Mo Williams says he'll be a 'sixth starter' for the Blazers. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)
There hasn't been a ton of free-agent activity since our last check-in — well, outside of the Miami Heat adding a certain remarkably fragile former No. 1 overall pick for whom I'm very much rooting and DeShawn Stevenson saddening Washington Wizards fans with his approach to job-searching — but some available stragglers have caught on with squads looking to build out their benches. Let's take a look at the recently completed deals, starting out in the Pacific Northwest:
• The Portland Trail Blazers and Mo Williams agreed to terms on a two-year, $5.6 million contract, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, with the 30-year-old point guard holding a player option for the second year of the deal.
I can't imagine Williams is especially thrilled to be taking a pay cut of nearly $6 million below what he made two years ago with the Los Angeles Clippers and last year with the Utah Jazz, but this sort of deal appears to be what the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has wrought — stars max out (or get big honkin' sub-max deals), specialists like knockdown shooters and elite defenders get paid, and just about everybody else, the guys who are good and can do positive things but also have warts and flaws, gets at least a little bit squeezed. That's a bummer for the NBA's rank-and-file — the match of a diminished contract and a team unlikely to contend for a title seems an odd fit for a 10-year veteran like Williams — but it's a boon for ballclubs like the Blazers, who have put the finishing touches on their second-unit overhaul by adding a useful piece at a friendly price.
At first blush, the addition of Williams seems to create a roster crunch in Portland's backcourt. The Blazers bring back reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard to start at the point and drafted Lehigh star C.J. McCollum to both back Lillard up and play alongside him at times; Williams, however, now figures to serve as Portland's primary backup ball-handler ("You can look at me as a sixth starter," he said after signing), which may limit McCollum's opportunities on the ball. Things look pretty crowded at the two, too, when you factor in the presence of versatile starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, second-year swingman Will Barton (who showed some intriguing promise in playing-out-the-string minutes over the last seven games of Portland's lottery-bound 2012-13 season) and promising second-rounder Allen Crabbe, as well as the prospect of Williams seeing minutes alongside Lillard, too, as he did alongside Chris Paul in L.A. a couple of seasons back.
All this could mean McCollum's development and integration don't get fast-tracked quite as much as we might've anticipated when Portland snagged him with the ninth overall pick back in June, although Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey didn't go that far in his remarks upon signing Williams, preferring to emphasize the importance of the Blazers of having multiple backcourt options: "Guards win games. At the end of the day, you need depth." Adding Mo certainly helps in that regard; in keeping with the clear mission statement of revamping what was arguably the NBA's worst bench last season, Williams offers a legitimate talent upgrade over '12-'13 options like Eric Maynor and Ronnie Price, and a much more attractive option off the bench than fellow free-agent acquisition Earl Watson.
He adds a viable long-range shooter (38 percent or better from 3-point range in six of his 10 NBA seasons, including the last two) to a Blazers team that ranked 20th among 30 NBA teams in deep accuracy last year, a very solid spot-up shooter off the ball and a capable facilitator who's not an elite playmaker — while he assisted on a higher share of his teammate's buckets than the average rotation point guard last season, he also coughed the ball up on a higher-than-average share, according to Hoopdata — but is comfortable running pick-and-rolls and can trade on/off-ball roles with the likes of Lillard and McCollum. Giving Terry Stotts a capable option at the point off the bench could mean Lillard doesn't repeat his status as the NBA's leader in total minutes next season — while Olshey says that wasn't the idea behind the move, it sure can't hurt — and Williams' outside shooting, along with the multipositional versatility of players like Matthews and Nicolas Batum, could afford Stotts some intriguing mix-and-match lineup options when looking to maximize Portland's offensive threats.
Stotts will have to find ways to minimize the defensive liabilities of Portland's prospective two-point-guard lineups. The 6-foot-1 Williams is far from an ace defender. McCollum will be expected to go through rookie growing pains and is undersized at the two at a thin, wiry 6-foot-3. That's the same size as Lillard, who's a bit thicker, showed signs of defensive improvement at Team USA's mini-camp and will reportedly work out with legendary point guard defender Gary Payton next month, but still doesn't profile as an ideal option to check big shooting guards in such two-point-guard sets. Olshey claimed that having more worthwhile options for playing time in the backcourt should translate into better, more consistent and concerted effort on the defensive end for all parties, which is a fine theory, but size, technique, instinct and aptitude all matter, too; I'll believe that troika can field sound defensive duos when I see it.
