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They might not be on the order of the bigger moves we've seen since free agency opened Monday — Chris Paul staying in L.A., Andrea Bargnani heading to New York, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili returning to San Antonio, three-team deals that landed Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix and Tyreke Evans in New Orleans, and Al Jefferson getting a big payday in Charlotte — but there have been a handful of smaller deals agreed to over the past couple of days that are worth considering, too. ("Agreed to," but not completed — no deal can be made official until after the July 10 end of the league's annual moratorium on trades and signings.)
Let's quick-hit our way through a handful, starting out in the Big Apple.
• The New York Knicks and free-agent guard Pablo Prigioni agreed to terms on Thursday, as first reported by Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York. According to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, the 36-year-old Prigioni will receive a three-year deal worth just under $6 million — a slice of New York's taxpayer midlevel exception starting at about $1.5 million next season, then escalating with raises — to return to play point guard for coach Mike Woodson. (Whether he'll be part of the starting lineup remains unclear, but it's something Woodson should certainly consider — the Knicks went 21-7 with Prigioni as part of the starting five last season.)
News of Prigioni's deal popped up hours after J.R. Smith got a four-year, $25 million deal, ensuring that two of the top four backcourt contributors on the best Knicks team in 16 years will be back in the fold for 2013-14 and beyond. And while there's plenty of cause for trepidation with handing Smith the keys for four more years, there need be no cause for concern with Prigioni — simply put, the Knicks were a significantly better team with the longtime Argentine national team point guard and Euroleague star on the floor.
New York outscored opponents by eight points per 100 possessions during Prigioni's regular-season minutes, more than double the efficiency differential when he sat, according to NBA.com's stat tool. The on/off-court numbers were even more staggering during the postseason — the Knicks topped the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers by more than 16 points-per-100 with Prigioni in the lineup, and were downed by five points-per-100 without him playing. The numbers back up what your lyin' eyes told you while watching the games — the Knicks' offense flowed much, much better with Prigioni working alongside Raymond Felton or Jason Kidd in two-point-guard lineups, with Prigioni capable of initiating actions himself or working off the ball as a spot-up shooter.
Pablo wasn't at times maddeningly unwilling to look for his own offense, preferring to set the table for his teammates, but when he did, he was a legitimate threat from beyond the arc (39.6 percent from 3 during the regular season, 43.3 percent during the playoffs), and he was the Knicks' best backcourt defender, frequently picking up opposing points the length of the court and proving to be a sneaky, opportunistic sort who snagged steals on 2.9 percent of opponents' possessions, which would've been a top-10 mark in the league had he played enough minutes to qualify.
It's fair to wonder whether Prigioni will remain as active and effective for the entirety of a deal that will take him through age 38. The Knicks will hope that Prigioni's commitment to keeping himself in fantastic shape will pay dividends there, and if it doesn't, Iannazzone reports that New York holds an option on the partially guaranteed the third year of the contract, which mitigates things a bit. Kidd's retirement made securing point guard depth a major key for the Knicks this offseason; if Prigioni can replicate the impact he had on both ends of the court, he'll be an absolute steal at less than $2 million per season.
Belinelli's never been, strictly speaking, that good an NBA player — the 26-year-old shooting guard's made just under 42 percent of his shots during a six-year career, he's a decent-at-best facilitator, not much of a rebounder off the wing, and generally a minus on the defensive end. He can knock down the long ball, though, hitting 39.3 percent of his 3-point looks through his first five seasons before dipping down below league-average last season (35.7 percent) as he found himself thrust into a larger and more complicated role as a time-share combo guard alongside Nate Robinson in an emergency pairing for the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls. It wasn't always pretty, but it had its moments, with Belinelli occasionally hitting game-winning layups, coming through with a monster Game 7 to help knock off the Brooklyn Nets, and showing a capacity to capably run creative pick-and-rolls and command an offense.
It's unlikely Belinelli will be asked to do a ton of ball-handling on a team that employs Tony Parker, just brought back Ginobili and still has the Nando De Colo/Cory Joseph/Patty Mills backup point guard troika in the fold. But he can in a pinch, his shooting percentages seem like a good bet to bounce back on a team where he'll have less responsibility and more attention-demanding weapons around him, and if restricted free agent Gary Neal winds up going elsewhere, Belinelli seems like a ready-made replacement for the combo guard slot Neal's occupied for three seasons. Affordable deal, low risk, sound potential return. The Spurs stay the Spurs.
• Free-agent forward Earl Clark reached agreement on a two-year, $9 million contract to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.
With all due respect to Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi, the Cavs got all sorts of nothing much at the small forward spot last season, as each member of that trio wasroundlyoutproduced when manning the wing. The 6-foot-10 Clark saw more time at the four spot than the three for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but performed pretty well when slotted there, using his size, length and wingspan to show some defensive upside on the perimeter and an ability to help the Laker bigs on the glass, which could be useful for new Cavs coach Mike Brown as he tries to figure out how to mix and match a crowded frontcourt rotation featuring incumbent big men Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, plus 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.
Clark's still got a lot of development to do offensively — he's only a 41.4 percent career shooter, he's got more turnovers than assists through four NBA seasons and he hasn't always seemed to know where he should be and how to hunt space in the half-court. But given regular run for the first time in his career — the 1,363 minutes he played in L.A. last season were nearly as many as he'd played in his three prior NBA seasons combined — he went from basically never shooting from the perimeter to hitting just under 34 percent from 3-point range last season, which is a nice start. He was also quietly a decent option in limited work in the pick-and-roll game, finishing 49th among NBA players in points produced per possession as a roll man, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data, which could be useful alongside a developing screen-game orchestrator in Kyrie Irving.
