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NBA Free Agency 2012: Ranking the Offseason's Smartest Contracts

Grant RindnerContributor IIIDecember 13, 2014

NBA Free Agency 2012: Ranking the Offseason's Smartest Contracts

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    In recent years, NBA summers have been marked by overspending. To say the league has been fiscally irresponsible would be an understatement, as All-Stars are paid like team owners, starters have earned All-Star salaries, and role players have been paid like starters.

    Still, every offseason, there are teams and GMs who manage to capitalize on the trends of the open market, take a chance on a veteran or use their title-contender status to lure in players at a steep discount. These savvy signings can be the difference between a first-round exit and a potential run to the championship, even if they don’t necessarily make waves when they happen.

    In an era of overspending, let’s take a moment to celebrate teams that spent this summer addressing needs, bringing in talent on the cheap and simply improving their roster in any way possible.

    Without further ado, here are the 11 smartest contracts signed during 2012’s NBA free-agency period.

11. Ronnie Brewer, New York Knicks

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    With Iman Shumpert likely to miss a good chunk of the season after an ACL tear and Jeremy Lin headed to Houston, New York desperately needed some help in the backcourt. Despite their lack of cap flexibility, the Knicks were able to snag defensive-minded 2-guard Ronnie Brewer for a mere $1.4 million after Brewer's contract option was not picked up by Chicago.

    According to ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling, Brewer will join the team for just one year, but he provides a crucial presence on the roster. He will fill the defensive role of Shumpert and Landry Fields, checking both shooting guards and small forwards thanks to his lateral quickness, aggressiveness and ability to read passing lanes.

    Last season, Brewer averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game while showing off an improved shot from the perimeter. Starting in 43 games, Brewer often guarded the opposing team's best offensive player and was a valuable rotation piece for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

    Though he will likely not be the long-term starter, Brewer should line up alongside Raymond Felton for the early part of the season and will see plenty of floor time. He is a great leaper, can finish at the rim and will play an uptempo brand of basketball alongside Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire.

    The 6'7" Brewer will be asked to provide defensive relief and rest for Carmelo Anthony at the 3.

    Brewer is not a great scorer, but he can crash the glass from the perimeter, is a decent passer and brings a perimeter grittiness to the court that New York could certainly use as the team tries to become a bona-fide title contender.

    The move was far from huge news, but Brewer's signing will prove to be a very smart one for the Knicks next season.

10. Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets had a relatively quiet offseason, but they made one of free agency’s more underrated moves by retaining the services of veteran point guard Andre Miller on a three-year, $14.6 million deal, per CBS’ Ken Berger.

    Although the 36-year-old Miller has logged 14 seasons in the league, he still has plenty of good basketball to play.

    In Miller, Denver has a proven leader who to come off the bench and bring a dynamic to their offense that is complementary to that of starter Ty Lawson. He averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and a steal per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field as the Nuggets’ first guard off the bench.

    While Lawson excels at pushing the pace of the game and attacking the rim at will, Miller is a half-court playmaker with a strong post game that can take advantage of smaller, weaker guards. He allows Denver to slow down the game and take advantage of their young big men in the pick-and-roll.

    Beyond just what he brings to the team next year, Miller provides some insurance at the point guard spot should Lawson not be retained once he becomes a free agent next season. Miller is still a starting-caliber point guard thanks to his high basketball IQ and veteran savvy.

    Though his salary may be a little steep in the final season of his contract, Denver needed an experienced, pass-first point guard to complement their core of youthful, dynamic athletes. Miller should be able to fill that role admirably over his next few years with the Nuggets.

9. Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Just when it seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers could not have possibly had a better free-agency period, the team swooped in and grabbed Jodie Meeks, the sharpshooting former Philadelphia 76er who will fill a huge role off the bench.

    Last season, Meeks averaged 8.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 36.5 percent from three-point territory. He spent most of the season starting at the 2 for Philadelphia, but saw his minutes dwindle significantly in the playoffs as Evan Turner played the best basketball of his young career.

    After not attracting significant interest on the open market, L.A. swooped in and grabbed Meeks for a paltry $3 million over two years, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Medina.

