Dennis Velasco is the newest contributing writer for Hardwood Paroxysm. His work has been featured at Hoops Hype, Yahoo! Sports, and SLAM. We’re pretty sure he’s not an alien. Pretty sure. Greet him as a brother. -Ed.
The summer of 2010 will be remembered around NBA circles as a period of excess â€“ in ego, non-stop speculation, and the expenditure of money.Â It was about the â€œbig threeâ€ of NBA free agents in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, all of whom not only decided to put their talents together and merge in Miami to play for the Heat, but also agreed to take less money in hopes of winning multiple championships.Â Unless youâ€™re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan and its majority owner, itâ€™s hard to hate on that.
Ironically, the top guns in free agency proved to be players such as Joe Johnson (six years/$119 million) re-signing with the Atlanta Hawks, Rudy Gay (five years/$82 million) re-signing with the Memphis Grizzlies, Darko Milicic (four years/$20 million) re-signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Amir Johnson (five years/$34 million) re-signing with the Toronto Raptors, and a slew of others who were overpaid, relatively, top dollar for their services.Â J.Â Johnson will make more money than each of the Heatâ€™s trio of stars; Gay has proven to be an effective scorer, but not much more; Milicic almost left the NBA last season of his own volition; and A. Johnson, while showing promise as a rebounder and shot-blocker, has displayed an uncanny knack to acquire personal fouls.
It was in the beginning stages of free agency that the frenzy of doling out dollars happened, including the contracts previously cited.Â However, as time went by, bargains began to emerge.Â The aforementioned James (six years/$110.1 million) and Wade (six years/$107.5 million), perhaps the only players deserving of max-contract money, were signed on the â€œcheap.â€Â Bosh (six years/$110.1 million) took less dollars than expected.Â Zydruanas Ilgauskas (two years/NBA minimum) will once again go to battle with LeBron to win a title with Miami.Â The same goes for Derek Fisher (three years/$10.5 million), except heâ€™ll be defending a title with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.Â And for all the belly-aching New Jersey Nets fans are doing, needs were met for the roster, particularly with the signing of Anthony Morrow (three years/$12 million).
However, with all of that said, which was the best signing under $40 million during free agency?Â As the bargains that came later during this period, the best contract has had time gone by (three years) before it was finally signed.Â The player is/was the best in his league and helped his team win a championship.Â Heâ€™s been a hot basketball commodity since he was 15-years-old and has had international success.
Iâ€™m talking about Tiago Splitter (three years/$10.9 million), finally joining the San Antonio Spurs, much to their fansâ€™ delight.
Splitter, the 6â€™11, 235 pound center from Brazil was drafted by the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Draft with the 28th pick of the first round even though he was still under contract with his Spanish ACB League team, Tau Ceramica.Â He previously declared for the draft in 2004, 2005, and 2006, but withdrew each time.Â Despite being drafted in 2007 by the NBA champion Spurs, Splitter signed a two-year extension in 2008 with his Spanish team, eventually opting out after this past season where he was both the season MVP and Spanish ACB championship series MVP, leading Caja Laboral Baskonia (formerly Tau Ceramica) in a sweep over FC Barcelona.
The thinking coming into signing Splitter was that the Spurs would need to use their full mid-level exception (MLE; about $6 million), which would have handicapped the Spurs from making many more quality moves to fill out their roster.Â Obviously, it didnâ€™t take that to bring Splitter across the Atlantic, which adds more value to the contract that he signed.Â Plus, a regular season and championship MVP with prolific experience in international competition; how could you go wrong with that contract in both length and dollars?Â However, here are more reasons why Splitterâ€™s is the best 2010 NBA contract this summer.
It was ten years ago that Splitterâ€™s journey to basketball greatness began when Tau Ceramica signed the then 15-year-old to its team, but loaning him out to Araba Gorago Alava of the EBA League for the 2000-01 season and then to Bilbao Berri in the LEB for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.Â In the 2003-04 season, Splitter joined the senior Tau Ceramica team and over the course of his decade-long experience as a professional basketball player, Splitter has won many awards, honors, and championships, usually younger than his competition.
Splitter comes into the NBA a lot more mature and polished than other NBA rookies and dependent on playing time, should contend for NBA Rookie of the Year honors.Â One reason why Splitter delayed his debut in the Association is that he wanted to improve his game.Â Looking at his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) since 2007, he obviously did (note that a PER of 15 is considered that of the average NBA player):
2007-08 (Tau Ceramica; ACB): 23.5
2007-08 (Tau Vitoria; Euro): 26.9
2008-09 (Tau Ceramica; Euro): 24.8
2008-09 (Tau Ceramica; ACB): 26.4
2009-10 (Caja Laboral; Euro): 21.1
2009-10 (Caja Laboral; ACB): 26.7
Splitter is a low-post player possessing various moves, excellent footwork, lateral ability, interior passing skills, and very good at the pick and roll (Manu Ginobilli and Tony Parker will be Splitterâ€™s new best friends).Â Defensively, he has a natural instinct to block shots to go along with good agility and holding position down low.Â Splitter is an athletic big man with excellent length and can finish on the break.Â He can be an intense player, but has a cool and mature demeanor on the court like his new teammate, Tim Duncan. He should improve by leaps and bounds learning from and playing alongside Duncan.Â In fact, Splitter wore the number 21 because of Duncan.Â Splitter will listen and learn as he is very coachable.Â Speaking of which, his coach at Caja Laboral, Dusko Ivanovic, is very much like Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich â€“ disciplinarian, no-nonsense, team-first, candid, a winning demeanor, and protective of his players.Â Splitter should adjust very quickly to Popovichâ€™s coaching style, which will be half the battle to acclimating himself to the NBA and succeeding.
The last Spanish MVP the Spurs drafted was Luis Scola in the 2002 NBA Draft with the 27th pick in the second round (55th overal).Â Unfortunately, Scola and the Spurs could not come to terms and since then, Scola has been a very good and durable power forward/center for the Houston Rockets.Â As a rookie Scola averaged 10.3 PPG and 6.4 RPG, making the All-Rookie First Team.Â Itâ€™s not out of the realm of possibility that Splitter can duplicate those numbers his first season in the NBA, especially since the other Spurs big men, aside from Duncan, cannot match his size, frame, and skill set.Â However, the Euroleague and Spanish league are obviously different from the NBA.Â Luckily for the Spurs, Splitterâ€™s maturity, experience, tools, and athleticism shouldnâ€™t have him overwhelmed too much, if at all, when hitting the NBA hardwood.Â But, as weâ€™ve learned with the free agency period, itâ€™s all about patience and the Spurs and its fans hope Splitter proves the old adage, â€œGood things come to those who waitâ€ proves true.Â The three-year wait will now be a three-year period of hope for Splitter.
Every free agency period brims with hope in acquiring a player or multiple players that will take a team to the next level for the upcoming season.Â In Miami, the much bally-hooed acquisitions of James, Wade, and Bosh has sent the city into a frenzy for the 2010-11 season to start.Â In San Antonio, much like their franchise player, Spurs fans are buzzing quietly and with confidence because thereâ€™s a new player in town, and his name is Tiago Splitter.
You can find more Dennis Velasco written goodness at Nets Are Scorching and Fanway.Â For written badness, follow Dennis on Twitter at @dv140.