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After largely sitting out the frenetic first day of 2015 NBA free agency, a 24-hour period in which NBA teams and players agreed to an estimated $1.5 billion in new deals, the New York Knicks got in the game early Thursday morning, coming to terms with veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo, as first reported by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne.
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Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that New York had become the frontrunner for the services of the 29-year-old Compton, Calif., native, as president of basketball operations Phil Jackson looks to add players who can shoot, defend and pass to a talent-poor roster that just turned in the worst season in Knicks franchise history. While the initial report suggested Afflalo could command somewhere between $12 million and $13 million per year, though, the final numbers as reported by Shelburne and others are much more team-friendly — it's a two-year, $16 million deal, with Afflalo holding a player option for Year 2 that would allow him to opt out and re-enter free agency after the 2015-16 campaign.
The influx of revenue from the NBA's new nine-year, $24 billion broadcast rights deal will hit next summer, inflating the salary cap to a projected $89 million, which could afford Afflalo the opportunity to ink a more lucrative multi-year deal that carries him toward his mid-30s. Afflalo will likely need a bounce-back season to get that kind of bump, though, as his play fell off last year from the All-Star-consideration-worthy production he turned in for the Orlando Magic in 2013-14, averaging 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting just under 46 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point land.
Last summer, Orlando shipped Afflalo back to the Denver Nuggets, the team with whom he spent three productive seasons and became an NBA starter after beginning his career as a reserve with the Detroit Pistons. Afflalo didn't seem to breathe too freely back in that thin Mile High air, though, shooting just 42.8 percent from the field (his worst mark since his rookie season in Detroit) and 33.7 percent from 3-point range, getting to the foul line less frequently and logging assists on a lower share of his teammates' buckets under Brian Shaw's doomed regime than he had in the Magic Kingdom.
A midseason trade to the Portland Trail Blazers, complete with insertion into their free-flowing high-octane offense under head coach Terry Stotts, figured to help get Afflalo more clean, in-rhythm looks and help nudge his shooting numbers back up toward his more efficient career averages. He did feast from long distance, knocking down 40 percent of his triples during 25 regular-season appearances in Rip City, but the 6-foot-5 guard struggled mightily elsewhere, shooting just 42.3 percent inside the arc while continuing to look as if he's lost a step or two defensively from his early decade days as a wing stopper in Denver.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey imported Afflalo to provide depth at the two-guard spot behind Wesley Matthews. But when the very good starter went down for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, Stotts had to slide Afflalo up into the starting lineup, and the downgrade — compounded by what appeared to be some across-the-board decline from multiple Blazers nursing injuries — was massive. The Blazers ranked third in the NBA in defensive efficiency prior to Matthews' injury. They hemorrhaged points afterward, dropping to 24th, with the rebooted starting five — Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge up front, Afflalo and Nicolas Batum on the wing, Damian Lillard running point — allowing an unsightly 111.2 points per 100 possessions.
Afflalo's struggles got worse when he suffered a late-season shoulder strain that kept him out for the final three games of the regular season and Games 1 and 2 of the Blazers' playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. He returned in Game 3, but was clearly hampered by the injury and ill-equipped to contribute, scoring just five total points on 2-for-12 shooting over the remainder of the series, which the Grizz wrapped up in five.
Despite that dismal end to his season, Afflalo opted out of his $7.75 million contract for 2015-16 in hopes he could find something a bit more lucrative and longer lasting. Instead, he gets a mild pay raise up to $8 million per year; the opportunity to rejoin Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, with whom he played in Denver; and a chance to potentially hit it big next summer — maybe not DeMarre Carroll big, but bigger than this — if he does shine in what's expected to be a starting spot in New York. He's unlikely to move the needle in a major way for the Knicks, but his post-up gifts might play well in small doses in the triangle, and if he shoots 3s the way he did in Portland rather than the way he did in Denver, he could wind up being a useful floor-spacer on a team that was all but bereft of non-Melo offensive helpers last season.
The version of Afflalo who suits up for the Knicks next season will not be as good on either end of the floor as the one many remember from his days as a starter in Denver. But his deal leaves Jackson with a bit more than $20 million in cap space to offer in pursuit of big-name targets (DeAndre Jordan? LaMarcus Aldridge?) or relatively smaller fish (Patrick Beverley? Robin Lopez? K.J. McDaniels? Ed Davis?) as free agency continues ... and above all else, he's still a pretty useful professional basketball player, which is a definitive improvement for the Knicks at this stage of their rebuild.
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