With nearly all of the top free agents now off of the market, teams interested in getting involved in adding some new pieces to their roster rather than spending big money on superstars at this point in the summer cannot expect more than role players or possibly veterans to help bring a team together. Or can they? Here we look at just a couple of the biggest free agent steals of the summer of 2013. While these players won’t make a team instantly a contender, they still can provide important minutes for their teams. These are the teams getting the biggest bang for their buck.
#1- Darren Collison, Los Angeles Clippers
In signing Darren Collison to a 2 year, $6 million contract not only did the clippers get one of, if not the biggest steals of this year's free agency but they also found an inexpensive replacement for Eric Bledsoe while adding more depth and youth to one of the leagues best benches. With the departures of Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, and possibly Lamar Odom, the Clippers went out with the old and in with the new. And younger. Darren Collison, JJ Redick, and Jared dudley are all younger while sporting better averages last season than that of Caron Butler and company. The newly acquired youth will pay huge dividends come April and beyond for Hollywood’s new best team.
With averages of 12 points and 5 assists in 81 games as the starting point guard last season for the Mavericks, you would have most certainly expected Collison to command a contract significantly higher than 3 million per year. Especially when players such as Zaza Pachulia, Pablo Prigioni, and Chris Copeland all received larger contracts. The reason this is such a great signing for the clippers is not only because of the modest amount of money but rather the role he will play for the Clips. Unlike last season with the Mavericks, not only will Darren not have to start, he will not have to one of the top scoring options like he was for Dallas. While Darren didn’t necessarily struggle as a starter, he will thrive in a setting like Los Angeles where he isn’t being counted on to carry a significant scoring load night in and night out. Rather than being surrounded by the likes of Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion, Oj Mayo, and a 35 year old Dirk Nowitzki who played in just 53 games, Collison is surrounded by Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Deandre Jordan, and sharp shooter JJ Redick. Oh, and did I mention the best floor general and arguably the best point guard in the game, Chris Paul. Having CP3 as a teammate and mentor again will help Darren immensely as it did in his rookie season in New Orleans. In Darren’s rookie season, he took over the starting role in the Big Easy due to a knee injury to CP3. Darren gave the Hornets everything they could have asked for, posting averages of 19 points and 9 assists in 36 starts while having Paul as a teacher from the bench. Not having the added pressure of being a top scoring option but rather contributing energy off the bench as well as having the guidance from Chris paul and Doc Rivers will allow Darren to be a huge, inexpensive asset for the clippers and revive his pass first point guard mentality again with the likes of Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, and JJ Redick. While this signing didn’t garner much attention, it will turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the summer come November.
#2- Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets
Signing Andrei Kirilenko most certainly hasn’t been the biggest offseason addition for the nets, however, he may still be just as important. Brooklyn recieved Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry from the Celtics in return for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, three future first round draft picks, as well as the option to swap picks in 2017. With the acquisition of two future hall of famers, the Nets certainly didn’t get younger or deeper. By trading away the majority of their role players the new look nets now were left with a bench that consisted of Jason Terry and Reggie Evans. However, Brooklyn certainly didn't get the short end of the stick in this deal as they now boasted one the best starting fives in all of basketball. Despite the loaded starting five, a strong bench was crucial for the Nets to contend in the east given the ages of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, both in the twilight of their careers. Money definitely wasn't an issue for Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, making a mockery of the NBA salary cap with a payroll that exceeds $100 million and a luxury tax bill expected to be close to $80 million. It doesn't' stop there, according to general manager Billy King, the Nets aren’t finished spending quite yet. While the Dwight Howard sweepstakes wrapped up and other stars such as Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith found new homes, King and Prokhorov quietly put together a solid bench consisting of Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Jason Terry, Shaun Livingston, Mirza Teletovic, first round draft pick Mason Plumlee and most recently, Andrei Kirilenko. The signing of the man dubbed as AK47 came as quite a surprise to the basketball world while also causing some suspicion amongst other NBA executives. Not surprising that AK47 wanted to play for Brooklyn, a contender in the east with an owner who he has a relationship with from playing for his CSKA Moscow team in Russia.The suspicion has stemmed from how a player who earned $10 million last season, opted out of a guaranteed $10 million next season, demanded a 3 year deal with a minimum of $8 million per year, can sign sign for Brooklyn's 3.1 million mini mid level exception. This is what makes this deal such a steal for the free spending nets and has rival owners in a fit of anger and disbelief. "Let's see if the league has any credibility," one NBA owner said . "It's not about stopping it. It's about punishing them if they're doing it." While the signing is brining suspicion from around the league, nonetheless, AK47's versatitlity will provide important minutes off of the bench for both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Kirilenko averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field in 64 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Adding that type of option gives the Nets more flexibility and a major weapon off the bench. Kirilenko will also provide better defense on the wing compared to a soon to be 36 year old Paul PIerce. It is crucial that first year head coach Jason Kidd monitors the minutes of KG and Pierce during an 82 season as Gregg Popovich does with his aging stars. Having the versatile Russian is a great option for the rookie coach to turn to. - Ranny Kennon