• 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.

    Ground rules

    × 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

    Point Guard: Click Here
    Shooting Guard: Click Here
    Power Forward: Click Here
    Center: Click Here

    SMALL FORWARDS

    This is by far the best position for depth and there are values all over the board.  If your team can’t address the small forward position with this group of players, it should be considered a huge red flag.

    Not listed: Kevin Durant

    1. Gordon Hayward

    Projection: $34.5 million per year for five years with the Jazz or $32 million per year for four years with another squad.

    Gordon Hayward has everything you’re looking for in a big money player. He can play shooting guard right now but long-term he profiles as a guy who can hold up at the 3. He doesn’t have any major flaw in his game, though his lateral quickness will be the first thing to go and he’ll need to continue finding ways to morph his game as he racks up the mileage.

    Miami gets the first meeting, then the Celtics and then the Jazz. I’m still not 100 percent clear how Hayward jumps to the top of the list for Boston when they have decent pieces at SG/SF, unless they’re consciously profiling him as a PF. But the Brad Stevens connection adds some intrigue and the Celtics are gunning for him because they can pitch him without having to give anything up, whereas in the Jimmy Butler and Paul George talks there were/are other parties to keep happy.

    It concerned me a bit that Hayward wasn’t able to generate key shots in the Jazz’s playoff series against the Clippers. The lack of a go-to move and the inability to dictate tempo in the game’s crucial minutes was a learning lesson at best, and a subtle preview of his inability to live up this contract at worst.

    I don’t give a lot of credibility to the latter, but a few worst-case scenarios and throw in some opportunity cost with guys they could have chased — and this could be a bust for Boston if he’s their big bet on contending.

    Regardless, he’s the No. 1 player at this position because he’s an impact player that could theoretically give positive expected value, even at a big number.

    VERDICT: Hayward deliberated and finally made his choice with a four-year, $128 million deal ($32M AAV) to play in Boston.  There’s not a lot to say about a deal like this except it’s a good get for Boston, but it’s not an optimized get from a roster standpoint. 

    So yes, they improve but they do so in an awkward fashion and we’ve already seen them move Avery Bradley (to get Marcus Morris) as a next domino to fall.  They need to get bigger and stronger but that’s hard to do, so they’ll pick and choose their battles from here on out.  Regardless, they got the biggest name in free agency that was up for grabs. 

    GRADE: A-

    2. Otto Porter (RFA)

    Projection: $24 million per year for five years ($135 million) in Washington, $26.5 million per year for four years elsewhere

    This is among the more intriguing free agent situations of this summer. If we ignore John Wall’s comments discussing a future without Otto Porter, which seemed to me would come from a guy that knows the writing is on the wall for Porter’s departure, looking at Washington’s salary cap situation a few things become clear.

    Firstly, reports from the home city tend to outline what a team wants to pay or is willing to pay. The number floated by the Washington Post and Candice Buckner was $20 million per year in one scenario. This still borders on having luxury tax implications and the team has Kelly Oubre as a questionable but intriguing replacement. Should they chase a big fish or determine that a couple of mid-tier free agents are a better fit then Porter is out the door.

    Looking at what I’ve projected the offers to be, the only real financial benefit for Porter to stay would be an offer of the fifth year and more guaranteed money. The only risk with adding Porter for any team is the prevalence of hip issues that have popped up both lately and throughout his career. The only other downside is that he has only recently taken charge on the offensive end, which is a trend that is likely to continue to some degree moving forward.

    Will he be able to become a No. 2-3 option on offense for a good team? It’s certainly debatable but he can shoot the three and his defensive upside is enough to render the concerns moot at this price. He might not fit for contending teams that are already stacked.  But for any team planning for the future — for example a team like the Kings who have a need at his position and also a timetable that makes sense — this should be a no-brainer as long as the medical records check out.

    3.  Joe Ingles (RFA)

    Projection: $16 million per year for four years (team option)

    Smokin’ Joe Ingles has been a Hoop Ball favorite for over a year now, mostly because it’s not hard to imagine him playing while smoking a cigarette a la Rhys Ifans in The Replacements. It’s also not hard to see him being the world’s best blacktop hustler if he would just go to the playground and take a bunch of dorky looking jump hooks before sides are picked.

