Twenty-nine days ago, NBA free agency started at the top of the heap ... and now, well, we're scuffling a little bit, waiting on NBA teams to agree to terms with the last few big-name options while they do some bargain shopping to fill out their rosters. Let's run through a handful of signings confirmed over the past several days, starting with a pretty sound deal in the Queen City:
• The Charlotte Bobcats have signed Gerald Henderson to a three-year, $18 million contract extension, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, with the restricted free agent forward holding an option for the third year of the deal.
You'd be forgiven if you haven't paid exceptionally close attention to the 25-year-old Henderson's development since coming out of Duke with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft — it hasn't been a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch the Bobcats plonk their way to a 106-206 record over the past four seasons, including a disastrous 28-120 mark under Paul Silas and Mike Dunlap over the last two years. Quiet as it's kept, though, the 6-foot-5 swingman's become a solid pro away from the watchful eye of general NBA fandom.
He averaged a tick under 18 points per 36 minutes last season while posting career-best marks from the 3-point arc (still below league-average at 33 percent, but that's a big step up from years 1 through 3) and the foul line (82.4 percent while getting to the stripe more than five times per-36). He's taken on an increased role in Charlotte's moribund offense, assisting on a higher share of his teammates' buckets while on the floor while maintaining a very low turnover rate last season, and serving as a secondary creator in the pick-and-roll much more frequently last year (15.6 percent of his offensive possessions came as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to Synergy Sports Technology; he'd been below 11 percent the previous three years) while maintaining the solid level of efficiency he'd displayed throughout his career.
He's got a still-developing post-up game that he can pull out when matched up against smaller two-guards, and he knows how to work effectively as an off-ball cutter when backcourt mates Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions orchestrate in half-court sets. That ability to hunt openings and finish near the rim (while he shot just 54.5 percent in the restricted area last season, he hit well over 60 percent at the rim in each of the prior two seasons) figures to blend well alongside new left-block landlord Al Jefferson. He's not a top-flight defender, but he's held up well in isolation against a variety of twos and threes, works hard off the ball and has the length and quickness to take on a variety of different assignments.
There have been plenty of reasons why the Bobcats have been bad over the past couple of years, but Henderson has not been one of them. He's not a game-changing star in his own right, but he's a quality role player and supplementary piece; Charlotte has locked him in at a very reasonable rate for two years, and with that third-year option, Henderson has afforded himself the chance to hunt a new deal (and, if his development continues apace, likely a more lucrative one) at age 27 if the soon-to-be-Hornets' circumstances don't significantly improve. Seems like a win-win to me.
Despite a strong performance in the NBA finals against the Miami Heat, Neal's days with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be numbered basically as soon as the San Antonio Spurs' season ended. Gregg Popovich and company already had Tony Parker and Danny Green entrenched in the starting backcourt, with the young reserve tandem of Cory Joseph and Nando De Colo still in the mix, Patty Mills wasting no time in picking up his 2013-14 player option and Manu Ginobili keen on re-upping. That meant there were only so many backcourt minutes available in San Antonio, and with the 28-year-old Neal reportedly fielding offers topping the $1.1 million qualifying offer the Spurs extended to him at the start of free agency, it didn't seem to make much sense to get into a bidding war.
The signing of free-agent guard Marco Belinelli all but marked the end of Neal's time in Texas, with the Spurs eventually choosing to rescind Neal's qualifying offer so that he could become an unrestricted free agent and play the field; the Bucks and Atlanta Hawks quickly jumped into the mix for his services, with Milwaukee reportedly winning out. While some have connected Neal's signing with the Bucks' evident reticence to spend big, long-term money on incumbent point guard Brandon Jennings, the former Spur is less a big-minutes option at the point than a capable reserve at both backcourt positions, likely slotting in primarily as the backup two behind fellow free-agent acquisition O.J. Mayo while ideally joining Luke Ridnour, Ish Smith and rookie Nate Wolters in providing another ball-handling option behind Jennings.
