June 29, 2017, 4:25 pm
It’s that time of the year again where we put on our general manager hats and do two things.
1) We predict what the contracts are going to be – and
2) We rank the contracts accordingly
The idea is that if a general manager wanted to rank who they were targeting, excluding stuff like the salary cap and fit and the arc of the franchise, they could take the year off and just use this list.
As contracts get agreed to we’ll come back to this article and provide a letter grade for each deal. Hopefully your team will pick from the top and not from the middle or bottom of this list.
× Big name guys that are staying put are not ranked (Steph, KD, etc)
× All the amounts are expressed as averages over the course of the deal
× You can’t win picking all the low cost guys because your team will never get anywhere good, so you do have to take a shot on high-end guys when the going is good.
× I’m going to use a term called expected value in a few spots and that should be taken as the consensus or market value for a player when they sign their deal. If they are a positive expected value that means somebody like myself thinks they’re going to outperform their deal.
× These deals aren’t going to have this many options but it’s my way of indicating which direction the deal might go
Find all of the other positions here
The value is dispersed through all the ranges of higher-end, middle-tier and lower-end players. Like every position except for small forward, there are big traps everywhere for decision-makers.
1. Kyle Lowry
Projection: $200M over five years if he stays in Toronto. $149M over four years on a max deal if he goes elsewhere. Probably some sort of a team option or partial guarantee for the fifth year if in Toronto and he maxes out.
Kyle Lowry is really, really good. And don’t think for a second that the playoff struggles are going to drastically change his marketplace. Now Toronto might look at it and say ‘we can’t pay $200M to a 31-year-old player that we have struggled with so much in the playoffs.’
But a lot of that is on Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan for running stupid offense and the rest of this is about whether he can still play – and the answer is definitively yes. Is this contract going to give a team positive expected value? Nah. But can he play up to that value for a contender? Absolutely, but they’ll have to find a way to save money elsewhere.
VERDICT: Lowry almost got throttled by the marketplace and he might have been saved by the Cavs’ struggles at doing things normally. The Raps think they can compete and so they’ve made a three-year bet on their core, which probably gets a lot more tricky if the market didn’t head so far south. So they got Lowry for three years and $100 million and it’s less than the $37.5 million per year max deal. Age and injury risk played a role here, too, and taking advantage of the marketplace the Raps got a great deal.
2. Jrue Holiday
Projection: $31 million per year over four or five years. If he stays in New Orleans that fifth year probably has a partial guarantee.
Holiday had a somewhat forgettable year in a league chalk-full of highlight reel point guards and it was also somewhat understandable given the health of his wife and the late-season arrival of DeMarcus Cousins. He has a pretty noteworthy injury history and he has never cracked the discussion of second tier point guards, let alone the top tier of point guards.
That said, it’s a point guard’s league and Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Indiana, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, Toronto and Utah all have situations that are up in the air. All it takes is one team to decide that they need a signal caller who can compete at a high level and money will fly. After all, Ryan Anderson got $20 million per year last year and all he does is shoot threes.
This contract is probably going to get ridiculed whenever it gets announced. But at $31 million rather than upwards of $38 million for Kyle Lowry, the separation between the two isn’t as much as many people would like to think. The key difference, though, is that Lowry can hit an All Star gear that Holiday can’t get to — but Holiday represents a sort of hedge on that big dollar amount which closes the gap between the two.
As for guys like Jeff Teague and George Hill, who profile similarly in terms of cost and effectiveness, I’ll take my chances that Holiday’s game travels better. Teague has always had a weird ‘off’ switch and as you’ll see later, I do wonder if the mileage has added up. Hill’s injury risk puts him clearly behind the duo, and you’ll see a pair of Kings are going to crack this group because of their cost.
VERDICT: The Pelicans were in a rough spot with having to keep Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins happy, while facing similar big bets on similar point guards if they went another direction. The only problem was that the market dove and Holiday got regular market prices, inking a five-year, $126 million deal.