Portland's goal, though, is to be able to inflict more damage than they sustain in such sets, and Williams' combination of scoring and facilitation should help. Plus, should McCollum prove as strong a pick this year as Lillard did last year and opportunities arise as winter wears on, Williams' sub-$3 million salary could make him an ideal chip come the trade deadline. Provided Stotts can find the right rhythm for juggling minutes, this seems like a sound low-risk investment that cabs a really strong offseason for Olshey and company.
Beno's headed to Broadway. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)
That's a pretty stellar value for the Knicks. (I'll pause so you can wrap your minds around "Knicks" and "value" colliding in that sentence part.) There's nothing especially sexy about Udrih's game — well, except the sheer animal magnetism of the name "Bay-no Oo-drick" — but he's a solid ball-handler and creative playmaker, especially in the pick-and-roll, who's played in a variety of systems and settings over nine NBA seasons, and has shown an ability to be effective in a combo guard role off the ball alongside a variety of partners. As a backup point guard making more than $7 million a year, as he was last year, he's an overpriced luxury item; as a third point guard making the league minimum, he's something of a steal, even considering the flaws in his game.
About those flaws: He's not a good defender, which means he should fit in quite nicely with the Knicks' point guards. He's a hit-or-miss range shooter — well, literally, because that is true of everyone, but also figuratively, in that he's had four well-below-average 3-point shooting seasons (2006-07, '08-'09, '11-'12 and '12-'13), three well-above-average ones ('04-'05, '07-'08, '09-'10) and two around-average ones ('05-'06, '10-'11), and he vacillated from awful (26.5 percent from deep for the Bucks last year) to awesome (just under 40 percent for the Orlando Magic after being traded there) within the same season. He's liable to make head coach Mike Woodson tear J.R. Smith's golden locks out at least a few times with pull-up jumpers in transition. It's worth noting, however, that he's really quite good at making them. There are downsides.
For the cost, though, they're minimal, especially when you consider that Udrih is, in effect, providing a younger, cheaper and potentially more effective replacement for retiree/head coach Jason Kidd in the Knicks' point guard rotation alongside the returning Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni. It remains to be seen whether bringing Udrih into the fold means Woodson will continue to deploy the two-point guard lineups with Carmelo Anthony at the four, Iman Shumpert at small forward and Tyson Chandler in the middle that carved up opponents with ball movement and long-range bombing throughout the regular season last year. The Knicks' other offseason moves — trading for former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, signing the amnestied Metta World Peace and re-upping forward/center Kenyon Martin to add to Anthony, Chandler and a presumably-rested-and-ready Amar'e Stoudemire — made it seem like they'd go big more often this year, but Udrih's signing (and the thinking that allegedly went into it) could mean New York's rotations look a bit more like last season than we might previously have thought.
• The Knicks also announced that they have signed center Jeremy Tyler to a two-year contract. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but at least part of Tyler's salary is reportedly guaranteed in each of the two seasons.
Jeremy Tyler impressed the Knicks in Summer League. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Tyler hasn't really made a dent in the NBA yet, spending time with the Dakota Wizards and Santa Cruz Warriors of the D-League, and playing just 636 minutes over two seasons split between the Warriors and (very briefly, after a trade last year) the Atlanta Hawks. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound 22-year-old came to Las Vegas Summer League this year eager to make an impact and catch some eyes with what he described as a "'Go get it at any means necessary' mentality," which translated into Tyler performing as a "monster on the offensive glass" for the Knicks' Vegas squad, averaging 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game.
That, apparently, was enough for Glen Grunwald and company to want to bring Tyler to camp despite the frontcourt depth I just referenced in discussing the Udrih signing. Or perhaps they're bringing him to camp because of that frontcourt.
Offseason rest or not, Stoudemire remains about as dodgy an injury risk as there is in the NBA. Chandler has a lengthy medical history and missed 16 games last season with a variety of maladies. Bargnani missed 16 for the Toronto Raptors in 2009-10 and has followed that by missing more than half of each of the last two seasons. World Peace is the kind of warrior who'll come back less than two weeks after knee surgery, but he'll turn 34 in November and has more than 33,000 NBA minutes on his wheels. Martin will turn 36 before New Year's Day. Anthony, who averaged 37 high-leverage minutes per game last year banging with big power forwards, has missed 26 games over the past two seasons and while he's young relative to the rest of the very veteran Knicks, he turns 30 and will get close to the 30,000-minute mark himself this season.