The 6-foot-4 Neal offered low-cost sharpshooting during his first two seasons in San Antonio, coming off the bench to drain just under 42 percent of his 3-pointers in both 2010-11 and 2011-12. His long-range accuracy dropped off (35.5 percent) last season, attributable perhaps to nagging injuries and perhaps to increased responsibilities in Pop's system, as he took on a larger role as a backup ball-handler and secondary facilitator; then again, it's not like he all of a sudden got shy when it came to shot-jacking, as Neal still managed to put up 14.5 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes of floor time, including just over six long-balls, despite his diminished marksmanship. He's big enough to defend both guard spots, but he's never been an especially attentive or effective defender; Larry Sanders and the rest of the Bucks' back-line bigs will have plenty to cover up next season, but after playing behind Jennings and Monta Ellis, at least they've had plenty of practice.
Adding Neal doesn't mitigate the need for a big-minutes answer at the lead-guard spot, but along with Mayo and Carlos Delfino, he does add another shooter and wing ball-handler to help replace the spacing that went out the door with Mike Dunleavy and playmaking that Ellis provided when not blindly chucking. It's another in a list of Milwaukee moves that feel, at best, like treading water, but at least it doesn't feel like a monster long-term overpay.
• The Bucks also signed Serbian center Miroslav Raduljica. It's a two-year deal worth $3 million, according to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and there's apparently some nature of option or unguaranteed third year, although specifics on Year 3 remain unclear.
Raduljica was considered one of the more underrated European prospects back in 2010, according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, but wound up scuttling his draft stock by "blowing off" a scheduled private workout with a number of NBA teams. According to FOX Sports Wisconsin's Andrew Gruman, the story was a bit more complicated than that, involving minor injuries, threats from his European club and a lack of communication from the Serbian big man's representatives. Either way, the upshot is that Raduljica — whom the Bucks list at 7-foot-1, 280 pounds — wound up staying overseas, being loaned out by Turkish club Efes Pilsen to European teams in Germany, Serbia and the Ukraine over the past three seasons.
With Sanders plugged in at the starting five, veteran Zaza Pachulia signed as the primary backup center and young bigs Ekpe Udoh and John Henson likely to split time between the four and five slots, Raduljica figures to get the sort of limited run that Gustavo Ayon briefly subsisted on last season; now, instead of spending those minutes and that $1.5 million on a guy with at least a little bit of NBA experience (which we'll touch on in a bit), Milwaukee will take a flyer on a player with a bigger body but about whom less is known. If you're going to do that, it's nice that he's three years younger than the 28-year-old Ayon, I suppose.
• The Hawks claimed Ayon, whom the Bucks chose to waive last week before his $1.5 million contract for the 2013-14 season became fully guaranteed. That decision came as something of a surprise, considering the Bucks had reportedly picked up a team option on Ayon's contract a month earlier.
As Mark Deeks of ShamSports explains, though, due to a quirk in contract terminology, Milwaukee's decision to pick up the 28-year-old Mexican center's '13-'14 option did not in and of itself actually guarantee his '13-'14 deal, meaning the Bucks had another few weeks to decide if they really wanted to bring Ayon back before locking in his $1.5 million salary. With Sanders, Ilyasova, Henson, Udoh and Pachulia already in the mix for frontcourt minutes, and Serbian big Raduljica apparently catching their fancy, the Bucks' front office decided they didn't need to bring Ayon back, which has some Bucks bloggers sort of bummed out.
That gave any team with enough cap space to absorb that $1.5 million a chance to add Ayon. Enter the Hawks, who still had about $1.8 million in space available, had a roster slot open and apparently thought the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Ayon represented a nice fit for new coach Mike Budenholzer's schemes. Ayon is going from one crowded rotation to another, with Atlanta having already supplemented starting center Al Horford with free-agent signings Paul Millsap, Elton Brand and Pero Antic, and rookie big Mike Muscala also in the mix. (Ayon's addition also apparently means first-round pick Lucas Nogueira will return to Spain next year rather than beginning his NBA career, which is kind of a bummer.)
