The entire San Antonio Spurs organization earned a boost in reputation and popularity over their very impressive run to an NBA title this spring, but perhaps no player saw such a meaningful rise in regard as reserve point guard Patty Mills. The 25-year-old Australian, once seemingly in danger of falling out of the NBA entirely, emerged from several seasons near the end of the Spurs bench to become an essential part of the rotation. He 10.2 ppg on 42.5 percent three-point shooting over the regular season and had major contributions in several playoff series, including the five-game dispatching of the Miami Heat.
Heading into this offseason, Mills was all set to cash in on his accomplishments as an unrestricted free agent. However, on the eve of that free agency, Mills revealed some unfortunate injury news — he had a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder that would require approximately seven months of rehab. The injury seemed to put his pending windfall in jeopardy, because most teams aren't into signing a player who won't suit up until the All-Star break.
Just a few days later, Mills can rest easy about his future. As reported by Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News, Mills agreed to a three-year deal with the Spurs:
Marc Stein of ESPN.com added that the deal would be in the range of $12 million, or $4 million per season. That's roughly in line with the mini mid-level exception offer the Knicks were rumored to have considered prior to Mills' injury. He has made just over $3.6 million total in his four NBA seasons to date.
In other words, things appear to have worked out just fine for Mills. While he hasn't ascended to a starring role for a worse team, Mills is guaranteed a solid salary and figures to take on greater responsibilities with the Spurs as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to age. Mills can rehab his shoulder without fear of losing his future role in an unfamiliar environment, all while continuing on the career track he mapped out for himself in San Antonio over past few years. If it works out, he'll get to negotiate another long-term contract when he's 28, right at his theoretical prime.
The Spurs are taking some risk by extending Mills to a multi-year deal when there's no guarantee he'll return from a lengthy rehab process at the same level of effectiveness. The Spurs have proven an astonishingly consistent ability to develop role players, so why wouldn't they play hardball with Mills and go with a contingency plan in which another young guard could work his way into that backup role? The answer is several-pronged. First, with Tim Duncan potentially retiring soon, the Spurs may no longer have the time to wait for another role player to develop. Plus, the team has succeeded in part because it develops longstanding relationships with players and coaches — there's some value in keeping Mills around both to foster the franchise's culture for an uncertain post-Duncan future and to ensure that they won't upset too much of the balance that helped them to a remarkable championship. Given that the Spurs have proven the ability to play well in the regular season with high-profile absences, it's possible that they would have risked more by letting Mills leave than by bringing him back into the fold despite his injury. A successful franchise should not underrate stability.
- - - - - - -