San Antonio Spurs swingman Malik Hairston was released from his NBA contract and has signed a two-year deal with Italian club team Mens Sana Basket (aka Montepaschi Siena), according to the Siena Free. With apologies to all of the other guys we've covered the past few weeks, this is one of the bigger European signings so far. After being drafted 48th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, Hairston was traded to San Antonio for Goran Dragic. While Dragic's first (awful) year made this deal seem like another Spurs steal, Dragic's emergence last season and Hairston's fade into San Antonio's swingman muddle have altered that view.
Hairston played 62 games for the Spurs over the course of the last two seasons and 45 games with the Spurs' D-League affiliate Austin Toros. A power forward at the University of Oregon, Hairston used his time with the Toros to transition into more of a wing player, as his 6'6" frame just wasn't going to cut it up front in the NBA. Hairston played extremely well in Austin, averaging 25 points a game over two seasons on 50.8 percent shooting, including 42.7 percent shooting from outside. He also used his college frontcourt experience to average five rebounds and a block per game, and showed off some passing skills as well, averaging three and a half assists.
His time with the Spurs was somewhat less productive, which I'll discuss after the jump.
When I profiled Malik Hairston a little over a year ago, I came to this conclusion: "San Antonio will probably need to retool their roster at some point in the future after relying on crusty veterans for so long (neither Bruce Bowen nor Michael Finley has much, if anything, left), and there's a good chance Hairston will be part of the resulting 'youth movement.'" Unfortunately, over 62 games with the Spurs, Hairston never really solidified a spot in the rotation. While he was an efficient scorer overall (his True Shooting percentage last season was .555), his three-point shooting was practically non-existent as he attempted just 12 three-pointers in two NBA seasons, making two. He also struggled from the free-throw line with the Spurs, again out of line with his D-League performance.
Compounding matters was that the Spurs had several other players in front of Hairston, including Richard Jefferson, Keith Bogans and, for part of the year, Michael Finley. Despite playing decent defense and contributing some good bench-player numbers on a per-minute basis, Hairston wasn't able to show he should take more playing time away from any of those guys.
His place on the team became even more tenuous in recent days with the re-signing of Jefferson and the signing of Spurs Summer League player Gary Neal to a guaranteed deal. ("Gary Neal to a guaranteed deal" is fun to say out loud.) There also is the presence of Alonzo Gee, whose contract for this season is unguaranteed like Hairston's was, but who may represent greater future rewards to the Spurs at this point in time, for about $90k less.
While I personally think Hairston could've been a solid free agent bench option for another NBA team, he should flourish in Italy. He can score both from outside (his Spurs performance notwithstanding) and by getting to the rim, he's a good passer and rebounder and an all-around smart player. Montepaschi Siena has apparently been running things the last few years, winning the last four Italian League championships and two consecutive "Italian triple crowns" (Italian League, Italian Cup and Super Cup championships), and its roster includes former Toronto Raptors center Uroš Slokar and former University of New Orleans guard Bo McCalebb.
While Hairston's two-year deal means he likely won't be back in the NBA for awhile, he's still just 23 years old, so it's not out of the question he could return once this European stint ends.