    In the NBA, he is everything you want from a small forward in today’s NBA – he can switch, shoot and run the pick and roll. Defensively he plays the passing lanes and he has no problem mixing it up with the other team to make them feel uncomfortable. He was given the assignment of covering Chris Paul at times throughout the playoffs, speaking to how much confidence Quin Snyder had in him on that end.

    Ingles has said he wants to stay in Utah and like a lot of folks, he will be waiting on Gordon Hayward’s decision. Hayward undoubtedly wants to see Ingles around but if he leaves and the Jazz spin another direction, or they view this type of offer as too much, then it’s possible your team can reap the benefits.

    Because of the discounting he’s going to get due to lack of reputation, name recognition and flash, if your general manager isn’t making a move to acquire Ingles and they don’t already have a top-tier solution in place, they don’t know what they’re doing.

    VERDICT: Ingles raked in four years at $52 million ($13M AAV) and he did so at a discount to try and keep Gordon Hayward around.  This was the ultimate ‘do you watch and understand basketball’ test as analysts questioned the amount of money he got.  The Jazz have been trying to bring back a three now that Hayward is gone but that’s mostly silly since it’s Ingles’ position.  Regardless, this is a great deal for them as they rebuild and they’ll lean on him heavily heading into next season.

    GRADE: A-

    4.  Andre Iguodala

    Projection: $16 million per year for three years (player option)

    Andre Iguodala has a tricky contract to project because he could take a lesser deal to stay in Oakland or he could get wooed away with something like a player option. Fit is obviously going to matter but this might be his last big deal, and coming off a championship with his reputation mostly intact he can still make a financial move that moves the needle.

    On the court, Iguodala looks dangerously close to a guy that has lost his offense. He wouldn’t be the first player with suspect shooting to lose touch as a result of age and lack of feel for the ball. Over the past few years he has been rendered to being mostly a spot-up shooter and once things start to go south for players in this category they can lose all value on that end pretty quickly.

    Defensively he can still turn it up but he’s not stopping or slowing the elites anymore. With this deal you’re hoping he can stay above average in that area for all three years of the deal.

    Why this deal doesn’t rank lower with those kinds of metrics is because the contract isn’t that burdensome. You can plug Iguodala into just about any team or system and get expected value for him at a championship level. Lottery and bubble teams need not apply, however. This contract can only go upside down.

    VERDICT: Iguodala scored a three-year, $48 million deal and the only thing he didn’t get was a player option — but this might be the only thing I got right during free agency.  He played his leverage expertly and the Warriors knew they were paying a bit too much, but keeping their championship core intact was the correct play.

    GRADE: B-

    5.  Andre Roberson (RFA)

    Projection: $16 million per year for four years (team option)

    Andre Roberson would make me feel a lot better from a purchaser’s perspective if I had full confidence that he didn’t have long-term knee issues. That’s going to get covered up in the fact he played 79 games last season and was widely touted as an elite on-ball defender. He had a three-week absence due to a right knee sprain in 2016 and has been plagued by left knee soreness this season, as well.

    Watching film there have been long stretches in which he has lost the explosion that makes him the asset that he is. Otherwise, during his 2016 playoff run he showed good strides toward becoming a somewhat serviceable offensive player. He flashed a few nifty passes on straight-line drives and was able to hit at least a few shots to keep teams from playing 4-on-5.

    Last year, though, the Russell Westbrook offense seemed to keep a lot of the Thunder’s teammates from being able to grow. Roberson was one of them. There was no major step forward and he enters this restricted free agency almost overvalued in terms of name value among NBA folks. Could he get back on to a growth track in a system that asked him to do more stuff?

    That’s the hope.  Aside from the knee concerns and offensive issues, you’re getting a defender built for today’s NBA and hoping he can make himself into a poor man’s Trevor Ariza. This contract isn’t great and though he has a chance to meet expected value, the odds aren’t in his favor.  Still, given some of the other contracts in this group, I’d rather gamble on Roberson at this cost than some of his counterparts.

