The Detroit Pistons elicited some to chuckle and others to scratch their heads when they were the first team to hand out a sizable free agent contract this offeason -- $19 million for three years to Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Jodie Meeks.
Meeks had nice season in L.A., but that's a lot of dough for Jodie Meeks. Wow. Maybe DET anticipated some team over cap giving him mid-level— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 1, 2014
Is Jodie Meeks a different person than I think it is— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) July 1, 2014
Jodie Meeks got WHAT?!— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) July 1, 2014
Jodie Meeks got WHAT?? Detroit should never be allowed to have cap space.— Akis Yerocostas (@Aykis16) July 1, 2014
Yeah, so this was not exactly the most popular move, and it didn't immediately endear Stan Van Gundy to a skeptical fan base who has felt burned by years of poor free agent signings from the Joe Dumars era. But maybe this isn't the massive overpay that everyone thinks it is.
The Rising Salary Cap
First, I don't think the Meeks contract "set the market." I think these organizations know what the market is shaping up to be and react accordingly. Second, perhaps we're thinking with a pre-DVR mindset.
By that I mean NBA fans are so used to a $58 million salary cap (the number for the past six years), that they're slow adjusting to the new reality brought on by exploding revenues thanks to sports being a popular live broadcast (and therefore advertising) draw and the pending renegotiation of the TV contract that should propel the salary cap to new heights for years to come. The salary cap jumped more than $5 million in one offseason and it should be a continuing trend. And teams are adjusting (and overspending) accordingly.
Just look at the other contracts handed out to players at Meeks supposed level in the free agent caste system. CJ Miles signed for four years and $18 million, Avery Bradley signed for four years and $32 million, Shaun Livingston got three years and $16 million. Heck, even Ben Gordon got two years and $9 million
Jodie Meeks More than a Specialist
Also, maybe Jodie Meeks isn't exactly the 3-point specialist he's being branded as. Matt Watson already wrote about why Meeks is such a great fit in Detroit and a lot of that has to do with Meeks' ability to hit consistently from 3-point range. He hit 40 percent last year, and it wasn't a possible fluke like Jonas Jerebko's just-concluded 40-percent season.
Jerebko hit 42 percent on a paltry 74 attempts last year. Meeks hit 40 percent on 404 attempts last year. And he hit 36 percent (342 attempts), 37 percent (266 attempts) and 40 percent (348 attempts) in his previous three seasons.
The man is a consistent knock-down 3-point shooter. But last year the 26-year-old added even more to his game. In his first year in Los Angeles 64 percent of his shots were from 3-point range. It was a similar story for much of his career. But last year, with the Lakers decimated by injuries, Meeks was asked to carry much more of the offense and he largely delivered.
The percentage of his shots from distance plummeted to 45 percent and most of the difference came from him driving to the hoop. Meeks isn't a great ball handler but he seemed to figure things out last year, with 28 percent of his shots coming within three feet of the hoop. He shot 51 on 117 field goal attempts in the restricted area in 2011-12 and upped that to 63.5 percent on 296 attempts last season.
This is bolstered by comments form Lakers fans sad to see Meeks go and a scouting breakdown from Grantland's Zach Lowe:
Stan Van Gundy needs shooting around Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls and (if he's here) Greg Monroe post-ups and elbow touches, and Meeks can certainly shoot - 40 percent from deep last season on a bundle of attempts in Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds Till Getting That Paper system.
Meeks also showed some new off-the-bounce verve, especially when he would come rocketing off corner screens.
He took only 22 shots off screens in 2012-13, per Synergy, and 13 were triples. He jacked 84 such shots last season, and 47 of them were 2-point shots. Meeks won't ever be anything close to a lead ball handler, but he was much more adept last season at leveraging his shooting into off-the-dribble attacks.
He got to the rim more often, drew foul shots at a career-best rate, and showed an understanding of when the threat of his 3-pointer created seams in the defense. You can picture him spotting up around a Drummond pick-and-roll, catching a pass as his defender sinks in to bump Drummond's roll, and then pumping-and-driving by that defender as he closes out.
Lowe is less kind to Meeks' defense, but Lakers fans seem to think Meeks' defense is adequate at worst, and Van Gundy should instill some quality defensive principles. Meeks gave up .89 points per possession last season, which is actually better than the man Meeks is replacing as Rodney Stuckey gave up .93 PPP. Both Meeks and Stuckey struggled the most in spot-up situations (0.97 to 1.05 PPP, respectively), and it seems to me that is an indication of poor team defense allowing too many open looks.
In Detroit, Meeks will probably focus more on 3-point shooting than in LA, when he was often times the No. 1 option on offense. But Meeks proved he had more tricks in his bag and he'll be asked to use them accordingly. Also, at just 26 years old this three-year deal takes him through his prime and so the downside is limited.
Making the Way for a Bigger Move
It has been reported that Meeks was at the top of Van Gundy's priority list, and part of me thinks that perhaps SVG wanted to go slightly above the mid-level exception simply so he could get Meeks' signature on the dotted line and allow him to move onto more important things ... such as working on a possible sign-and-trade between the Pistons, Sacramento Kings and maybe even the Boston Celtics.
It was previously reported that the Kings and Pistons had been in talks about a trade sending out Josh Smith for some Kings spare parts and that the Pistons were the team to ultimately walk away. Adding another log to the fire was that the Kings then used their first-round pick to draft sharpshooting wing Nik Stauskus a year after using their first-rounder to draft Ben McLemore, who has a similar skill set.
The Pistons were one of the first teams to make headlines when free agency opened when they reportedly went hard after Kings' restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas, who would represent a point guard upgrade for Detroit from Brandon Jennings. Shortly after, it was reported that the Boston Celtics also coveted Thomas.
People got to speculating and all of a sudden it seemed that there was a somewhat strong likelihood that the Kings were looking to trade for good friends Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith so they could play alongside Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins.
Whether that elaborate three-team scenario is at all in the cards is highly unlikely, but it seems like a trade between the Pistons and Kings featuring Thomas and Smith is not out of the question. And SVG wanted to make sure he could lock down at least one offseason priority (add perimeter shooting) so that he could move on to the important and gargantuan tasks of trading Smith and re-signing or sign-and-trading big man Greg Monroe.
So was Meeks' contract surprising? Yeah, maybe a little. But I think the Pistons know exactly what they're going to get and how they're going to use Meeks in the offense and they're entirely comfortable with what it will cost them for the next three years.