It was still Tuesday night in Las Vegas, where Deron Williams is participating in Team USA's pre-London training camp, but just before 1 a.m. Wednesday on the East Coast — nearly an hour after the 12:01 a.m. end of the "moratorium period" during which NBA teams and players could negotiate, but not officially sign contracts — the most coveted player in the 2012 free-agent class put pen to paper on his new five-year contract, reportedly worth the maximum $98.8 million, to run the floor for the new-look Brooklyn Nets.
Or, rather, as you see above, the 28-year-old point guard put finger to touch-screen, signing the deal on his iPad and tweeting a photo of the occasion, just as he'd shared his decision to stay with the Nets via Twitter on July 3. Plus, now that Williams is going to be making nearly nine figures over five years, he can afford to buy a stylus for his iPad. (Penmanship counts, Deron, even if it's not really a pen.)
About a half-hour later — maybe Deron's hotel Wi-Fi was slow — Brooklyn officially announced the signing, issuing a release in which general manager Billy King referred to Williams as "in my opinion the top point guard in the NBA" and a centerpiece of whom "the fans of Brooklyn should be proud."
Whether you agree with King's take or favor another in the ongoing "who's the best point guard?" debate — maybe Chris Paul, maybe Rajon Rondo, maybe a healthy Derrick Rose — the latter point holds true. Nets fans should be ecstatic to have locked down one of the NBA's most gifted young lead guards in his athletic prime as the team builds toward relevance; in the economics of today's NBA, that's $98 million-plus well spent.
Importing Williams at the trade deadline two seasons ago without any guarantee he'd re-up was a giant, giant gamble taken by King and crew; today, the Nets are to be commended for making it pay off.
Williams wasn't the only player to lock down his deal or make news while most of us slept. Hit the jump for a breezy, bullet-y roundup of the early Wednesday moving and shaking.
• Just one minute before Williams tweeted his iPad pic, Olympic teammate Blake Griffin told his Twitter followers he'd agreed to a five-year extension to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers that could pay him as much as $95 million.
The deal's been all over but the signin' for weeks, with Griffin reportedly informing the Clips in advance of the July 1 start of the moratorium period that if they offered him the full five-year package, he would sign. Players on rookie-scale contracts are typically eligible for only four-year extensions, but under the new collective bargaining agreement, each team can tab one rookie-scale player for the longer five-year pact, and L.A. chose Griffin. The extension will reportedly kick in after this coming season, in time for the 2013-14 campaign, with Griffin slated to make $7.2 million this year on his rookie-scale deal as the top overall pick from the 2009 NBA draft.
Thanks to another clause in the CBA — what's been referred to as the "Derrick Rose rule" — players on rookie-scale contracts who have been voted in as starters in two All-Star games, selected to two All-NBA teams or won a league Most Valuable Player award (as Rose did) are eligible to sign deals that account for 30 percent of their teams' salary cap figures, as opposed to the 25 percent cap on players exiting the rookie scale who haven't met those criteria. Griffin was named an All-Star starter and a member of the All-NBA second team this past season; if he matches either of those feats this coming year, he'll be eligible for the 30 percent exception. (I'm sure Clippers fans, Kia and a host of other endorsers would prefer he locked in the exception by winning the MVP, though.)
The salary cap for the '13-14 season won't be made official until after the end of the year ahead, but working off the '12-13 cap set at $58.044 million — 30 percent of which comes to a shade over $17.4 million per year, or just under $87.1 million over the course of a five-year deal — even factoring in annual salary bumps of 7.5 percent of his salary in year one of the extension would get Griffin up to about $93.6 million for the contract's full term, and that's without any cap increases for the years ahead that would increase the 30 percent figure, which would push him up to the reported $95 million mark. Not a bad haul for a 23-year-old with 159 total games in the NBA, huh?
Despite averaging better than 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game in each of his first two seasons, Griffin still clearly has room for improvement — as BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer wrote of Blake in his breakdown of the Team USA roster that will take the court in London, his jumper's spotty, his help defense is worse and he's basically a coin flip at the foul line (plus, his post game is almost entirely "face-up and spin" right now). But in two short years, he's become the unquestioned face of the Clippers franchise, one of the most popular players in the NBA and one of the best scorers and rebounders in the game at the power forward position.
Plus, with the extension kicking in next year, L.A. will be locking him from ages 24 through 28, both players' ostensible athletic primes and the time when most actually start learning how to do stuff like stick the midrange J and rotate properly. Given Griffin's work ethic and gifts, betting big dollars that he'll be a significantly more complete player five years from now than he is today seems like the right move for the right guy in the right place at the right time. How often have we been able to say that of the Clippers over the past ... um ... ever?
