NBA Free Agency: 15 Biggest Steals of the Offseason
While many of the big splashes made in free agency were ones in which teams overpaid for big names or apparent up-and-comers, some deals were savvy value signings.
The Phoenix Suns inked deals with a few players without going overboard on any of them, even on emerging point guard Goran Dragic.
The Suns were among several teams that made smart moves to fill needs. The Memphis Grizzlies also made a few signings without going bananas, including one guy who might eventually succeed the most expensive player on their 2012-13 roster in the power forward role.
The following is a list of all the steals in this free-agent class, including some who will pay off as they ascend in the NBA ranks and some veterans who will give what they have left at a bargain price.
O.J. Mayo appeared to be poised to haul in a magnificent deal this offseason after being an invaluable scorer off the Memphis Grizzlies' bench the last two years. However, his stock was apparently undercut by his performance in the playoffs, when he shot 29 percent and had a dismal offensive rating of 82 points per 100 possessions.
The result was a two-year, $8.5 million deal from the Dallas Mavericks, as per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, with the second year being a player option.
Mayo will surely return to being a starting shooting guard in 2012-13, a placement he lost with the Grizzlies when they signed Tony Allen. Vince Carter is past the point in his career where he can challenge the fierce Mayo. Dahntay and Dominique Jones aren't on Mayo's level, either.
The USC product will reassert himself as a strong scorer in a lineup that doesn't have a lot of them. Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman look to be the only other significant scoring options, and Kaman isn't a big-time scorer unless his team needs him to be.
Mavericks fans will be watching Mayo jacking up a ton of shots and producing 17 or 18 points per game, and doing so for a low price.
The Mavericks haven't had a solid all-around center in quite some time, and now they've grabbed one without breaking the bank. Chris Kaman joins the Mavericks frontcourt for a modest fee of $8 million for a year, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Kaman combines the shot-blocking and rebounding the Mavericks have been accustomed to having at center with above-average scoring ability that they've lacked for a long time in that spot.
"The Caveman" has averaged 12 or more points per game in each of the last five seasons. He's shot a reasonable 48.3 percent for his career.
After shooting 41.4 percent from the field in the first half of 2011-12 while struggling to adjust in New Orleans, Kaman bounced back to shoot 47.8 percent in the second half.
Kaman was overvalued in his previous contract, which had him making $13 million last year. However, this one gives him a bit less than what he's worth. His 1.5 blocks per game for his career combined with the scoring and nice 8.3 career rebounds per game provides quite the value for the Mavericks.
Marreese Speights could have had a bigger contract to start somewhere outside of Memphis if a team didn't think the Grizzlies would have matched the offer. After struggling with fluctuating playing time early in the season, Speights found a way to be effective, whether he was playing 30 minutes or 13.
He became a steady force on the boards and refined his jump shot. The four-year pro ended up averaging 10 rebounds per 36 minutes and shooting 45.3 percent from the field. That was after he was at 38 percent from the field at one point in February (worst among power forwards).
While the rest of the league slept on the fine young front man, the Grizzlies retained their man to keep their frontcourt rotation strong. Lionel Hollins will have a strong player to give Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol rest.
All that for a nifty two-year, $9 million deal (per the Memphis Flyer).
The signing also set the stage for other economic signings by the Griz, including Jerryd Bayless and Darrell Arthur.
The Miami Heat cracked the top 10 in three-point field-goal percentage in 2011-12 while ranking only 23rd in three-point attempts. With the acquisition of Ray Allen, they can boost their standing in three-point percentage with one more guy who likes to shoot from downtown often.
Miami grabbed Allen with their mini-mid-level exception (a fraction of his $10 million salary from 2011-12) to spread the floor. This comes after Allen set a career high with a 45.3 percent three-point percentage this past season.
While Allen might not hit quite as many threes at age 37, he'll still be a huge three-point threat.
The Heat certainly found a bargain to help their title defense.
Retaining a guy who played only 15.1 minutes per game in the regular season and 19.7 in the playoffs for two years and $6 million (per the Philadelphia Inquirer) might not sound like a big deal.
But it is when fans consider the potential he showed in his rookie year, especially in the playoffs. He averaged a solid 9.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in the regular season. In the playoffs, he had an offensive rating of 116 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of just 95 points per 100 possessions.
He scored in double figures three times in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
Allen is a tough guy inside, and he'll be a solid backup center for the Philadelphia 76ers next season. His role might even grow as he develops in the next two years.
Randy Foye gives the high-energy Utah Jazz offense what it lacked last season, and for a very reasonable price. Foye will join the Jazz for just $2.5 million for a year, according to ABC 4 Salt Lake City.
While they were fourth in scoring average, the Jazz ranked 27th in three-point field-goal percentage. Only one player who played at least 40 games shot 36 percent from three-point range.
Foye will certainly help boost their figure, as he arrives with a 36.6 percent career three-point mark. He hit 38.6 percent from downtown last season.
