Despite this spring's postseason heroics, the San Antonio Spurs just couldn't find a spot on their roster for guard Gary Neal this summer. Now an unrestricted free agent after the franchise rescinded its qualifying offer on Tuesday, this could be Neal's opportunity to expand his role on a team in need of help on the perimeter.
A talented shooter who always had the respect of well-regarded head coach Gregg Popovich, Neal could never really emerge in San Antonio playing behind a future Hall of Famer in Tony Parker. He still got solid playing time off the bench as an offensive spark plug and floor spacer, but legitimate starter's minutes would only come through injury.
By moving on to a different team, Neal may give up the chance to compete for a title in the short term, but proving to others he's capable of handling a larger role could be worth the trade-off. Now that the Spurs' $1.1 million qualifying offer is out the way, teams looking for guard help should have a much easier time pursuing him.
Brandon Jennings may be struggling to stir up interest this late in the offseason, but Neal certainly won't cost as much. Depending on what he's willing to accept -- would he take less than Nate Robinson's mini-midlevel deal? -- his market could really heat up in the coming days.
Here are a few opportunities where he could really expand his game:
Bucks: One of the rare reports concerning Neal this summer, via Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, claimed the Bucks as one of four suitors for the guard. We've seen Woelfel miss on some stuff in the past, but Milwaukee certainly makes sense as one possible option for Neal given the uncertainty surrounding Jennings. With the Bucks' longtime point guard reportedly commanding a deal he's not worth, Neal likely needs to get Milwaukee involved in the bidding to boost his value. It'll be hard for other teams to bid as much.
Pistons: Detroit doesn't have much cap space or roster room, but Neal would definitely help address the team's issues with spacing. Right now, the Pistons are planning to use Brandon Knight, Will Bynum and possibly a deteriorated Chauncey Billups to run the offense -- Neal's ability to shoot would be a welcomed addition to the group.
Jazz: Like the Pistons, the Jazz won't be offering up much money, but they could offer a pretty substantial role next to rookie point guard Trey Burke. As the Michigan product learns the ropes of NBA basketball, having a veteran guard like Neal who can space the floor for the team's young big men could be a nice addition.
However, should Neal be willing to accept the veteran's minimum, his options open up significantly. Due to CBA rules and the like, most teams aren't offering more than that right now, but practically every team would sign Neal if that's the asking price. If he's willing to settle back into a firm, supporting role off the bench, each of these teams makes sense:
Heat: If you can't beat 'em, why not join 'em? Neal couldn't help push the Spurs past Miami in the Finals, but his addition to the Heat's backcourt could improve an already dangerous group of shooters. They're stuck offering the vet's minimum, so it would be a pitch similar to ones we've heard many times before: "Well, you can try to win somewhere else, or you can try to win with LeBron James."
Grizzlies: You'll notice a bit of a theme here, where Neal essentially gets to choose between playing time and the prospect of a bigger role, or the opportunity to compete for a title. He would be a nice contrast at the two position for Memphis behind Tony Allen, plus he could occasionally spell Mike Conley at point guard when he needs a rest.
Thunder: After seeing how Oklahoma City struggled without Russell Westbrook in the postseason, Neal could give the team another guard capable of handling the ball and hitting shots. Also another title contender, which seems necessary for him to accept such a small salary.
Spurs: There's always the possibility he simply heads back to San Antonio. It's not like he had a bad thing going there, the team simply wasn't prepared to pay what he would likely be worth via a signed offer sheet. Depending on where Neal's market goes from here, he could head back to the Spurs on a short deal and hope to further improve his stock.
Other teams could also be out there looking for point guard help, but it's worth remembering Neal isn't the only decent option out there. Some teams could prefer Mo Williams, another veteran with a nice shooting stroke who's still taking offers for next season. However, it may simply come down to which players will play for the minimum, and which won't.