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While we're still seeing some larger contracts, like the ones agreed to by Dwyane Wade and Lance Stephenson, the smaller-scale deals continue to trickle in. Let's run through some of them, starting where everything seems to be starting in the NBA right about now — Cleveland, Ohio.
• LeBron James is bringing a pair of his sharpshooting buddies with him to the Cleveland Cavaliers, as free-agent wings Mike Miller and James Jones both agreed to terms to once again let it fly alongside the King.
Miller turned down more lucrative offers from the likes of the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, to accept what will be a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a player option for Year 2, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowki. Miller will make $2.7 million in 2014-15, with the option year carrying a slight pay raise up to $2.8 million, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press. Jones, on the other hand, took a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1,448,490, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
In one sense, the moves are about adding floor-spacing 3-point shooting to a Cavaliers team that ranked 23rd among 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession last year, and 18th or worse in 3-point makes per game, attempts per game and accuracy, as well as the share of points they generated from beyond the arc. In another sense, the moves are about making LeBron happy by importing guys he likes. These two things are not unconnected.
After having to act as a 1-4 flat one-man army in Cleveland before learning how much more wonderful life could be in an offense where other stuff was going on, James understands better than perhaps any other player just how valuable spacing and the threat of shooting can be for an offense. He loves to play with dudes that opponents have to guard 20-plus feet away from the basket, because it creates all kind of room for drives and post-ups inside; he loves playing with dudes who can drill the open shots they get, because he really enjoys dropping dimes; he loves forcing defenses to have to decide whether to commit extra resources to stopping him from getting to the interior or whether to stay at home and prevent getting relentlessly sniped from the short corners and the weak side on ball swings. Miller and Jones are two such dudes.
Miller has shot 40.9 percent from deep over the course of his 14-year professional career, and after being amnestied by the Heat last summer — a luxury-tax-bill-reducing move that reportedly "disappointed" LeBron — he caught on with the Memphis Grizzlies on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum. Against all odds, the famously forever-wounded Miller stayed healthy in his return trip to Tennessee, acting as the only Grizzly to appear in all 82 games — the first time he's done that since his 2000-01 Rookie of the Year turn with the Orlando Magic — and finishing second in the league in 3-point accuracy (45.9 percent) behind Atlanta Hawks marksman Kyle Korver (47.2 percent) for a Memphis squad that extended the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the first round of the postseason.
The 6-foot-8 Jones, a 40.3 percent 3-point shooter in his 11-year career, was largely excised from Erik Spoelstra's rotation for the bulk of the Big Three era, as the plethora of superior wing options led to Jones logging just 1,123 minutes over the past three regular seasons and only sharply limited minutes during the Heat's back-to-back title runs. He found himself back in vogue during Miami's first-round playoff matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats, though, getting 16 minutes a night and shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point land in the four-game sweep. After Spoelstra returned him to the shelf to start Round 2 against the Brooklyn Nets, LeBron made a public call for more Jones, as detailed by ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:
“We have to find some minutes for him, I don’t see why he shouldn’t play,” James said. “He’s huge for our team when he’s in the lineup.”
Jones is 10-of-20 on 3-pointers in the playoffs and he and James complement each other well on the floor. Because Jones is an elite spot-up shooter, James likes to play on the same side of the floor and force defenses to choose between the two. When playing together in the playoffs, Jones and James have combined to shoot 56 percent from the field. [...]
“The space James provides and his ability to shoot the ball is great for us,” James said. “You can’t do both when he’s out on the floor. You can’t help on my drives and contest 3-pointers on him. They have to keep an eye on him.”
Jones got only spot minutes over the remainder of the Heat's playoff run, but the vote of confidence spoke volumes; as the wheels began to turn on James' return to Cleveland, reports began to circulate that the Cavs were targeting Jones, too.
Miller's a more significant potential game-changer than Jones is, by virtue of his superior passing ability, rebounding acumen and defensive versatility; if he can pull the upset of staying upright for another 82 games, he'll give new Cavaliers head coach David Blatt a slew of small-ball lineup options. Whatever he and Jones are able to provide, though, the signal sent here is unmistakable: we're thrilled to have you back, LeBron, and since we only know for sure we've got you for the next year or two, we're going to try to surround you with shooters you like, with whom you've won championships and who make you happy, to try to play the way you like and win as much as we can, as fast as we can. Seems like a pretty solid strategy to me.