The $25 million per year checks in lower than the max deals he could have had, but still came in way higher than Jeff Teague and George Hill’s deals. The fit is fine for New Orleans and they’re not any worse off than they would have been if the market was normal, but in relation to the other deals this deal definitely gets a downgrade.
3. Ty Lawson
Projection: $12 million per year for three years (team option)
This comes with a bit of nuance required and it’s our first big illustration of the ‘cash-to-value’ ranks and how they work. Lawson isn’t the third best point guard on this list, but with some of the off-court question marks about whether he has turned the corner on alcohol issues, and the lack of overall hype about his season – he’s going to be an incredible value for a smart team and at very low risk.
Assuming everything has held true to last year’s form, what we saw from Lawson was some hard nose defense and eventually he found his offense late in the year. The speed and athleticism are still there.
There will always be a question about whether he’ll suddenly lose confidence in his shot, but in the right system he can be a solid low-end starter and can always be a super sub off the bench.
4. Darren Collison
Projection: $17 million per year for three years (player option)
What’s keeping this deal relatively muaffled is the down year that Collison had, which started with an eight-game suspension due to domestic violence. Collison had no other taransgressions and settled into an inconsistent role for the Kings both with and without DeMarcus Cousins around.
A lot of that had to do with some of the bad lineups he played in but more importantly the high post offense that Dave Joerger uses wasn’t a good fit for his personnel. Both Collison and Ty Lawson struggled with getting to the rack because of all of the paint traffic.
Some of his issues also came due to a decrease in explosion and ballhandling skills, with the latter probably being impacted by the former. Otherwise it was a typical season for Collison and there will be teams willing to pay for steady production in the top 20-30 range of NBA point guards.
Because his number is about half of what the higher-tier point guards are getting, it’s going to be a relative bargain and for that reason he climbs up this list.
VERDICT: Two years and $20 million went to Collison and it was yet another brutalizing of my projections. The point guard market got shattered early and guys like Collison were lucky to get this much. The Pacers now have a combo guard tandem in he and Victor Oladipo and how that works will be interesting, but probably workable.
They end up in a better situation than one would have thought as the Internet chewed up Kevin Pritchard for his Paul George return. Even if we adjust for the market chill, this is a great deal to get a top-30ish point guard at the controls so things don’t go to total crap.
5. Jeff Teague
Projection: $30 million per year over four years
Teague probably won’t get big money from Indiana because they’re not going to want to pay him massive money in a fifth year and he can find better places to play on a four-year deal.
The Knicks have already expressed interest and the Jazz will probably be right there if they lose out on George Hill, not to mention all of the aforementioned point guard situations that are up in the air. Hell, Indy could offer him four years, too.
What you’re getting in Teague is the safety of his athleticism. He’s not going to fall off due to anything but injury and that’s the red flag here. He has dealt with patella tendinitis and played through a ton of nagging injuries throughout his career getting to this point.
The problem is paying big money for a middle of the road starter at best, and as noted he has a few more question marks with his game than somebody like Jrue Holiday. This deal should only be advisable for teams that are in the top half of their conference playoff bracket and need a big piece to move the needle. Otherwise, there’s practically no chance to get positive expected value here.
You’re either breaking even at best and after that the only way to go with this contract is down.
VERDICT: The deal for Teague is great. Three years and $57 million ($19M AAV) were well below what a bull market would have paid him and with the years down the Wolves haven’t really risked much. The only issue here is fit as Teague won’t get a ton of touches and one begs the question of whether a Patrick Beverley-type player would be a better allocation of funds.
Tom Thibodeau has seen what Teague had done to his Bulls squads throughout the years and he’s clearly trying to improve on-ball defense, while bring a bit more shooting into the fold. It’s hard to argue with the price and the years, but there are caveats to explore.