He also happens to average 11.6 points per game on his career, which means he'll be more than just a three-point shooter for Utah.
The Chicago Bulls needed to find some scoring support for a low price, and they found it when they grabbed Marco Belinelli for a year and about $2 million (per Comcast SportsNet Chicago).
The Bulls cut ties with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver and found a capable player to replace the scoring of one of those guys by getting Belinelli.
Belinelli isn't a rising talent, but he can score a fair amount of buckets. He averaged 11.8 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the field. He also can hit from downtown, as he hit 37.7 percent last season and 41.4 percent the year before.
With the turnover and the only other projected shooting guard being Rip Hamilton, the Bulls will have a cheap scorer who will be logging quality minutes in Belinelli.
The Phoenix Suns recovered very well from the loss of Steve Nash. And they did it without emptying all the change from the piggy bank. The Suns spent a reasonable $30 million on Goran Dragic over four years.
Dragic showed a great deal of potential while filling in for Kyle Lowry when Lowry missed time toward the end of the season due to an infection. He averaged 18 points and 8.4 assists while starting 28 games late in the season.
The three-year pro should develop into a solid dual-threat point guard. He'll be able to facilitate the offense with enough ease and drop buckets often enough to make the Suns competitive.
Shannon Brown isn't a huge scorer, but he showed that he can be a solid contributor in his first year in Phoenix last season. He posted 11 points per game and shot a decent 42 percent from the field while hitting 80 percent from the line.
The Suns affirmed him for his scoring by giving him a two-year, $7 million deal. That's economical for the Suns. They didn't have to spend too much to keep the guy who averaged 16.7 points per 36 minutes last season.
Such a strong bench scorer is worth hanging on to, and the Suns showed it's possible to keep one for a bargain.
The Rockets amnestied Luis Scola, leaving a valuable five-year veteran on the market for any team to scoop up. The Suns went for him, and spent just $13 million for three years to get him.
Scola is past his peak. His numbers were off in practically every category from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Still, Scola can be a decent contributor. His 15.5 points per game last season were good and he could easily repeat that with the Suns. He might even be able to pull down a decent number of boards this season.
He won't be the difference between the Suns making the playoffs and not making it, but he does provide good help at a bargain value.
Antawn Jamison might have been able to name his price after a season in which he averaged a supreme 17.2 points per game while pulling down 6.3 rebounds per game.
The Los Angeles Lakers did well by snagging him for the veteran's minimum. The Lakers had been hurting for depth. Jamison will be sure to provide it. Even at age 36, he'll be able to pose a threat on offense. Jamison still moves well and shows aggression in the post.
The Lakers will be happy to have this veteran sacrificing some money to help them get back to the NBA Finals.
J.R. Smith probably could've got more money elsewhere, but he chose to sign a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Knicks. The $2.8 million annually salary is significantly less than the amounts he received in each of the three years he was with the Denver Nuggets.
Smith's 2011-12 year (both in China and the NBA) didn't please fans. He played dismally and listlessly in China and then came back to the states and played inefficiently for the Knicks. Smith averaged 12.5 points per game, but shot only 40.7 percent from the field. His 11.6 field-goal attempts per game were far more than necessary.
Re-signing him wasn't a bad idea, especially if the Knicks think they could get more out of him next season. If they manage to get him to produce while keeping his head on straight, then he'll be a terrific value.
Brendan Haywood has made a nice career out of just standing under the basket, and that hallmark will live on as the Charlotte Bobcats claimed him off waivers from the Mavericks. Marc Stein of ESPN tweeted that the Bobcats are due just $2.05 million for Haywood, a terrific buy.
Haywood pulled down six boards per game in 21.2 minutes per game. He averages 6.2 per game for his career. His career per-36-minute average is 9.4.
Haywood will be able to crash the boards effectively for the Bobcats. Sharing time with Bismack Biyombo, Haywood still should get about six per game while playing just under 20 minutes per game.
Lou Williams is heading to Atlanta to plug a big scoring hole left by Joe Johnson. Williams was signed for a mid-level exception deal. He'll score enough points to give triple the value for the salary figure.
Williams averaged 14.9 points per game and 20 per 36 minutes for the Sixers in 2011-12. He's been a superb bench scorer for a couple years and looks poised to make a big impact while starting.
If Williams' numbers project right, then he should be able to match Johnson's 18.8 points per game from a year ago.
The Brooklyn Nets inked a deal with a premier player from Europe and didn't pay too much for him. According to the NJ.com, the Nets' victorious offer was three years and about $9 million.
Teletovic is a fine prospect who can develop into a solid inside-out threat. He scores well and can play either forward position. The Bosnian is also effective on the boards.
Nets fans will enjoy watching Teletovic evolve on the Brooklyn court. If Brooklyn gets another shot at trading for Dwight Howard, Teletovic's salary won't stand in the way.
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