Patty Mills’ surprising injury shouldn’t complicate Spurs’ offseason
UPDATE: The Spurs and Patty Mills have agreed to a three-year deal, per Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News. We’ll have more when contract details emerge.
The right shoulder of backup point guard Patty Mills has been an issue for quite awhile now. Kinesiology tape had been heavily wrapped around his shooting arm like a spiderweb over the final two months of the Spurs’ fifth championship campaign, but the reserve gunslinger never seemed too much worse for wear, bombing 3-pointers on his way to what was sure to be a lucrative offseason.
Then news broke late Tuesday night that the trouble hidden beneath that taped entanglement was more serious than anyone anticipated. The Sydney Herald reported Mills will undergo surgery for what appears to be a torn rotator cuff in his shooting shoulder and is expected to miss up to seven months, a report that was later confirmed. It is some incredibly disappointing, if not devastating news for the 25-year-old Australian, whose on-court performance made him a large part of the NBA’s free-agent conversation.
Rumors have been circulating (on the low, though) since the end of the Spurs’ season that something was amiss and potentially concerning with Mills’ physical state, but nothing with real substance. Until Tuesday night. For the newly unrestricted free agent, the timing could hardly have been worse. Mills was set to, in all likelihood, triple or even quadruple his salary; now, any team that chooses to commit to him is taking a risk, however large or small it may be.
“I haven’t been through free-agency before, having this injury changes everything again,” Mills told Fairfax Media in the Sydney Herald’s report. “I have no idea how it works, but I’m guessing it will affect [my next deal]. But it’s out of my hands. It is what it is. We’ve got to make the most of the situation and move on.”
While the injury risk does carry its own set of complications, the development doesn’t significantly change the offseason outlook for the Spurs. It was widely believed over the course of Mills’ breakout season the two sides would come to an agreement to keep the point guard in San Antonio, and that’s not expected to change. In fact, the prospect of convincing him to re-sign may have just gotten a tad easier. So long as the team is confident in Mills’ ability to recover, the Spurs have three luxuries other competitors in the point-guard market might not possess — time, money, and a championship-caliber roster.
San Antonio owns Mills’ Bird Rights (which means the team can go over the cap to re-sign him) and plenty of space under the luxury-tax threshold to make a highly competitive offer, unless an outside suitor submits an outlandish proposal too rich for Spurs blood. They’ve also got time and depth on their side, not to mention another young point guard itching for an opportunity.
Cory Joseph is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is actually eligible for a contract extension before Oct. 31, but he’s spent the majority of his time in San Antonio fighting for scraps of playing time. He may now have a real chance to show he can play, and just in time for his second contract.
Again, it all hinges on San Antonio’s confidence in the state of Mills’ shoulder, but if they feel he’ll be fine moving forward this shouldn’t throw much of a wrench in the negotiation process. Marc Stein reported Wednesday morning that the two sides have already begun talks on a new deal, and that they are expected to reach an agreement. If Mills can ink a deal in the near future, perhaps it will help alleviate the most painful part of this injury — having to pull out of this summer’s FIBA World Cup.
“Missing the Boomers is the toughest of it all, I have a tremendous amount of pride to play for Australia,” Mills was quoted as saying in the Herald’s report. “It’s going to be a brutal recovery process. I’ll go straight into surgery, but I’m told the next four to six weeks I won’t be able to do anything, and it will be brutal.”
Really tough break for Patty, as it’s likely this development has cost him some interest in free agency. But if the plan all along has been to return to San Antonio, then it’s doubtful much has changed in that capacity. The Spurs’ front office is as fair and loyal as it gets in the NBA, and you’d expect he’ll be offered a salary on par with his expectations.
The only real uncertainty going forward, if Mills is re-signed, may come with his return to the court. If his replacement as Parker’s backup — Joseph, in all likelihood, in a contract year — plays well in his stead, Gregg Popovich’s job as minutes-juggler will become a bit more complicated. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.