Free-agency grades for Thursday, July 3: Dirk stays in Dallas
Dirk Nowitzki stays in Dallas, Sebastian Telfair is back in the NBA, Darren Collison is a King, and Thabo Sefolosha goes to Atlanta. Also, Chris Kaman has a new home.
Dirk Nowitzki | PF
Free agent ranking: 3
Team: Mavericks | Deal: 3-years, $30 million
Comment: Dirk Nowitzki isn't surprising anybody with this signing. He's won his championship, he's been an MVP and a Finals MVP, and he's been the best ambassador of the Dallas Mavericks in franchise history. It shouldn't be any surprise that he's willing to take a cap friendly deal to help the Mavericks send him off into the sunset with another potential run. While the Mavericks may end up missing out on stars like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James during this free agency period, they're in a great position to sign someone next time around or being in the market for a big trade if that comes up around the deadline or next offseason. Dirk decided to have a bigger perspective for the organization that's been so good to him and given him so much. And while he didn't need to give back more than he already has, he chose to because that's who he is and that's what he does. This is why it's not surprise, but that doesn't make it any less refreshing in professional sports. He's doing that just like Tim Duncan did the same.
The great thing for the Mavs too is he's still really freaking good at what he does. He's not the killer we saw during that unreal run in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. His body doesn't quite allow him to move the same way or be as effective from night to night. But he's an All-Star and All-NBA caliber power forward. His scoring impact still grabs the majority of the opposing defense's attention while striking an uneasy feeling into their outlook on the evening. He scored 21.3 points per game last season and nearly had a 50/40/90 shooting performance (he went 49.7/39.8/89.9).
The question for the Mavericks is how do you make it count for Dirk with his financial sacrifice? The trade for Tyson Chandler is a great start, but they'll need more than that. You can't have a starting backcourt of Raymond Felton and Monta Ellis. You need more depth. You need to re-sign or replace Shawn Marion. There's still a lot of work to be done with this roster but Dirk has made it easier to navigate. Grade: A+
Darren Collison | PG
Free agent ranking: 49
Team: Kings | Deal: 3 years, $16 million
Comment: One of the most surprising moves of the early days of this free agency period was the Sacramento Kings making Darren Collison their point guard. Isaiah Thomas has been a fantastic story for the Kings over the last three seasons. He went from the last pick in the 2011 draft to a full-time starter who averaged over 20 points this past season. As he hit restricted free agency, the question for the Kings was how much do they value Thomas in the future. Apparently the answer to that is not nearly as much as they value the financial flexibility of a smaller deal with Collison.
It would be hard to argue that Collison is a better point guard than Thomas. Even with Thomas' reputation as a scoring point guard, he was much more of a passer this past season than Collison has been since his rookie year. But the mid-level exception going to Collison means the Kings can no longer afford a big deal to Thomas if he receives a big offer sheet (although they could use the stretch provision for more flexibility). It should open up the market for Thomas a little with teams no longer having to be so cautious about the Kings matching an offer sheet, but it also limits the leverage Thomas had with the Kings in facilitating a sign-and-trade.
If they do go ahead with Collison as the starter this season, it's a risk, even for a rebuilding team. Collison has struggled as a full-time starter in this league. He was supplanted by George Hill in Indiana and even Mike James took starts away from him in Dallas. He flourished as a backup point guard with the Clippers last season. Would it maximize the signing if the Kings could bring back Thomas and use Collison as a prized reserve? Grade: B-
Thabo Sefolosha | SG
Free agent ranking: 64
Team: Hawks | Deal: 3-year, $12 million deal
Comment: I understand what the Atlanta Hawks are trying to accomplish with this move, but how you view it is also what you think about his outside shooting moving forward. Thabo is a career 34.8 percent 3-point shooter. In 2011-12, he made 43.7 percent of his shots from downtown (albeit on just 71 attempts). In 2012-13, he made 41.9 percent of his threes on 258 attempts. Last season, he regressed right back toward his career average with an accuracy of 31.6 percent. So which Sefolosha is the real Sefolosha? Is he a good enough defender still to placate a possible poor shooting season from him?
And what do the Hawks get out of him if his defense isn't up to snuff? The Hawks really need a creator on the wing to help out and Sefolosh can't do that at all. If the plan is to make him the starter for this team, it just doesn't feel like this is a proper signing. If he's going to be a role player off the bench, then it's not a bad gamble but a third year seems unnecessary. They gave up Lou Williams to the Raptors to have extra cap space and they're settling by using it on Sefolosha. They need him to be able to shoot. Grade: C
Chris Kaman | C
Free agent ranking: 87
Team: Blazers | Deal: 2 years, $10 million
Comment: This goes to show you how much the Portland Trail Blazers think of the progression of Meyers Leonard as he enters his third season. The addition of Robin Lopez to the roster last season was tremendous. He gave proper size next to LaMarcus Aldridge, and it really freed up a lot of what they wanted to do on both ends of the floor. They didn't have that big man off the bench though to provide a scoring touch or be a competent big body. That's what Chris Kaman will be asked to provide in this limited role.
Kaman isn't the All-Star form he used to be, but he's a serviceable big man who can give you a solid 15-20 minutes if called upon. I'm not sure you can judge him based on his season with the Lakers in 2013-14 because that entire situation was a mess. You'd probably like a more defensive-minded option for Portland to make sure the interior is protected, but a decent big body is a decent big body. The second season being only partially guaranteed gives them an out if he just isn't valuable in any way. Grade: C+
Sebastian Telfair | PG
Free agent ranking: NR
Team: Thunder | Deal: 1 years, minimum
Comment: There's not a lot to this deal other than point guard depth. Assuming the Thunder don't make any radical changes to their core, we're often going to see them run Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson out there together. We'll also see Jackson run the second unit quite a bit. If Jeremy Lamb can show he deserves consistent, heavy minutes off the bench in that rotation (or maybe even as a starter), then it lessens the impact of a third point guard on the Thunder.
However, if Lamb can't provide that consistency Scott Brooks will want out of his second unit, the coach is likely to trust the veteran hand like he did with Derek Fisher. The big difference here is Telfair is not the shooter Fisher was, and that will limit the effectiveness of Telfair in that role. He's only a 32.0 percent 3-point shooter and OKC needs another sniper out there. Also, he didn't play in the league last season, so you have to hope he's in proper conditioning to contribute. Grade: D
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