Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jimmer Fredette's Realistic Options If Kings Buy Out Contract

Jimmermania is on the precipice of officially going bust in Sacramento. Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro said representatives for Jimmer Fredette approached the club earlier in the week to discuss a potential buyout.

Negotiations—which ostensibly involve how much of Fredette's remaining salary for this season the Kings will pick up—are still ongoing, and D'Alessandro was quick to point out nothing was finalized. However, barring a major surprise, Fredette's nearly three-year run with the Kings should conclude with a whimper. Fredette has essentially vanished from Mike Malone's rotation for rookie Ray McCallum, earning just four minutes since the All-Star break.

Jimmer Fredette

It's an unfortunate end for both Fredette and the franchise, both of whom saw one another as a match made in heaven just three years ago. Then, Fredette was a collegiate superstar coming off two straight unbelievable scoring seasons at BYU. The Kings were a desperate franchise, pulling off a funky (and inexplicable) three-way trade that landed Jimmer and John Salmons in Sacramento.

Paul Westphal, an innovative thinker who spearheaded some of the 1990s' most exciting teams in Phoenix and Seattle, was in place as head coach. Westphal wasn't the type to force his players to fit into rigid definitions. That seemed perfect for Fredette, a score-first combo guard without the handles to be an NBA point guard or the size to guard 2s. If anyone could find a happy medium, Westphal was that guy.

"We are an exciting team that likes to get up and down and score the basketball, so it's a great fit," Fredette said at the time.

Instead, Westphal was fired seven games into Fredette's rookie season. Sacramento hired then-assistant Keith Smart, a more rigid thinker who still hasn't found a square peg he hasn't tried fitting into his desired circle.

Smart, though just 49, was a "my way or the highway" thinker whose 93-170 record as a head coach speaks for itself. By April of last season, Kings players were openly complaining about Smart's lack of consistency, and at times, befuddling rotations.

Fredette was the epitome of jerked around in the Smart era. One night, he'd play 25 minutes. The next, five. The next, maybe he wouldn't see the floor at all. It didn't help that Fredette wasn't scoring at his collegiate heights and still wasn't an elite defender, but Smart did little to help matters. Even after Smart was canned this offseason and replaced by Malone, the writing was on the wall.

The Kings declined Fredette's option for 2014-15 before the season and openly shopped him pretty much every second since. Unable to find a team willing to give up a draft pick for his services, the situation looks bound for an understandable divorce.

The only question remains: What's next for Jimmer Fredette?

For all of the difficulty the Kings had finding a trade partner for Fredette, he won't have any trouble finding interested teams once he hits the open market. Fredette's agent would not be pushing for a buyout had at least one team not tampered kindly let him know they might be interested if his client was available.

The Fredette market should materialize quickly as well. All released or bought-out players who wish to be eligible for the postseason must be off their current roster by a Saturday cutoff, according to the league's collective bargaining agreement.

That doesn't leave much room for dilly-dallying. The Kings and Fredette have until midnight Saturday to get this thing over with.

As for why contenders would have interest, the answer is simple: shooting. Fredette doesn't have enough attempts to qualify among league leaders, but his 49.3 three-point percentage would top Anthony Morrow for best in the league.

Now more than ever, NBA teams need shooting. As more coaches adopt Tom Thibodeauian, hybrid defensive schemes that meld zone and man concepts, having floor-spacers around the perimeter is no longer an option—it's a must to field a competent offense.

Fredette has an effective field-goal percentage of 65.4 on catch-and-shoot opportunities this season, per SportVU data (collected by STATS, Inc. and distributed by the NBA). Opportunity limits the sample size here again—Fredette averages just one catch-and-shoot chance per game—but his eFG% would rank among the 10 best in the league if he could double those attempts.

Sample size works both ways, of course. One could say Fredette hasn't gotten enough opportunities, but an easy counter would be that his splits would take a hit with more attempts. There isn't much statistical data that proves the latter point.

On the other hand, we have three years' worth of data that says Fredette slowly but surely has become a reliable threat all over the floor. As a rookie, Fredette shot a miserable 38.6 percent. Last season, that number leaped to a still mediocre 42.1 percent. This year, however, 'ol Jimmer is hanging at a very solid 47.5 percent—and fewer than half his shots come from beyond the arc, showing that he can be a threat from anywhere.

Prorate his stats over 36 minutes, you get 18.7 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds. No one is suggesting Fredette should start or get 15 shots per night. But remember, J.J. Redick went through three seasons of hell in Orlando—garnering the same "bust" label Fredette carries around now—before figuring it out.

