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The pace of free-agent signings and acquisitions has died down a bit in the two weeks since our last roundup, but teams have continued to add pieces here and there that they hope will either fortify their rosters for postseason runs, provide cost-effective and movable assets that could prove useful down the line, or maybe just help them spend up to the salary floor so that they don't get in trouble with incoming commissioner and noted taskmaster Adam Silver.
While we wait for the two biggest remaining names to resolve their restricted free-agent status, let's take a quick look at the other signings made as free agency trickles down toward the end of the bench:
• The Denver Nuggets and Nate Robinson agreed to a two-year deal, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. The 29-year-old guard will receive Denver's biannual exception, totaling just over $4 million, and will hold a player option for the second year of the deal, enabling him to opt out and re-enter free agency next summer if he so chooses.
You can understand why teams didn't rush out to give Robinson a lucrative long-term offer. To some extent, the 5-foot-9 spark plug is what he is, an explosive scorer whose size will always make him a defensive liability, whose athleticism-dependent game figures to start to deteriorate a bit as he gets past age 30 and whose shoot-first mentality makes him a boom-or-bust player on whom you might not feel totally comfortable relying. That said, the flip-side of "he is what he is" remains true, too — Robinson is a hell of a scorer.
He's lightning quick off the dribble, able to use his speed and handle to get around even longer-limbed and agile perimeter defenders, and also a reliable enough long-range shooter to make opponents pay for sagging — Robinson's right around league-average (36.3 percent) from 3-point range for his career but has hit at a 39 percent clip or better four times in eight NBA seasons, including a career-best 40.5 percent mark for the Chicago Bulls last season. He's become an effective secondary ball-handler, assisting on more than 31 percent of his team's baskets while he's on the floor (not elite, but quite good) while turning it over on less than 13 percent of offensive possessions (ditto, although closer to the former for a ball-dominating guard) in each of the past two seasons. He's a quality facilitator in the pick-and-roll, especially when looking for his own shot — he ranked 30th in the league in points produced per possession finished as a P&R ball-handler, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data.
Robinson's "in case of offensive emergency, break glass" game was kind of a perfect fit for a Bulls team that operated without offensive focal point Derrick Rose all season and that lost multiple key contributors in the postseason, affording Robinson the chance to become something of a folk hero. His chuck-and-duck style would seem to offer a nice fit with a Nuggets team that's short on shooting and has long loved to get up-and-down, but it remains to be seen whether new head coach Brian Shaw wants to get anywhere near pushing the pace as aggressively as predecessor George Karl did. Plus, the prospect of facing off against defensive backcourts featuring some combination of undersized points Robinson and Ty Lawson, not-especially-big-or-stout shooting guard Randy Foye, the aged Andre Miller and the promising but still green Evan Fournier should have Denver opponents licking their chops.
Still, it's not easy to find legitimate game-changing talent and battle-tested NBA skill for $2 million per year, and the tough, dynamic Robinson provides both. I'm just not sure his particular brand of game-change will benefit this specific Nuggets team quite as much as taking a flyer on a bigger, more defense-oriented fifth guard might have.
• The Nuggets also agreed to a three-year, $14 million extension with restricted free agent center Timofey Mozgov, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, with Denver holding a team option for Year 3.
As a New York Knicks fan who thought Mozgov showed plenty of promise (Mozgov-ing aside) before being shipped to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal, I'm a bit biased toward Timo. I also think he showed some nice signs for Russia in last summer's Olympic tournament, and he performed well on the offensive glass (albeit in very limited minutes) for the Nuggets last season. And generally speaking, $4.6 million a year doesn't seem like a crazy overpay for a young 7-footer whom you think has a lot of potential and can grow into a valuable reserve-minutes contributor.
But then you remember that Mozgov's not really that young (he just turned 27) and that he struggled to earn minutes at the five behind a number of centers (first Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin, then Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee) in his first 2 1/2 years in Denver. You remember that he made it off the bench in only half of the Nuggets' games last year (and even then, only for nine minutes a contest) and that he wasn't exceptionally impressive once he got on the floor.
While Woj's story cites the "opportunity for Mozgov to play a significantly increased role" after Denver sent Koufos to the Memphis Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur, didn't Denver just give virtually the same contract to J.J. Hickson to play power forward/center minutes along with McGee, Kenneth Faried and Arthur? And if you were going to pay for a backup center, wouldn't you rather pay Koufos (who's 24 years old and has been the superior player to this point in their NBA careers) a total of $6 million over the next two seasons, then deal with his contract/finding a replacement in Year 3, than pay Mozgov more per year through age 30 or, if the next two years don't work out, decline his option and find yourself in the same position come 2015-16?