I've written positively about Ayon a couple of times in the past — while he's not an especially flashy player, he hits the offensive glass, screens well and rolls hard to the basket, finishes pretty well around the rim despite not being exceptionally athletic, works hard off the ball on both ends of the court and is a willing and fairly deft passer for his size. He doesn't have much range to speak of, but the other Atlanta bigs (with the exception of Antic) profile as capable floor-spacing pick-and-pop partners, affording Ayon the opportunity to work more down low. He might again suffer from limited opportunities to showcase his wares, but for less than a third of what the Bucks will pay Pachulia, Ayon represents another solid value pickup for Danny Ferry and company.
Wojnarowski reported that the Nets were interested in the 6-foot-6 Anderson as a "Plan B" for a backup wing spot after negotiations to bring over 2011 second-round pick Bojan Bogdanovic broke down. Shortly thereafter, of course, Billy King secured a much higher-class secondary option by signing Andrei Kirilenko for the bargain-basement price of the taxpayer midlevel exception.
They still had a roster spot open, though, and have filled it with Anderson, who carved out an NBA niche as a role-playing, offense-offering wing with the Toronto Raptors last season after scraping his way back into the league late in 2011-12 following two nondescript mid-Aughts seasons with the Bobcats and four years of European and D-League ball. What the 30-year-old Anderson lacks in efficiency (38.4 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from 3 with the Raps), he makes up for in exuberance (just under 15 shots and seven 3-point attempts per 36 minutes last season) and being a "good dude," according to Eric Koreen of the National Post. (Koreen's spring 2012 get-to-know-you piece on the well-traveled Anderson remains a fun read.)
Anderson will be tasked with offering a capable spot-minutes option at small forward, behind Paul Pierce and Kirilenko, and perhaps also at shooting guard, behind Joe Johnson and Jason Terry. Left to his own devices, the Michigan State product can shoot your offense out of whack, but he's a sound perimeter defender who held opposing small forwards well below league-average productivity last season and whose length — a 6-foot-9 1/2-inch wingspan, according to pre-draft measurements taken in the long, long ago — helps him match up on a variety of wing players (and even, in the right matchups, some small-ball fours).
He's something of a luxury option for the last slot on the roster — which, of course, makes sense, given that these are Mikhail Prokhorov's opulent Nets (and that a roughly $1 million salary will add somewhere between $4 million and $5 million to Brooklyn's exorbitant tax bill) — offering positional versatility, veteran experience and, of course, some experience torching the New York Knicks. What's not to love?
• The Houston Rockets have brought back center Marcus Camby, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. The 39-year-old big man, whose contract the Toronto Raptors agreed to buy out after acquiring him from the New York Knicks as part of a trade that shipped out former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, will receive a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Camby was a pretty massive disappointment for the Knicks last season, playing just 253 total minutes after coming over from Houston and signing a three-year, $13.2 million contract. It wasn't altogether shocking that a 38-year-old with 16 NBA seasons and nearly 31,000 NBA minutes on his legs would develop plantar fasciitis in his left foot and make only 25 total appearances, of course, but it was still pretty disappointing for a Knicks team that really could have used even a modicum of health off the bench in the frontcourt. (This, it should be noted, is why you probably shouldn't assemble the oldest rotation in the history of the world.)
The Rockets probably aren't going to need anything of the sort from Camby, thanks to adding All-Star center Dwight Howard to a frontcourt mix that features incumbent starting center-turned-overqualified backup Omer Asik, quality big man Greg Smith and promising ex-first-round picks Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. Basically, as Feigen wrote, they're asking Camby to "contribute in ways that will only occasionally be seen on the court." And if the need should arise for him to block shots, clear the glass and uncork a weird-ass jumper for a few minutes, hopefully, he'll be healthy enough to do so.