    This is a great move, as Meeks is the ideal role player for this Lakers team. He will provide much needed depth at the shooting guard position, allowing Kobe Bryant to get the rest he never received last season.

    He is excellent spotting up in the corner or coming off screens and does not need to work with the ball to be effective, meaning that he should mesh well with Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Bryant, who all need a certain amount of touches. And three-point shooters are guaranteed to benefit with Dwight Howard in the post—just ask Ryan Anderson.

    Meeks gives the Lakers another shooter alongside Antawn Jamison, who can thrive off of the double-teams their star teammates receive and consistently stretch out a defense, but Meeks is also a good athlete who can run the floor and excel in a faster-paced offense.

    Jodie Meeks is far from the biggest name Los Angeles brought in this summer, but the signing was yet another brilliant low-risk, high-reward move from the Lakers’ front office.

8. Courtney Lee, Boston Celtics

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    Few teams were as active this summer as the Boston Celtics, who opted to retool around their veteran core instead of entering a complete rebuilding project. The team brought back Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, signed Jason Terry and still managed to scrounge together a deal for the Houston Rockets’ 2-guard Courtney Lee.

    A great defender, gifted athlete and superb three-point shooter, Lee was brought in on a four-year, $21.5-million deal, per NBA.com, and will be an immediate impact player for a Boston team that is poised for another shot at a championship.

    With the departure of Ray Allen and Avery Bradley still recovering from shoulder surgery, the team desperately needed some depth at the shooting guard position. He will likely be starting in the backcourt alongside Rondo until Bradley is healthy, but Lee has the talent to take over the spot full-time.

    Lee’s defense will make him a natural fit with Doc Rivers and the veteran Celtics. He can cover both guard spots, is physical on the perimeter and can force plenty of steals when the opportunity presents itself.

    Offensively, Lee is a reliable floor-spacing option and is excellent at moving without the ball. He is also a good finisher at the rim and will form a dynamic tandem with Rondo in transition.

    Lee's signing solidifies the 2-guard spot in Boston for years to come, and it will help them to transition into a new era once Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett hang up their hi-tops and Rondo becomes the team’s sole superstar.

7. Carl Landry, Golden State Warriors

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    Throughout his NBA career, Carl Landry has been one of the most underrated power forwards in the game. Although slightly undersized, that has never stopped him from being effective both as a scorer and a rebounder.

    Yet again, Landry lingered on the free-agent market far longer than a player of his skill level should have. He was snapped up by the Golden State Warriors for a paltry $8 million over two years, according to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.

    Landry struggled with injuries last season but still managed to average 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest while shooting a solid 50.3 percent from the floor. Landry was physical in the paint, both scoring out of the post and attacking the boards, while also hitting mid-range jump shots and providing some stability in New Orleans’ frontcourt.

    Bringing in Landry on an inexpensive contract capped off a surprisingly active offseason that saw the Warriors draft Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green while dealing Dorell Wright for Jarrett Jack and locking up Brandon Rush, one of the team’s standout players last season.

    Landry provides necessary depth at the 4 spot. The Warriors are depending on David Lee, who has battled injuries in the past, and they needed a quality reserve should he miss significant time. Andrew Bogut has also struggled to stay on the court, so Landry could even see some time at center out of necessity.

    Landry also provides this exceedingly young Warriors team with an experienced, gritty player who is willing to make the little effort plays to help his club win.

    This Warriors roster is the strongest the team has seen in years. Landry could be a major reason why this team is fighting for a playoff spot next season.

6. Jerryd Bayless, Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies entered this offseason knowing O.J. Mayo’s departure was a foregone conclusion. With that in mind, the team desperately needed to add some scoring punch off the bench.

    They found the perfect candidate in former Toronto Raptors guard Jerryd Bayless, who joined the team on a two-year, $6.1 million deal, per CBS Sports’ Ben Golliver.

    Bayless fills three key needs in the backcourt for Memphis and comes on an extremely affordable contract. He provides the team with a backup ball-handler and playmaker, a scorer capable of attacking the basket and a valuable three-point shooter.

