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As we enter the second week of NBA free agency, the potentially league-shifting levers on the market — chiefly LeBron James, followed by Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, among others — are still taking meetings and considering their options. While we wait for the major dominoes to fall, we've seen a number of players and teams reach agreement on new deals — Kyrie Irving's max deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Marcin Gortat's $60 million pact with the Washington Wizards; Dirk Nowitzki's major hometown discount to stick with the Dallas Mavericks and Kyle Lowry's sounds-about-right $48 million; and a slew of comparatively smaller deals hammered out.
Let's work our way through some more agreements reached over the past few days — "reached," 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 San Antonio.
At literally the same minute that Diaw was announcing his decision via Instagram:
("Hey spurs fans, Good news i stay in san antonio for a few more years," Diaw wrote. "Lets win it again #gospursgo")
... Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski was reporting the details of the 32-year-old Frenchman's new deal, which could be worth as much as $22.5 million over the next three seasons. (Diaw will get $15.5 million guaranteed over the first two seasons, but the third is only partially guaranteed, according to Woj.)
It's not yet clear (beyond the partial guarantee, at least) how R.C. Buford and company will structure the payouts in each of the three years, but the $7.75 million average annual value of the first two years come in below the $8.93 million cap hold Diaw had entering free agency. With the existing deals for the 10 Spurs already on the roster, new deals for Diaw and Patty Mills, the expected addition of first-round pick Kyle Anderson, the Spurs look to have about $66.5 million committed to 13 players for next season. That would slot them in over the projected 2014-15 salary cap of $63.2 million, but below the projected $77 million luxury-tax line, which would grant the Spurs full access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, enabling San Antonio to sign a free agent to a contract with a starting salary of up to $5.305 million for the '14-'15 season.
The Spurs reportedly have their eyes on Los Angeles Lakers free agent big man Pau Gasol for that MLE slot. That would be just about perfect, considering the Spurs' eternal commitment to heady and versatile international players who can pass. It could also spell the end of the line in San Antonio for one of the team's two remaining free agents, sharpshooting Matt Bonner and bruising Aron Baynes, since a Gasol addition would leave the Spurs with just one remaining roster slot before hitting the 15-player max. (Other potential Spurs MLE targets, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, include Utah Jazz forward Marvin Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder wing Caron Butler and Lakers guard Kent Bazemore.)
While it remains to be seen how San Antonio elects to round out this year's roster, the decision to bring back Diaw represents something of a no-brainer for a Spurs team that, in the words of head coach Gregg Popovich, is still learning how best to deploy the big man's gifts.
I'd be lying if I said I saw this coming 2 1/2 years ago, when the then-Charlotte Bobcats waived an overweight and underwhelming Diaw after he fell out of favor with head coach Paul Silas during Charlotte's dismal descent to the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Upon joining the Spurs and longtime pal Tony Parker, though, Diaw soon began to flourish, thriving in the Spurs' free-flowing, ball-moving, space-creating offense. After years of lethargy, Diaw seemed motivated, energized by playing a fun brand of ball, taking to the San Antonio system like a duck to water as a reserve for the balance of the 2011-12 season before moving into the starting lineup for all 14 games of the Spurs' trip to the Western Conference finals, where they were eventually upended by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Diaw's revitalized play carried through his first two full seasons in Texas, which saw him transform into an effective fill-in-the-blanks super-sub, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and one combined steal/block in nearly 24 minutes per game, shooting just under 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. His two-way versatility enabled Popovich to answer a variety of opponents' lineup decisions, and pose quite a few tough-to-answer questions of his own; as he had years ago during his breakout 2005-06 campaign with the Phoenix Suns, Diaw proved capable of spreading the floor, beating plodding defenders off the bounce, punishing smaller ones in the post, holding his own defensively against burlier fours and moving his feet well enough to chase opposing floor-spacers out on the perimeter.
His capacity to allow the Spurs to play, as former Miami Heat reserve Mike Miller once said, "big and small at the same time" proved vital during the final two games of San Antonio's Western Conference finals win over the Thunder, in which he averaged 19.5 points in 32.2 minutes per game. He helped stymy an Oklahoma City defense bolstered by the mid-series return of injured shot-blocker Serge Ibaka and coming up huge in Game 6 to send San Antonio to its second-straight title-round matchup with the Heat.
Diaw was even more instrumental in exacting revenge on Miami. He led the Finals in assists, finished second in total rebounds behind Tim Duncan, and had 29 assists to eight turnovers. Despite shooting just 36.4 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range in the five games, Diaw turned in the second-best plus-minus of the series behind only Manu Ginobili; San Antonio outscored Miami by 74 points in Boris' 176 minutes of floor time.