Fredette hasn't quite added the ball-handling wrinkles and isn't on Redick's level as a passer. But think long and hard before labeling him a bust. Fredette can help a team, and odds are he will.

Here is the more interesting question. And for Fredette, the far more important one. The Kings' decision to decline his option for next season has him going into unrestricted free agency this summer. There's a gift and a curse to that.

At age 24, Fredette is a baby in unrestricted free-agency world. Rarely do usable NBA players—even ones who enter the draft one-and-done style—hit the open market this early. Lance Stephenson is probably looking at eight figures per season this summer, simply because he's still only 23. Teams hoard their young assets, sometimes signing bad extensions (e.g. Andray Blatche, Wizards) just to avoid losing these guys for nothing.

The Kings obviously don't view Fredette as an asset. And it's unlikely that many other teams do heading into this summer. For all the good said about him in the above section, he still is and will likely always be a minus defender and hasn't proven himself as a consistent scorer. Right now, he'd be lucky if a team gave him a deal in the two-year, $5 million range, with the second year non-guaranteed.

The next 25 or so games aren't just about getting out of Sacramento. They're about Fredette proving he actually belongs in this league. That makes his situation far more complicated and arguably more interesting to watch for the remainder of the season.

Most of the teams you'll hear linked with Fredette are contenders. That's par for the course with these things. An overwhelming majority of buyout guys are veterans at or near the end of bad contracts. Glen Davis instantly rejoins former coach Doc Rivers with the Clippers, Metta World Peace will sign with any and every contender, etc.

Fredette is also a natural fit with those teams, simply because plenty of them need shooting. ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Grizzlies, the pied pipers of the no-spacing offense, have been interested in Fredette going back to last season. After looking left for dead midway through the season, Memphis has ascended back into playoff contention since Marc Gasol's return from injury and could use the help.

The Thunder can't be ruled out as a possibility, either. As ESPN's Chris Broussard reported, Oklahoma City went hard after Knicks guard Iman Shumpert at the deadline. Fredette isn't a perfect Shumpert replacement by any means—Shumpert has a two-way ceiling that Fredette just doesn't—but he fits a need for consistent three-point shooting and could (thankfully) take minutes away from Derek Fisher.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti might be more focused on adding a backup big for the stretch run after news of Kendrick Perkins' injury, though.

The Knicks have also been speculated about, both for logical reasons and because all NBA writers are contractually obligated to mention the MSG mess once every six seconds.

Point guard is a need spot for New York, especially as the Raymond Felton situation continues to play itself out. Fredette is a decent ball-handler and has made strides as a passer, but a natural point guard he is not. The Kings' assist ratio is better with Fredette on the bench, a pretty consistent trend throughout his career.

Plus, it'd be great if the Knicks at some point in their franchise history decided to add someone who can play defense. Other notable playoff contenders that might or should give Jimmer a look include the Clippers and Heat.

It might be more interesting to examine what would happen if Jimmer went the other way. He's not in a situation like Davis. Jimmer hasn't gotten "paid" in NBA terms yet. Scrounging for 10 or 15 minutes a night on a contender isn't exactly going to give him a showcase, unless he knocks down some big shots and gets that post-playoffs glow.

Opportunity for Fredette might come with leaving one bad situation for another. The Sixers are barely an NBA franchise at this point. Fredette is certainly good enough to slide into James Anderson's starting spot or nudge Elliot Williams' 20 minutes a night down to their rightful zero. Having Fredette on the outside would theoretically mean some of Michael Carter-Williams' passes to wide-open players might go through the basket rather than off the side of the backboard.

That backcourt pairing could even keep fans awake during games.

It's unclear if the Sixers have interest at this point, but they should. Danny Granger's impending buyout—I mean, it's gotta happen, right?—will open up roster space, and Brett Brown's uptempo system could lead to a gaudy statistical month for Jimmer. So might signing with the Lakers, another terrible team with a quick pace who could use any healthy bodies at this point.

Mike D'Antoni made a career getting the most out of guards, as evidenced by Kendall Marshall's surprising ascent. With Steve Nash missing each of the last four games due to his bothersome back, Fredette could find opportunity in L.A. that he wouldn't in South Beach, barbecue country or the Big Apple.

But that's kind of the point. Despite a disappointing first two-plus seasons in the NBA, Fredette has options and plenty of them.

Jimmermania didn't work out in Sacramento, but it's far from dead.

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