The list of available players in the free agent class of 2014 continues to dwindle down, with teams tending toward focusing on the ends of their benches while aiming to maintain future flexibility and set their sights on the future ... in part, perhaps, because they'd rather not think too hard about the present. With that in mind, let's run through some recent smaller deals agreed upon by players and teams, starting out in Los Angeles.
• The Los Angeles Lakers continued rounding out their roster by bringing back three members of last year's dismal 27-55 squad — swingman Xavier Henry, forward Wesley Johnson and prospective stretch four Ryan Kelly. (Start planning the parade.)
Henry received a one-year, $1 million deal, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. So did Johnson, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard. (They may well both be receiving the $981,084 minimum salary for four-year players, with the reports just rounding the salaries up.) Kelly — who was a restricted free agent, unlike Henry and Johnson, and whose agreement was first reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times — got a two-year deal worth just under $3.4 million, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, suggesting that his salary comes out of the Lakers' last remaining cap exception, the "room mid-level exception," which is worth $2.732 million for the coming season.
Johnson made 79 appearances, including 62 starts, for Mike D'Antoni last season, sopping up the lion's share of L.A.'s minutes at the small forward spot and turning in the most productive season of his NBA career in the most wide-open opportunity since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft. That, however, isn't saying much — he chipped in 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 28.4 minutes per game, shooting just 42.5 percent from the floor and getting roundly outproduced at multiple positions, according to 82games.com's charting.
There were some sunny spots. The former Syracuse star shot a career-best 36.9 percent from long distance, including a 41.2 percent mark on spot-up opportunities, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting. He used his long arms and athleticism to contribute a neat 2.1 combined steals and blocks per game, and to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on an alley-oop off an inbounds pass. At this stage, though, the 27-year-old's most commendable virtue seems to be keeping the Lakers from starting $21.5 million teammate Nick Young at the three spot. (Which is, to be fair, pretty important.)
Injuries limited Henry — like Johnson, a fizzled-out 2010 lottery pick (No. 12 overall to the Memphis Grizzlies) looking to reboot his NBA career in Hollywood — to just 43 games and 908 minutes, but the former Kansas standout showed some flashes of being able to contribute. (Including, most notably, on the head of fellow former Jayhawk Jeff Withey.)
Like Johnson, his career-best production still wasn't all that much to write home about — 10 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and a steal in 21.1 minutes per game on sub-par 41.7/34.6/65.5 shooting splits — but he showed a capacity to beat defenders off the bounce and to the rim off the bench, and he did appear to be trending upward when not shelved by a torn ligament in his left wrist and right knee issues that resulted in him having arthroscopic surgery to check out an "abnormality of the meniscus," according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. Provided he can bounce back from those ailments and stay on the floor — the four-year vet has never played more than 50 games in a season — he's worth another look on a minimum deal.
The Lakers took Kelly in the second round of the 2013 NBA draft knowing that he'd get off to a slow start after rehabilitation following pre-draft surgery to repair a foot injury suffered during his final year at Duke. He didn't crack D'Antoni's rotation until Christmas, but continued to make strides as the season wore on and his playing time increased.
He wasn't quite the floor-spacing, shot-making big man that some expected coming out of Durham, but he did shoot just under 34 percent on about four 3-point attempts per 36 minutes of floor time, a respectable enough clip to make defenders have to check him on the perimeter. He also showed an ability to put the ball on the floor to beat out-of-control closeouts, and enough floor vision and touch to be able to find the open man; only 27 other rookies standing at least 6-foot-10 have assisted on as large a share of his teammates' buckets as Kelly did, a list that includes such skilled all-time greats as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Arvydas Sabonis, Bob Lanier, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. (And, in the interest of fairness, Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Can't win 'em all.)
He needs to take major steps forward on the defensive end and the glass to be considered a viable big-minutes big man on a team of consequence, but his offensive versatility should afford him chances, even in a crowded Lakers frontcourt featuring 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle, amnesty-auction acquisition Carlos Boozer, re-signed rebounder Jordan Hill, bargain-bin pickup Ed Davis and incumbent Canuck Robert Sacre.