With this contract, new Nuggets General Manger Tim Connelly and company appear to be wagering not only that Mozgov will prove to be a better fit in whatever offensive system and defensive scheme Shaw elects to run than Koufos would have been, but also that he still has significant development ahead of him, that he's good enough right now to be the primary backup to McGee and that he's going to be able to step in capably if the JaVale-as-starter movement goes sideways. If that gamble pays off, $4.6 million a year won't seem crazy, but at this point, the odds seem long and the decision seems curious.
I was skeptical as hell that Martin would be a legitimate helper when the Knicks signed him to a 10-day contract to bolster their injury-depleted frontcourt rotation in late February after watching him bring little more than attitude to the 2011-12 Los Angeles Clippers, but the 35-year-old bruiser was a pleasant surprise for Mike Woodson's club.
Sure, he still made free throws at Biedrinsian rates, but he shot 60 percent from the floor, which helps make up for that. Martin served as a legitimately effective offensive player as a roll man in the screen game, when hunting space on duck-ins for dump-offs along the baseline and when attacking the offensive glass, and he did help fortify the Knicks' leaky D — New York gave up 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than without him, according to NBA.com's stat tool. He didn't rebound all that well for his position — he never has — but his movement in the defensive half-court, in glomming onto Woodson's rotations and in providing the occasional (and forceful) weak-side shot-block made his late-season addition a legitimate positive for a team that had to mix and match minutes for months without the likes of Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Amar'e Stoudemire. (Oh, brother, that Knicks frontcourt.)
I remain somewhat skeptical that Martin, who'll turn 36 before we ring in 2014, will provide the same level of concerted oomph over the course of a full season that he mustered in a 30-game late-season sprint. But a Knicks frontcourt featuring Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani's going to need as much muscle and defensive help as it can get, and whatever Martin can provide at the veteran's minimum figures to help.
• The Dallas Mavericks have signed center Samuel Dalembert to a two-year, $7.5 million contract, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, with the second year only partially guaranteed.
Dalembert lost his starting center spot with the Milwaukee Bucks early last season and found himself buried in the Bucks' big-man rotation, due in part to the emergence of defensive monster Larry Sanders as the leader of Milwaukee's pack of young bigs and in part to what sounds like an awful weird relationship with former coach Scott Skiles. Still, while his game's not especially thrilling and he just turned 32, Dalembert can help a team with a hole in the middle, and after striking out on Dwight Howard, the Mavericks are nothing if not that.
Dallas ranked 22nd among 30 NBA teams in defensive rebounding percentage and finished just below the middle of the pack in second-chance points allowed last season; importing Dalembert, who perennially clears right around a quarter of opponents' misses off the glass, ought to help limit opposing offenses to one try per possession. And while the Mavs fared well statistically in blocks per 48 minutes and field-goal attempts/percentage allowed in the restricted area last season, having a legitimate rim-protector in the paint — Dalembert always ranks among the league leaders in block percentage, and would've been in the top 10 again last season had he played enough minutes to qualify — should help cover up for what, after the signings of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis and the drafting of 5-foot-11 Shane Larkin, looks like it might not be the stingiest perimeter defense the NBA's ever seen.
He's not exactly an offensive force — well, except for that one time — but he's not lost on that end, capable of setting solid screens and working effectively as a roll man, which is a nice thing to have around if initial actions focused on some combination of Dirk Nowitzki and Calderon, Ellis, Gal Mekel or possibly Devin Harris sputter out. When not needed there, Dalembert can be effective just hanging around the baseline and crashing the offensive glass, which he's done at an above-average rate throughout his 12-year NBA career.
If the onset of age isn't kind, or if Dalembert winds up mixing with Rick Carlisle roughly as well as he appears to have with Skiles, Dallas can walk away fairly inexpensively, with a little less than half of Year 2 guaranteed. Not a blow-your-hair-back signing, but considering Dalembert will make less and probably provide more to (perhaps) start for Dallas than Mozgov will to come off the bench for Denver, the deal seems reasonable enough.
• The Mavericks will also bring back Brandan Wright on a two-year contract worth $10 million that could pay the 25-year-old forward/center an additional $1.1 million if certain incentive clauses are met, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge.
