The biggest move of the NBA's nascent 2013 free agency period happened early Monday, when Chris Paul agreed to a five-year, $107 million max contract to return to the Los Angeles Clippers. The next major domino to fall will be All-Star center Dwight Howard, who has already met with the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, and will reportedly meet with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. But while the courting of Howard and other stars like Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala continues apace, other teams are working to make smaller-scale moves that could still wind up having a major impact for playoff hopefuls.
Monday evening saw several such deals reported. The Chicago Bulls imported sharpshooting wing Mike Dunleavy, while the Indiana Pacers upgraded their backup point guard spot with C.J. Watson. At around the same time, a pair of teams on the Eastern seaboard — one with title aspirations and the other looking to return to the postseason for the first time in six seasons — made similar moves. Let's take a closer look at those now.
• The Brooklyn Nets agree to terms with forward/center Andray Blatche.
When an NBA team chooses to get rid of a player by using the amnesty provision in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the team gets to purge that player's salary cap figure from its balance sheet, but still has to pay the player. When that player catches on with another franchise, the amount his former employer owes decreases, but not by the exact amount of the player's new deal — there's actually a complicated formula first detailed by NetsDaily back in March that pegs the "offset" (the amnestying team's price break) to half of the difference between the player's new salary and the league minimum for a one-year veteran player.
Basically, this means: The lower the player's new salary ---> the lower the difference between it and the one-year veteran minimum ---> the lower the "offset" price break ---> the more the former employer has to pay. Blatche — whom the Wizards amnestied last July with three years and $23 million left on his deal — knows this.
He said during the regular season — a regular-season in which he was paid a seven-year vet's minimum salary of just under $1.15 million — that he'd be willing to take a below-market deal from a prospective free-agent suitor in order to continue sticking it to the Wizards, forcing Ted Leonsis and company to foot a bigger share of the bill.
This is not a very nice thing to do to the Wizards, obviously — though it is in keeping with Blatche's misdirected sour feelings toward the Wizards franchise — but it's very nice for a Nets team that's over the luxury tax, just shipped out a bunch of draft picks, and has few cap-legal options to improve its roster ... and, by the sounds of things, that's precisely what Blatche did.
The deal between Blatche and the Nets, first reported by Peter Vecsey, is a one-year pact worth $1.4 million, according to Howard Beck of the New York Times — that's 120 percent of last season's veteran's minimum. Not only does that whittle down any potential out-of-pocket savings for the Wiz, who'll wind up paying Blatche about $7.5 million next season, but it also leaves the Nets the option of using their taxpayer's midlevel exception to add another player in free agency. Brooklyn general manager Billy King reportedly has his sights set on using that "mini" midlevel, which pays a salary of just under $3.2 million this coming season with slight year-to-year increases thereafter, to lock down a wing shooter, with targets including free agents Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli or 2011 second-round pick Bojan Bogdanovic, who now plays for Turkish club Fenerbahçe in the Euroleague.
Plus, due a cap wrinkle for veteras with more than two years of NBA experience who are playing on a minimum deal for just one season, Blatche's cap charge will only amount to $884,293, the minimum for a two-year veteran, which cuts down how much his deal will cost in luxury-tax payments. (Not that Mikhail Prokhorov has any problem paying the luxury tax, but still.) Plus, returning to the Nets for a second campaign means that Brooklyn will have Blatche's Early Bird rights next offseason, which would allow the Nets to go (even further) over the cap to re-sign Blatche to a two-year deal, should both sides be interested after the coming season. So not only does Blatche taking the minimum stick it to the Wizards — it also goes about as far as it can to afford the totally capped-out Nets as much flexibility as possible.
Aside from the very friendly financial terms of the deal, the on-court impact looks like a clear win for the Nets, too, provided Blatche can turn in the same sort of effort he did in 2012-13, when — after years of false starts, poor conditioning, laconic defense and shot-jacking in Washington — he put together arguably his best pro season.
The 26-year-old big man averaged just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes of playing time, shooting a career-high 51.2 percent from the floor while taking nearly 70 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim, showing a far greater commitment to working down low and taking the ball to the basket than he had in four previous years of floating to the perimeter with the Wizards. He appeared in all 82 games, seeing most of his action as a reserve spelling Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, and working as one of the most efficient and effective offensive frontcourt backups in the league. His defensive positioning still left something to be desired, but he was more active on that end, generating more than three combined steals and blocks per-36. And while the Nets as a whole disappointed in their six-game first-round playoff loss to the (very) short-handed Bulls, Blatche's production in virtually every category stayed constant, which is nice.