• The Washington Wizards built out their frontcourt depth, bringing back Drew Gooden and agreeing to sign-and-trade deals to land veteran power forwards Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.
Gooden comes back on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of just under $1.45 million, according to J. Michael of CSNWashington.com. Humphries comes over from the Boston Celtics in a deal, first reported by Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report, that sends Boston a protected future second-round draft pick and creates a trade exception; Humphries receives a three-year, $13 million deal to go to D.C., according to Wojnarowski.
The Blair deal had been in the works for a few days — Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday that an agreement was in place — but it wasn't until Wednesday that ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that a trade call was pending, "with Dallas not looking for anything back beyond the nominal draft considerations required to make such a deal official." Blair will receive a three-year, $6 million contract from the Wizards, with Washington holding a team option for Year 3, according to Woj.
Mike Prada of Bullets Forever sees the Wizards slotting Humphries' signed-then-traded contract into "part of the $8.5 million trade exception" created in what wound up being a three-team sign-and-trade deal that sent forward Trevor Ariza (along with forward Alonzo Gee, guard Scotty Hopson and a 2015 first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans) to the Rockets; center Omer Asik, forward Omri Casspi and cash considerations to New Orleans; and center Melvin Ely to D.C. (Gee, Hopson, Casspi and Ely all have nonguaranteed deals for 2014-15.) It's not yet clear what mechanism the Wiz will use to import Blair, but as Brandon Parker of the Washington Post notes, Washington could use the remaining portion of the Ariza exception, as well as "one worth $2 million from Philadelphia for the three-team deal involving Eric Maynor [or] another for $1.3 million from the trade that sent Emeka Okafor to Phoenix."
Gooden — who feels like he's been around since the Clinton Administration, but is still just 32 years old — played well after the Wiz picked him up off the street after the trade deadline, averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. He teamed with fellow graybeards Andre Miller and Al Harrington in what came to be known as the "AARP Unit," working hard on the glass and providing both low-post touch and midrange shot-making to bolster the Wizards' reserve corps, and in Washington's Game 1 win over the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, he turned in a postseason double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) for the first time in nearly seven years. By taking the veteran's minimum, Gooden continues to maximize the annual amnesty payment he's receiving from the Milwaukee Bucks; Gooden keeps getting paid his full freight but the Wizards get a discount, which is nice for them, considering they've been on the other end of this equation with Andray Blatche for the past two seasons.
The 6-foot-9-inch Humphries ostensibly replaces Trevor Booker (who we'll get to in a minute) while also providing Wizards head coach Randy Wittman with a potentially workable option as a small-ball backup center behind re-signed starter Marcin Gortat. He remains a strong rebounder on both the offensive and defensive glass; he is, if not a great defender, then at least a willing and physical one who seemed to work all right in Boston's system last year; and if the uptick in his midrange shooting percentage holds up (45.3 percent on 256 attempts), he could offer some offensive versatility in multiple frontcourt pairings.
Blair went to the Mavericks last summer on a one-year minimum deal in search of playing time after falling out of favor with Gregg Popovich and out of the San Antonio Spurs' rotation, looking to re-establish his value and eventually find another multi-year deal. Mission accomplished.
The 25-year-old Pitt product made 78 appearances, including 13 starts, for Rick Carlisle, and nudged up his numbers across the board. He averaged just under 15 points, 11 rebounds and two steals per 36 minutes of floor time, shooting 53.4 percent from the floor (including 63 percent inside the restricted area) and cleaning both the offensive and defensive glass at a higher rate than he had since his second year in San Antonio. He's a post player and board-crasher without much range as a pick-and-pop sort, but he has been a useful dive man in the pick-and-roll in the past; perhaps pairings with John Wall and Miller can rekindle some of Blair's effectiveness in the screen game. He'll always be a defensive liability against opposing fives at just 6-foot-7, but if he's as active on the boards and as strong a finisher as he was last year, his shortcomings can be mitigated, especially for the low cost of $2 million per year.
It remains to be seen what the additions mean for reserve center Kevin Seraphin, to whom the Wizards have extended a qualifying offer, but who might now find himself on the outside looking in with more reliable veteran options in the fold to sop up available frontcourt minutes. (The Wiz can pull back Seraphin's $3,898,692 qualifying offer, if they so choose.) Gooden, Humphries and Blair all have their shortcomings — on the defensive end, primarily — but they represent an overall upgrade in skill and versatility over the big-man group the Wizards featured last season, and will cost Ted Leonsis less than one Jordan Hill next year. That's a decent depth-chart round-out by a Washington team that's aiming at not just a second straight playoff berth, but perhaps even a rise to the top of the Southeast Division this year.
