The Spurs enter this year’s free agent period in a unique position. In addition to having a championship-caliber core, they also have flexibility almost unheard of for an elite team.

The hitch: To capitalize on nearly $17 million in cap space, they’d need to tinker with that core in a manner they’ve avoided in the past, even when it appeared as if age and roster decay had gotten the best of their title hopes.

Based on that track record, and recent comments, it’s clear what head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford prefer to do: Bring back free agents Manu Ginobili (unrestricted) and Tiago Splitter (restricted) in order to maintain the heart of a roster that came within seconds of upsetting Miami for the fifth championship in franchise history. (Other free agents include Gary Neal, restricted; DeJuan Blair, unrestricted; Tracy McGrady, unrestricted.)

And yet the opportunity to jettison one or both in order to dip into a free agent pool that contains prizes like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and any number of other quality players presents a tantalizing option.

The annual sweepstakes begins locally at 11:01 p.m. Here’s what we already know:

1. As stated, Popovich and Buford prefer to stand pat and maintain the team’s core.

2. The Spurs cannot get so far under the cap as to offer the maximum contract it would take to pursue Howard. It might look that way on paper, but that comes from a source with intimate knowledge of their options.

3. Pretty much every other free agent on the market is within range should they make the necessary maneuvers.

4. The Spurs cannot pursue any exterior free agents until they either re-sign or renounce Ginobili thanks to his massive cap hold, which eats up all their space. (Read more about cap holds here, after the team listings.)

5. Once they free up that space, which currently stands at roughly $16.7 million but would be reduced by whatever they give Ginobili should he return, they must decide whether to use it on Splitter or another target(s).

So, as always, it returns to the same question the Spurs have been facing for years: Stay the course, or bring in fresh blood to push them over the hump.

That the Spurs can choose is a testament to the magnificent job Buford has done not just replenishing the roster with the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but doing so in manner that gives them flexibility moving forward.