    Last season, he averaged 11.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range and 42.4 percent from the field. The Grizzlies’ inability to hit perimeter shots was a large part of their first-round playoff loss to the L.A. Clippers, but Bayless is a reliable outside threat who can stretch out a defense and open up room for Memphis’ big men to work.

    Bayless is lightning quick in the open court and will make a great running mate for Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and the other athletes on Memphis’ roster. Bayless will be a key rotation piece for the Grizzlies next season. Considering how many roles he fills, he was one of the more shrewd signings this summer.

5. Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks

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    One of last year’s breakout players, Ersan Ilyasova was due for a hefty pay increase once his contract expired, but given his upside and unique mix of skills, the Milwaukee Bucks may have made quite the bargain with their five-year, $40 million deal for Ilyasova, per Mark Deeks on Twitter.

    Last year, Ilyasova averaged 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while shooting a blistering 45.5 percent from deep and an impressive 49.2 percent from the field. He was a true multi-tool for a Milwaukee team that nearly made a successful late-season surge into the playoffs.

    Ilyasova was a devastating two-way player and showcased his versatility all year long. He logged time at both forward spots and even a little bit of center thanks to his length, strength and rebounding instincts. Milwaukee desperately needed size with Andrew Bogut’s injuries, and Ilyasova’s aggressiveness helped to offset their glaring weakness in the middle.

    Defensively, though he wasn’t a dominant shot-blocker, Ilyasova covered everyone from Pau Gasol to Paul Pierce, playing well both on the perimeter and in the post.

    Offensively, he was capable of scoring in the post and had a phenomenal year shooting the three. He could create mismatches on the perimeter and draw opposing bigs away from the basket but also relished physical contact in the paint.

    At 25 years old, Ilyasova still has upside and is a key part of Milwaukee’s core alongside Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. He will see heavy minutes thanks to his contributions on both ends of the court and will also mentor lottery pick John Henson.

    Milwaukee has locked up a dominant player for years to come, and he could have potentially gone for more on the open market.

4. Luis Scola, Phoenix Suns

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    One of the most surprising moments of this offseason was the Houston Rockets’ perplexing decision to amnesty veteran power forward Luis Scola in an effort to clear cap room and make a run at a marquee player. The Phoenix Suns subsequently snapped up the Argentinian star for just $13.5 million over three years, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

    Scola is not a great athlete, but he is an incredibly effective big man thanks to his skills in the post and aggressiveness on the glass. Scola has a bevy of moves with his back to the basket and is a very tough cover despite being slightly undersized.

    Last season, he averaged 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest while shooting 49.1 percent from the field. Scola was a pillar of consistency for Houston, as the team finished 34-32 and was an end-of-the-year meltdown away from a postseason berth.

    In Phoenix, Scola will slide into the starting 4 spot immediately and should form a strong, physical frontcourt with Marcin Gortat. The two can finish at the rim, control the glass and give the Suns an inside advantage over plenty of teams in the league.

    This Suns team is incredibly young, so bringing in a veteran 4 will help them tremendously as they adjust to the post-Steve Nash era. Scola will provide the team with an excellent locker room presence and a proven leader on the court who will more than make up for the loss of Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez this offseason.

    Although he is not overly athletic, Scola runs the floor well and should be a good fit for this fast-paced Phoenix team that looks to push the ball at every available opportunity.

    While Phoenix may not be a title contender for the next few seasons, the cheap addition of Scola gives them an outside shot at a playoff spot and a much-needed proven commodity in the starting lineup alongside X-factors like Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley.

3. Ray Allen, Miami Heat

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    Coming off of a championship run for the ages, it did not seem that the Miami Heat had much room for improvement, but the team shocked the world by snagging Ray Allen early in free agency for a mere three-year, $9 million commitment, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

    Allen will most likely come off the bench behind Dwyane Wade, but he should see solid minutes because of his unparalleled shooting prowess. Allen needs just a microscopic window to get his shot off, has infinite range and is as good at sprinting off of picks as anyone in the league.

