July 1, 2016, 6:03 pm
It’s that time of the year to do some free agent rankings. But we’re going to do this a bit differently than most rankings. We’re going to talk price to value here. So if you’re trying to figure out who your team should be going after, unless you have specific needs that you’ll overpay for this is your ‘moneyball’ list.
Some quick observations….
The point guard position is deeper toward the lower-end of the spectrum and pretty damn shallow overall. The shooting guard position is flush with mid-and-low tier options so you can be choosy, especially since the high-end guys are mostly spoken for (DeMar DeRozan and Dwyane Wade).
Small forward is both shallow and intriguing with Kevin Durant as the big domino, and Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore presenting higher-dollar propositions for would-be suitors. Power forward has talent up and down the spectrum with a ton of depth, and as one could imagine the center position is both expensive and shallow.
Without further ado, your Hoop Ball free agent rankings…
Note: If somebody is not listed here it’s because they’re so obviously returning home it’s not worth talking about (LeBron). Or they’re barely worth mentioning or maybe I forgot them, probably because they’re not worth mentioning.
1. Mike Conley
Projected: Max Deal – $28.2 million, ~$150M over five years if he signs with the Grizzlies
This is a pretty crappy point guard crop from a value perspective. Is Mike Conley worth this much money? Probably not. Is he going to give you a top 10-15 ROI over the next few years? Barring injury probably for at least the first three years of the deal.
That’s the big issue here considering Conley has been a good soldier and has played through all sorts of ailments, going through a five-year stretch with just nine missed games.
But ankle and Achilles’ injuries, as well as a shooting wrist and broken hand injuries, pushed him into 26 missed games this past year in a walk-year. Making this investment is basically a moon shot at nailing down the point guard position. Squeezing every dollar out of this deal and making it worth it shouldn’t be the expectation.
VERDICT: Conley signed a five-year, $153 million deal and it seemed like he wanted to stay in Memphis, but he needed to see the team reload rather than rebuild. He got that even though the Grizzlies overpaid for Chandler Parsons, as he fits as well in Memphis as he would have in most places because they need his offense and can help out on his defense. The Grizzlies also had a nice draft and they’ll be a nice little sleeper squad in the West. All of the commentary above holds up, but this is the move you have to make if you’re the Grizz.
5. Ish Smith
Projected: Three years, $9 million first year, ~$27 million
Notice how I went down to No. 5? That’s how steep the dropoff is going to be here for price-to-value and you’re also going to notice that there are a plethora of low-end options for real GMs to choose from. Why choose Ish Smith then? Because Ish at least gives you some modicum of upside to work with.
He probably shot himself into some bad habits last year for the Sixers, but he proved he can rev up some offense in the drive-and-kick game while also looking for his own shot, which he can get pretty easily. His efficiency was terrible and there’s the concern of good stats on a bad team. Defensively he’s nothing to write home about but with his athleticism he might not be dead weight if he can learn a few more tricks.
There’s good value here because the name value isn’t great and he’s a journeyman. GMs don’t like to hand out big deals to players that nobody knows.
VERDICT: Smith was the Isaiah Thomas of this free agency period as a guy that hadn’t made any real NBA money in his career and reportedly didn’t get a call from the Sixers for hours — and then Detroit swooped him up with a three-year, $18 million deal. Smith showed above-average quickness and playmaking ability for the Sixers last season even if his high utilization created inefficiency that was sometimes hard to watch.
Needless to say, he can get his shot almost whenever he wants. This has the chance to be one of the steals of free agency and it speaks to how late-bloomers don’t get any respect. At this price, even if half of what I say is true the Pistons got a steal. He’ll back up similarly built Reggie Jackson and there are enough minutes for him to exceed this contract right off the bat.
6. D.J. Augustin
Projected: Three years, $10 million per year or two years, $12 million per year
Augustin has been left for dead in a few different times and places in his career but he hasn’t faded away yet. The Thunder really blew it by getting rid of him without getting Cameron Payne ready for the playoffs, and in Denver he was Michael Malone’s security blanket. He hit 44.5 percent of his field goals and had an effective field goal percentage of 54.1 percent, second only to Kenneth Faried at 55.8%.
