not harm their flexibility at all. The Clippers pick in this deal would not likely come to Cleveland until 2020 (more on that later) but that still works. Having two first round picks (their own + these) in each of 2019 and 2020 can really help jump-start the rebuild post-LeBron. 

Why for Clippers: This is all about the Summer of 2019.  Look at their cap for 2019 … very bare! By shedding Gallinari and taking on Green’s expiring deal, and Gasol’s  partially guaranteed 2020 deal,  they could have over $80 million dollars of cap space available, possibly even past $90 million depending on how much the cap goes up and what they do with Lou Williams. That’s enough room for 3 max free agents ! The potential free agent haul in 2019 looks a lot better than what will be out there this summer, and this move maximizes their potential haul. What’s more is that they likely will be so bad in 2019, that their first round pick won’t convey until 2020 anyway, so they could be in position to add 3 max players to their two picks from this year and another high lottery pick next year. That is how you completely reshape a roster. 

Why for Spurs:  LeBron James, duh. The Spurs would be unbelievable. For sign-and trade purposes they could  do a 2 year 60 million dollar deal, with an opt-out after year one for LeBron (he prioritizes flexibility) and it would set the Spurs up nicely. Because it is a sign-and trade, the Spurs could keep all of their free agent player rights and could bring back whatever combination of Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Brynn Forbes and Davis Bertans they want to fill the roster. They also would still have the mid-level exception at their disposal, which would enable them to bring in a big-man like Dwayne Dedmon to fill out the roster as well. Forbes, Bertans and Parker should all be very cheap to bring back. You likely would have to let Anderson walk, as the luxury tax apron would create a hard cap due to sign and trade (for more information check this salary cap FAQ … basically once they do a sign-and trade, they have a hard cap they cannot exceed), and some team would likely offer him more than they could afford to match.  Still, consider this line-up: 

 F – Aldridge/ Dedmon / Laveurgne

 F – LeBron/ 2018 first round pick / Bertans

 F – Leonard/ Gay/ Paul 

 G – Mills/ Ginobli / Forbes

 G – Murray/ Parker/ White    

There are question marks there but that is a scary team … Kawhi’s health would be a large question mark, but I’m sure that at some point he will return to the court. Gay gives you an excellent back-up to both forward positions and Dedmon give you an excellent rim protector that can play both with and in place of Aldridge.  

In Leonard and Murray, the Spurs would have two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, which would allow LeBron to thrive in a help defender role. There is also plenty of shooting to surround the new big 3 in San Antonio, with Forbes and Mills and more importantly an architect in Greg Poppovich who can really allow LeBron’s greatest gift, as a passer, to flourish. 

If LeBron really wants to win a few more titles, play with great talent, and play under legendary tutelage, this is the move. I think it is more than doable ….  and unlike several other NBA franchises, I think the Spurs are smart and creative enough to make something like this happen as well. 

Comments? Let me know ! 

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