    Playing with LeBron James and Wade, all Allen has to do is camp out on the perimeter and feast off of the open looks their driving abilities create. However, unlike many of Miami’s other marksmen, Allen is a decent defender and talented passer and can put the ball on the floor and create his own shot if necessary.

    Last season, while battling ankle problems, Allen still managed to average 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting an absurd 45.3 percent from three-point territory.

    In addition to his shooting ability, Allen brings a championship pedigree to the bench and will act as the team’s sixth man playing both shooting guard and a bit of small forward in a smaller, more mobile lineup.

    The Heat offense thrives on having perimeter shooters to space the floor, and there were none better on the market than Allen, whose $3 million per year is nothing for such an elite role player. With Wade’s health problems over the past few years, Allen could potentially be a starter should Miami’s star 2-guard miss some time.

    There were not a lot of ways the Heat could improve their team, but they managed to make their squad even more formidable by bringing aboard the league’s all-time leader in made threes.

2. Antawn Jamison, Los Angeles Lakers

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    If there was one glaring Achilles heel for last season’s Los Angeles Lakers, it was their lack of bench scoring, which was exposed in the playoffs both by the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team’s signing of Antawn Jamison for one year on the veteran’s minimum, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports, will go a long way toward plugging that hole.

    For a team that wanted to preserve cap flexibility, Jamison’s willingness to put winning a title above getting paid made bringing in the former two-time All-Star possible. Plenty of teams could have offered him more money or a starting job, but Jamison needs only a title to complete his NBA legacy and saw a perfect chance to win one by joining this stacked Lakers squad.

    With Cleveland in 2011-2012, Jamison averaged 17.2 points, 6.3 boards and two assists while shooting 34.1 percent from distance. He was the Cavaliers’ second option behind Kyrie Irving and scored consistently both from the perimeter and by attacking the basket.

    Jamison is the perfect stretch-4 for Los Angeles, as he can work as a catch-and-shoot option. Alongside Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, he will give the Lakers a trio of reliable shooters to stretch out a defense and create room for L.A.’s stars to work offensively.

    Jamison, who thrived as a sixth man for the Dallas Mavericks, will primarily play power forward but in a super-sized lineup could also see some time at the 3. Although he is not as quick or strong as he used to be, Jamison can still find his way to the rim and chip in on the glass.

    Though he has had some health issues, the Lakers were hard-pressed to find a better low-risk, high-reward piece than Jamison to bolster their bench. With a strong reserve unit to complement their star-studded starting five, the Lakers have managed to pry their championship window back open for years to come.

1. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks were left scrambling after failing to net Deron Williams, but in their dash to put together a playoff-caliber team while maintaining financial flexibility, the team may have made the best value move of the 2012 offseason.

    Looking for a fresh start and an opportunity to be a starter once again, O.J. Mayo signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal, according to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, that is far less than a player of his talent deserves. Mayo should make a more-than-capable replacement in the backcourt for the departed Jasons (Kidd and Terry), and he'll be a perfect sidekick to Dirk Nowitzki.

    Coming off of the Memphis bench, Mayo averaged 12.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 36.4 percent from deep. Though those numbers are not stellar, with Dallas, he should shoot back up to the 18.5 and 17.5 points he averaged in his first two NBA seasons.

    Mayo is an excellent, versatile scorer. He is capable of penetrating the lane and either creating a high-percentage shot or getting fouled. He should thrive with a big man like Nowitzki, who can free up space in the paint.

    In addition, Mayo can act as a facilitator, running the pick-and-roll and making plays in transition to find open teammates running the court. Even with Darren Collison at point guard, Mayo should still spend plenty of time with the ball in his hands.

    Over the past two seasons, Mayo has made tremendous strides defensively in the Grizzlies’ aggressive system. He is physical on the perimeter, can force turnovers and should transition well to the Mavs’ defense-oriented culture led by coach Rick Carlisle and Shawn Marion.

    At just 24 years old, Mayo still has huge upside and is a legitimate All-Star candidate next season thanks to his scoring ability. If he can continue to grow and mature with Dallas, he should end up as the smartest signing of free agency.

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