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Jonathon Simmons Has Earned His NBA Spot, Now Where Should He Go?

The Spurs renounced his rights, leaving the wing an unrestricted free agent

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Spurs reportedly renounced their rights to restricted free agent Jonathon Simmons on Thursday, per Shams Charania of The Vertical. The 27-year-old wing is coming off his second season in the league, both with San Antonio.

Two years ago, Simmons was as likely a candidate to get a sweet new contract today as your cousin who played Division III for a year. To San Antonians, he’s just the latest Gregg Popovich house-flip, but to everyone else, Simmons’s origin story is a Spike Lee movie in the making: After paying $150 in 2013 just to try out for the Spurs, Simmons eventually made the D-League. Once there, he made enough of an impression on the Spurs’ affiliate for the real deal to come calling in 2015.

Simmons’s 2016–17 numbers, averaging just 6.2 points in 17.8 minutes, fail to reflect his value. In the playoffs, his value was made clear after he filled in for an injured Kawhi Leonard, when he put up 20.9 points per 36 minutes and kept San Antonio afloat.

Though the Spurs renounced his rights, Simmons’s postseason showing wasn’t a fluke — he’s established himself as a solid player with a place in the NBA. Where should Simmons go next?

Noooooo, Stay With the Spurs

According to an ESPN report, San Antonio still wants Simmons. But it’s a tad confusing how the Spurs expect that to go down: After extending him a $1.6 million qualifying offer earlier this summer, the expectation was that other teams would then propose deals worth more, and the Spurs would later match. Thursday is the final day for teams to do so, and while the Spurs rescinded his rights, the qualifying offer is still on the table.

Last month, it was reported that the team was prepared to sign Simmons for around $9 million a year. That figure has gotten sticky in the time since, as San Antonio has been busy in free agency. The Spurs signed Rudy Gay to a two-year, $17 million deal one week ago, then inked Joffrey Lauvergne, and reportedly just gave summer league standout Brandon Paul a contract.

If Simmons can get any kind of payday elsewhere, he should go. And he might, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported that despite the interest from the Spurs, there’s no "assurance" on that front, and he is currently chatting with other teams. That sounds like a meeting with less money brought up than Simmons wants.

New York Knicks

The Knicks were reportedly interested in Simmons at the start of free agency, and could’ve proposed a highball contract offer that would’ve forced the Spurs to match. Except they already did that, like a lot, for another guard. Now, New York is just a smidge short of having any cap space at all, allotting around $98.4 million in guaranteed payroll. The Knicks can use the room exception, which allows a signing to take you over the cap by $4.33 million as long as the team was below the $99 million limit prior to the signing.

The Knicks’ front office is in disarray, but a Simmons signing would land him on a roster with Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. (who is, yes, a valid reason to be excited — being overpaid doesn’t make a guy not good). Speaking of contracts, New York just signed Ron Baker for $8.9 million over two years, almost exactly what the Spurs were originally reportedly mulling offering Simmons annually. The Knicks will hand you a huge deal have they the cap room, J Simms.

But New York might have that kind of money soon. Trading Carmelo Anthony and his $26.2 million to the Rockets is reportedly on "the 2-yard line." Unfortunately for the Knicks, that deal would require planning ahead, or some semblance of a plan at all. But if Melo will be shipped soon, New York could beat other teams to Simmons.

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta remains around $6 million under the cap, has two more spots to fill, and added Spurs buddy Dewayne Dedmon to the mix Wednesday. But a quick glance at the roster shows that (forgive me, Dedmon) the Hawks are in for a year of purposefully bad basketball. Letting Paul Millsap walk was a step off the treadmill of mediocrity, as Chris Ryan beautifully coined it, a choice to leave its secure Eastern Conference middle seed in search of a future with more. Atlanta will be cringeworthy and boring now but eventually will be much better; all credit to Simmons, he won’t help that timeline.

Still, Atlanta is one of the few teams with money left, and the guard, even at 27, could prove a valuable asset to invest in.

Miami Heat

I know Miami took all the cap space it entered free agency with and spent it on old friends over one night at LIV, but there would have been no better team for Simmons. They blew it, monetarily. In fact, the Heat spent so much during free agency that after starting with nearly $34.5 million in cap space, the franchise is now already projected to be over the $103 million cap for the 2018–19 season. And two years away from clearing significant cap room.

Room aside: The team is straight rise-and-grind and diesel. Simmons’s story of paying for a D-League tryout? Tell it to Hassan Whiteside, who came out of nowhere and is now paid $23.8 million, or James Johnson, who has literally never lost a fight (I would’ve paid him $14 million off that alone, though I am also not qualified to be in a front office), or Dion Waiters, who turned his last mockery of a free agency into $13 million this go-round.

That dream will have to live on. But against the Spurs in this one, my money’s on the field.