• Less than 24 hours after losing starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the Indiana Pacers took a strong first step in the process of replacing him, agreeing to a one-year deal with former Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, as first reported by Sam Amick of USA TODAY.
The 28-year-old Stuckey will make only the veteran's minimum, according to Candace D. Buckner of the Indianapolis Star; for a seven-year vet like Stuckey, that pays $1,227,985. In terms of pure bang-for-your-buck, Stuckey at the minimum seems like a steal for Larry Bird and company, a rough equivalent of Lance's per-minute productivity for about one-eighth the cost next season.
The 6-foot-5 guard isn't as strong or sturdy as Stephenson, but he can approximate his dribble penetration, registering virtually the same number of drives as Stephenson per game in 8 1/2 fewer minutes per contest, according to NBA.com's SportVU optical tracking data. He also did a solid job of finishing once he got there last season, converting 60.3 percent of his attempts inside the restricted area; that put him just outside the top 20 in at-rim conversion among guards with at least 150 attempts, according to NBA.com's stat tool. (Stephenson's 67.4 percent mark was fourth, behind only Manu Ginobili, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.) That might've been a one-year blip — Stuckey had never finished more than 55.5 percent of his restricted area shots in the previous half-dozen seasons — but he's still using his size and strength to seek out contact in the paint and get to the line, logging more than five free-throw attempts per 36 minutes of floor time last season, right in line with his career average.
He never became the full-time "point guard of the future" that former Pistons general manager Joe Dumars envisioned after plucking him out of Eastern Washington with the No. 15 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, but Stuckey can serve as a secondary ball-handler and supplemental pick-and-roll operator. He's got a decent post-up game that he can break out against smaller defenders, and when his jumper is going, he can pose matchup problems for opposing backcourts, especially as an offensive creator off the bench.
The problem with Stuckey, throughout his career, has been that his jumper doesn't get going super often. He's a career 37 percent midrange shooter, never topping 40 percent between the paint and the arc, and a career 28.6 3-point shooter, never reaching 32 percent from long distance. Unlike Stephenson, whose shooting percentages are trending upward and who provides at least a league-average threat of making defenders pay for sagging too far off him, Stuckey's mostly confirmed as the kind of guy you can give a cushion to take away driving lanes without being too scared of getting dotted.
He won't unlock Indiana's seemingly forever-cramped offensive spacing. He's not in Lance's stratosphere when it comes to pitching in on the glass. He lacks Stephenson's top-end floor vision and passing ability. And while he's got the size and quickness to guard both backcourt positions, he's a significant step down from Stephenson on the defensive end. (He's also not without his own locker-room baggage, as Buckner of the Star notes.)
Stuckey could benefit from a consistent role alongside good teammates with an established coach after playing under six head coaches in seven seasons in Detroit, but he isn't, on his own, a post-Lance solution at the two for the Pacers. Bird and Indy's braintrust aren't necessarily banking on him to be, though. They're hoping that between the additions of Stuckey and prior free-agent acquisition C.J. Miles, steps forward from the point guard pairing of George Hill and C.J. Watson, and the continued evolution of All-NBA small forward Paul George, they'll have enough on the wing to withstand the loss of one of their most reliable (well, in terms of being in the lineup, at least) contributors during two straight Eastern Conference Finals trips. It'll take some hard work, creativity and trust from head coach Frank Vogel to put the puzzle together, but Stuckey's a nice piece to be able to use, at a very nice price.
• The Golden State Warriors are bringing back Brandon Rush, agreeing to terms on a two-year, $2.5 million contract with the free-agent swingman, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. Rush will hold a player option for the second season.
The agreement sends the 29-year-old Kansas product back to the Bay Area, where he had his best pro season in 2011-12. Rush averaged just under 10 points and four rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, earning praise — and ultimately a two-year, $8 million contract — for his contributions as a versatile reserve capable of attacking the basket, spreading the floor (a career-best 45.2 percent from 3-point land) and defending multiple positions. Things went south, though, when Rush tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Warriors' 2012-13 home opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. He missed the remainder of the season before being sent last summer to the Utah Jazz as part of a deal that helped Golden State clear enough cap space to add sought-after wing Andre Iguodala.
After returning from injury, Rush never quite got comfortable in Utah, with both physical and mental struggles limiting him to just over two points and one rebound in 11 minutes per game in 38 appearances for the Jazz.
Ppl just don't kno what I been thru the last 14 months. #soblessed
The Warriors clearly saw enough during Rush's recent workout in Las Vegas to feel comfortable bringing him back on a multi-year deal above the veteran minimum salary (albeit only slightly, since the minimum for a six-year vet like Rush pays just under $1.15 million). If he has, in fact, regained his explosiveness and lateral movement — as well as his timing, touch and rhythm — after nearly two years of rehabilitation work after his injury, then he could offer an attractive wing option for new head coach Steve Kerr, who has said he envisions using third-year men Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes more as stretch fours this season and could find himself in need of someone who can reliably defend wings and stretch the floor behind Iguodala and recent free-agent signing Shaun Livingston.
If all goes well, a Warriors team eager to go from "dangerous on the right night" to "legitimate contender" in the stacked West gets a rotation boost and Rush gets a chance to seek greener pastures — or at least pastures where he'd make more green — next summer. If it doesn't, the Dubs will only be on the hook for just north of the veteran's minimum again in 2015-16. A low-risk, high-potential-reward addition for a team where the central building blocks are already in place (and, perhaps regrettably, don't appear to be getting any foundation-shifting reinforcements just yet).