Averages of 11.6 points, 4.7 assists and just 1.9 turnovers per game in a high usage and low-minute role (23.5 mpg) are pretty sweet numbers on a bad team. In other words, he was efficient in less than ideal conditions and didn’t fling it around the yard. Teams shouldn’t be expecting him to come in and start at point guard. They should be looking at him as the prototypical backup point guard for a contending squad. Sorry Thunder fans.
VERDICT: Teams needing point guard help are going to kick themselves for missing out on this low-cost solution to a big-time problem if you’re one of the 5-10 teams that don’t boast a really good point guard. Augustin signed with Orlando to back up Elfrid Payton at a cost of just four years and $29 million.
Yes, he can only play about 25 mpg and he’s had bouts with injury and he almost fell out of the league there for a bit. Since getting back on the radar there hasn’t been any real slippage from what you pay him to do, which is run the offense, score, hit threes and not turn the ball over. It wouldn’t be surprising if Frank Vogel is trying to put some of Payton’s minutes into Augustin’s basket next season.
7. Deron Williams
Projected: Three years with a team option, $12 million per year
Williams might even make more than this but I want to try and give NBA decision makers some credit here. Why invest a ton of money into a low-end point guard that is hurt all the time when you’re going to see a plethora of similar options later on this list.
But I’ll give you one reason a GM might want to rank Williams a bit higher — when he was on the floor this season he had stretches of top-20 point guard play. A team that manages his minutes correctly and maybe even puts him into a backup role could harness that into some solid playoff potential.
VERDICT: Williams signs for just one year and $10 million so that makes this deal even better. One could even start to build the argument that he deserves the No. 2 slot on this (weak) list because the Mavs got flexibility and potency at the same time.
8. Norris Cole
Projected: Three years, $8 million per year
Cole missed a ton of important time last year with his back injury and had a high ankle sprain to start the season. And he was mostly bad. But this was the same guy that played pretty well against Stephen Curry in the playoffs the season before, and decision-makers have to feel at least optimistic he can stick in the top 30-45 range as long as he’s not seriously hurt.
9. Rajon Rondo
Projected: Four years with a team option, $12 million per year
If Rajon Rondo would learn to fit a team’s needs and be a role player that quickly distributes the ball — if it’s not there he spots up in the corner — maybe he and his suitors would be on to something. And we also have to assume that somebody inspires him to play some defense, if he can still play defense.
But he’s not that guy and betting that he can change and be that guy is a really, really rough bet. I covered his stinker of a season here. Rondo heads into this free agency backed by headlines of redemption from media clearly watching different games than I watched, and he and his reps have expertly honed in on squads that need a starting point guard.
The Kings don’t need to improve at the point guard position with anybody from this list unless Darren Collison is suspended for a very large amount of games — and we don’t know where that situation is heading. All we know is that we haven’t heard anything one way or another. Even so, they could pick any number of guards to hold the offense over until reinforcements arrive and maybe even get a better result.
But we’ll include the Kings in this chase because they’re the Kings and Boogie really likes him. And then you also have the Nets, Bulls, Mavs (haha) and Grizzlies (if Conley bolts).
For some reason I could see the Bucks being crazy enough to go there if they trade Michael Carter-Williams, and the Sixers might make some sense and that’s about it. The Nets actually make the most sense because they need somebody to do Rondo stuff.
He wants to run another team the way he did in Boston, the way that got him chased out of Dallas, and the way he ran the Kings offense into the ground on many nights.
There’s a chance he finds the perfect balance between control and hands-off. But looking back in history it has always been his way or the highway.
VERDICT: The Bulls come in and save Rondo’s day, offering him a two-year deal worth $28-30 million that is effectively a one-year deal because there is a mutual out-clause that nobody truly understands just yet. It basically means that either team can opt out of the deal if they don’t like it. So it’s another one-year deal for Rondo, who looked for stats and tried to position himself for another deal last year in Sacramento and that was one of many problems.