After several seasons of false starts to an NBA career that began as the eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft, Wright's found a niche in Dallas, averaging just under eight points and four rebounds and just over a block in 17 minutes per game while shooting a tick over 60 percent from the floor over the past two seasons. He's done the lion's share of his damage by using his quickness to work as a cutter away from the ball when defenses pay attention to Nowitzki or Dallas' more dangerous threats, and by using his length and a better-than-you-might-think touch around the rim (70.2 percent in the restricted area) to finish the opportunities created for him by others. He also showed last season a burgeoning talent for finishing as the roll man in the screen game, which bodes well for possible partnerships with the bevy of pick-and-roll-savvy guards Dallas has added this offseason.
At issue, again, is the value question. Is a 205-pound four/five type whom opposing bigs can bully in the post, whose offensive game exists almost entirely within 15 feet (he's taken 58 shots from 16 feet and further in five NBA seasons) and who mitigates his strong weak-side shotblocking by being a below-average rebounder for his position worth $5 million a year? If he maintains his stellar offensive efficiency numbers in increased minutes and shows that last season's 42 percent mark from midrange on limited attempts was the start of something bigger, then the answer's probably yes. If more exposure results in, well, exposure, though, Wright could look like a pretty expensive (if still movable) luxury on a lower-rung Western team.
• Dallas also re-signed center Bernard James after waiving him to create cap space. James was a solid shot-blocker, turning back an excellent 6.5 percent of opponents' tries while on the floor, who averaged a tick under three points and three boards in about 10 minutes of run per game. Bringing the 28-year-old Air Force veteran back on a veteran's minimum salary to back up Dalembert and Wright won't merit parades, but it's a decent move.
It happened again.
For the last four seasons, Fisher has made something of a habit of trolling the Basketball Internet, who look at his stats, watch him clang contested jumpers and struggle to keep his feet moving to defend opposing point guards and wonder, "How the heck is this guy still in the league?" And then the playoffs roll around.
While the numbers don't skyrocket, they do go up — from 6.5 points in 25.4 minutes per game on 37.7 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range over the past four regular seasons to 8.3 points in 28.2 minutes per game on 42.6/36.8 in the last four postseasons — and he makes at least one or two shots every spring that extend the "Derek Fisher Is A Valuable Veteran Leader Whose Valuable Veteran Leadership Gains Value Come Playoff Time" storyline, meaning he'll come back around again the next season to troll us all over again (while maintaining his status as an active player, keeping him eligible to remain in control of the National Basketball Player's Association).
And so, here we are.
For another year, I'll renew my objection to the idea of the about-to-be-39-year-old Fisher in any way taking minutes and opportunities from young players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, whose development will be integral in OKC's quest to return to the NBA finals and remain sustainably excellent into the future. And, for another year, Fisher, Scott Brooks and Sam Presti will nod their heads and keep running him out there to muck up second-unit spacing for about a half a game all season, then watch as the basketball gods smile their way toward imbuing him with the ability to hit 47 percent of his 3s during a playoff series.
I'd pencil us in for the exact same conversation this time next year, except that Fisher says this is going to be his final season. (We'll see how he feels next summer, after somehow miraculously proving to be a reliable shotmaker for a week and a half after about six months of bricks. It's going to happen.)
• The Atlanta Hawks have reached an agreement with power forward/center Pero Antic, who most recently played for back-to-back Euroleague champions Olympiacos, according to his agent, Misko Raznatovic. The agent referred to his client's deal as a "1 plus 1 contract," which Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress subsequently reported meant it's a two-year deal in which only Year 1 is fully guaranteed; the great Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com confirms it's a two-year, $2.45 million deal in which the second year is entirely unguaranteed if he's waived before July 15, 2014.
This will come as a shock to you, I'm sure, but I do not have exhaustive experience watching and covering Antic, or any hard and firm (not to be confused with Hard N Phirm) opinions about him. A brief positive scouting report from Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype:
... and a chillier take from the fine international hoops blog EuroStep:
... and a warm-up from Wendell Maxey, a lead scout for German Pro A team Nürnberger B.C. and a contributing writer for D-League blog Ridiculous Upside, where he shared some footage of Antic in live game action:
Always room for more cool tats.
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound big man will likely slot in alongside fellow free-agent acquisition Elton Brand to back up projected starters Al Horford and Paul Millsap at the four and five slots, allowing Mike Budenholzer and company to bring along young, raw and enticing project rookie Lucas Nogueira (who may come to the States this season after all) slowly in Atlanta's remade big-man rotation.
One last little note: Antic will be the first player born in Macedonia ever to suit up in the NBA. So that's neat.
• The Boston Celtics have signed Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani and undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey. According to Mark Deeks of the invaluable ShamSports.com, Faverani received a three-year, $6.27 million deal in which Year 3 is fully unguaranteed now, but becomes locked in if he's still on the C's roster on July 15, 2015; Pressey got a three-year, minimum-salary deal with the second and third year holding that same "unguaranteed until July 15" provision.
