Cha-ching. (Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)
Free agent forward Kyle Korver reached agreement Wednesday on a four-year, $24 million contract to rejoin the Atlanta Hawks, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, taking the best shooter available in free agency off the board at a price tag that confirms the heightened value NBA teams are placing on long-range bombers this offseason.
The deal — which can’t be officially finalized until the July 10 end of the league’s moratorium on trades and free-agent acquisitions — ends several reported suitors’ pursuit of the 32-year-old distance specialist. The Deron Williams Photoshop/Instagram-led charge of the Brooklyn Nets reportedly fell out of contention once it became evident that Korver would command a salary higher than the taxpayer midlevel exception, which starts at just under $3.2 million per year. This became evident after Kevin Martin got $7 million a year, J.J. Redick got about $6.8 million a year, Martell Webster got $5.5 million a year and Chase Budinger got about $5.3 million a year. (This also makes that Mike Dunleavy deal the Chicago Bulls signed look better and better with every passing second.)
The lesson: NBA executives dig the long ball — sorry, Tony Allen — and are willing to pay a premium for players who can hammer it home consistently, and there isn’t anyone who does that more efficiently and effectively than Korver.
It’s unclear how serious the San Antonio Spurs were about chasing Korver after bringing back Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili, but the Milwaukee Bucks were (somewhat curiously, given the in-flux nature of the Bucks’ “plan”) reportedly willing to pay up to $7 million a year over three seasons for Korver’s services — an offer the shooter declined, preferring to return to the Highlight Factory for the foreseeable future for what’s probably a combination of the additional year (which keeps Korver gainfully employed through age 36) and a comfortable situation he likes.
“Both me and my wife are really excited,” Korver told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “We had a great experience with the city and the organization and feel very fortunate to be wanted back. I believe in what [general manager] Danny [Ferry] is building. I do. And I’m excited to play my role in that.”
The broad strokes of that role will be to hit an awful lot of 3-pointers at a very high clip — Korver shot 45.7 percent from deep last season, second-best in the NBA, and ranks 12th all-time in career long-range accuracy — and to serve as a mature, responsible, professional presence in a Hawks locker room that figures to be in flux in one form or another. The specifics of Korver’s job description, though — namely, for whom he’ll be spacing the floor and from whom he’ll be receiving those catch-and-shoot passes — remains unclear. To wit:
• The Hawks reportedly remain in contention for the game’s top remaining free agent, All-Star center Dwight Howard, although they’re not now considered a front-runner in the race for the 27-year-old Atlanta native.
• Howard’s decision, which reportedly won’t come until after the Fourth of July, figures to impact the future of longtime pal and fellow free agent Josh Smith, who will reportedly be the top target of the Houston Rockets should Howard go elsewhere, which could prompt the Hawks to pursue a sign-and-trade deal to ensure the versatile forward doesn’t skip town without returning some assets to help Ferry continue the rebuild he began by shedding the contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams last July. (Smith is almost certainly not returning to Atlanta; the two sides reportedly haven’t even spoken since free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday.)
• The Hawks also have to deal with the still-unsettled status of restricted free agent Jeff Teague, arguably the best point guard available this summer now that Chris Paul’s off the market. While the Hawks will have the right to match any offer sheet the 25-year-old triggerman signs, there doesn’t appear to have been a ton of movement in his market during this first week of free agency, meaning the team’s still in wait-and-see mode with its incumbent lead guard.
If the Hawks come from behind to secure Howard’s services, Korver’s the perfect sort of complimentary specialist to make defenses pay for the attention they’d have to pay to Dwight diving to the rim off pick-and-rolls or commanding a high number of touches down low. If the Hawks bring back Teague, the two worked together very well last year, with Teague assisting on nearly 35 percent of Korver’s makes and lineups featuring both outscoring opponents by just under six points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. If Atlanta goes all-in on building a contender right now, paying (and perhaps overpaying a bit) a guy you can trust to knock down shots (including foul shots), relieve offensive tension and play better-than-you-think (although not by a ton) team defense is totally worth it.
But if Atlanta doesn’t get Dwight, and doesn’t keep Smith, and goes into next season with a roster headlined by (the very, very good) Al Horford and (maybe) Teague, then the Hawks don’t profile as a contending team or, cap space aside, one that seems like a serious threat of becoming one right away. In that case, paying $6 million for what’s ostensibly a (very nice) luxury item seems pretty unnecessary. Then again, you’ve got to pay somebody under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Teams must spend a minimum of 90 percent of the salary cap, which (given prior projections of the 2013-14 cap) puts this year’s floor at somewhere around $52.7 million. If the Hawks don’t land Howard, don’t keep Smith and don’t bring back the raft of other free agents right now remaining as cap holds on their books, they’d be looking at just under $30.9 million on the books for 11 roster spots next season. That’s an admittedly imperfect number — it doesn’t factor in an RFA match for Teague that would likely come in well above his $4.5 million qualifying offer; it includes slots for first-round picks Lucas Nogueira and Dennis Schroeder, but not for early second-round pick Mike Muscala, who’ll get one; it includes the nonguaranteed deals of DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack — but it’s instructive if only to point out that the Hawks kind of have to spend a lot of money just to reach ground-level.
In that case, then, why not spend it on a solid citizen who can help some of the youngblood Hawks learn the ropes, whom we’re sure new head coach Mike Budenholzer will love to pieces, and who’s got an elite, non-athleticism-dependent NBA skill that figures to remain mostly viable as he enters his mid-30s? Korver might not actually be worth $6 million per — and if the deal’s structured with incremental year-over-year raises rather than a flat annual value, he definitely won’t be worth $7 million or so at age 36 — and in two seasons, if Atlanta’s still treading water in its rebuilding plan, Hawks fans might prefer to have had that $6 million-plus in room available to absorb a bigger contract (plus, perhaps, some picks) in an asset-acquiring deal. Still, there are worse ways for Ferry to spend his owner’s money.
And let this be a lesson to all you NBA hopefuls out there — if you get world-class good at one particular thing and aren’t a reputed jerk, you too could someday be this kind of signing. Dare to dream!
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