Free agency is upon us, and while everybody waits for things to shake out in Miami and for Carmelo Anthony's recruitment tour to come to a close, we've already seen a number of players and teams reach agreement on new deals. Kyrie Irving got maxed out in Cleveland, while Marcin Gortat got $60 million to keep Polish Hammering in our nation's capital. Three-year deals will send Jodie Meeks to the Motor City and Shaun Livingston to the Bay Area. Negotiations continue all across the NBA, with more deals of all shapes and sizes coming soon.
While we wait, let's quick-hit our way through some of the smaller deals that have been agreed to in the early stage of free agency — "agreed to," but not completed, as no deal can become official until after the July 10 end of the league's annual moratorium on trades and signings — starting in Boston.
• Avery Bradley has decided not to test restricted free agency, agreeing to stay with the Boston Celtics. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald had it first, with Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe confirming shortly thereafter and adding the terms: four years and $32 million. It's a fully guaranteed deal devoid of player or team options, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears.
On one hand, $8 million per year feels a bit steep for Bradley. Yes, he averaged a career-high 14.9 points per game last season, but somebody had to score for last year's terrible Celtics. Yes, he's young, but he's also faced significant injury problems, missing 107 games over the first four years of his NBA career and undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders during the summer of 2012. Yes, he's a dynamite perimeter defender, an opportunistic and quick-footed pest capable of hounding point men and shooting guards the full length and width of the court, but at 6-foot-2, he's always going to have trouble guarding larger twos, and opposing guards still produced at above-league-average against Bradley last year, according to 82games.com's charting.
The big issue with Bradley, though, is that his commendable defense comes attached to some question marks on the other side of the floor, where he's not yet a reliable playmaker, ball-handler or offensive facilitator.
While he has shot 56 percent at the rim over the course of his career, a lot of his success in that area has come off baseline cuts where he finishes dump-offs fed to him by someone else. He doesn't get to the basket himself very often — he registered just 2.1 "drives" (identified as a touch that starts at least 20 feet away from the basket and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop) per game last year, according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data — and doesn't do a ton when he gets there, shooting less than 40 percent on those drives. While he turned the ball over on a super-low 9.9 percent of the offensive possessions he used last year, that's due in large part to coach Brad Stevens frequently using him as shooter off the ball — nearly 21 percent of the offensive possessions Bradley used ended with him taking a spot-up jumper, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data.
The sunnier view of Bradley's offensive game (here's the "on the other hand" bookend) is that he was quite productive on those spot-up tries, canning just under 44 percent of his 3-point bombs in those settings and producing 1.14 points per possession, per Synergy. He shot 39.5 percent from long distance overall last season and a tick under 41 percent from deep in 2011-12; the Celtics are hoping that this Bradley, and not the one who scuffled to a 31.7 percent mark in a shoulder-injury-curtailed 2012-13 campaign, is the one they'll get moving forward. And while Bradley's no great shakes as a pick-and-roll facilitator — just 0.77 points produced per possession finished as a screen-game ball-handler last season, turning it over on 14.7 percent of those trips, with the C's scoring just 38.2 percent of the time, per Synergy — those numbers all represent improvements over the previous two seasons, where Bradley's pick-and-rolls ended in points about 30 percent of the time and in turnovers about 20 percent of the time.
Even if Bradley will probably never be a full-time ball-handler or creator, there's evidence there to suggest he's getting better offensively, and he's by all accounts a hard worker who could continue to improve. On a team that already features (for now, at least) an All-NBA-caliber table-setter in Rajon Rondo and a future primary point man in first-round pick Marcus Smart, that — plus the stout defense — might be enough to produce a versatile, and very good, backcourt group.
"Easily, those guys can play together and I think they can really thrive," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of Rondo, Smart and Bradley on draft night, according to SB Nation's Paul Flannery. "All of them."
If Ainge is right about his tough-minded young guards dovetailing nicely — and if Bradley's slow offensive growth proceeds apace, his defensive hectoring continues unabated and he can stay on the floor for more than 75 percent of the season — then we may come to view $8 million as a pretty reasonable price tag for a young two-way contributor, especially if the salary cap continues to rise as league revenues soar. But with all those ifs in place, you'd be forgiven if Boston's first big deal of free agency left you feeling a bit iffy.