• The Wiz went into frontcourt-hoarding mode after Booker, their former backup power forward, agreed to terms on contract with the Utah Jazz, as first reported by Michael Lee of the Washington Post. Utah will pay Booker $10 million over two years, according to Woj.
Jody Genessy of the Deseret News reports that the second year might not be fully guaranteed, but even if it's not, it's apparently a richer deal than what the Wizards were offering; the forward told Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com that the Wizards' bid was “not the offer I was looking for [and] not close to the offer that I have now."
Utah was rumored to be interested in Booker back at the start of free agency, and while the Jazz don't appear to be in desperate need of frontcourt bodies — in addition to likely starters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, they've also got 2013 first-rounder Rudy Gobert, noted Slam Dunk Contest enthusiast Jeremy Evans and recently acquired sharpshooter Steve Novak up front — none of their secondary power-forward options are, y'know, power forwards.
You could argue, if you'd like that neither is Booker, at just 6-foot-7, but he's got a big-forward's game. He's a grinder, a tough guy willing to bang bodies with opposing bruisers who should help improve the interior defense for a Jazz squad that finished absolute dead last in points allowed per possession last season. He's a committed rebounder, a double-double per-36 minutes guy who could help nudge the Jazz from middle-of-the-pack in defensive rebounding percentage toward a top-10 mark. He doesn't replace the floor-spacing that Marvin Williams offered alongside Favors last season, but he might be able to cover enough for Novak (as a nominal small forward) defensively to allow him to do so, giving the Jazz some interesting potential lineup combinations.
Realistically, this deal probably won't amount to very much on the grand scale — Booker's likely closer to a role player than a starter of consequence, and the Jazz are still probably going to be very bad next year. But Booker's a grown-up who went through some bad years in Washington and saw them through to a good one last year; it seems like having a guy like that around probably isn't a bad idea for a very young, very green Jazz team whose locker room just lost a few older souls. There are worse things to pay for than reliability and maturity, especially if the second year's not fully guaranteed.
• After settling more pressing family business by re-upping Dwyane Wade and adding Luol Deng, the Heat announced that they'd come to terms with swingman James Ennis, whose rights the Heat acquired from the Atlanta Hawks after the 2013 NBA draft in exchange for a protected future second-round pick. Ennis received a "three-year, non-guaranteed contract at the minimum salary," according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post; that'd seem to start the 24-year-old off at $507,336.
Ennis, a 6-foot-7-inch, 210-pound small forward out of Long Beach State, starred last season with the Perth Wildcats of Australia's National Basketball League, finishing third in the league in scoring (21.2 points per game), fifth in rebounding (7.2 rebounds per game) and second in steals (1.4 per game) while shooting 46.6 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from 3-point land and 77 percent from the foul line for the Wildcats, who won the 2014 Australian Basketball League Championship. After finishing third in MVP voting, Ennis played briefly in Puerto Rico before coming over to join Miami's squad in the Orlando Pro Summer League, where he turned heads by averaging 17 points and 5.8 rebounds in 25 minutes per game, shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from long distance; he turned in perhaps the performance of the week by hanging 29 on the Brooklyn Nets, drilling 10 of 12 shots, including seven of his eight triples.
Ennis pairs a soft shooting touch with a 6-foot-11-1/2-inch wingspan and quick feet; as Sam Vecenie of Upside and Motor suggests, the combination could open the door for Ennis to find a role as a 3-and-D guy in a Heat wing rotation that lost not only James, but also the retired Shane Battier, Jones and, in all likelihood, Ray Allen. Not that they leave big shoes to fill or anything. No pressure, rook.
• The New York Knicks will bring in big man Jason Smith on a one-year deal, according to Shams Charania of RealGM. The 28-year-old power forward/center will receive the Knicks' taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.278 million.
The concern here, as identified by Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes, is the Knicks bringing in yet another big man with a dicey medical file. After a solid rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers, he missed the entire 2008-09 season with a torn left ACL, and has missed significant time in four of the five seasons since with a variety of injuries, including concussions, ankle sprains, a "hip impingement", a torn labrum in his right shoulder and, most recently, season-ending surgery on his right knee back in January. He's missed 139 games in the last five years and has never played more than 1,107 minutes in a season; he's not someone you necessarily want to bank on.
