Jimmer Fredette has prolonged his NBA dream for another season — or at least until October.
The BYU legend signed a contract with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, which will make him a part of the team's training camp roster. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Fredette's contract includes only "a modest financial guarantee" — meaning the Spurs could conceivably cut him at any time without suffering considerable financial blowback.
So it's not necessarily the world's greatest contract — after all, who wouldn't love a multi-year, fully guaranteed deal? — but it is a contract nonetheless, and that's a victory in and of itself. Coming off a frustrating year in which Jimmer (whose sole marketable NBA skill is his ability to shoot the long ball) shot only 19 percent from behind the 3-point line, many observers wondered whether he would be able to stick in the league at all. So while Fredette's not quite out of the woods yet, San Antonio's decision to give him a chance to earn a roster spot represents a significant opportunity for the former Cougar.
That opportunity is made even more significant by the identity of the team that's offering it. The Spurs are perhaps the NBA's premier franchise, and Gregg Popovich is without question the league's top coach. They are renowned for taking talented but flawed role players who failed elsewhere, finding a way to maximize their unique skill set within Popovich's system, and developing them into quality rotation players that go on to have productive NBA careers. Does that sort of Spursian alchemy sound like something a certain former collegiate sensation could benefit from?
Put simply, San Antonio offers Jimmer his best possible chance to succeed as an NBA player. If he can't do it as a cog in Pop's vaunted Spurs machine, he probably won't be able to do it anywhere else. That's not necessarily the worst thing in the world — a lot of really good players have wonderful careers and make a whole lot of money competing at a high level in the top European leagues — but for a kid who grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA, this might be Fredette's last, best chance to prove he belongs.
And it seems he'll get that chance in San Antonio. The five-time champs have had a productive offseason thus far — including re-signing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to handsome new contracts, landing LaMarcus Aldridge in the summer's premier free agent pickup, and even convincing savvy veteran David West to take less money to help shore up the front line and make one last run at a title. All of these moves have the potential to make the Spurs more dangerous than ever before, particularly in their starting five — but they have also compromised their depth.
Popovich's system is built on maintaining excellent floor spacing at all times — allowing the Spurs to keep the defense constantly on their heels with fluid ball movement, and creating as much room as possible for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan (and now, it seems, LaMarcus Aldridge) to slice opponents apart in the pick and roll. It's a brilliant scheme.
However, in order for that scheme to work, San Antonio must have a significant number of 3-point threats on the floor at any given time to keep the defense honest and preserve the all-important spacing that allows everything else to function so beautifully. Without enough shooters to prevent their opponents from cheating into the paint to help on Duncan, Parker or Aldridge, the offense gets bogged down and nothing works as intended.
That's where Jimmer (potentially) comes in.
In order to keep this system whirring, Pop needs shooters on his bench — but as the Spurs have acquired or retained big name talent this summer, they've had to let some of their perimeter reserve depth walk. Sharpshooter Marco Belinelli signed a free agent deal with the Kings, and backup point guard Cory Joseph is now with the Raptors. As a result, two of the Spurs' five most accurate 3-point shooters from a season ago have now been removed from the equation — leaving a hole in the team's bench rotation that will need to be filled by somebody.
To be sure, Jimmer's not without competition for the job — and it's a pretty limited job as it is. The Spurs still have perhaps the best roster in the league in spots 1-8. Those players will take the lion's share of the minutes on a nightly basis. Danny Green will undoubtedly remain the team's top deep threat. But there is definitely an opening for the right player to carve out 8-10 minutes per game as a 3-point specialist — and that's the role Fredette will fight for.
He's certainly not alone. Far from it. After all, San Antonio already has 13 guaranteed contracts on the books — meaning Jimmer will have to battle for one of two remaining roster spots just to have the chance to make it to the regular season. And if he succeeds in doing that, he'll have to earn playing time (again, a precious commodity on a team that will rely so heavily on their top rotation players) by battling with the likes of the newly acquired Ray McCallum and Spurs veteran Patty Mills for a consistent spot on the guard line.
It's no easy task, but the opening is there. It's up to Fredette to convince Popovich and his staff that he's the man to fill it. After years of pinging around from one organization to the next, never quite fitting into any coach's rotation, Jimmer will get one last chance at NBA legitimacy in the league's most renowned reclamation program.
If he can't make it in San Antonio, BYU's greatest player in a generation may need to start brushing up on his Italian. Buona fortuna!