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Signings Of Role Players Highlight First Week of 2014 NBA Free Agency


Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA offseason is probably the most interesting portion of the NBA season. Just two days into the 2014 NBA free agency period, we've already had a few head-scratching moves that have forced us to take a closer look at just what is going on inside team front offices. As of this writing, the likes of Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon have presupposed big names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Without the big moves dropping early in the month of July, we've had to embrace the fact that what makes free agency in the NBA so interesting is the maneuvering done on sub-superstar contracts.

This is hard news to take when considering that most basketball writers were sitting by their second screen with Tweetdeck open and waiting come midnight EST on July 1. They waited. They paced electronically. Then, nothing. No Adrian Wojnarowski tweets sent their timeline asunder, the news of a huge star changing metro areas with scorned fans in his wake. Instead, what they got was a big fat dud.

No, LeBron James wasn't going to make his decision within hours of the July 1 opening. Neither were Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Lance Stephenson or Carmelo Anthony. Where the best players in the NBA were going to end up wasn't a matter of some back-room handshake agreement made in early February. Instead, the storm turned into a strange front, like a thunderstorm in a dizzying hail.

Tuesday afternoon, the first chunks of ice began to hit the pavement. Jodie Meeks, who averaged 15.7 points for the downtrodden Los Angeles Lakers last season, was the first to agree to sign. Detroit, in the middle of a rebuild and with new head coach and president of player operations Stan Van Gundy at the helm, agreed to sign Meeks to a three-year deal worth up to $20 million.

Collectively, the NBA media let out an unaffected "OK".

Then, news broke Wednesday that Ben Gordon had signed a puzzling two-year, $9 million contract with the Orlando Magic, leaving many wondering just what GM Rob Hennigan was thinking. Gordon, 31, played in just 19 games with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets last season, and appears to be a shell of the former scoring guard he was in Chicago and Detroit.

Gordon's deal was particularly hard to swallow for some, but at closer inspection the contract made perfect sense for Orlando. At $5 million, second-year guard Victor Oladipo is the highest-paid player on the Magic roster going into 2014-15. This left Orlando struggling to meet the NBA salary floor -- a minimum requirement for expenditures -- as they sit even deeper in a rebuild than the Pistons.

Adding Gordon for just $4.5 million this season and a team option for the same amount in 2015-16, Hennigan allowed himself to ensure another lottery pick through miserable performance, a scoring threat to help teach Oladipo, a trade piece come next summer and the ability to outright turn down his contract to garner cap space for 2015.

Sometimes, you just have to do weird things.

The news has kept on coming. Kyrie Irving signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Cavaliers, a move oddly bemoaned by some writers on Twitter. Then, Cleveland reportedly mounted a max restricted free agent deal for Utah Jazz wingman Gordon Hayward, but have yet to pull the trigger in fear that the Jazz could tie up their cap space under consideration, ultimately deciding to match and leaving the Cavs out in the cold.

Despite the thirst for drama, teams have done a good job of locking up their talent. Marcin Gortat, after years of searching, got the big contract he's always wanted in Washington with a five-year, $60 million deal. Kyle Lowry, who led the Toronto Raptors into the playoffs last season, will sign with the Canadian side to remain with Masai Ujirii for another four years. No one has made a huge splash, and the players switching sides have left Twitter downright confused as we pine for James & Co. to make a move.

I joked on July 1 that the first move, despite the hype and anticipation, would be someone underwhelming like Mavericks free agent Devin Harris. I was close enough, with Meeks going from Lakers pyrite to Pistons zirconia on the biggest potential day of the NBA offseason. Now, we still have rumors swirling about that are unconfirmed and wild and probably only 20 percent true. Pau to Chicago. Carmelo to Houston. Chris Bosh to anywhere. What are we to make of our own imaginations running wild, the ESPN sign-and-trade machine at our fingertips?

Perhaps we're better off opening free agency with the likes of Meeks and Gordon as the first to be inked. Who is to say there shouldn't be tension before the crescendo? As of Thursday, many signs point to James simply returning to South Beach, whence he came. Anthony seems to be the biggest fish in the pond, even if the Bulls are set to throw a boulder into the water by amnestying Carlos Boozer.

I think I prefer it that way. Without weird happenings, the story of the NBA offseason wouldn't be as memorable, nor would it have as much character if star players simply switched coasts and loyalties. We've had just as much fun discussing why on Earth the Pistons are interested in Meeks or why the Oklahoma City Thunder would sign Sebastian Telfair out of China as we have had speculating where James might end up.

Yes, James and Anthony are the players that will garner the most attention and drive up SEO clickbait for weeks to come. Like the vaunted summer of 2010 class, the big names will be the ones we remember 20 years on. But in the moment, it's the weird free agency deals -- the ones that send Jon Brockmans for Darnell Jacksons -- that make summer in the NBA so kooky and weird.

And ultimately, it's what makes it so much fun.