The Kelly signing still leaves about $1.08 million of the room MLE for L.A. to play with, but it doesn't look like they're going to do so. General manager Mitch Kupchak has said he plans to leave two roster spots open and carry 13 players next season, and as presently constituted — with the aforementioned six bigs, Johnson and Young at small forward, Henry and Kobe Bryant at the two, and the trio of trade-target Jeremy Lin, the returning Steve Nash and 2014 second-rounder Jordan Clarkson at the point — the Lakers look to be at that mark. Ladies and gentlemen, your still coachless 2014-15 Lakers. At least Kobe likes the way they look.
• Restricted free agent Kevin Seraphin has accepted his $3.9 million qualifying offer, according to Wojnarowski, giving the Washington Wizards — who already have Nene and the re-signed Marcin Gortat in the fold, imported sometimes-small-ball-power-forward Paul Pierce, and just agreed to deals with Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries — what appears to be an awful crowded frontcourt rotation.
After taking a step backward in his third pro campaign, the 2010 first-rounder from French Guyana saw his minutes (a career-low 578 in 53 appearances) and role sharply curtailed last season. Head coach Randy Wittman elected to go with steadier veterans more likely to contribute two-way play than Seraphin, who has shown through four professional seasons an ability to score (just under 14 points per 36 minutes of floor time on 48.5 percent career shooting) and block shots (rejecting 3.6 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts during his floor time, equivalent to a top-15 mark last season) in a reserve role, but has offered little else of value. (Given that, and the way the Wizards elected to fill out their big-man rotation, it does seem somewhat curious that the Wiz chose to give Seraphin, rather than more reliable commodity Trevor Booker, an offer sheet, as Bullets Forever's Mike Prada notes.)
While Seraphin, still just 24, has time to reach the potential that led Washington to take him with the 17th overall pick in 2010, he'd probably have to have one whale of a training camp — or the Wizards would have to go through a decimating plague of injuries — to get the opportunity to prove it this season. Instead, he's chosen to make just under $4 million to ride the pine this year — more, evidently, than any prospective suitor would offer in restricted free agency — and possibly serve as ballast in a future deal to add some depth on the wing should rising sophomores Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. struggle behind Pierce and Bradley Beal.
• The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly set to add guard Jerryd Bayless to their backcourt mix. Stein first reported that the two sides were close, with Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel following up to report the framework of the agreement: a two-year deal worth between $6 million and $7 million, with no player or team options involved.
Bayless would join waiver-wire addition Kendall Marshall and, potentially, rising sophomore Giannis Antetokounmpo in the running for minutes behind and alongside returning starting point guard Brandon Knight and backup Nate Wolters in the Bucks' backcourt. Whereas Marshall profiles as more of a pure point guard and nobody really knows what the hell Giannis is just yet, the 25-year-old Bayless — drafted 11th overall out of Arizona in the 2008 draft, now joining his sixth team in seven seasons — Bayless is more of a combo guard, having split his time on and off the ball during stops in Portland, New Orleans, Toronto, Memphis and Boston. He essentially represents a do-over of last summer's failed Gary Neal signing, and the prospect of some productive minutes should O.J. Mayo again decide he doesn't really feel like showing up for work.
How effectively he slots in at the two tends to depend on whether his jumper's falling, which can be a touch-and-go proposition — he shot 30.1 percent from deep during his time with the Grizzlies last year and 39.5 percent after being sent to the Celtics in exchange for Courtney Lee, and has (a brief hot-shooting spell with the 2011-12 Raptors aside) settled in as a slightly-below-average floor-spacer. He's a capable enough ball-handler to take on reserve triggerman duties for stretches, though, and still has the quickness and athleticism to be able to get to the basket off the dribble.
As is often the case with players who fall into the "too shot-happy for a point man, too small for the two" combo template, Bayless tends to be a defensive liability at either guard spot, and it might not be the most thrilling way to spend $3 million-plus a season. But he's a serviceable rotation player who offers some depth, versatility, scoring touch and experience to a Bucks team that has relatively little of any of those things.