• Not to be outdone by their Staples Center brethren, the Los Angeles Lakers officially announced the completion of their sign-and-trade deal for former Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash. The deal, struck late on July 4, sees the Suns receive four L.A. draft picks — first-rounders in 2013 and 2015, second-rounders in 2013 and 2014 — while the Lakers receive the two-time NBA MVP, and the 38-year-old Canuck receives a three-year extension reportedly worth $27 million. He'll wear No. 10 in Los Angeles, "just like all the great soccer playmakers who've come before him," according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register. And just like all the great Lakers who've come before him, like Vladimir Radmanovic, Tyronn Lue and ... well, Norm Nixon actually WAS a great Laker. Anyway, moving on!
Now comes what BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer identified as the hard part — figuring out how to make the prodigious talents of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (or three of the four, at least) into a cohesive unit that can improve upon the production of the past two Lakers squads, both of whom have met with second-round playoff exits. Mike Brown will have his work cut out for him, but something tells me Lakers fans won't mind seeing Nash rather than Ramon Sessions at the point come the fall.
• This one didn't come in the wee small hours on Wednesday morning, but on Tuesday evening, ESPN.com's Ric Bucher reported that, armed with the knowledge that the Indiana Pacers were prepared to match the Portland Trail Blazers' max-contract offer sheet to restricted free-agent center Roy Hibbert, the Blazers have decided not to actually go through with tendering Hibbert the four-year, $58 million deal to which the two sides agreed during the moratorium period.
If the Pacers indeed plan to match, as Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reported Monday, then the retraction makes sense for the Blazers' front office, since it would now be able to use the cap space it'd previously have had to set aside for Hibbert's deal to pursue other options; theoretically, the Pacers could have made Portland wait the full three days to match Hibbert's deal, which would have left the Blazers' hands tied for 72 hours while other teams and players made love connections in the meantime. Given the Pacers' commitment to match and the fact that dallying probably wouldn't have come off as a good look to Hibbert, it's unlikely that Donnie Walsh and company would have actually stalled for the full 72 hours, but still, this allows both sides to move along.
Now, Hibbert can sign his four-year re-up with Indiana outright and the Blazers can attend to other business ... like what they plan to do about the Minnesota Timberwolves' four-year, $45 million offer sheet to swingman Nicolas Batum (who reportedly wants to exit Oregon post-haste) and finally bringing over English big man Joel Freeland (whom the team drafted way back in 2006) on what's reportedly a three-year, $9 million deal.
• As first reported by Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com, Dorell Wright is headed from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers — who apparently cannot get enough of tall, lanky swing forward types — in exchange for a player to whom Philly holds contract rights that is now playing in Europe.
The Sixers haven't publicly spilled the beans on who that is, but the folks at Sixers blog Liberty Ballers speculated Tuesday night that it might be 6-foot-11 Bosnian forward Edin Bavcic, whose draft rights Philly acquired from the Toronto Raptors back in 2006. That speculation was later confirmed by Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press, citing a source "who spoke on condition of anonymity because teams can't announce any trades until the free-agency moratorium ends."
One year after starting all 82 games for the Warriors in a breakthrough season that saw him place third in the league's Most Improved Player balloting, Wright started 61 of 66 games for Golden State but saw his minutes and production drop under first-year coach Mark Jackson last season. His days by the Bay seemed numbered when Golden State imported forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in the recent 2012 NBA draft, and his move east saves Golden State about $4.1 million in salary this season. They're still over the cap, but they're now about $8 million away from the luxury tax, with a bit more flexibility before hitting that dollar-for-dollar penalty.
Once Philly uses the amnesty provision on high-priced big man Elton Brand to create room, they'll be able to bring in Wright (in the final year of a three-year, $11.5 million deal) and add shooting guard Nick Young on a one-year, $6 million deal, making up for some of the scoring and 3-point shooting that went out the door with sixth man Lou Williams (who's agreed to terms with the Atlanta Hawks) and Jodie Meeks (whom Philly decided not to bring back) while adding some size and versatility without committing to long-term deals.
Philly's still offensively underwhelming, still features a lot of guys who seem to do the same sorts of things — long, athletic combo forwards who run the floor and shoot from the perimeter too much — and won't be as good defensively in the middle without Brand, but they have maintained financial flexibility for the '13-14 season and beyond, and after making a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs this year, look equipped to contend for another lower-tier playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this season.
• Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Memphis Grizzlies have agreed to terms with free-agent guard Jerryd Bayless, formerly of the Toronto Raptors. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal says Bayless will sign a two-year deal with the Grizz, holding a player option for Year 2. Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer deduces that the 23-year-old guard — who averaged career highs in minutes (22.7) and points (11.7) per game while hitting 42.3 percent of his 3-pointers for Toronto last season — will come on board for Memphis' mini-mid-level exception, which would pay him $3.1 million next year.
While the Grizzlies are expected to let O.J. Mayo go in free agency, the Bayless deal — combined with Memphis' re-ups of reserve forwards Marreese Speights (two years, $9 million) and Darrell Arthur (three years, $9 million), plus the rookie deal for Tony Wroten — looks to put Memphis up against the $70 million luxury tax, of which ownership is reportedly very leery. But Tillery says Memphis is "done with summer transactions," and appears ready to once again bring a deep, tough, talented roster into the Southwest Division race next season.
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