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The Spurs painful Splitter

Mar 17, 2010, 3:26 PM EDT

Watching the Spurs this season, it is painfully obvious they need an infusion of youth. Well, not the last couple weeks, when Manu Ginobili has apparently found a fountain of the stuff. But for most of the season the Spurs have just looked old and slow.

They could use a guy like Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian the Spurs drafted in 2007, who is probably the best center in Europe right now. A guy who could energize the Spurs front line the way Tim Duncan did alongside David Robinson many moons ago. A guy the Spurs still have the rights to. The guy with the opt-out clause for this summer in his contract with Tau Ceramica (of the Spanish league).

It’s perfect — except San Antonio can’t afford him. Mike Monroe breaks it down.

Up to now, the Spurs had been limited to offering the 6-foot-11 center $970,000 for the first year of his rookie scale contract. Now (in his third year), they can offer a lot more, but they are still bound by collective bargaining agreement rules. Just as they have no cap room to offer big money to free agents from other teams this summer, they are limited to cap exceptions as they try to lure Splitter.

The most they can offer: The mid-level cap exception, expected to be around $5 million.

Trouble is, even that amount likely won’t pry him out of Spain. That’s because the prospect of an NBA lockout that could wipe out the entire 2011-12 season is enough to make any player making mega-Euros think twice about bolting for the NBA. Splitter’s (existing) deal reportedly is worth more than $5 million.

And now you see not only the bind the Spurs face, but so do a number of teams who have players stashed in Europe — if said player is any good, what is their motivation to come to the NBA right now? Splitter is making more in Europe and there is no lockout on the horizon. In fact, he could opt out and just go to Real Madrid, who has interest and can offer much more bank. Minnesota can only offer Ricky Rubio rookie scale, he can make much more than that overseas.

Then there’s the reverse problem. What if this summer a European team comes knocking on an NBA free agent’s door — not the LeBron James of the world, but a mid-level guy — doesn’t he have to seriously consider an offer? More money and no lockout, that has to be tempting.

There are about eight million kinds of trade speculation that can happen here — the Spurs trade the rights to Splitter to a team with cap space, the Timberwolves trade Rubio’s rights. But the problem remains. Right now, in certain situations, European leagues can and are competing with the NBA for talent. And some players are going to choose Europe.

And leave teams like the Spurs high and dry.

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