"Implementing Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor," the Heat's James said after San Antonio's dominant Game 4 win in Miami. "So Manu, Tony, and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they've got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it's a challenge for us all."
It's a challenge that Miami couldn't answer, and it's a challenge that Pop and company must be thrilled to be able to continue posing opponents as the Spurs bring back last year's title team and try to pull off something they've never done in the Pop-Duncan/five-titles-in-16-seasons era: win back-to-back championships.
Plus, with that partially guaranteed third year, the new deal for Diaw maintains future flexibility for a Spurs squad that only has Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, reserve guard Corey Joseph and (pending their post-July 10 signings) Diaw, Mills and Anderson on the books beyond next season, when the Spurs might — might — actually begin that long-awaited post-Duncan-and-Manu era. (No rush, obviously, guys.) Considering the price tag, the short-term fit and the lack of long-term risk, there's an awful lot to like about one of the summer's least surprising signings.
• The Los Angeles Clippers finally landed a third big man, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $23 million deal with free-agent center Spencer Hawes, according to Woj.
Hawes should provide what the Clippers appeared to think they might be getting last season from Byron Mullens, with two major differences. For one thing, they're paying quite a bit more for Spencer's services than they did for Byron's. For another, there's a chance they might actually get it, because Hawes is a significantly better NBA player than Mullens is. (Sorry, Byron. You'll always have posterizing LaMarcus Aldridge.)
As a 20-year-old NBA sophomore with the Sacramento Kings during the 2008-09 season, Hawes fired 115 3-pointers and connected at a very-respectable-for-a-7-footer 34.8 percent clip. Thereafter, he largely put the long ball in his back pocket, becoming much more of an interior player — especially under notably 3-averse ex-Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins — and attempting just 223 deep shots over the next four years. With Collins deposed and pace-and-space-friendly ex-Spurs assistant Brett Brown brought in to run the
circus show in Philly last season, though, Hawes was once again deputized to step out to the arc, acting as a pick-and-pop perimeter safety valve for rookie point man Michael Carter-Williams, and cashing in his bombs at a much-more-than-respectable 40 percent rate. All of a sudden, in the midst of the Sixers' abysmal-by-design 2013-14 campaign, Hawes had become a pretty interesting stretch-five.
So interesting, in fact, that the Cleveland Cavaliers were willing to send Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie a pair of second-round picks and two expiring contracts in exchange for Hawes at the February trade deadline in hopes that adding a floor-spacing big man who's a fantastic passer for a big man — only 10 power forwards/centers assisted on more than 15 percent of their teammates' baskets last season, and Hawes was one of them, alongside the likes of Duncan, Joakim Noah and the Gasol brothers — would help them make a desperate push for the final playoff spot in the East. That didn't work out, but Hawes was largely as advertised during his time in wine-and-gold, averaging 13.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 29.8 minutes per game while shooting just below 47 percent from the field and 45 percent from long distance; this cemented the 26-year-old as one of the more enticing names among the ranks of free-agent big men, albeit one with curious taste in personal transportation vehicles and novelty toilet paper.
Hawes represents a substantial upgrade over the coterie of ne'er-do-wells that lined up behind Clipper starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan last season, a rogues gallery that included Ryan Hollins, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Antawn Jamison and, yes, Mullens. With Hawes' shooting range and deft touch as a high-post facilitator, he figures to slot in comfortably alongside either Griffin or Jordan on the offensive end, providing space for both starting big men to operate on the interior. The issue, however, is on the other end of the floor.
Hawes' teams have posted worse defensive efficiency marks — a measurement of how many points you give up per 100 possessions — with him on the floor than with him sitting in five of his seven NBA seasons. (As a rookie in Sacramento, the Kings were one-tenth of a point-per-100 better with him playing than with him sitting; for the '12-'13 76ers, it was six-tenths of a point-per-100 better.) He grabbed just above 24 percent of available defensive rebounds last season, the best mark of his career, but the NBA's SportVU optical tracking data pegs Hawes as a relatively poor rebounder considering the number of opportunities he gets (he pulled in 55.8 percent of the rebounds he had a shot at, slotting in just between Jerryd Bayless and Mario Chalmers) and one who's not too great at coming down with contested caroms (he snagged a little more than one-third of contested rebounds, roughly on par with Luol Deng).
