7 Biggest Takeaways of 2013 NBA Free Agency This Week

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 12, 2013

7 Biggest Takeaways of 2013 NBA Free Agency This Week

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    The two biggest dominoes in free agency—Dwight Howard and Chris Paul—fell last week, but there were still a ton of critical signings and player swaps over the past few days.

    And for those paying attention, there was a lot to learn.

    For example, we all now know with a reasonable degree of certainty that the Golden State Warriors are a destination franchise. In addition, it's clear that players like Monta Ellis aren't going to be making big bucks in tomorrow's smarter NBA (unless the Dallas Mavericks continue to overpay players out of desperation).

    Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are officially stomping the New York Knicks in the battle for headlines.

    Don't worry, this list of takeaways won't belabor every signing or scrutinize the numerous ripoffs and bargains. Instead, think of it as a broader look at the trends that revealed themselves during the past week of free-agent activity.

Cheap Shooting Is Available If You Know Where to Look

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    As the league sharpens up and realizes that floor spacing is key to beating modern, pack-it-in defenses, the price of perimeter snipers has gone up.

    Kyle Korver, perhaps the NBA's most established long-range shooter, got $24 million over four years from the Atlanta Hawks. And J.J. Redick got $27 million as part of a huge sign-and-trade deal with the Clippers.

    But the Chicago Bulls may have pulled off one of the most quietly great offseason signings of all, inking veteran Mike Dunleavy to a two-year deal worth just $6 million.

    Korver is in his own league. But in comparing Dunleavy to Redick, it's hard to see how the latter could possibly be worth twice on an annual basis as much as the former. Last season, Dunleavy hit 42.8 percent of his threes. Redick made just 36.6 percent of his.

    Over their careers, Dunleavy (37.2 percent) is just a hair behind Redick (39 percent).

    There's nothing wrong with Redick's deal. He's a better defender and ball-handler than Dunleavy, and he's also three years younger. But there's an awful lot that's right with Dunleavy's signing.

    The Bulls managed to snag a premier shooter at a discount price, proving that a little due diligence can turn up major bargains.

Apparently, Nobody Watched the Utah Jazz Last Year

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    Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap signed contracts with their new teams this week. And based on the insane disparity in those deals (Millsap got $18 million over two years from the Atlanta Hawks, while Jefferson will make $41 million over three years with the Charlotte Bobcats), it's clear that executives around the league haven't been watching many Jazz games.

    Put simply, Millsap is a better player than Jefferson. Not convinced?

    Take last year as an example: In 2012-13, Jefferson posted an offensive rating of 104.1. Millsap's was 105.4. And on the other end, Jefferson's defensive rating of 107.6 was worse than Millsap's 105.5, per NBA.com.

    And in 2011-12, Millsap's net rating (basically a pace-adjusted plus-minus figure) was plus-4.2 points per 100 possessions. Jefferson's was only plus-3.2, per NBA.com.

    Nobody's claiming that Millsap is vastly superior to Jefferson; the margin is relatively slim. But the fact is that the numbers show Millsap to be a more valuable player than his former teammate. And anecdotally, it was surprisingly easy to notice last year the discrepancy between the two players.

    Millsap was a steady, two-way contributor for the Jazz. But opposing teams relentlessly exploited Jefferson's pathetic pick-and-roll defense at every opportunity. Because of his total inability to compete on defense, Jefferson's impressive array of black-hole offense wasn't enough to make him a break-even player last season.

    There might be a case for paying Jefferson and Millsap equally. But there's absolutely no way to justify giving Jefferson more money.

    Unless you're the Bobcats, I guess.

Alvin Gentry's No Dummy

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    Hey, coaches can be free agents too.

    Alvin Gentry passed up the opportunity to reunite with Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni, with whom he enjoyed massive success in Phoenix, opting instead to cast his lot with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Gentry decided that an associate head coaching role under Doc Rivers gave him a better chance to win than a similar position with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    And frankly, he's absolutely right.

    In addition to shining a light on the suddenly upside-down world of Los Angeles basketball, Gentry's decision to sign with the Clippers shows he's got a keen eye for opportunity. With Rivers only inked to a three-year deal, Gentry will almost certainly be next in line to coach the team.

