Spurs center Tiago Splitter tries hard not to think about the money. This, he acknowledges, can often be easier said than done. His value boosted by a breakout third NBA season, in a league not exactly known for restraint when it comes to throwing big dollars at tall people, Splitter is poised to enter free agency this summer holding a lottery ticket all but guaranteed to hit the jackpot. So yes, Splitter admits, sometimes he does think about the money. “I’m not thinking about it during the games, of course,” Splitter said of his looming first brush with NBA free agency. “But it’s difficult not to think about it other times. It’s in your head.” This is the season the 28-year-old Splitter — the Spurs’ top draft choice in 2007 — solidified himself as an everyday NBA player. Through 49 games, the 6-foot-11 Brazilian is averaging career highs in points (10.2) and rebounds (5.8) and owns the league’s third-best field goal percentage (59.9 percent), while holding down a crucial frontcourt spot next to All-Star Tim Duncan. Splitter’s ascendancy has become a double-edged sword for the Spurs, who must find a way to pay him in a summer when four other players (Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair) also will become free agents. In the final year of his first NBA contract, worth $3.944 million this season, Splitter is set to become a restricted free agent July 1. The Spurs will have the right to match offers from other teams. And make no mistake. Other teams will come calling. Though his statistics don’t exactly leap off the page, Splitter has proven to be a bankable commodity — a savvy pick-and-roll big man in an era in which the pick-and-roll is most every team’s bread-and-butter. Even mediocre big men — and Splitter, a former Spanish League MVP, is better than that — get paid in the NBA. It’s why Kwame Brown, a former No. 1 overall pick widely regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in league history, has earned more than $58 million in his 11-plus seasons. One would hardly blame Splitter if he hears the Portuguese version of a cash register’s “cha-ching” with each double-digit scoring night.
Splitter’s play now means Spurs will pay later
San Antonio Express-News | Feb 5