On top of that, Hawes is not a big-time shot-blocker — he sent back 3.3 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts during his floor time, roughly middle of the pack among four/five types — and opponents shot 53.3 percent at the rim with him in the neighborhood, a comparatively poor number among rotation bigs who defended at least a handful of interior shots per game. On the defensive end, to be sure, Hawes is by no means a saving grace for a Clippers team that came up empty whenever it went to the bench for a big last season.
He is, however, a 7-foot, 250-pounder with enough skill to be useful who ought to be invigorated by the opportunity to compete on a team with title aspirations. If Clippers head coach Doc Rivers can coerce Hawes into improving from net-negative to slightly-better-than-zero on the defensive end while maintaining his shot-making and clever interior passing, he'll help, and on a mid-level contract that might not be too onerous moving forward. If Hawes continues to act as a sieve and his shooting touch goes missing, however, Clippers fans might wish he'd get on the first Segway out of town.
• Jordan Farmar goes from one Staples Center locker room to another, leaving the Lakers after one season to join the Clippers. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times first reported the deal, with Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears confirming the two-year, $4.2 million contract, which includes a player option for the second year that will enable Farmar to test free agency again next summer if he likes.
The Clippers entered the market for a new backup point guard behind All-Star Chris Paul when Darren Collison received a three-year, $16 million deal from the Sacramento Kings. They promptly closed in on Farmar, Collison's former UCLA teammate and a point guard in whom they'd apparently had prior interest; Rivers met with Farmar in person last week, before Collison's exit, according to ESPN Los Angeles.
"The Clippers were the first people to call," the Los Angeles native told Turner of the Times. "The situation is great for me. I'm still in L.A., representing Los Angeles and playing in front of my friends and family. I'm looking forward to the future."
Rivers and company should be, too. They just got a player who, when healthy, was roughly as productive as Collison a year ago for the bi-annual exception, which is less than half Collison's $5.33 million average annual payout.
While he struggled to finish on the interior, shooting just 43.8 percent inside the restricted area and 42.3 percent in the paint overall, Farmar did damage from the perimeter, shooting a smoking 43.8 percent from 3-point land. He also showed flashes of thriving as a facilitator in Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll-heavy system, assisting on nearly 35 percent of his teammates' baskets during his time on the floor, the second-best mark of his NBA career. That freedom to make plays sometimes led Farmar to be too loose with the ball, however, as he committed turnovers on a career-high 19.6 percent of the offensive possessions he used.
Farmar's not a great defender, but he'll give effort, and he's a much more natural table-setter and off-ball option than Collison, all for a fraction of the price ... which, of course, matters a great deal when you've got a shade under $49.2 million committed to the trio of Paul, Griffin and Jordan, and you're getting awful chummy with the space between the projected $77 million luxury tax line and the "apron" $4 million above it. If he can stay on the court, Farmar stands a much greater chance of providing a sound return on a $2.077 million investment than Collison does of making $5.33 million look great.
"If he can stay on the court," however, is no small matter. Farmar missed half the 2013-14 season with a torn left hamstring and a strained right groin. Groin injuries also limited him to just 39 games for the then-New Jersey Nets in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, after which he headed overseas for stints in Israel and Turkey before coming back to the Lakers last year.
It's not as if Farmar's a broken-down old man — he ended '13-'14 healthy and will enter '14-'15 at just 27 years old — but there's some cause for concern, especially since the Clips need a reliable backup to help Doc manage Paul's minutes throughout the regular season and keep him fresh enough to be a difference-maker come the playoffs. Giving Farmar a tick over $2 million to caddy for CP3 could wind up being a very wise expenditure, but you're within your rights to be a bit concerned about what a third straight NBA season featuring a lengthy stint on the shelf for Farmar could mean for the Clippers' chances.
• The Toronto Raptors agreed to terms on a three-year, $18 million deal with forward Patrick Patterson, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman. After a stumbling start to the 2013-14 season in a minimized role with the Sacramento Kings, falling out of the starting lineup after six games and largely out of the rotation thereafter, Patterson found himself headed to White Vegas in the blockbuster deal that brought Rudy Gay to California's capital. While news of the trade came at an inopportune time — read: as Patterson was about to enter "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" — the move served him well.
