By Steve Lichtenstein
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Even in this economy, $3 million doesn’t get you very far in today’s NBA.
Certainly not if your team is spending $80-some million on its starting five and needs to build a second unit pretty much from scratch, like the Nets.
That’s why the news circulating last night that Nets backup big-man Andray Blatche opted to bypass free agency and re-sign was not only a hit, but a clean double.
According to reports, Blatche agreed to sign a one-year deal for $1.4 million. That figure is approximately 120 percent of the League minimum, which leaves intact the Nets’ $3.183 million mini mid-level exception they can now use under the luxury-tax paying provisions of the salary cap on another player (or more, should they split it up) to complete their rotation.
As always, the Nets seem to be in play for virtually every available name other than, ironically, All Star center Dwight Howard. Most notably, sweet-shooting swingman Kyle Korver is being wooed heavily, with Nets point guard Deron Williams tweeting a photo-shopped portrait of Korver in Brooklyn black.
If Blatche had tested the waters, where he probably would have landed a deal for significantly more money, the Nets would have been screwed. They would have been forced to choose between their greatest needs—the scoring big man who will be relied upon to save the knees of newly-acquired Kevin Garnett, a wing who can consistently hit three-point shots, or a backup point guard to spell Williams.
Of course, the unusual circumstances surrounding Blatche relating to his amnesty from the Wizards last year had a great impact on this outcome. The divorce was somewhat bitter and Blatche had vowed revenge. Under the rules, Blactche will earn about $8.9 million this year, with Washington owner Ted Leonsis gnashing his teeth every time he has to write a check to make up the $7.5 million difference.
Still, Blatche could have demanded the full mini mid-level from the Nets, thereby banking almost $1 million more in 2013-14.
And he would have been worth it.
With all the twists and turns in the Nets’ rotation last season, Blatche was one of the most underutilized. He was Brooklyn’s fourth leading scorer, at 10.3 ppg, yet neither Avery Johnson nor P.J. Carlesimo designed plans that had him on the floor for more than 20 minutes a game.
Even when facing teams with size, the Nets, so offensively-challenged at forward, didn’t deign to pair Blatche with All Star center Brook Lopez until late in the season, and then only sporadically.
Though Blatche’s high-risk decisions with the ball sometimes backfired, the skills he displayed had the fans begging for more. There are few six-foot eleven players in the League who can not only knock down the mid-range jumper with consistency, but also get to the rim off the dribble the way Blatche can. Plus he’s only 26-years-old.
In the seven games Blatche started in place of the injured Lopez in December, he averaged 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. There were a few instances later in the year where Blatche had his game at such a high level that it forced Carlesimo to bench Lopez, his sole All-Star, for entire fourth quarters.
Not bad for a minimum-wage guy.
Now Blatche can return to the same role, only this time he will have future Hall-of-Famer Garnett in front of him instead of Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries.
And Nets general manager Billy King can exhale before going about his business of stocking the rest of the bench.
With Blatche, Evans, Mirza Teletovic and first-round draft pick Mason Plumlee backing up Lopez and Garnett up front, the focus should be on how best to space the floor when Williams, Joe Johnson or Paul Pierce need a breather.
If King can’t reel in Korver, it’s likely that he’ll use part or the entire mini mid-level exception on the buyout of Euro star Bojan Bogdanovich, a riskier proposition.
King is said to also be in the market for another point guard now that C.J. Watson is reportedly moving on to Indiana. Tyshawn Taylor is still on the roster after playing sparingly in his rookie season and Jason Terry can swing over to point at times, but King is rumored to be seeking another veteran (Shaun Livingston and Sebastian Telfair are two who have been mentioned as potential candidates) willing to accept the League minimum.
Or the same amount the Nets are paying Blatche, who, according to ESPN, had the 14th highest Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA.
Forget the double–King knocked that one out of the park.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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