We rarely see the San Antonio Spurs take part in the free agency bonanza, whether they have the cap space or not. In 2015, everything changed. They went after LaMarcus Aldridge, the marquee signing of the offseason in the NBA, and also landed David West, the surprise free agent of the summer who had other options with contenders and possibly for more money.
West is a unique case. He gave up on a $12 million player option with the Indiana Pacers for two reasons: He wants a championship, and the Pacers weren’t going to contend for one this season, and his beef with Frank Vogel and Larry Bird for how they treated Roy Hibbert. He took a veteran’s minimum, $1.4 million, showing that playing in the right system for the right goals means more to him than money at this stage of his career.
Aldridge left money on the table too. He could have made a lot more by staying in Portland, and could have signed a five-year deal with a player option after the fourth. Staying in Portland could have meant playing for a contender as well. But the Spurs actually making a serious push for someone made a big difference. The change of playing for this team, under Gregg Popovich, and one day, maybe even a year from now, pretty much taking the place of Tim Duncan in the lineup. The Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and whoever else was after Aldridge couldn’t offer him that kind of deal.
The Spurs jumped out of their skin this time. Usually this is a team that keeps their core together and adds small pieces that fit both in terms of playing style and personality as to not hurt and distort the special thing they’ve got going there for almost 20 years. Maybe West and Aldridge fit that policy in any case, but it does feel like the Spurs wanted to make a splash like never before, maybe feeling it’s no or never for them before slipping into a decline due to the age or retirement of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, while Tony Parker seems to be declining.
Keeping Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as well with big contracts (although nothing out of the ordinary or above market value, which was impossible with Leonard in any case) just makes it an even more impressive job of offseason building and slight reshuffling. The Spurs bet big in the first week of free agency and were rewarded for it. But winning the offseason is just the first step to bounce back from a first round exit and returning to the NBA Finals.