    6.  Danilo Gallinari

    Projection: $26 million per year for four years (player option)

    Danilo Gallinari can still be a No. 1 scorer in this league at least for the first year or two of this deal. Defensively he’s mostly a sieve and we can pick apart the non-scoring aspects of his game pretty easily. But he can control tempo within a game by getting to the free throw line and that’s the type of scoring you want out of a No. 1 guy and it’s icing on the cake if he’s your No. 2.

    The obvious concerns are with injury risk and how bad this contract looks in Years 3 and 4. If you make Gallinari a stretch four you can probably keep the effectiveness within a reasonable range if he stays healthy, but any slippage or major injury and you’re sitting on Chandler Parsons. Still, if your squad is looking for a No. 1-2 scorer that can move the needle he can do exactly that so the market will be bullish here.

    As for these rankings, your team can do better making a more frugal play.

    7.  Tony Snell (RFA)

    Projection: $14 million per year for four years (team option)

    Everybody has taken their pound of flesh making fun of Tony Snell.  I went so far as to take the Rick James picture from the Chapelle Show and meme out ‘Cocaine is a Snelluva Drug,’ which when you think about it makes no sense except it works Snell’s name into a decade old skit folks may or may not remember.

    Folks also made fun of the Bucks for their trade of Snell, mostly because it included two players (Michael Carter-Williams) that hadn’t met expectations. What happened in Milwaukee, however, was that Snell became a solid 3-and-D player who performed decently in the playoffs.

    We shouldn’t get out of our lane projecting him as the next Trevor Ariza, but in terms of somebody young (25) that you might make a sizable but still small bet on – this makes a ton of sense.

    If he had any ability in my mind to become more than an average NBA player, I’d easily move him up above Gallo and maybe even above Andre Roberson and Andre Iguodala.

    What you’re buying here is great odds on that ‘average’ designation. And if you can pile up enough ‘average’ players at low prices like these, you’re putting yourself in a position to invest in other areas.

    VERDICT: Snell was snapped up quickly for four years and $46 million which was a bit under the projection but also in the ballpark.  This is a fine deal for the Bucks to get an average player locked up on a lower-money deal. 

    GRADE: B-

    8. P.J. Tucker

    Projection: $15 million per year for three years

    P.J. Tucker is one of the few players in this league that can ‘slow’ LeBron James (assuming LeBron doesn’t want to take fadeaway jumpers all game like it’s last year’s playoffs). That alone is impressive enough for a lot of contending teams to want to take on this kind of a deal. That Tucker can do a little bit of everything else makes this a solid decision for any squad – rebuilding (hello Kings) or not.

    Despite having just six years of experience in the league, at 32 years old there is no real upside beyond his current level of play. I’m tempted to put him at the top of the Roberson, Iguodala, Gallinari and Snell tier, but there is practically no chance he exceeds the value of this contract. He’s a safe play but at this age there is also potential for him to lose some of what makes him a top-tier defender. And at this price, he simply can’t fall off at all.

    VERDICT: Four years, $32 million.  Tucker’s deal came earlier in free agency and the Rockets came away with an insane bargain, brought to them in part by the recruiting efforts of their players.  Tucker took considerably less money to play in Houston and he’ll be an essential part of what they do, creating a very interesting value proposition for that squad, giving them defensive versatility while fitting in as a spot-shooter offensively.  It’s one of the better deals of free agency.

    GRADE: A+

    9.  Shabazz Muhammad (RFA)

    Projection: $14 million per year for four years (team option)

    Shabazz Muhammad has one of the worst stat sets in fantasy basketball and to my non-fantasy readers what that means is that he’s not very versatile. All he does is score. But he does that pretty well and we’ve seen shades of improvement out of him in every season. There is also a question about how he has been deployed for a young Wolves squad that often times has lacked direction on the floor.

    Helping make this a more palatable decision for general managers is that Muhammad has stayed in impressive shape in recent years, with the early knock on him being that he could get overweight. He profiles excellently as a gunner in a second unit, but hopefully for an organization that can start to teach him other aspects of the game.

    If the Spurs were to somehow sign him, expect there to be all sorts of ‘sneaky play!’ type kudos given on the Internet.

