News of the deal comes one day after the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mills could be out until February due to a rotator cuff injury in his right shoulder.
Mills, 25, enjoyed a strong 2013-14 season in San Antonio, averaging 10.2 points and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 42.5 percent from deep in 81 appearances. A 6-foot Australian point guard, Mills is known for his high-energy style of play, his enthusiastic approach to the game and his quick-trigger jump shooting ability. He performed ably in the playoffs, including strong performances in Game 4 and 5 of the Finals, and he was likely set to command mid-level money, or higher, as a free agent before his injury was disclosed.
A 2009 second-round pick, Mills joined the Spurs on a two-year, $2.2 million contract in 2012 after playing in China and Australia during the lockout. His tenure in San Antonio got off to a bit of a slow start, as coach Gregg Popovich famously questioned his conditioning, but Mills proved to be a reliable backup to Tony Parker this season.
Even though San Antonio also has the capable Cory Joseph on their point guard depth chart, the defending champs would have felt the impact of Mills' departure had he chased the biggest offer this summer. Instead, the Spurs now find themselves in position to re-sign Boris Diaw, their No. 1 offseason priority, while also tinkering with other possibilities.
Assuming San Antonio succeeds in re-signing Diaw, the Spurs will be bringing back every player who logged at least 700 minutes for them last season. That will likely make the Spurs the 2014-15 preseason title favorites, considering their strong play in defeating the Heat in five games in the Finals.
Grade: A. San Antonio's depth pays off in many ways, and you can add this deal to the list. A team with fewer talented players might get sucked into prioritizing the short-term, and fretting about the duration of Mills' injury. Instead, the Spurs have the luxury of turning to Parker and Joseph to open next season as Popovich goes about carefully managing his team's minutes while they wait on Mills to get healthy. Mills should be back on the court when it's time for the playoff push, and that's what counts for a team that so thoroughly dominated the competition last season.
This deal is a nice buy-low move by the Spurs, but it really should be viewed as a win/win for team and player. Even if a healthy Mills could have earned far more than the reported $12 million, it's important to realize that this still amounts to a nice payday for him, as his previous NBA salaries totaled roughly $4 million during his five-year career. This deal gives him a new degree of comfort, a measure of long-term security, and the chance to compete for a title next season. What more could a back-up point guard -- even one who might be able to start for some teams -- possibly want?