The San Antonio Spurs have re-signed Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal that will likely keep the Brazilian in San Antonio through the 2016-2017 NBA season. This signing has been met with a mixed to mostly negative reaction from fans and the media, as $9 million per year seems like a lot of money for a guy who played quite poorly in this year’s NBA Finals and in the process made it onto LeBron James‘ career highlight reel. Did the Spurs overpay for Splitter?
While I agree that $9 million a year for Splitter is a bit steep, the truth is that this signing is a testament to the fact that big men, particularly ones with at least some skill, simply get paid in today’s NBA. Here are just a few of the big men that got paid $9 million or more this past season: Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries, Mehmet Okur, DeAndre Jordan, Andrea Bargnani, Andris Biedrins. Go down a little further and you see the likes of Kendrick Perkins (who is flat out terrible), and Tyrus Thomas (who had 56 DNPs last year, most of which were a coach’s decision) making $8 million a year. Splitter is a better player than most if not all of the guys on this list, and he still has some room for growth. He was going to get this type of money; it was just a matter of if the Spurs were going to be the ones to give it to him or not.
Splitter was an important piece to the Spurs’ success this season. He averaged 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, he runs the floor well, defends the pick and roll very well, and is an excellent one on one low post defender. He knows the Spurs’ system and now has plenty of playoff experience under his belt. He is undeniably valuable against the big frontcourts, as was proven in the Spurs’ Conference Finals matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies.
But there certainly are downsides to this signing for the Spurs. Splitter has been exposed (mostly offensively) at times, as was evident in the NBA Finals. Splitter generally struggles against teams who play a lot of small-ball lineups and is unable to consistently take advantage of smaller defenders in the post. He has virtually no offensive game outside of the restricted area. The re-signing of Splitter also means the Spurs will likely not sign any major free agents this offseason. It is still possible that the Spurs sign a middle to upper-middle tier talent, but even that now seems unlikely. What seems more likely is the Spurs will do what they have always done, which is stay the course and simply tweak the roster, not dramatically change it. They were a defensive rebound or made free throw away from the championship, so maybe that’s not a bad thing.
So, to answer the question about whether the Spurs overpaid for Splitter or not, the answer is yes, they did, slightly. Splitter must continue to improve to live up to the amount of money the Spurs are investing in him. But the bottom line is, he was going to be slightly overpaid. Part of the reason the two parties reached an agreement so quickly is that other potential suitors, particularly the Portland Trail Blazers, were planning on making similar offers to Splitter. The Spurs front office believes Splitter is an important enough part of their future plans that they have agreed to pay $9 million per year to him. There is evidence for and against their decision. We will just have to wait and see if this gamble by the Spurs front office pays off or not.