6. George Hill
Projection: $25 million per year / 3-year deal with player option / 4-year deal with team option or partial guarantee
Hill would be much higher on this list if it weren’t for the obvious injury concerns and those are big. He managed just 49 regular season games last year due to a variety of foot, toe, ankle, thumb and concussion issues. Still, in those games he showed another gear than we’ve seen in the past and if he didn’t have an unlikely decline, he enters this year as a top-15ish point guard.
The fit here is going to be the most important thing because this is a high dollar amount. Utah is probably willing to pay him but if they can’t be convinced that Hill has a full four-year deal on the table then they can probably hang on to the option for that last season, or do a partial guarantee.
The question then shifts to whether or not a squad wants to drop $100 million on the table for a mid-level starter who will be 35 years old when the contract is done. The Gordon Hayward domino is probably going to dictate whether the Jazz decide to go all out or if they decide to tap the breaks.
Ultimately this deal would look much better if you can get Hill on a shorter contract, but even then we can’t get past the injuries to push him up this list any higher.
VERDICT: Hill was lucky to get three years and $57 million (last year partially guaranteed) as the point guard market got picked apart by smart teams operating during the Gordon Hayward hold-up. So this $19 million per year is less than I projected (a common theme here) but it’s still a ton of money for a guy that couldn’t play but half his games during a contract year.
The fit is also questionable since he’s necessarily going to keep multiple players from getting the developmental minutes they will probably earn.
Yes, he’ll add balance and leadership to a team that most definitely needs it, but the Kings will be judged by what they could have had and also by how they handle deficiencies such as small forward going forward.
To that end, these investments could have been made elsewhere in free agency on guys like Joe Ingles, James Johnson or Otto Porter (if they were attainable). And if Dave Joerger decides to redshirt the kids so the old guys can play — as he is known to do — then this signing can be earmarked as a hindrance to the rebuilding effort.
7. Shelvin Mack
Projection: $9 million per year for three years (player option)
This number would be higher if the point guard market wasn’t so flushed with good players. He’s the epitome of ‘solid backup’ and at 27 years old the winner for his services will be getting his best years. He will be a top 30-45 point guard for the duration of this deal and for less than 10 percent of the cap. If pressed into starting he will find himself outclassed, but Mack outplaying this deal is a gimme.
VERDICT: Mack agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal with the Magic and that’s a steal not just because of the price, but because the Magic got themselves a legitimate backup option that might just push Elfrid Payton a bit. Or at least keep him honest.
8. Patrick Mills
Projection: $16 million per year for four years (team option)
Let’s ignore the fact that Mills can’t defend and that he’s more of a scorer than traditional point guard. He still flops his heart out and he still comes from the Gregg Popovich blood line and the latter has its own unique value that won’t be fully expressed in the offers.
What he has going for him is that he is in his prime and ready to take on more responsibility for whatever club signs him. You’re probably in some sort of a dark period if your squad taps him to start for the next 2-3 years, but he’ll be a top-30 point guard during that span, and if you can have him come off the bench with just a few more touches than he had in San Antonio you’re doing it right.
The price tag here is going to cut into the chances of positive expected value, but unlike a lot of these guys on the list at least you’re spending less on the investment so you can use that cash in other places.
VERDICT: Mills was an early signing and his four-year, $50 million deal seemed small at the time but it was a harbinger of things to come as the market was about to freeze. Ultimately the Spurs couldn’t throw Dejounte Murray into the fire by himself and they paid decent money for a known commodity. It’s a fair market value and the Spurs will be able to concentrate bigger money on other positions, making this a relative success.
9. Milos Teodosic
Projection: $10 million per year for three years
This one is so hard to project. Teodosic is 30 years old and this will be his big NBA deal. The Nets are hot on his tail and so is Utah and basically anybody in the market for a point guard. His passing skill can’t be denied and he will shoot the 3-pointer just fine, but from there the questions start to pile up and especially on the defensive side.
