You wouldn't normally say rotator cuff surgery and seven-month recovery times are good things, but for Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs, the point guard's bad break yielded the best possible results.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Mills' injury on July 2. Mere hours later, Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News tweeted this:
Deal for Spurs' Patty Mills, I'm told, is in $12 million range over three years. One of my heroes @Buck_SA first reported the agreement— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 2, 2014
Well, that was quick.
Now, if we're calling this a win-win situation from the outset, we have to assume Mills will make it back to full strength without any lingering effects from his surgery. For a gunner like him, it's fair to wonder how a serious shoulder injury (on his shooting side) might affect his future mobility and strength.
But the Spurs signed him with full knowledge of his health, which indicates they're confident Mills' injury won't be a long-term issue.
San Antonio will pay an inactive Mills for a good chunk of the season if he's out until February or so, but it will get plenty back in the bargain. Because while three years and $12 million might seem like a hefty chunk of change for a guy who was playing behind Cory Joseph for a large portion of the 2013-14 campaign, there's no way the Spurs could have retained Mills so cheaply if he'd hit the open market.
Per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, Mills' postseason breakout caught the eye of plenty of suitors:
He performed ably in the playoffs, including strong performances in Game 4 and 5 of the Finals, and he was likely set to command mid-level money, or higher, as a free agent before his injury was disclosed.
Sure, Mills lost out on a few million bucks. That's a bummer.
But in exchange, he gets to stay on the defending champs and play in a system that breathed life into his dying NBA career. Remember, Mills didn't stick with the Portland Trail Blazers in his first stop in the league, hitting just 35.8 percent of his triples in 74 games over two seasons.
As they've done for so many players before, the Spurs unlocked Mills' talent by putting him into a system that spaced the floor, kept the ball hopping and essentially turned him loose. When Mills came to San Antonio for a 16-game audition in the 2011-12 season, he impressed.
Then, perhaps a little too comfortable in his role, Mills played more but produced far less in his second year with the Spurs.
More motivated than ever, Mills worked tirelessly to impress San Antonio heading into the 2013-14 season. Anyone watching took note of the renewed defensive intensity—especially on the ball. And it was hard to miss just how much trimmer and more athletic Mills appeared in Year three.
Without question, Mills' 2013-14 performance was the best of his career.
Gregg Popovich broke it down for reporters back in March (via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News):
He had too much junk in the trunk. His decision making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape. He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions. He did all those things better and he earned it. He’s been real important to us, obviously.
It's worth wondering if Mills would have been as effective, as optimally utilized and as appreciated if he would have wound up in another city this summer. Most likely, his role would have expanded, and he'd have been charged with doing more typical "point guard things," especially if whatever team that had signed him would have shelled out at least the mid-level exception.
You don't pay $5.5 million per season to a player who you only expect to log spot minutes off the bench.
My guess: Mills wouldn't have been nearly as effective upon leaving San Antonio.
We won't have to find out if Mills would have floundered in a different role now. Instead, he'll reprise a familiar one.
He can rest, rehabilitate in a comfortable environment, then jump back into the role in which he excelled—all in his own time, secure in his income for three full seasons.
In a way, this all feels eminently fair.
The Spurs gave Mills a chance to redefine himself, making sure he had the system and tools necessary to do exactly that. In turn, Mills worked hard, got in shape, waved towels enthusiastically and made the absolute most of his opportunity.
In the end, Mills got recognition for his play and a championship ring.
Maybe Mills would have preferred to spread his wings elsewhere, and perhaps he would have enjoyed the extra millions he might have collected from another team. But it's hard to imagine how this scenario could have turned out any better—for both Mills and the Spurs.