There are more questions than answers with this deal. What will Jimmy Butler think about it? Is Butler gone? Does Chicago actually think they’re getting better with this deal? If Rondo doesn’t make changes to his game, will he be willing to play as a strict backup with directives on how to play at his next stop?
The Bulls only have one year of risk, but Rondo can basically put his entire imprint on the team during that time and so how much does it impact the franchise’s development? A long-term deal with somebody like Deron Williams could have been a worse play, but the Bulls aren’t looking any smarter after doing this deal.
10-20. Matthew Dellavedova, Brandon Jennings, Jerryd Bayless, Aaron Brooks, Mario Chalmers, Shane Larkin, Ty Lawson, Ronnie Price.
Anybody spending big on this group or expecting anything but top 35-55 results at the point guard position is just nuts. GMs should be targeting skill-sets and fit with this group and maybe even considering them as backstops if the spending gets to heavy for the guys above.
Run your team for a few games guys: Kirk Hinrich, Marcelo Huertas and Steve Blake.
Hey Kings — if you need somebody to handle the first ‘x’ amount of games if/when Darren Collison is suspended there you go.
Random guy to kick the tires on: Tim Frazier, who might be a top-45 guy.
VERDICTS: Matthew Dellavedova (D+) got a four-year, $38 million deal and while I wrote earlier that it wouldn’t be an albatross of a deal, most of that analysis is founded in the fact that it’s not a lot of money to make a mistake on. He fits the squad and that should theoretically help the grade on this deal, but with so many better options out there the Bucks simply could have done better. Especially when one considers that Ish Smith, D.J. Augustin and E’Twaun Moore were on the board (and cheaper).
Jerryd Bayless (C-) got three years and $27 million from the Sixers and I could have rated this deal lower if I simply ask why they didn’t just re-sign Ish Smith. But the changeover from Sam Hinkie to the Colangelo crew has created a cleaning of house. Bayless isn’t going to be a bad deal for this money and he has some upside if he can simply stay healthy. But that’s a big problem for him and he may have a hard time commanding the ball from Ben Simmons, negating a lot of what you’re paying him for.
Austin Rivers (D) wasn’t even listed here because I thought he’d re-sign at home and he didn’t really seem consequential. In retrospect, he could have easily been in the top 10-20 list I put together. He got a three-year, $35 million deal from Dad and Co. and I make fun of that because why the hell would you not make fun of that. It’s an overpayment and he has also been better than expected for the Clippers. But nah, he’s not supposed to be making low-end starting shooting guard money (computed in today’s cap dollars).
I omitted Garrett Temple (B-) because as I mentioned earlier I might forget some lower-end plays, but he could have just as easily been in that 10-20 group above. He defends, can play multiple positions and though he’s inconsistent with his shooting and playmaking isn’t his forte — the Kings get a strong grade because a) he’s not Rondo and b) the Kings didn’t spend big on a bad free agent pool.
Seth Curry (B+) also wasn’t on the list but at two years and $3 million per year the Mavs did really well here. I’m cognizant of his deficiencies but at this price it’s worth it to find out if he can tap into the upside we saw glimpses of last season. And by upside I mean solid sixth man or low-end starting point guard.
Brandon Jennings (B+) was sort of a toxic name entering this transaction season. I think people around the league wondered if he would get drastically overpaid because of all the excess cash in the system, so as recently as 48 hours before he made his agreement with the Knicks he was defending his love for the game on Twitter.
Regardless, a one-year, $5 million deal to play for one of the most injury prone teams in the league, behind Derrick Rose who is likely to be hurt, struggling or taking criticism because of his former star status. Jennings can slide in with bottom-barrel expectations and with more time to heal after Achilles’ surgery — as long as he hasn’t lost his fastball this could be a sneaky good pickup for the Knicks.