    That said, at this price there will be expectations and he will need to do more than just score, and for players like that it can spiral out of control pretty quickly if for whatever reason the fit isn’t right or they don’t get their touches. I like Muhammad at this figure but I also recognize there’s enough risk to keep him below safer plays like P.J. Tucker or a 3-and-D guy like Tony Snell.

    10.  Bojan Bogdanovic (RFA)

    Projection: $14 million per year for four years (team option)

    Bojan Bogdanovic is your classic shooter/scorer that can fill it up. But like Shabazz Muhammad, he can also disappear not just from your stat sheet but he can disappear in general within a game, whereas a player like Muhammad’s style is to make you feel his presence (for better or worse).

    This is going to be about fit for Bogdanovic and his suitors. If they can’t spare the touches, this deal is going to look bad real quick. But if they have a legitimate need for outside scoring, they’re going to step into a perfect puzzle piece because there is no doubt about what Bogdanovic can do in that department. The big problem here is that at this price, he’s all downside and has practically no chance for positive expected value.

    VERDICT: Bogdanovic agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with the Pacers and was lucky to get this much money with the way the market softened.  There were some hot air reports that he was looking for $16 million per season and nobody was buying that.  Oddly enough, his new Pacers team is a lot like his old Nets team in that they trend more toward average players than any one or two elite ones.  The Pacers are just looking for any talent they can get as they start the rebuild, and Bogdanovic couldn’t have landed in too many better places to get minutes.  Still, even at this number it’s more or less a waste of funds. 

    GRADE: C-

    11. Rudy Gay

    Projection: $16 million per year for three years (player option)

    Like it or not, scoring is still one of the league’s most important skills and Rudy Gay has shown he can do that even as his athleticism has declined.  This is a tough one to project, though, and we don’t know what he’s showing teams in workouts. If he’s going out there and scoring on NBA-level talent during intense workouts, executives are going to loosen the purse strings on this type of a deal.

    If they don’t like what they see or they don’t get to see as much as they would like, this deal could flip to having a team option for the third year.

    The question here will be a matter of perspective.  Will teams be trying to win Gay at a discount so they can have a viable scorer locked up for maybe three years?  Or are they absorbing a two-year, $32 million risk for the chance he can be in the vicinity of where he left off in Sacramento. The latter is a risk many teams will take in order to add a viable No. 3 or 4 scorer, defense be damned.  Naturally, if he can show better in workouts then he can get that third year.

    VERDICT: Gay agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal with a player option and when you factor in no sales tax in Texas he’s handing over a minimal amount of money by ditching his old player option.  In the process he gets to go to the best organization in the NBA and remake his market value.  If he can’t play anymore due to the Achilles injury, he basically lost nothing and got to play for the Spurs rather than be unwanted by the Kings.

    The market really dried up for Gay and ultimately there wasn’t enough of an arms race to get teams to open their pocketbooks.  The lower cost makes the deal much more palatable and when one factors how Gay can theoretically help the Spurs’ rapidly deteriorating talent base, it gets a casual head nod from us. 

    GRADE: B-

    THE REST

    12-16: Thabo Sefolosha ($10M per/3 yrs – team), Omri Casspi ($9M per/3 yrs – team), Michael Beasley ($11M per/3 yrs – team), C.J. Miles ($12M per/3 yrs – team)

    Each of these guys are viable low-end veterans for just about any squad. Sefolosha, when healthy, can still impact games as a Swiss army knife. Casspi is a great fit for any squad in a 20 mpg role. Beasley has shown he can bring good offense in similar minutes. Miles is only at the bottom of this list because he probably ends up costing more than the other guys.

    The Rest: Dante Cunningham, Troy Williams, Jeff Green, K.J. McDaniels, Damjan Rudez, Arron Afflalo, Luke Babbitt, Tyreke Evans, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alex Poythress, Matt Barnes, Dahntay Jones

    Williams and McDaniels are interesting flier pickups because of their age and Williams actually gave good minutes last season. Cunningham is the poor man’s version of Nos. 12-16 in this group. Evans will probably cost too much in relation to what he actually provides, which isn’t much.

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