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LaMarcus Aldridge's free agency chase dramatically changed 3 playoff teams

The Blazers big man is leaving a lasting domino effect in free agency.

With two moves in the span of minutes, the San Antonio Spurs put themselves in the pole position to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks lost at least one key member of their 60-win team and are in danger of losing another.

First, Danny Green agreed to a four-year, $45 million contract with San Antonio. Then, the Spurs agreed to trade center Tiago Splitter and his $8.5 million salary to the Hawks for cap space, taking no salary back themselves. DeMarre Carroll, in turn, bolted to sign with Toronto because the Hawks no longer have enough cap space to afford both him and Paul Millsap, who himself might go to Orlando.

San Antonio now has Green and the ability to give Aldridge a maximum contract. Meanwhile, Atlanta, the second-best team in the NBA last season, could be rebuilding.

Let's explain what just happened.

Why the Spurs made these moves

As we explained on Tuesday, San Antonio did not begin the summer with enough cap space to give Aldridge a maximum contract. To create that space, they needed to do at least one of three things:

  1. Trade Boris Diaw and his $7.5 million contract for next year while taking no salary back.
  2. Trade Tiago Splitter and his $8.5 million contract for next year while taking no salary back.
  3. Renounce Green's cap hold of around $7.7 million, which essentially means letting him sign elsewhere.

The Spurs needed to make those decisions very quickly, and they have. By trading Splitter into the Hawks' cap space, San Antonio cleared his $8.5 million off the books. They then replaced Green's cap hold with his first-year salary, which is likely a little over $10 million. That appears to save the Spurs enough money for Aldridge, depending on how much Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will make on their next contracts.

It was originally assumed that Green had to agree to his deal last, a major risk because of how many teams were willing to bid for his services. But San Antonio may have caught a break just before midnight when it was reported that the salary cap was expected to be as much as $2 million higher than expected. That may have given San Antonio enough wiggle room to lock in Green.

The Spurs can now enter their meeting with Aldridge with enough space to sign him. They are the clear front-runner, especially because the Lakers, Aldridge's other suitor, reportedly didn't make a strong impression in their meeting with him.

What happens to the Hawks now?

It's unclear what happened first: Carroll moving on to Toronto or Atlanta trading for Splitter. Either way, the 60-win team that dazzled us last year is no more.

Why did this happen? As it turned out, they were too clever when they gave Millsap and Carroll below-market two-year contracts in the summer of 2013. Normally, teams can go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents, but per NBA rules, those players must be coming off a contract of three years or longer to receive those full rights.

Since Carroll and Millsap are coming off two-year deals, they only receive what's known as Early Bird rights. That only allowed the Hawks to sign them starting at either 175 percent of their previous-year salary or 104.5 percent of the average salary, whichever is greater. Otherwise, the Hawks must use cap space to sign them, just like they would have to for anyone else's free agent.

Carroll significantly outperformed 104.5 percent of the average salary, and in the end, the Raptors gave him a four-year, $60 million contract. Matching that price would have forced the Hawks to use a significant amount of their cap space, so they passed. Instead, they used a smaller portion of their cap space to acquire Splitter, a true center that can slide Al Horford to power forward.

But this throws Millsap's future into doubt as well. The Hawks were projected to have somewhere between $25-$30 million in cap space barring any smaller trades to clear salary. Splitter will take up $8.5 million of that. Millsap has been offered a four-year, $80 million deal by both Atlanta and Orlando. That's more than he could sign using Early Bird rights, so the Hawks must feel they have enough cap space to sign him.

Yet doing so would leave a hole on the wing created by Carroll's departure. Do the Hawks really want to pay Millsap, Horford and Splitter while having no wing depth? It's hard to say. Could this mean Millsap is leaving? Very possibly.

Toronto gets much-needed wing help

The logic for the Raptors is easier to understand. Toronto was an awful defensive team last year and Carroll is an ace defender who fits into their cap space. The Raptors lost faith in Terrence Ross, so expect Carroll to slide into a starting spot alongside DeMar DeRozan, unless DeRozan is traded. Toronto was reportedly looking into Wesley Matthews, but chose the healthier Carroll instead.

The fact that the Raptors could have wound up the best team in the East last season in the process is just a bonus. It's unclear whether Carroll left because of the Splitter trade or if the Splitter trade was done because Carroll was leaving.

Either way, the outlook of these three teams changed dramatically in the span of minutes. The Spurs look poised to build a superteam. The Raptors made a significant improvement. The Hawks? That 60-win season sure looks like it'll be a blip on the radar.


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