Bogdan Bogdanovic just got three years and $36 million from the Kings according to reports and he seems to be a cut or two below Bogdanovic in terms of potential and probably current play, too.
Teams with cap space could drive this contract up if his name starts to catch fire as we get closer to 7/1, and at the same time the depth of the point guard market tends to depress prices in this range.
At this price, however, it’s arguable that he could go higher in these ranks but the lack of overall upside and question marks settle him right here. It’s a very safe play and could be a value play for a team needing an experience low-end, low-usage starter.
VERDICT: Teodosic lands with the Clippers on a two-year, $12.3 million deal with a player option. Teams were more apt to give player options this year and stay flexible for down the road, as opposed to this year when the Warriors mop everybody up. He’s going to split time with Patrick Beverley and that’s a little bit odd, but he’s certainly going to get his minutes.
We’ll see him win everybody over with his passing, but his defense and ability to impact games at the NBA level will be the question mark. He also lands in a place where two bigs handle the ball a lot in Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari. The market was down and in that context one might complain a bit more, but overall this is a fine deal for a Clippers squad that’s just trying to tread water.
10. Brandon Jennings and Sergio Rodriguez
Projections: $9 and $8 million per year for three years (team options) respectively
I wanted to stop this list at No. 10 but I also wanted to write a bit about Rodriguez for the Kings, so you can take this arbitrary tie for what it is.
I do have Jennings a hair above Rodriguez because he’s younger and there’s just the slightest chance he can climb out of his Achilles-induced fall out of the top 20-40 range. To be clear, he won’t climb as high as anything but the top-30, but that’s not territory that Rodriguez has a chance at anymore.
Rodriguez held his own for the Sixers last year and did what he does well, which is score, shoot and pass out of the pick and roll. Everything else with him is a deficiency but if you’re looking for a vet that can stand in, play 25 mpg to start a year and then gracefully bow out in January he profiles pretty well as that guy.
That’s really the only scenario it makes sense to bring in a point guard if you’re the Kings, who have three ballhandlers in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Garrett Temple is better than all three of them by a lot. Especially since Dave Joerger hasn’t been the greatest with getting his young guys the proper amount of touches, bringing in anybody that will put up a fight isn’t the greatest idea.
Somebody like Shelvin Mack might actually be too qualified for that type of role. Let Spanish Chocolate be the sacrificial lamb.
12. Shaun Livingston
Projection: $11 million per year for three years (team option)
Livingston is 31 years old and though he has turned the corner on his infamous knee injury, it’s asking a lot of him to stay athletic enough to survive without a jumper. We saw signs late in the season that he wasn’t able to get to his favorite spots, and the reason this contract falls in the ranks is that his new team will pay an extra premium for his success in Golden State.
For a contender to pick up the tab on this type of contract, they’re going to have to really be addressing a need and if that is truly the case then he can live up to this deal. Other than that, it’s all downside and question marks in relation to the cost of this contract.
VERDICT: Livingston gets three years and $24 million (third year partially guaranteed) to stay with the Warriors and that’s more or less my projection. We’ll have to see how the higher numbers for Livingston and Andre Iguodala impact their ability to keep Klay Thompson, which is more or less an issue the Warriors have punted on, opting to deal with it next year when they have to.
Ron Baker is young enough to see if he can take a step forward, as is Tyler Ennis. Langston Galloway is a capable scorer so at least you have a bankable skill with him. Aaron Brooks has just enough legs left to make his veteran experience worth something. Trey Burke has one more chance. You could bump up Ronnie Price just for the fights he’s willing to start on the floor. He’s still capable, too. He’s just old.
Michael Carter-Williams probably isn’t turning the corner but at his size you have to kick the tires in this range. Cole has really fallen off since the days he defended Steph fairly well in the playoffs.
Derrick Rose is not good. The worst part is that he thinks he still is and any team that pays him is going to feel pressure to put him on the floor. Everybody else on the list is outside of the top-60 and/or done for.