That caveat in place, the Colorado State product's a handy big man when healthy. He's a legit 7-footer with touch out to about 18 feet, a knockdown shooter from the elbows and top of the key who has drilled better than 41.5 percent of his midrange looks in each of the last four seasons, and better than 45 percent in each of the last three. He doesn't block a ton of shots, but he's a tough and steady interior defender, which makes him a relative rarity on the Knicks roster; injuries have sapped some of his quickness and athleticism, but he's a determined rebounder who hustles. Given the composition of the Knicks' roster — "We’re short [on] big [men] and long in the guard corps," New York president of basketball operations Phil Jackson said over the weekend — Smith's a strong choice for the mini-midlevel; now the Knicks just have to hope he can stay on the court.
• Rashard Lewis will join the Mavericks on a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum of just under $1.45 million, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. The soon-to-be-35-year-old veteran didn't do a whole heck of a lot over the course of two regular seasons with the Heat — about five points and two rebounds in 15 minutes per game on 41.4 percent shooting and a 36.6 percent mark from 3-point land — but he showed elements of friskiness in this past postseason, rewarding Spoelstra's decision to dust him off in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers with committed defensive work and the threat of his long-range shooting.
He didn't score a point in Miami's wins in Games 3 and 4, but finished a +35 in 43 minutes of work; “I get a kick out of it,” Spoelstra said after Game 4. Lewis then got his offensive game going, going 6-for-9 from 3-point land as the Pacers won Game 5 to kick off a stretch of five consecutive double-digit scoring games, his longest such streak since January of 2011.
He, like everyone else on the Heat not named LeBron James, fizzled out by the end of Miami's Finals defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, but the late-May/early-June run apparently convinced Mark Cuban and company that Lewis has enough left in the tank to slot in as Dirk Nowitzki's backup at the stretch four. Like fellow recent Mavericks addition Richard Jefferson, he will be asked to cheaply hit 3-pointers and do little else; he might not be quite as open as he was when sharing the floor with the likes of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, especially if he's not riding alongside Dirk, but he'll still likely get a steady diet of decent looks in Carlisle's pristinely spaced offense, and could offer some low-cost punch off the bench for a Mavericks team with its sights set on climbing the ladder in the West.
• The Phoenix Suns agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract with free-agent forward Anthony Tolliver, according to RealGM's Charania. Only $400,000 of the contract's second year is guaranteed, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.
General manager Ryan McDonough was in the market for another floor-spacing big man after Channing Frye got paid by the Orlando Magic, and he's found one on the cheap in Tolliver, a 6-foot-8-inch forward who shot 41.3 percent from downtown for the Charlotte Bobcats last season. The 29-year-old Creighton product's never really found an NBA home — the Suns will be Tolliver's seventh team in seven pro seasons — but he's a versatile sort who can serve as a stretch four who makes up for a size disadvantage against larger power forwards with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan, can perform spot duty at the three-spot depending on lineups and matchups, and feels he fits in well with the pace-pushing, spread-'em-out-and-bomb offensive ethos that head coach Jeff Hornacek brought to the desert last season.
“The Suns are an up-tempo team, and when I was with Golden State, I had a similar style," Tolliver told Charania. "I’m able to produce at a high level and this style compares to that Golden State team. I can play the three as well, but my natural position is four, rebounding, hitting open shots. The Suns made it clear I’m coming to play the four."
He'll have some competition there — twins Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris will vie for an increased share of the frontcourt minutes after strong 2013-14 campaigns, and both re-signed small forward P.J. Tucker and 2014 first-rounder T.J. Warren could see time at the four in smaller lineups. But he'll also get opportunities to serve as a pick-and-pop partner for the Suns' gang of point guards, including returning All-NBA Third-Teamer Goran Dragic, recently acquired Isaiah Thomas and (provided the Suns keep their word to match any offer sheets) restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe.
Tolliver's neither as big nor quite as capable a defender as Frye, nor has he been as consistent at stroking the long ball over the course of his career; he isn't a full-on replacement for the departed veteran leader. But he's also not nearly as expensive, and if he can carry over the sort of success he had last year in Charlotte as a long-range shooter on pick-and-pop (48 percent, albeit on just 25 logged attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data) and when spotting up around pick-and-rolls (40 percent, on a healthier 185-shot sample, per Synergy) when he gets to Phoenix, he could prove to be a better value.
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