The 24-year-old Kentucky product rediscovered his stroke as part of the second unit for Dwane Casey's resurgent Raptors squad, canning 41.1 percent of his 3-pointers and chipping in 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a reserve floor-spacing four for the Atlantic Division-winning Raps. During the regular season, the Raptors outscored opponents by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions with Patterson on the floor, according to NBA.com's stat tool, scoring at a rate eclipsing the league-leading Clippers' offense. He also stood up to the pressure of his first postseason appearance, averaging 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds on 54.2 percent shooting from the field and a 38.9 percent mark from long distance in Toronto's seven-game first-round loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
He provides a different set of offensive skills than either starting center Jonas Valanciunas or starting power forward Amir Johnson, but paired well with both of them last season. The Valanciunas-Patterson duo outscored opponents by nearly five points-per-100 over the course of 378 shared minutes; the Johnson-Patterson tandem, while more sparingly used, more than doubled that, walloping the opposition by a whopping 13.6 points-per-100 in 215 total minutes. The Raptors feel they've found something that works in their big-man rotation, however it's configured, and as was the case when he elected to open up the coffers to the tune of $12 million per year for Lowry, general manager Masai Ujiri is proving he's willing to pay in the pursuit of building a culture and, hopefully, something bigger.
At issue, as The Score's Mark Deeks recently wrote, is whether $6 million a year for someone you're planning on keeping a reserve is a worthwhile price to pay when you've got other holes to fill on the roster. Namely, as Eric Koreen of the National Post notes, finding a big, capable defender on the wing, to avoid taking the kind of beating that the Nets' Joe Johnson dished out to the likes of Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan in Round 1 this past spring. (Not that I'm necessarily sure which wings Ujiri would target for that kind of role — New Orleans Pelicans free-agent Al-Farouq Aminu, maybe?)
After shipping out Steve Novak, letting Nando de Colo head to Russia and waiving the non-guaranteed contract of Julyan Stone, Ujiri still has some change in his pocket to play with in free agency — it could be as much as $10 million to $13 million, per Koreen — but also wants to hang onto restricted free-agent backup point man Greivis Vasquez. If Ujiri's able to do so at a reasonable price and find an additional defender on the wing without breaking the bank, the price tag for Patterson probably won't seem too troubling. If he overpays elsewhere, though, he might wish he'd saved a bit more on his third big.
• Devin Harris is coming back to the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year deal, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. The veteran guard will make approximately $9 million over the life of the deal, according to ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon; that, essentially, is the deal he'd worked out with the Mavs last summer, before a physical exam revealed he needed surgery on his left foot, which would be a bummer even if it wasn't costing you millions of dollars.
The procedure limited Harris to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum and kept him sidelined until mid-January. He posted strong enough numbers after his comeback, averaging just below eight points and 4.5 assists in 20.5 per game (albeit on 38 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from 3-point land) while added size and defensive acumen to a Mavericks backcourt sorely in need of both. Putting another playmaker on the court helped goose Dallas' offense, as the Mavs outscored opponents by more than 11 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
And then came the postseason, and the eighth-seeded Mavericks' first-round matchup with the top-ranked Spurs ... and all of a sudden, Harris seemed near-indispensable. He rediscovered his shooting touch, popping loose for 47/44/88 shooting splits, and chipping in more than 16 points per 36 minutes of floor time off the Dallas bench. He helped slow down Parker on the perimeter and attacked San Antonio's guards on defense, working with a hot hand to begin the series and getting inside once the Spurs stretched out to check him. Head coach Rick Carlisle gave Pop and company more problems than anyone else in the 2013-14 postseason, and Harris was, for a time, a big part of what helped him do so.
Now, Carlisle will look to Harris to help keep the Mavericks' point-guard rotation afloat after last month's deal sending starter Jose Calderon and prospect Shane Larkin to the New York Knicks in exchange for defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler and downtrodden lead guard Raymond Felton. It's unlikely that we'll see Harris, several years and injuries later, fully rediscover the burst and bloom that made him a once-upon-a-time All-Star with the Nets, but Carlisle has shown he knows how to use him, and in lineups where he'd share playmaking duties with the likes of Felton and/or Monta Ellis rather than be expected to initiate everything full time, he should prove to be a sound enough contributor, especially for an average annual outlay of $3 million — a relative pittance when compared to what guys like Collison, Jodie Meeks, Avery Bradley and Shaun Livingston have received.
That'd be especially true if, as Basketball Insiders' Nate Duncan suggests, the Mavs have staggered Harris' deal with a low first-year cost to keep as much flexibility as possible to fill out their wing positions and possibly upgrade the overall talent level. It's not quite as grand a bargain as Dirk at $10 million a year, but then, what is?
• The Indiana Pacers agreed to terms with big man Lavoy Allen, as first reported by ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and confirmed by Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. The terms of the deal remain unclear, but Buckner reports that "the short-term contract should not affect the team's ability to re-sign the top priority, starter Lance Stephenson."