• The Los Angeles Lakers landed free-agent forward Ed Davis, late of the Memphis Grizzlies, for the bargain-basement price of $2 million over two years, according to Woj, with the 25-year-old former North Carolina standout holding a player option for the second season. As head-scratching as it was for L.A. to give Jordan Hill $18 million over two years, that's roughly how jaw-dropping it is that they were able to snare Davis for a cool mil per year.
Davis played fewer minutes in his year and a half in Memphis (1,500) than he did during his final season with the Toronto Raptors (1,534), and that was the lockout-shortened 66-game 2011-12 campaign. There were reasons for that, of course — that was a bad Raptors team with little besides do-it-all Amir Johnson and do-very-little Andrea Bargnani ahead of him on the frontcourt depth chart, whereas the very good Grizz of the last couple of years have employed Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and reserves like Darrell Arthur and Kosta Koufos — and for all his athletic gifts, he rarely leapt off the screen at you, grabbed you by the lapels and made you think, "Man, Ed Davis should probably be starting."
That said: Ed Davis should definitely be playing more.
He's a perpetually active rebounder, helpful in clearing the glass on both ends of the floor. He's a viable option as the dive man in the pick-and-roll, with the length and athleticism to get to the basket quickly off one dribble (or none, depending on where the screen's set) and the touch to finish once he gets there; he's shot 67.1 percent inside the restricted area for his career. His suspect free-throw percentages (59.6 percent as a pro) temper enthusiasm that he could ever become a bankable pick-and-pop big, but he's shown flashes of midrange proficiency (37.6 percent for his career) that make you think it could come with time. He's still a bit thin at just 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, which can leave him as a liability in one-on-one post defense, but he's demonstrated value as a weak-side shot-blocker, sending back 3.6 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts during his floor time over four pro seasons, an average rejection rate that would've ranked him among the league's top 15 to 25 swatters in each of the past 10 years.
He's been productive, effective, efficient and intriguing on both ends of the floor when he's gotten opportunities, and he ought to get plenty in a Lakers frontcourt that presently features Hill, Robert Sacre, rookie Julius Randle and nothing else. (It remains to be seen whether L.A. decides to bring back restricted free agent Ryan Kelly, to whom they extended a qualifying offer after his rookie season.) If his impressive per-minute numbers translate in a larger role, a Lakers team set to be flush with cap space next season and thereafter will have the option of paying a more upmarket rate for an emerging 26-year-old power forward; if he doesn't, the deal still represents precisely the kind of value play that a rebuilding team in need of everything like the Lakers should be making.
• Luke Ridnour will join the Orlando Magic to back up first-round picks Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, as first reported by Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. The 33-year-old point guard will receive a two-year, $5.5 million deal, with the second year unguaranteed, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge.
All things being equal, Ridnour — whom the Minnesota Timberwolves shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks last summer, and whom the Bucks shipped to the Charlotte Bobcats at the trade deadline, and who hasn't really played or produced very well no matter which jersey he's worn in the last three years — represents a clear downgrade from longtime Magic leader Jameer Nelson in the "veteran point guard who can help the youngsters learn the ropes" role. But all things weren't equal; Nelson was due to make $8 million this year, so he was waived, and Ridnour can help the youngsters adjust to running pro-level pick-and-rolls for less than $3 million, so he gets a blue jersey. If, on the other hand, head coach Jacque Vaughn elects to start Oladipo at the point with Payton as his backup, as Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post suggests, then technically Ridnour winds up replacing the waived Ronnie Price as the third point guard, which tilts the calculus a little bit; sure, you'd probably rather have Ridnour, but couldn't you fill that spot on a minimum salary?
If Ridnour can rediscover the 3-point stroke that seems to have abandoned him sometime in the summer of 2011, that'd be a nice boost for an Orlando squad that could still use more shooting even after signing former Phoenix Suns floor-spacer Channing Frye, but after three straight seasons of below-league-average long-range work, that might be asking too much. Either way, Ridnour provides Vaughn and general manager Rob Hennigan with something of a fixed commodity — he'll move the ball, he'll create baskets more often than he commits turnovers, he'll try hard (although often in vain) to defend opponents at both backcourt positions, and he will neither outshine nor impede the development of the young triggermen to whom the Magic have handed their keys.
• The Los Angeles Clippers will bring back forward Glen Davis, the artist more popularly known as "Big Baby," on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1,227,985, as first reported by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
When he headed to Hollywood last February after agreeing to a buyout with the Magic, Davis was expected to serve as a needed third big man behind starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, much as he had behind Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins for the Boston Celtics, where he'd previously worked under Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. Things didn't work out quite so hot there.
Davis shot the ball well (48.1 percent from the field) while chipping in a little over eight rebounds per 36 minutes of floor time and moving his feet on defense, but he turned the ball over a ton, coughing it up on nearly 16 percent of the offensive possessions he used (by far his highest rate since his rookie year) and failed to provide a convincing approximation of first-unit production when he came off the pine.
With Davis on the court during the regular season, the Clippers were outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool; during the postseason, they played about even with the competition, but while their defense was stingier with Big Baby in the mix, their offense fell off a cliff. (He also wound up on the receiving end of a huge Kevin Durant bomb late in the Clippers' season-tilting Game 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, which isn't necessarily how you want to be remembered.)
That said, the 28-year-old Davis still has some value as a two-way big who's capable of playing both on the block and a few steps out on the floor on offense, and is familiar with Rivers' defensive system. Less will be expected of him this season, with the recently acquired Spencer Hawes in the fold to act as an honest-to-goodness backup center; if he can commit to slimming down a bit (the ever-popular phrase "'in the best shape' of his ... career" has been invoked) and focusing first on making a defensive difference, he could help solidify a frontcourt rotation that was a real problem for the Clippers last season.
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