    He might well have had that option with the Lakers, but nobody knows how the Purple and Gold will look next week, let alone a few years from now.

Golden State Is the Place to Be

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    It wasn't so long ago that free agents avoided the Golden State Warriors like the plague. Things have changed recently, and Andre Iguodala's four-year, $48 million deal with the Dubs is probably the best example of how substantial the turnaround has been.

    Iguodala inked the deal on July 10, which is why it's being counted among this week's takeaways, but the most telling part of the negotiations took place a few days earlier.

    In a press conference introducing the newest Warrior, general manager Bob Myers related the following anecdote about the team's initial talks with Iguodala (via ESPN):

    Before we could say too much, he was telling us how much he admired our team, he admired our coach and our players. We said, 'Do we have to sell you on anything?' He said, 'Look, I feel like this is the place I want to play.' That moment was a transformative moment for our franchise. 

    The Warriors used to have to overpay for middling free agents. Now, top-tier talent is flocking to the Bay Area to sign discount deals. Joe Lacob's brilliant ownership and Myers' tireless pursuit of creative deals has completely changed the Dubs' fortunes.

    Good times.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

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    Whoever said "you can't go home again" was full of it.

    There were plenty of free agents heading to new destinations, but a surprising number of unrestricted players opted to stick with their former teams. Notable homebodies who signed deals to stay put this week included Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Manu Ginobili, Chris Andersen, David West and Andray Blatche.

    Based on that list alone, it appears that the allure of championship contention is enough to entice many players to shun life on the open market.

    Plus, Chauncey Billups returned to the site of his greatest career moments by agreeing to a two-year deal with the Detroit Pistons, and L.A. kid Nick Young took the minimum to join the Lakers.

    In an NBA world that has seen its fair share of painful exits (see: James, LeBron), it's refreshing to see that the collective bargaining agreement—and perhaps a bit of sentimentality—is keeping some players from changing jerseys.

The Nets Stole the Show

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    Earlier in July, the Brooklyn Nets pulled off a massive trade with the Boston Celtics, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The New York Knicks, apparently panicking, countered with the embarrassingly poor swap that netted former amnesty candidate Andrea Bargnani in exchange for a valuable first-round pick and some relatively inexpensive assets.

    The Knicks were already losing the battle for New York, but now that the Nets have inked Andrei Kirilenko to what is easily the best deal of the offseason, that battle is turning into a massacre.

    Kirilenko's willingness to accept the mini mid-level exception of just $3.1 million from the Nets is baffling, especially after the Russian Swiss Army knife (wait, is that a thing?) opted out of $10 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    We're not here to get into the dangerous business of wondering about some kind of backroom dealing between countrymen Mikhail Prokhorov and Kirilenko, but it is a little shocking that the best remaining free agent on the market would accept such a discount.

    At any rate, the Nets got some serious versatility and depth at a ridiculously low rate. More importantly, they moved from fringe-championship contenders to legitimate title threats.

The League Has Caught on to Monta Ellis

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    When Nick Young got the minimum from the Lakers, it should have been a signal to high-volume, low-efficiency chuckers like Monta Ellis that the NBA was getting smarter. Unfortunately, Ellis had opted out of the final season of his six-year, $66 million contract long before Young's new deal provided a clear indication of the league's attitude toward players of his ilk.

    O.J. Mayo is slated to make $24 million over three years in his new deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Kevin Martin to a four-year contract worth $28 million.

    Ellis, who'll reportedly sign a three-year, $28 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks (per Sam Amick of USA Today), was exceedingly lucky that Mark Cuban's club was willing to sign him out of desperation. After striking out on virtually every top-tier target over the past two summers, the Mavs threw up their hands and paid Ellis.

    It seems unlikely that any other suitors would have forked over nearly as much dough.

    The verdict is in: The NBA at large isn't just going to pay for empty points anymore, especially when those empty points come with clueless defense and a pretty big ego.

    It's clear that the league is entering a new, more intelligent age. That's bad news for guys like Ellis.