• The Indiana Pacers made a trio of moves on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with Croatian forward Damjan Rudez, former Cleveland Cavaliers wing C.J. Miles and undrafted rookie free agent center Shayne Whittington. All three moves appear aimed at adding outside shooting proficiency to a Pacers squad that ranked 25th among 30 NBA teams in 3-pointers attempted per game (18.8) last season and 17th in the league in long-range accuracy (35.7 percent) en route to a dismal 22nd-place finish in offensive efficiency.
Whittington, whose addition the Pacers announced via press release early Wednesday, is a 6-foot-11-inch, 23-year-old Western Michigan product who went undrafted last Thursday, but who reportedly turned heads at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament by showing off a long-distance shooting touch that never seemed to show up in college, as he made just six long balls in four years.
ShamSports' Mark Deeks has a good scouting report on Whittington's pros and cons, which includes the assessment that Whittington is "a [very] fringe NBA prospect and a definite future pro somewhere." Indy's brass apparently liked what they saw enough to make that "somewhere" Indianapolis, bringing him in on what Wojnarowski reports is a partially guaranteed one-year deal, even though Whittington isn't expected to return to the court until early 2015 after suffering a knee injury in pre-draft workouts. Given the scoring difficulties the Pacers' offense often had against stout defenses during the playoffs when trotting out lineups featuring the range-less center combo of Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi, taking a cheap flier on an evidently-floor-spacing big man seems to make some sense.
Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the signing of Rudez, a 6-foot-10 28-year-old from Zagreb — the hometown of former NBA swingman Gordan Giricek — who has been playing professionally since he was 16 years old. Rudez will reportedly make $1.1 million next season in the first season of a three-year deal, which isn't an especially large price tag for an infusion of long-range shooting, which he'll be expected to provide after shooting better than 44 percent from 3-point land for CAI Zaragoza of Spain's ACB this season, and nearly 52 percent from beyond the (shorter international) arc.
Here's what Rudez making shots looks like, as soundtracked by noted European basketball enthusiasts Rage Against the Machine:
One thing you don't see very much of in that, or any, highlight package is Rudez playing defense ... which, according to this 2011 write-up of Rudez's game by ShamSports' Mark Deeks (which the author stood by on Wednesday), isn't mere coincidence when it comes to a player "who has the capacity to win a game single handedly [and] also has the ability to do absolutely nothing,"
When he's playing well, Rudez is an unblockable jumpshooter with great touch and a pretty smooth handle, a good athlete who passes well, aggressively looks for his shot, and who can find it both inside and out. And when he's not playing well, he just stands there. The only thing consistent about Rudez is his lack of effort on defense and the glass.
If that sounds at least somewhat familiar to Pacers fans, Deeks thinks there's a reason for that:
Indiana has very little money to spend, so why did they prioritise getting another Chris Copeland?
— Mark Deeks (@MarkDeeksNBA) July 2, 2014
Maybe because Frank Vogel, like Mike Woodson in New York before him, didn't really seem to like the idea of playing the Chris Copeland (or just about any of the other reserves) he already had?
The perpetual quest for second-unit options for a Pacers team whose starting five ranked as the NBA's most-used five-man unit last year (and was the league's second-most-used five-man lineup the season before) also led Larry Bird and company to add Miles in a move first reported by Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. Miles, 27, will earn $18 million over the next four years to ply his trade in Indiana, according to Wojnarowski — a nice raise over the $2.25 million per year Cleveland gave him on a two-year pact back in the summer of 2012, and more than he was initially expected to receive from Indy. This is probably why he seemed pretty amped after the news became official:
— C.J. Miles (@masfresco) July 2, 2014
The 6-foot-6-inch, nine-year NBA vet offered some offensive punch for the Cavs, scoring just under 19 points per 36 minutes of floor time on 38.8 percent 3-point shooting in two seasons in wine and gold. He also earned some national attention by busting loose for a franchise-record 10 3-pointers in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers back in January.