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Allen came over from the 76ers with Evan Turner in the February trade deadline deal that ended Danny Granger's tenure in Indianapolis. He didn't do much thereafter, logging a total of 127 minutes over 18 total regular- and postseason games for the Pacers, slotting in far, far behind both the starters (Roy Hibbert and David West), first-choice reserves (Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi) and in-case-of-emergency-break-glass shooters (Chris Copeland) on Frank Vogel's depth chart.
Allen seems to feel that he'll get a crack at rising up the ranks in the rotation this season, which seems kind of weird considering those five guys are all, for the time being, still on the books for next season, and that the Pacers just added two frontcourt bodies, Croatian forward Damjan Rudez and undrafted rookie Shayne Whittington, in the first week of free agency. That's an awful lot of guys for the available allotment of minutes ... might a rotation-slimming (and possibly balance-sheet-reducing) move be in the offing?
If so, you wouldn't necessarily expect Allen to play a major part in whatever the new-look Indy frontcourt mix would look like, but the 25-year-old is a capable enough rotation banger, averaging nearly a double-double (9.9 points and 9.4 rebounds) per 36 minutes of floor time for his career. Given half a chance, you could see the hard-nosed Temple product becoming the kind of reserve whose play Vogel and Pacers fans alike might come to appreciate; let's see if he gets that shot.
• Pat Riley began the process of filling out the Heat's roster, agreeing to terms on Monday with forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
McRoberts' deal, first reported by Stein, will pay him $23 million over the next four years, according to Spears. McRoberts will be able to opt out after the third year, according to Stein. Granger will receive $4.2 million over the next two seasons, with a player option for the second season, according to Woj. McRoberts gets the Heat's full mid-level exception, while Granger gets Miami's bi-annual exception.
The 31-year-old Granger, in particular, is a far cry from the player he was in years past. While he showed some brief signs of life after catching on with the Clippers following a buyout by the 76ers after being sent away in the Turner/Allen deal, knee and calf injuries have eliminated much of the spark that made him a top-10 scorer in the '08-'09 and '09-'10 seasons and the leader of the Pacers' steady rise back to relevance. While I'm hesitant to call a 31-year-old with Granger's drive and pedigree washed up, it remains very unclear how much he has to offer over the course of a full season, let alone a deep playoff run, at this point. I'll have to see him stay upright and vibrant for and extended period of time to believe he's more than, as many have suggested, the second coming of Rashard Lewis in South Florida.
McRoberts, though, does have real value. As I noted when he re-upped with the former Bobcats last summer, the 6-foot-10 power forward has good vision, a deft touch as a passer, and a willingness to make plays out of the high post; freed by head coach Steve Clifford to operate as a secondary facilitator, McRoberts dropped a career-high 4.3 dimes per game for Charlotte last year, notching an assist on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' makes during his time on the court. Only a dozen guys McRoberts' size ever have posted a single-season assist percentage that high, a list that includes players like Kevin Garnett, Vlade Divac, Wilt Chamberlain and Toni Kukoc.
He's not a lights-out shooter, but he hit a league-average 36.1 percent of his 3-pointers in his first-ever season as a volume shooter (291 long-balls attempted) and helped create enough space on the interior for low-post beast Al Jefferson to go to work. With McRoberts off the floor, Charlotte scored at a rate of offensive efficiency that would've placed second-worst in the NBA, 98.3 points-per-100, above only the dreadful Sixers; with him in the lineup, the 'Cats operated as the equivalent of the middle-of-the-pack Atlanta Hawks (103.4-per-100). He's smart, he's athletic, he can make plays, you have to guard him and he showed up ready for a fight in the Bobcats' first-round playoff defeat at the hands of these same Heat. (Just ask LeBron about that one.)
The concern, as Grantland's Zach Lowe writes, is that committing the MLE and BAE to McRoberts and Granger would eliminate two of the very few options available to Riley in pursuit of additional talent to stockpile to make a more enticing case for the likes of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade to take a run at a fifth straight NBA Finals trip, especially at lower pay grades. It could be possible, as Basketball Insiders' Eric Pincus notes, for Miami to get far enough under the cap to be able to add the pair with cap space, freeing up the "room" exception and keeping more talent-acquiring options available.
There's still time for the balance-sheet gymnastics to unfold, though with the wolves (or at least the Cavs, Suns and Rockets) at the door, it would seem to be getting late earlier and earlier in Miami these days. According to Woj, however, the two new additions apparently agreed to terms with the understanding that they'd be riding with the King next season. We shall see.
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