• The Minnesota Timberwolves have re-signed forward Robbie Hummel, as announced by his agency, Priority Sports. It's a guaranteed one-year deal worth $900,000, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com. Hummel's stoked:
Really excited to be back in Minneapolis for another season. Thanks to everyone for all the support!— Robbie Hummel (@RobbieHummel) July 22, 2014
You can understand why. A few years back, it seemed there was a chance he might never play in the NBA after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee twice in an eight-month span at Purdue. This time last year, after spending a year in Spain and undergoing a third knee surgery, he was scrapping with the Timberwolves' Summer League squad, trying to catch on for a training camp invite and a regular-season gig. Now, he's sticking around for at least one more year, which is a pretty nice comeback story.
The 6-foot-8 former Boilermakers standout is staying put largely because he can shoot the 3 — he hit a league-average 36 percent from deep last season — and because, as MinnPost's Britt Robson described it, he knew "exactly where to go at both ends of the court, and [made] the right decisions about what to do when he [got] there." Whether he'll exhibit the same court awareness and demonstrate the value of not trying to do too much in a different system under new head coach Flip Saunders remains to be seen, though, and if, as some have suggested, Hummel's retention represents Saunders ensuring the presence of a "stretch four" on the roster should a Kevin Love deal actually go down, that would seem like one of the all-time greatest downgrades in recent NBA history. Guaranteeing Hummel a roster spot also seems to make it less likely that 2014 second-rounder Glenn Robinson III will be a part of the Wolves next season, as Minnesota now has 14 guaranteed contracts — one shy of the 15-player maximum, which is something of a bummer.
Hummel offers some positional versatility in the frontcourt, will compete (if, often, for naught) on defense and won't beat the Wolves with mistakes, but he'll have to start hitting long balls at a higher clip to merit much more than 15 or so minutes a game off the bench; that said, even if that's all he can credibly provide (and especially if he can do more than just "compete" on defense), a shade under $1 million won't likely stand out as an overpay.
The third year is unguaranteed, according to David Mayo of MLive.com.
The 6-foot-6 guard was enjoying a strong junior season at Colorado before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a January game against Washington, an injury that knocked him out for the remainder of the season but did not dissuade him from entering the 2014 draft. Many lauded new Pistons bosses Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower for landing a first-round talent with the 38th overall selection, a versatile combo guard with size, skill and long-range shooting touch (38.6 percent from beyond the college arc in his career with the Buffs) who had averaged 18.9 points, 4.1 assists, four rebounds and 1.8 steals per 40 minutes of floor time over his final two years of collegiate play.
It remains unclear, though, when the 21-year-old California native will be cleared to get on the court; in recent comments discussing the second-rounder, Van Gundy didn't sound like he was in a particular rush to find out just what he has in Dinwiddie, a patient approach that dovetails with the multi-year agreement.
“I don’t have any expectation for this season because it’s not just a matter of when he’s physically cleared to play,” Van Gundy said, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. “When he is cleared to play, it’s gaining confidence and he also hasn’t played basketball in a long time and he will have missed summer league and probably miss training camp. So it’s a slow process back, and so I just want to take all the expectations out of it — not just for us or the fans but also for him.”
Down the line, the hope will be that Dinwiddie can develop into a guard capable of playing both on and off the ball, allowing him to slot in comfortably alongside point guard Brandon Jennings and shooting guards Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to give Van Gundy some positional versatility in the backcourt. In the short term, though, Dinwiddie's unlikely to make a dent this season in a Pistons guard rotation that also features point men D.J. Augustin and Will Bynum.
As Mayo notes, Dinwiddie makes 15 deals on Detroit's books for next season, and that's before re-signing restricted free agent big man Greg Monroe. Should Van Gundy and company elect to bring him back, the Pistons will have to shed someone; evidently, it won't be Josh Smith, so something else could be brewing in the Motor City.
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