Top understated signings of free agency
Elton Brand, Atlanta Hawks (one year, $4 million)
Atlanta got an outstanding deal on power forward Paul Millsap (two years, $19 million), brought back the sweet-shooting swingman Kyle Korver at a reasonable rate (four years, $24 million) and wound up matching Milwaukee’s surprisingly affordable offer sheet for point guard Jeff Teague (four years, $32 million). But along with those signings came the low-key addition of a really solid defensive big man in Brand, who should compensate for some of the defensive loss from Smith’s departure in substance, if not style. Brand, 34, won’t fly around the court in the same way that Smith did for the Hawks, but he’s able to wall off the rim and contest shots with long arms and smart positioning. Watch here as he contains and contests a Spurs pick-and-roll:
Sound fundamentals allow Brand to make up for his lack of leaping ability. He’ll be able to complement Al Horford’s defensive work when the two play together or take up the mantle as Atlanta’s primary interior defender when Horford rests. Altogether, Brand’s signing is just one of several moves that make the Hawks a reasonable contender for the East’s sixth seed, all made without compromising the team’s financial flexibility.
Toney Douglas, Golden State Warriors (one year, $1.6 million)
Douglas is a meddlesome defender and a terrific spot-up three-point shooter (he converted 42.4 percent of such attempts last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology). He can get himself into trouble off the bounce if given too much freedom, but that likely won’t be a problem in Golden State, where Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala figure to do a bulk of the ball handling. As a result, this deal positions a useful role player to make use of his strengths while protecting him from his own weaknesses.
He’s not Jarrett Jack, but for this particular team that might not be such a bad thing. Replacing Jack with a less ball-dominant guard bodes well for the Warriors’ strategic evolution, which very much hinges on maximizing Curry’s touches and surrounding him with the kind of shooters, finishers and defenders who can create optimal balance on both ends of the floor. Adding Douglas — who will either line up at point guard or cross-match to defend points — is a great means to that end, attained at little cost.
Jon Leuer, Memphis Grizzlies (three years, $2.9 million)
Memphis, which needed one more stretchy big man after trading Darrell Arthur in June, secured a perfectly suitable option on the cheap by re-signing the little-used Leuer. Playing time in the frontcourt could still be hard to come by after the arrival of Kosta Koufos and the presumed inclusion of Ed Davis (who went woefully underused after being acquired in the Rudy Gay deal in midseason), but the 24-year-old Leuer is a great player to have around in case of injury or foul trouble.
Leuer, the 40th pick in the 2011 draft, is nowhere near as capable as Arthur on the defensive end. But Memphis is in a better position than most teams to manage Leuer’s limitations in that regard while reaping the benefits of his shooting. Leuer’s mid-range accuracy makes him effective both as a pick-and-pop threat and a spot-up option on the weak side, a perfect complement to the various elements of Memphis’ offense.
Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers (two years, $6.1 million)
Rather than invest in a backup ball handler with the full mid-level exception, Indiana opted to pair Copeland — a floor-stretching big man who shot 42.1 percent from three-point range last season — with point guard C.J. Watson (two years, $4.1 million) to address the need for second-unit offense by composite. Copeland brings a knack for burst offense to that arrangement (he averaged 20.3 points per 36 minutes as a 29-year-old rookie for the Knicks), largely through makeshift offense earned without much structural help:
That ability to salvage possessions should help Indiana, and Copeland’s ability to space the floor will complement the interior work of Roy Hibbert and David West rather nicely. What completes the payoff of this signing, though, is that Indiana can afford to play Copeland in a way that New York often couldn’t. Because the Pacers draw on a stout defensive system and a more talented group of individual defenders, Copeland’s slow lateral movement won’t be as much of a concern as it was for the Knicks. The fit is simply more viable here. Copeland can add value on offense and benefit from the security of Indiana’s team defense.
Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams, Houston Rockets (each for two years on the veteran minimum)
Reloading the roster with three-point shooters was a must once Houston signed Dwight Howard, but the Rockets — who used their available cap space to land Howard — didn’t have all that many avenues to add talent. Still, general manager Daryl Morey, who also lost Douglas and Carlos Delfino in free agency, made the best of the situation by wisely gambling in bulk with three minimum-salary players, each on a two-year deal with either a partially or completely nonguaranteed second season. (Houston will also have three other players with three-point capability, second-round pick Isaiah Canaan and undrafted rookies Robert Covington, and B.J. Young, in the mix at training camp.)
Garcia, 31, is the safest bet of the bunch. He’s the most consistent shooter (36.1 percent from three-point range for his career) and a scrappy, serviceable defender. The 25-year-old Casspi’s appeal hinges on the concept of reverting him to rookie form, when he spaced the floor and cut well for the Kings in 2009-10. Williams, 26, shot 42.3 percent from beyond the arc with Golden State in 2010-11, but he hit under only 31 percent in each of the last seasons with Charlotte. He should be able to contribute opposite a dominant interior player such as Howard.
Salary data courtesy of Sham Sports.