Faverani's a 25-year-old, 6-foot-11, 230-pound Brazilian four/five who has spent his pro career in Spain, most recently with Valencia of the ACB, Spain's top league. Scouts tell the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes that Faverani is more of a pick-and-pop offensive big man than a lockdown defender; bigs who can make jumpers have tended to function well with Rajon Rondo, so that's something. Also, his nickname is apparently "El Hombre Indestructible" ("The Indestructible Man") because he "likes to bang." Something tells me Bostonians might dig that in a "mop-up minutes off the bench/Brazilian Scal" role, especially if Fab Melo's not up to the challenge in his second season.
While Pressey's unreliable shot, gambling defense and tendency toward turnovers hampered his draft stock, the particular flavor of advanced statistical analysis favored by Vantage Sports identified the Missouri standout as perhaps the best facilitator in the draft, a triggerman capable of making hay both off screens and in isolation drives. He'll have to earn spot minutes behind the likes of Rondo, Avery Bradley and possibly Jordan Crawford in Brad Stevens' rotation.
Lucas isn't exactly a caretaker backup point guard in the traditional Lindsey Hunter-y "pass-first, pass-second, pass-third and play defense" sense of the term. But with Utah likely to turn the reins over to lottery pick Trey Burke quite a bit in what figures to be a feel-it-out-and-build-for-the-future season, it seems like a good idea to have a seasoned eight-year pro who has played for three NBA teams, has played in Italy, Spain, China and the D-League, is generally considered a solid all-around citizen and can shoot the ball in the mix to spot and spell.
The former Oklahoma State guard made just over 39 percent of his triples for the Bulls two years ago and just under 38 percent of his long balls for the Toronto Raptors last season, and averaged about 3.1 assists per turnover in his floor time over the past two years. He's a pretty glaring defensive liability at 5-foot-11 without great quickness, but as a reserve point guard who can knock down outside shots and won't make a boatload of mistakes, he ought to bide rebuilding time nicely in Utah.
• The Jazz also reached a two-year deal with Summer League standout Ian Clark, according to USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt. Terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but agent Bill Duffy said Utah holds a team option for the second season.
Just before the 2013 draft, Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn suggested that the NBA was about to miss out on Clark, one of college basketball's singular talents, a knockdown shooter from Belmont who slid down draft boards because he was a skinny 6-foot-3 shooting guard who didn't appear to have the skill-set to run point at the NBA level or the size to play the two. Still, Winn maintained, Clark was the best pure shooter in the draft pool.
But, of course, going undrafted doesn't mean the NBA "misses" you. Clark caught on with the Miami Heat's Orlando Summer League team, averaging 16.4 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent shooting from 3-point land. He then linked up with the Golden State Warriors' Las Vegas Summer League team, averaging 12.4 points per game on 47.8 percent from the floor and 48.5 percent from 3, including a "hello, new world" coming-out party in the Vegas tourney's title game:
Only five NBA teams derived a lower share of offense from beyond the arc than Utah last season, according to NBA.com's stat tool. The Jazz employed only three players who shot better than 36 percent from deep last season, lost one of them (Foye to the Nuggets) and may lose another (Mo Williams) before the summer's out. Remember the lesson of this free-agency period: Shooters get paid.
Clark will have to scrap for burn in a crowded backcourt featuring Burke, Lucas, Gordon Hayward and new import Brandon Rush, but if he keeps hitting shots, he'll get his chance.
• The Los Angeles Clippers have signed forward/center Byron Mullens to a two-year, $2 million contract, according to Wojnarowski.
After re-signing Chris Paul, trading for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, re-signing Matt Barnes, drafting 3-and-D wing Reggie Bullock and adding backup point guard Darren Collison, the Clippers figure to feature one of the best offenses in basketball, and could well lead the league in points per possession next year. They don't, however, appear especially stout on the defensive end, especially in the frontcourt, where they had virtually no depth beyond starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
They brought back Ryan Hollins, who kind of just takes up space and occasionally starts a fight. Then they brought in Mullens, who kind of just takes 3-pointers (5.2 per 36 minutes for the Charlotte Bobcats last year) and occasionally dunks on LaMarcus Aldridge. I mean, that's an upgrade over Hollins, but it doesn't move the needle on the defensive end at all — the Bobcats, who were horrendous, were nearly nine points per 100 possessions better with Mullens off the floor last year, and gave up an obscene 113 points-per-100 when he played. This is not the spot-minutes answer as a backup power forward/center, and yet, it's the answer Doc Rivers and company have at the moment. Best of luck coaching 'em up, Doc.