There are warts here that make me think $4.5 million a year might be a bit much for Clark's services, but if he can provide help on the boards and continue to improve his shooting stroke, he might have a chance to start on the wing for an intriguing, if not-quite-ready-to-be-good, Cleveland squad. And if his development stalls or one of the other options (Gee, Miles, Bennett, fellow first-rounder Sergey Karasev) grabs a hold of the gig with both hands, Tom Withers of the Associated Press reports that the Cavs hold a team option for the back end of the two-year deal, so Chris Grant can walk away without cluttering up the books in 2014-15. It's worth a shot to find out if the promise that led the Phoenix Suns to pick Clark 14th overall in 2009 and that led Mike D'Antoni to give him a spot in L.A.'s rotation last season can develop into something more.
• The Toronto Raptors and free-agent guard Julyan Stone have agreed to a two-year deal, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski.
Stone hasn't gotten much burn in his two NBA seasons, playing just 207 minutes over 26 games for George Karl's Denver Nuggets and missing 44 games last year due to hip and knee injuries. Former Nuggets general manager and current Raptors boss Masai Ujiri, who signed Stone as an undrafted free agent out of UTEP in 2011, clearly still likes Stone's potential as a developmental prospect. Whether he's gifted enough as a facilitator to handle the responsibilities of a second-unit facilitator remains to be seen, but the 6-foot-6 Stone (who's got a 6-foot-9 1/2-inch wingspan) has shown enough promise as a defensive stopper in his limited floor time to merit a look on the cheap, especially after declining the 2013-14 team option on incumbent backup John Lucas III and with fellow reserve Sebastian Telfair reportedly drawing interest elsewhere.
If Stone can prove to be a pass-first sort capable of limiting his mistakes while locking down on the perimeter, he could be a very cost-effective option for Dwane Casey behind starter Kyle Lowry. If not, the Raptors hold a team option for the second year and can walk away free and clear. As a low-cost flyer, why not?
Two days after adding Sloan to their rookie/free-agent camp roster, they signed him to a multi-year deal. The 25-year-old guard has bounced around since going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2010, splitting the last three seasons between the D-League (with the Reno Bighorns, the Erie BayHawks and the Sioux Falls Skyforce), the NBA (with the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers), the Philippines (with the Barangay Ginebra Kings) and China (with the Guangdong Southern Tigers), and now will get a preseason shot to prove he's worth keeping around for more than 10 days at a time.
The 6-foot-3 Sloan is an aggressive point guard who likes to attack the rim and is capable of both getting his own shot (averaging 22.3 points per game for Sioux Falls last season) and setting up teammates (7.4 assists per contest in the D-League last year), though he hasn't yet been able to do so consistently enough to get an NBA team to let him try to do it regularly at the highest level. He'll be a clear third-string point guard behind starter George Hill and recently signed backup C.J. Watson, and probably won't get very many looks unless foul trouble, injuries or blowouts become a factor, but given the paucity of reliable ball-handling options Indiana had last season, all he has to do is be better than Ben Hansbrough for this signing to be worth it (provided he's there on a minimum deal, of course).
• The Washington Wizards reached a one-year deal with free-agent guard Garrett Temple, as first reported by J Michael of CSNWashington.com. Temple will make the veteran's minimum, according to Michael Lee of The Washington Post; since Temple has three years of NBA experience, he'll make $916,099.
Heading into last season, Temple's situation was similar to Sloan's, as the LSU product had spent time with five NBA teams, three D-League squads and A.S. Junior Pallacanestro Casale of the Italian second division over three professional seasons. With injuries to starters and disastrous reserve play plaguing the Wizards backcourt, though, the 6-foot-6 combo guard got a shot, making 51 appearances (including 36 starts) for the Wiz and averaging about eight points, four rebounds, 3 1/2 assists and 1 1/2 steals per 36 minutes of floor time while splitting time between the point and the two-guard while defending multiple positions.
Washington's hoped-for backcourt rotation — a healthy Wall and Bradley Beal starting with recently signed Eric Maynor backing up at the point and the also-re-upped Martell Webster perhaps playing some two-guard in certain lineups — could use a player with the ability to play on or off the ball a little bit and take on defensive matchups for which the smaller Maynor and Beal might not be suited, and if he doesn't work out, you're literally paying him as little as you can. No big whoop.
With Marc Gasol and draft-night acquisition Kosta Koufos at center and Zach Randolph and midseason acquisition Ed Davis at the four, Leuer figures to mostly hang out at the end of the bench until new coach Dave Joerger wants to try to improve the floor-spacing in Memphis' half-court sets. That's when he'll break the glass on Leuer, whose deal will reportedly start at just below a million bucks next season (which is less than the qualifying offer the Grizz didn't extend to him), and trust that the stroke that had him hitting just under 44 percent of his midrange looks two seasons ago and a tick under 43 percent last season remains true. He won't help much on the defensive end, but he could be a cheap pressure release in pick-and-pop actions or effective in drawing a big out of the paint after knocking down a couple to establish himself as a threat. For a Grizzlies team that figures to have issues whenever it rolls with Tony Allen/Tayshaun Prince-featuring lineups, every little bit of offensive firepower and space-creating helps, especially when you're barely paying more than the league minimum for it.
(Also, a bold prediction — if Leuer shoots 61.5 percent from the floor, as he did in 24 appearances for the Grizzlies after coming over from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a midseason salary-shedding deal, for the next three years, then this contract is going to be a steal.)
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