Last year, when the Knicks' frontcourt starters needed breathers, Woodson looked down the bench for 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace, 38-year-old Marcus Camby and 40-year-old Kurt Thomas. Surprise, surprise: They got hurt. Each member of that trio has more savvy and experience in his greying whiskers than Tyler has in his whole body, but Tyler offers a young, cheap, athletic, strong big body to put in glass and break in case of emergency for glass-crashing and paint muscle. Provided the deal's for the minimum salary, as you'd expect, it's a developmental flyer worth taking.
Devin Harris is not a baseball player. (Michael Prengler/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty Images)
• The Dallas Mavericks have signed guard Devin Harris, officially completing a deal that had been in the works for more than three weeks, but was tabled and reconstituted when a physical exam before Harris' signing uncovered a dislocated toe on his left foot that necessitated surgery.
When the deal was first drawn up, Dallas was ready to pay Harris $9 million over three years; now, though, ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon reports that the 30-year-old Harris will only receive a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1.3 million, which is all the Mavericks could offer after deals for free agents Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert ate up the rest of their cap space. That's a bummer for Harris, but a nice little boon for the Mavs, who get a deep discount on a player they envision playing a few different roles in their backcourt.
Harris did quite a bit of work off the ball for the Atlanta Hawks last season, and while he's not an ideal shooting guard — he's a subpar 3-point shooter, having shot better than league-average just once in nine NBA seasons, and injuries/miles have sapped some of the burst that made him a quicksilver slasher in his first stint in Dallas and the early going of his stint with the New Jersey Nets — but he (and Larry Drew, and Atlanta's array of sound frontcourt and wing defenders) made it work at the two. Harris played more than 700 minutes alongside starting point guard Jeff Teague, and lineups featuring that pair performed really well, outscoring opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool; Harris and combo guard Lou Williams outscored opponents by nearly eight points-per-100 in just under 300 minutes of shared floor time.
Harris is a bit undersized defensively for the two at 6-foot-3 and around 190 pounds, but has shown the capacity to check players at both backcourt positions, which figures to help a Dallas guard rotation featuring two relative turnstiles (Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis) and two rookies (Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel), and he's a capable pick-and-roll ball-handler, especially as a secondary option. That word — "option" — might best describe the value play here; for a Dallas team that revolves around Dirk Nowitzki and has made a pretty big bet on being able to coax something resembling efficient play out of Ellis, giving Rick Carlisle a full cupboard of options to try different recipes for success is critical, and Harris offers that on a minimum salary. That's a nice get.
• The Toronto Raptors and forward Austin Daye agreed to terms on a two-year, $2 million deal, according to Wojnarowski. If you're giving this one a great big shrug of the shoulders, then we're in the same boat.
In terms of net points per possession — basically, did your team score more points than it gave up — the Detroit Pistons were worse with Daye on the floor than off it in each of his first three seasons after they drafted him out of Gonzaga with the 15th pick in the 2009 NBA draft, according to NBA.com's stat tool. That switched up something fierce in the first half of last season — while the sample size was small, the Pistons performed way better in the 6-foot-11 string bean's 348 minutes (outscoring the opposition by 12.2 points per 100 possessions) than when he sat (-5.7 points-per-100 in 1,885 minutes) due in large part to Daye hitting a scorching 52.5 percent of his 3-point tries. After he was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the three-team deal that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto, Daye's shooting cooled off (34.5 percent from deep), he resumed his comparative ineffectiveness and mostly stayed put on the Grizzlies' bench after a brief initial burst of playing time.
Daye should be behind at least five dudes in Toronto's forward rotation — Gay, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Landry Fields and Steve Novak — to start the season, but if he can rediscover the stroke that made him, at long last, an interesting floor-stretching option early last season in Detroit, he could find some minutes for Dwane Casey. If he can't, his defensive shortcomings will probably keep him all the way down at the end of the bench.
The 33-year-old Pargo likes to shoot, getting up 17.5 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes of playing time for the Bobcats during an 18-game stint in Charlotte last season. He doesn't do it exceptionally well — 38.9 percent from the field and a below-average 35.2 percent from 3-point range over a nine-year NBA career spent with seven teams (he also spent time overseas in Russia and Greece) — but he does it vigorously, at least, which is nice, and provided a viable (for the Bobcats, anyway) secondary ball-handling and scoring option off the bench after backup guard Ramon Sessions went down to injury last season.
Ideally, you'd like your backup point guard to offer better defense than the 6-foot-1 Pargo provides and a slightly steadier facilitating hand than one that dishes 34 assists and turns the ball over 28 times in 18 games. When you're talking about third-string point-guard duties on the Charlotte Bobcats in August, though, "ideal" has precious little to do with it.
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