While tons of attention has been paid to how the totally-not-tanking Lakers plan to replace Howard use the big-man collective of Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill to replace Howard this season, relatively little ink's ben spilled on the relative paucity of options Mike D'Antoni figures to have at the four spot with Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace gone. Hill could see some time at power forward now that he's back from the torn hip labrum that sidelined him in early January, as could as-yet-unsigned second-round pick Ryan Kelly, once he comes back from pre-draft surgery on his right foot, but the Lakers needed a body capable of eating up some frontcourt minutes, and apparently saw enough out of the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Harris during Las Vegas Summer League to view him as someone who could help now and is worth developing for the future.
Harris, 24, went undrafted out of Gonzaga in June but averaged 10.2 points on 44.7 percent shooting and grabbed 5.6 rebounds per game in five appearances for L.A.'s Vegas squad, showcasing a knack for running the floor, crashing the glass and defending with energy (if not always effectiveness). Whether he can shoot the ball efficiently enough to act as a stretch-four in D'Antoni's system remains to be seen — he shot 40.7 percent from the college 3-point line through his first three seasons at Gonzaga, but dropped to just 17 percent as a senior and hit just 18.8 percent of his triples in Vegas — but if the Lakers' frontcourt rotation thins out due to injury or ineffectiveness, he might get a shot to prove he can. If Gasol, Kaman, Hill, Sacre and Kelly hold the fort, Harris could spend a lot of time with the L.A. D-Fenders working on his game.
Speaking of somewhat undersized tweener forward types, this former Providence College star spent part of last season with Germany's Artland Dragons after finding himself outside the Los Angeles Clippers rotation as that team began to get, y'know, good.
In theory, Gomes could offer Scott Brooks a spot-minutes floor-spacer at either forward spot — he's a career 35 percent 3-point shooter over seven NBA seasons spent with the Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics, who selected him in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft. In practice, though, he's likely serve as a practice body and little else; as Royce Young of Daily Thunder adroitly puts it, "With Ronnie Brewer leaving the team as an unrestricted free agent, I suppose the Thunder could use another veteran small forward to sit on the bench and never play." And this one's not as good a defender. Oh, well. Maybe when OKC and the Boston Celtics play, Gomes and MarShon Brooks can wax nostalgic over their favorite offerings at the Alumni Hall food court in lower Slavin. (Cheesesteaks. I'm going to guess cheesesteaks.)
• The Dallas Mavericks have agreed to a one-year deal with forward/center DeJuan Blair. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Tuesday morning that the former Spurs big man was close to a deal with the Mavs, only to have the 24-year-old Pittsburgh product confirm the news a few hours later:
SA you always in my heart!
— DeJuan Blair (@DeJuan45) July 30, 2013
Dallas!!!!! Now lets have some fun!!!!
— DeJuan Blair (@DeJuan45) July 30, 2013
Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy reported that Blair's deal is likely to be for the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million. After losing his starting slot to Tiago Splitter last season and watching his playing time dwindle down to just 14 minutes per game during the regular season amid decreased effectiveness on the offensive glass, Blair's likely hoping to earn more burn under coach Rick Carlisle before striking out in search of a more lucrative deal in free agency next summer.
Doing so might not be so easy with new import Samuel Dalembert and returning bigs Brandan Wright and Bernard James in the fold, but it'll likely be easier than it would've been in San Antonio, where, after a promising early stint in San Antonio, Blair had clearly fallen out of Pop's mix. Plus, Carlisle's got to buy more rest for Dirk Nowitzki at the four if he hopes to have the 7-foot German healthy and effective late in the season for a postseason push, which would seem to offer Blair a shot at demonstrating his worth.
Blair's an active and creative offensive player on the block, capable of finishing well around the basket despite his lack of athleticism and ACLs. If he can return his offensive rebounding numbers to the elite levels he reached in his first two seasons, he could prove productive enough to mitigate the defensive shortcomings inherent in his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame and offer a very nice value on a minimum deal. If he can't, well, he makes as little as you can pay him and he's out of your hair in a year, which is all very much in keeping with that shrewd, depth-targeting, financially savvy approach we've heard so much about.
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