While Miles is far from a household name or even an especially highly regarded reserve in NBA circles, the Cavs actually performed quite a bit better with him on the floor than with him off it in each of the past two seasons, including a marked improvement (between 2 1/2 and 4 points per 100 possessions) on the defensive end. This, of course, likely has more to do with just how bad the Cavs' starters have been over the past two seasons, but still, the potential addition of a positive player on the wing seems like a good idea for a Pacers team that got virtually nothing of value from reserve swingmen like Evan Turner, Rasual Butler and rookie Solomon Hill last season.
Paying $4.5 million a year for that prospective upgrade for the next four years, though — and paying Rudez for the next three — seems an awful curious move, considering that the combination of Paul George's max contract extension kicking in, eight-figure deals for Hibbert and David West, and the flat $8 million contract of point guard George Hill have the Pacers close to butting up against the projected luxury tax line of $77 million before even addressing their single biggest piece of offseason business: re-signing mercurial starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson.
In sum: IND at ~ $72M. Tax at ~ $77M. 1 of following 3 must be true: 1. Lance out; 2. IND can be over tax in season. 3. Cost cut move coming
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 2, 2014
Without other moves, Pacers can offer Lance just $43,708,217 over five years and stay below the projected hard cap.
— Dan Feldman (@PistonPowered) July 2, 2014
I doubt the Pacers will pay the luxury tax for Lance, but even if they're willing to, it might require more cuts to keep him.
— Dan Feldman (@PistonPowered) July 2, 2014
While Pacers owner Herb Simon has been adamant about not paying the luxury tax, signing a Lance deal that puts Indy over that projected line doesn't necessarily mean incurring the wrath of ownership for Bird, provided he can find some hack-and-slash options down the line:
For the Pacers, don't forget the tax bill comes at the end of the year. Even if Lance contract puts them over, have all year to move salary
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) July 2, 2014
The Pacers have, in fact, offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal, as first reported by ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and confirmed by Buckner at the Star. The 23-year-old Stephenson is reportedly looking for a richer offer, which — at this stage at least — doesn't seem forthcoming from the Pacers:
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) July 2, 2014
I mean, I guess $4.5 million would be a pretty solid bargain for Miles if he wound up being Indy's starting shooting guard, but I don't think that's what anyone in Pacerdom is hoping for there.
The defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs have reached an agreement on a partially guaranteed two-year deal with undrafted free agent point guard Bryce Cotton, according to Shams Charania of RealGM.
Cotton spent four years at Providence, starting the final three. He led the Big East in scoring as a junior, earned first-team All-Big East honors in each of his last two seasons, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 Big East Tournament, which the Friars won to earn a March Madness berth. He averaged 21.8 points and 5.9 assists per game as a senior, and shot 36.1 percent from the college 3-point line during his time in Rhode Island.
Jeff Eisenberg of Y! brother blog The Dagger had Cotton listed as one of the best college players to go unchosen in last Thursday's draft, but his underwhelming measurables (a shade under 6 feet tall in sneakers, according to DraftExpress) and lack of elite athleticism led teams to look past his shooting and deft touch in the pick-and-roll. Enter, of course, the Spurs.
If Cotton, 21, can make the Spurs' roster out of training camp this coming October, the second year of his deal will be guaranteed. Getting there, though, won't be easy. San Antonio's already got 10 players from last season's title team on the books for next year, including incumbent reserve guard Cory Joseph. R.C. Buford and company have reportedly already begun discussing a new deal with injured free-agent backup and NBA Finals hero Patty Mills. They're also poised to add another player in first-round draft pick Kyle Anderson from UCLA, and may have interest in re-signing three more free agents from last year's team: Swiss Army knife Boris Diaw, longtime reserve shooter Matt Bonner, and backup big man Aron Baynes.
If Buford, Gregg Popovich and the rest of San Antonio's decision-makers elect to just get the band back together, the Spurs will have the maximum 15 players on their roster, leaving Cotton on the outside looking in. He'll get his first shot at beating those long odds later this month, when he'll join the Spurs' Las Vegas Summer League team.
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