If Blatche replicates that level of productivity for $1.4 million, he'll be one of the absolute steals of free agency, a versatile four-five capable of mixing and matching in a variety of lineups for new Nets head coach Jason Kidd. If he drops off some, he still ought to provide good value as a third/fourth big with Evans behind Lopez and Kevin Garnett. If he drops back to a ton, that will hurt the Nets' depth and weaken their hopes of title contention, but at least it will do so inexpensively. There's virtually no downside to bringing, especially with the carrot of another contract next summer dangling out in front of Blatche throughout the season.
Hopeful Nets fans should cross their fingers and wish for Garnett and Blatche to put aside their checkered past, resulting in defensive genius KG imparting at least a little bit of his wisdom to help improve a possibly-still-young-enough-to-get-better Blatche. The rest of us should cross our fingers and hope their day-to-day interactions lead to some entertaining fireworks.
• The Washington Wizards reach a deal with point guard Eric Maynor.
After doing well in last Thursday's 2013 NBA draft to land their hoped-for small forward of the future, Otto Porter, with the No. 3 pick and an intriguing reserve scoring option, D-League star Glen Rice Jr., in the second round, the Wizards had two primary priorities in free agency — bring back sweet-shooting, floor-spacing, sound-defending swingman Martell Webster and find a capable, reliable option at the point behind John Wall to (heaven forfend) avoid the kind of disastrous drop-off they suffered without their top lead guard at the start of last season.
Job No. 1 took a bit longer to lock down, but the Wizards acted on the second task Monday, according to Michael Lee of the Washington Post, agreeing to terms with Maynor, who split time with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers last season. Specific financial figures weren't disclosed, but Lee reported that it's believed to be a two-year deal for the Wizards' bi-annual exception, which starts at just over $2 million next season, and that Maynor would likely hold a player option for the 2014-15 season.
On one hand, the 26-year-old North Carolina native and former Virginia Commonwealth University standout offers a change from the fairly underwhelming work turned in by A.J. Price (and, to lesser extents, Shaun Livingston and Shelvin Mack) for the Wiz last season. And it doesn't seem all that long ago that we watched Maynor comfortably take the Thunder's reins from All-Star Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, that he had enough confidence to step up and attack a mismatch in the final minute of an elimination playoff game, that he seemed to display a polished veteran's command of the game.
On the other, it actually kind of was a long time ago — Maynor missed the lion's share of the 2011-12 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, struggled mightily in the early stages of his comeback to OKC last season, watched Reggie Jackson take his minutes and role, and was shipped out to Portland at the Feb. 21 trade deadline. He got more chances to play post-trade, doubling his minutes to 21.2 per game in Oregon, and responded by increasing his shooting and 3-point percentages while keeping his assist-to-turnover ratio pretty steady and above water at just below 2 1/2-to-1.
Still, though, we're talking about a guard who's missed three out of every five shots he's taken in his NBA career, a perimeter player who's been a tick below league-average from long range since leaving college, and a relatively small 6-foot-3, 175-pounder who hasn't been a strong defender. Maynor's a smart player and a quality passer whom Wizards coach Randy Wittman will be able to trust not to make many mistakes when handed the reins, but despite the memories many Wizards might have of a big midrange jumper against Duke 6 1/2 years ago, he hasn't been a game-changing (or even really much-above-average) offensive player at the NBA level yet.
If Maynor showcases a bit more quickness and explosiveness with a full year of ACL rehab under his belt, and can nudge those shooting percentages north a bit, he should provide a nice, cost-effective option to run the team when Wall needs a breather, or perhaps work some with Wall off the ball, which, as SB Nation's Mike Prada notes, is something Maynor did with Damian Lillard quite a bit during his brief stint with the Blazers. If he doesn't, though, he might not represent such a huge an improvement over the revolving door of subpar players the Wizards trotted out last year.
There were definitely better potential backup options out there — Jarrett Jack, Jose Calderon, Beno Udrih and Nate Robinson spring to mind — they'll all almost certainly get way more than the bi-annual exception. For $2 million per, Maynor's not a bad shot to take; you do wonder if a bit more patience might have shaken loose a higher-ceiling, short-term option (maybe Will Bynum?), though.
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