Rodney Hood is finally back with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After failing to reach a long-term agreement with the Cavs or any other team as a restricted free agent, Hood signed his qualifying offer of $3.4 million and will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon.
Hood has played just 38 regular and postseason games for Cleveland, but he could be a big piece of both the present and future. He'll turn 26 at the start of the 2018-19 season and should be a starter at either shooting guard or small forward.
His return to the Cavaliers was widely expected, but details of his next contract were always in question. Hood's value was fairly high before his trade from the Utah Jazz to Cleveland, as he was putting up a career-high 16.8 points on 38.9 percent shooting from three. After an average 21-game regular-season sample, Hood still looked like he could cash out this summer with the Cavaliers or another club.
Whatever value he still had was destroyed in the playoffs. He averaged a miserable 5.4 points while shooting 16.7 percent from deep, he didn't feature in six games, and he started just one of the 17 postseason games he appeared in. Head coach Tyronn Lue opted for older vets such as JR Smith and Kyle Korver over Hood, despite their limited upside.
By taking the qualifying offer of $3.4 million, Hood is passing up far more guaranteed money for the chance to hit unrestricted free agency next summer when the majority of the NBA is projected to have significant cap space.
According to Vardon, the Cavs offered Hood a three-year, $21 million contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent again at age 28. After being selected 23rd overall by the Jazz in 2014, Hood has made less than $6.5 million in total salary. He had a chance to earn more than that this season alone and turned it down.
After his awful playoff performance, $7 million a year seemed fair, though Hood was banking on his play in Utah to up that total. He was originally looking for an annual salary of $10 million to $12 million, and he and the Cavs even discussed sign-and-trade options that would satisfy both sides, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Hood watched fellow restricted free agents Zach LaVine (four years, $78 million) and Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) cash out while the market quickly dried up and Cleveland had no one else to bid against. The only other team that could offer the full mid-level exception of $8.6 million was the Jazz, the same team that traded Hood away just a few months ago. An offer from them wasn't going to happen.
Passing on $21 million in guaranteed money for $3.4 million is obviously risky, especially for a player who can be as hot and cold as Hood. He, along with fellow free agents DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, DeAndre Jordan and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, all signed one-year "bet on yourself" deals that will put them back on the market in 2019 when more teams will have cap space.
Next summer, Hood will have to compete against the likes of Klay Thompson, JJ Redick, Evans, Caldwell-Pope, Austin Rivers and Mario Hezonja in the free-agent shooting guard pool. At his peak, Hood could become the second-best option on that list behind Thompson. At his worst, well, he may fall behind players such as Danny Green, Terrence Ross and Jeremy Lamb.
Hood should enter this season as a starter on the wing after bouncing in and out of Lue's rotation last spring. Outside of Kevin Love, no one on this team should begin training camp with a guaranteed starting spot, and Hood's scoring ability should secure him one of the remaining jobs.
Comfort and confidence will be major factors, and going through an entire training camp and preseason in Cleveland should bring out a refreshed version of Hood the team never had a chance to see last year. Lue should run plenty of his offense through him, given he doesn't have many other options outside of Love. This should allow Hood to produce at a high enough level to attract far more interest next summer.
During the Cavaliers' march to the Finals, they didn't need Hood to produce. James and Love were carrying the offensive load, while veterans like Korver, Smith, Jeff Green and George Hill filled in the gaps. New additions like Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson were never given a consistent opportunity to perform, and Lue continually went with those he knew and trusted.
Now with James and Green gone, Hood, Nance and Clarkson will have a chance to become regular contributors. And Hood has been working on his game, per The Athletic's Shams Charania:
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Cavs' @rodneyhood filed paperwork for 1-year, $3.4M deal to return to Cleveland, tells me: “I’ve been working really hard this summer, improving my body and game. I’m excited to get to work with my teammates, looking forward to having my best year and going back to the playoffs.”
Of the three, Hood should be relied upon for the most offense, given his ability to score from all areas of the court.
"I was impressed with how he came back in the Finals as an 'I'll show you' game," an NBA scout told Bleacher Report last month, referring to Hood's 15-point performance off the bench in Game 3. "I always liked him. He'll be good in Cleveland because Cleveland's going to be bad, and they'll need his scoring. Who else are they going to go to? He'll get quality minutes on that roster. How could he not? I'm not sure how tough he is, though. He can put up big scoring numbers on a bad team."
While the Cavs won't be making a fifth straight trip to the championship, they're still alive in a weak Eastern Conference. With Love as the anchor and rookie Collin Sexton as a spark plug, the Cavs need Hood to have a big year if they want to make the playoffs, even if that means potentially pushing his value out of their price range next summer.
With a whole summer to study his game, Lue should have a package of plays designed to maximize his production. He's probably best playing off the ball, coming off pin-downs and finding open areas of the defense where he can catch the ball and get a quick shot off using his 6'8" frame. He's been consistent as a catch-and-shoot weapon, knocking down between 38.2 and 40.1 percent of his no-dribble three-pointers in each of his four seasons.
However, if Hood isn't scoring, there's no reason to put him in the game. His long, tall frame carries defensive potential that hasn't translated to the court. Both Utah and Cleveland were far better defensively without Hood on the floor last season. His passing is limited as well given that he hasn't collected more than five assists in a game in over two years. He looks to score at will, a trait that isn't necessarily bad on these Cavs.
Hood is coming off his rookie deal and should be entering his prime in the next few years. He can no longer count on potential to earn future NBA contracts and will be entering a crucial year in Cleveland for both himself financially and for the team's wish to stay relevant without James.
This new one-year contract isn't the deal either side wanted. Now, they'll both have a second chance to make it work.