I think we as fans have to approach the James Anderson Situation the same way Jules and Vincent Vega approached the Bonnie Situation. Let the smart man do his thing and just watch to see how things work out. The Spurs front office is The Wolf. I’m not sure who is Jimmie, the emotionally invested husband. I’m going to say it’s Tim Varner. He’s emotional, drinks coffee, and chills during the day in his robe.
When The Wolf does things, he does them for a reason. He’s about fixing problems by minimizing risk and doing things that are smart. If you want to know why he does things, you have to be smart and figure them out. He isn’t going to tell you.
That’s what happens with the Spurs front office. They don’t do things willy-nilly and they don’t do stupid things. Just because a decision doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean it was stupid. Going all in pre-flop with a pair of aces in Texas Hold ‘Em is never stupid. But, you aren’t guaranteed to win. In fact, heads-up you’ll probably lose at least 10% of the time. I could go find the correct number, but I’m not going to waste my time. The actual percentage is irrelevant. When dealing in uncertainties, good decisions sometimes end in bad results.
When the Spurs make a decision, like not picking up James Anderson’s third-year option, I think they do it for a reason. I also think it is probably a very smart reason. If you want to make sense of it, as I do, then the real challenge is whether or not you are smart enough to figure out what they are doing. If you can’t understand what they are doing, it’s not because they are dumb. I’m trying to figure this one out. I know it means something. If the Spurs thought he was doing fine then they would have just picked up his option like everybody else does and moves along. If he thought he was going to be a stud, then they certainly pick up the option. Here’s my best guess.
I’ve got two possible reasons James Anderson did not have his third-year option picked up.
The first is the most boring. The Spurs think he is a bust and are ready to sever ties. I suppose this is possible. We could certainly argue about it. He was injured for a huge chunk of last year and hasn’t been productive this year. I would think, though, that to give up on him so fast would also have to be an indication that his attitude and work ethic are poor. You know, that he is some problem in the locker room.
I don’t see that being the case. Everything about James’ pre-draft was very positive when it came to his non-skills attributes. Hard worker. Humble. Friendly. Etc. Additionally, there have been no indications that has changed since he has become a pro. He doesn’t lollygag on the court. He doesn’t lose track of his man. He doesn’t get yelled at by Pop for being clueless.
I don’t think the attitude is the problem. I also don’t think the Spurs think he is a bust. They, obviously, don’t think he is the second coming of Manu or they would have picked up his option. However, I don’t think the Spurs are giving up on him either. But, it is possible.
Before I get to my guess #2, I’d like to make another point. This has nothing to do with Danny Green’s performance. It’s not like the Spurs front office is sitting around saying, “Hey, this Danny Green guy is playing well and we can’t use another talented player at the wing position. So, let’s get rid of James.” We currently have two wings, Manu and RJ, who might not be in the league in two years. You don’t get rid of a player you think is good because you have another guy as “the wing of the future”. That’s silliness.
I think there is a chance this is a move to put themselves in a position to get James Anderson signed long-term for a lot less money than if they did pick up his options for the next two years. (NOTE: I’m making one assumption in the following point. I’m not sure what the terms are for signing a player the year *after* you get him for his option amount. I think he is a free agent. If that is *not* the case, then this whole argument could fall apart.)
Let me establish a few facts. The Spurs declined to pick up the option on James Anderson’s third year of his rookie contract. Rookie contracts are for four years. The third and fourth years are team options. Most teams always pick up these options unless the player is not even close to being worth the money. For players picked late in the draft, this means they pretty much aren’t NBA worthy. For players picked high in the draft, like say Hasheem Thabeet, it means the Rockets don’t want to pay him $6.4M. That makes him a bust for a #2 pick, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong in the league.
James Anderson was due $1.56M in 2013 (next year) and $2.41M in 2014. Then, in 2015 he becomes a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $3.46M. The qualifying offer is, in a way, a minimum salary. When a player is a restricted free agent, the team he plays for makes the qualifying offer. Any other team can offer him a contract and his team has the option to match it. His team can also offer him a contract. In restricted free agency, the team has almost all the leverage. If the player doesn’t get an offer from another team *and* the player and his team can’t come to terms on a contract, then the player plays the next year at the qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent the following year. This is what David Lee did with the Knicks. The Knicks didn’t want to give him a multi-year contract, because they were saving money to be a sub-.500 team with Amare and Carmelo instead, and let him walk the next year.
So, that’s restricted free agency. If the Spurs kept James all the way through his rookie contract and gave him a qualifying offer, then the absolute *minimum* he’d make in 2015 is $3.46M. They could extend him the year before that or they could sign him to more as a restricted free agent. But, minimum would be $3.46M. These are the paths many rookies take.
I don’t think the Spurs have seen enough to make that commitment. It puts a lot of cap space at risk. That said, I don’t think they have given up on him. In fact, I think they are making a play to be in a position to sign him longer term for much less. Follow along.
Just because the Spurs declined his option does not mean he won’t be on the team next year. They can still sign him at the option price. They will lose him to another team, though, if any team offers him more. I’m not sure how likely that is, but I’m going with very unlikely at this point. He hasn’t played much at all this year with Manu out and I can’t imagine him getting more minutes with Manu back. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, or Gary Neal could get injured opening up minutes for James who could then flourish, but I think that is the calculated gamble the team is taking.
Now, if the Spurs *do* keep James for $1.56M next year, I believe he then becomes a free agent. If James stays with the team this summer, plays a summer league (his first), has a full training camp (his first), and earns some decent minutes next year (2013 season); then the Spurs can re-sign him.
The Spurs would be in position to sign him to something like a 3 year deal at $1.5M per. Or a little less or a little more. Or a little longer or a little shorter. In the end, the Spurs could get James Anderson under contract for 2014-2016 for far less, and for longer, than if they pick up his options and give him a qualifying offer.
My guess is that the Spurs think we will be a decent player eventually, but not one they want to commit that much cap space to. It’s a risk, but I think it is a calculated risk.
Now, if Tim Varner can keep his robe on and enjoy his coffee, things will be fine.