The Spurs made this summer's splashiest move, but they also made the stealthiest one.
The NBA's free-agent spending frenzy was busier than usual this off-season as teams went bargain hunting one year before the cap spikes. With a flurry of summer movement behind us, SI.com paneled its NBA experts to ask what was the most underrated move of the off-season.
What was the best under-the-radar move by an NBA team this summer?
Lee Jenkins: Spurs sign David West
The Spurs made the splashiest move of the summer, signing LaMarcus Aldridge, and the stealthiest one, convincing David West to play for the veteran’s minimum. The move for West was made possible by the move for Aldridge. At 34, West wants to win big, so he walked away from $12.6 million in Indiana for $1.4 million in San Antonio. That’s a bargain basement price for a player who averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, who drills pick-and-pop jumpers and fortifies the locker room. The Spurs are so loaded, West may be their fourth big man this season, behind Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. But he provides the kind of depth that Gregg Popovich is always able to leverage.
Rob Mahoney: Hawks trade for Tiago Splitter
While the true bargains of free agency were few and far between, Atlanta managed to pick up the final two years of Tiago Splitter's contract (worth just over $17 million total) at no real cost via trade. The market price for a two-way center is generally far higher. This case was different only because of the Spurs' larger plans; by absorbing Splitter's contract without sending back any salary or trying to wring out assets in an extended trade negotiation, Atlanta enabled San Antonio's eventual signing of LaMarcus Aldridge. Playing accessory to one of the summer's blockbuster signings had its perks. For only the inconvenience of committing their cap space early, the Hawks added a nice defender and pick-and-roll finisher to deepen an already effective frontcourt rotation.
Ben Golliver: Hawks trade for Tiago Splitter
Atlanta's snagging of Splitter got lost in two pretty big shadows. On one side, the discussion of Atlanta's off-season was dominated by the loss of small forward DeMarre Carroll, who cashed in with Toronto. On the other side, Splitter's departure was a mere footnote for the Spurs, who added All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge while also re-signing Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili.
Nevertheless, acquiring Splitter for a protected second-round pick looks like an excellent bargain and a strong use of cap space by the Hawks. Although Atlanta won 60 games and ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency in 2014-15, its rebounding was a persistent problem all year and its interior defense wasn't up to snuff in the Eastern Conference finals. Enter Splitter, 30, a proven rim-protector who ranked in the top 10 at his position in Defensive Real Plus-Minus in each of the last two seasons. A veteran of two trips to the Finals, the 6'11" Splitter also posted a 10.2 offensive rebound percentage last season, a mark that was significantly better than every Hawks player who logged at least 600 minutes.
Without a doubt, there are questions about Splitter's ability to stay on the court, as he has missed 53 games combined over the last two seasons due to injuries. Atlanta is well-positioned to gamble on his good health, though, because coach Mike Budenholzer has a Spurs-like approach to minutes distribution, because the presence of Al Horford and Paul Millsap bump Splitter back to the bench, and because he's arriving on a favorable contract that will cost the Hawks just $17 million total for the next two seasons.
Matt Dollinger: Clippers sign Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce will be 38 by the time the season starts and still won't know what an emoji is, but he'll help the Clippers in a multitude of ways next season. Los Angeles had as busy of an off-season as anyone, retaining DeAndre Jordan after a drama-filled courtship, landing Lance Stephenson from the Hornets and signing Josh Smith away from the Rockets. But the acquisition of Pierce could be the one that ties everything together. Fittingly, L.A. has the most egos to stroke of anyone in the league. Chris Paul will dominate the ball and Blake Griffin is the undeniable superstar, but the Clippers have a lot of other guys who are used to getting their way. Stephenson is eyeing redemption after a lost season in Charlotte, Smith is out to prove he's worth more than a minimum deal and Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick are facing fewer minutes with more backcourt options in town.
Doc Rivers might be one of the best coaches in the game, but he's going to need help keeping his locker room intact. Enter Pierce, one of the most respected players in the league and a star who has made repeated sacrifices for the sake of his teams—and repeated the benefits. Pierce will provide an upgrade for the Clippers at small forward—and give them another option in late-game situations—but more importantly he'll provide the team with the grit and gusto it has lacked in season's past.
DeAntae Prince: Warriors re-sign Leandro Barbosa
The Warriors have cycled through backup point guards for years. Sure, Golden State was anchored by Stephen Curry, who now stands as the reigning MVP and one of the best players in the league, but they couldn’t find the proper fit behind him. Over the past five years, Jarrett Jack, Jordan Crawford, Steve Blake, Nate Robinson, and others have suited up for Golden State. That’s a motley crew.
The right player finally came along when Leandro Barbosa was added for the 2014-15 season, bringing supreme speed and infectious energy to a team built around both. He helped the Warriors win a title, and the decision to keep that rare continuity in place was the right one. He only averaged 7.1 points and 1.5 assists for the season, but Barbosa paired that production on the court with his impact in the locker room and on the sidelines. Too often title teams break apart a dynamic that delivered a championship. The Warriors avoided that trap and retained Barbosa on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Golden State made sure it brought back almost every important piece on the team. Barbosa was one of them.