• The Raptors signed point guard D.J. Augustin to a one-year, $1.26 million contract, according to Wojnarowski.
Augustin came to the Indiana Pacers last year to replace new Clipper Collison as the primary backup to George Hill and was a veritable poopshow, hitting just 35 percent of his shots, turning the ball over on nearly 17 percent of his possessions (which is a lot), often seeming incapable of even throwing entry passes and struggling to stop even the least threatening opposition when defending on the perimeter. He looked completely out of sorts when asked to do anything other than shoot 3-pointers off screens or as a spot-up shooter off the ball.
In Toronto, he'll be asked to serve as the primary backup to starter Kyle Lowry, and if his career progression continues apace, that will not go particularly well; I wouldn't be surprised if Dwight Buycks, a former D-League and European stalwart the team signed after an impressive Summer League stint, winds up getting the better of Augustin in a backup time-share. That's kind of a bummer, but it's also sort of where we are with D.J. right now, unfortunately, and it makes him unlikely to be a significant contributor to a Raptors team that appears to be eager to work its way into a lower-rungs-of-the-East playoff slot this season.
• The Orlando Magic brought in forward/center Jason Maxiell on a two-year, $5 million contract, according to Wojnarowski. The second year is fully unguaranteed, according to Deeks, but will be locked in if the veteran big man's still on the Orlando roster on July 10, 2014.
Maxiell hasn't been an especially valuable on-court contributor in about four years, but he's a hardworking, professional rebounder and tough guy whose work-rate and practice-banging can only help developing Orlando bigs Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn. The Magic rebuilding plan should not allow Maxiell to get a whole lot of playing time — that should be going to the aforementioned young dudes, plus Tobias Harris, and Glen Davis when he gets back to full health — but the longtime Detroit Pistons grinder should at least provide sound enough frontcourt defense off the bench for Jacque Vaughn, and Orlando can get away from the unguaranteed second year if the young fellas show enough this coming season to suggest that a big brother's not needed.
• The Magic also signed point guard Ronnie Price to a one-year, veteran's minimum contract, as first reported by Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com.
The 30-year-old Price has never been, strictly speaking, that good an NBA player. He's never shown a capacity to regularly knock down outside shots, he's never proven to be an excellent slasher or penetrator, and he's turned the ball over on a larger share of his team's possessions than he's notched an assist in five of eight NBA seasons. The Magic cited Price's "toughness and competitive spirit" in announcing his signing; I take this to mean he is considered a good dude who will work hard in practice, do whatever's necessary to earn his paycheck, try his damnedest when called upon as the fifth or sixth guard (definitely behind Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo and E'Twaun Moore, and probably behind Doron Lamb) off the Magic bench, and be gone in a season. That, however, is not value-less, if it's not altogether valuable. Here's to one more season in the sun, Ronnie.
• The Los Angeles Lakers have signed small forward/shooting guard Wesley Johnson to a one-year, $1 million deal.
The Lakers had nada except for Nick Young at the three spot and Johnson's a young player who'd come cheap and who's raging against the dying of the light to show that there's still any shot he'll stick in the NBA after bombing somethin' awful since the Minnesota Timberwolves used the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft on him rather than, say, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Larry Sanders, Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley, among others.
Color me skeptical that a reputed sweet-shooting swingman who's missed three out of every five shots he's taken in three NBA seasons and made a tick under 34 percent of his 3-pointers, and a long-armed and athletic type who hasn't shown much defensive acumen at all as a pro, will actually merit more than token minutes on the wing off the L.A. bench. If it's ever going to happen for him, you'd think it might happen in Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced, spread pick-and-roll offense, which could enable the former Syracuse star to stop thinking and either run or catch-and-shoot. Seems like a pretty big "if," though. At least it doesn't cost much.
• The Minnesota Timberwolves signed center Ronny Turiaf to a two-year deal worth $3 million.
It irks me that the Clippers didn't bring back Turiaf instead of importing Mullens, because the only things the 30-year-old Frenchman does well — defend the post, contest shots, work hard on the glass, provide energy, freak out on the bench — seem to be exactly the things L.A. could use for a couple of minutes at a time this season.
That said, the same's likely true of the Wolves, who profile as a good (and potentially really good) offensive team that won't do a ton of stopping on the perimeter and lacks much frontcourt heft behind as-yet-unextended restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic. Plus, Ronny seems to feel a spiritual connection with Minny, Hoiberg-wise, and I'm good with that. As long as Ronny Turiaf is happy, I am happy, because Ronny Turiaf is awesome.
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