Sergio Rodriguez (C-) for one-year and $8 million is spendy and he’s not that good so I’m not sure what the point is even if he does have a nice year as a backup. Just seems like a waste of a move. Ramon Sessions (D+) got a two-year, $12.5 million deal and it’s been a while since he has inspired any sort of confidence. He was so bad in Sacramento that it looked like he forgot how to play ball. He was a bit better in Washington but there were much better options out there.
1. DeMar DeRozan
Projected: $28 million in year one, ~$150 million over five years with the Raptors.
He might take a pay cut to help retain Bismack Biyombo, but it won’t be a big one and I’m not sure they’ll all pull it off.
Like Conley he’s not perfect but unlike Conley he’s a lot more healthy and he is still in his physical prime whereas Conley might be trending down sooner. The flaws in DeRozan’s game have been discussed endlessly but if he doesn’t meet the demands of this contract — barring unforeseen circumstances — he will at least make it close.
DeRozan gives teams a chance to lock down his position on both ends of the floor every night and has a solid head on his shoulders.
VERDICT: All parties in Toronto have conducted themselves very well. DeRozan has reportedly been willing to take less money even if that train may have left the station with reports that his deal isn’t too far from the max. That of course was in reference to trying to keep Bismack Biyombo.
Whatever you say about this deal or the Raptors in general, one can’t accuse them of not being tight-knit. DeRozan’s flaws don’t outweigh the upside and he has a very good chance of living up to this contract, and one feels better betting on him because of his work ethic and attitude. There were no other outcomes for DeRozan or the team that put this outcome in doubt.
2. Dwyane Wade
Projected: $20-22 million per year depending on if he shaves salary to help on other deals, three year deal with team option
This is the new reality of the salary cap at work and Wade’s camp is still going to think this is ridiculously low. Not only does Wade fall into the superstar category that helps push owners a ton of extra money, he just had a playoff run in which he looked like the old Dwyane Wade at times.
The reality here though is that there are not a lot of teams that are equipped to take on Wade, because Wade is really only fit to play for a contender or the Heat. Or a sub-par contender.
A lot of those teams will have to ask themselves if they want to tie their boats to a guy who will probably only play 2/3 to 3/4 of their regular season games and could fall off the superstar cliff at any time. Will he fit with their star players and current configurations?
We’ll undoubtedly see some teams throw their hats into the rings and make some offers in this range, and then the Heat will have to figure out what they’ll do in each post-KD decision-making scenario. The Heat should be the favorites to retain his services, but both sides will go kicking and screaming through the final salvo.
5. Allen Crabbe
Projected: $13 million per year, four years
Here’s another somewhat steep drop-off in terms of price-to-value from Dwyane Wade to Crabbe, a restricted free agent. He has popped up on everybody’s radars because of the Blazers’ team success but also because he hit a bunch of silky-smooth jumpers this year and held up on both ends of the floor.
It wasn’t all roses as he would disappear for stretches amidst Terry Stotts’ changing rotations, but he never really relented with marks of 45.9 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from deep and 86.7 percent from the line. At 6’6/210 he has nice size for the position and has some defensive upside.
6. Courtney Lee
Projected: $15 million per year, four year deal with a player option
Some folks will not like forking over this much money to a guy whose value does not hit the stat sheet, and even by the eye test he is your run-of-the-mill average player. Teams like the Kings, who have hired his former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, are more than willing to pay the premium price for the steadiness he will bring both on and off the court.
There might be better values on the board if you’re hunting upside, and yes a contender would love to have him coming off their bench or used as a placeholder starter at the two. But they’re not going to want (or be able to) to pay this much to get that.
VERDICT: Lee got less money than I thought he would mostly because I thought the Kings would ante up or they would push the market value up to the four-year, $15 million amount I predicted. In the end the Kings actually made a smart move to punt this season’s free agency market and Lee went to the Knicks for more reasonable money. He fits pretty well there, too, since they need defense and have enough gunners on the floor.
7. E’Twaun Moore
Projected: $8 million per year, four year deal
If Moore wasn’t playing in the large market of Chicago last year he might have been a steal at $5-6 million this week. He filled in for the Bulls and their numerous injuries kept him on the floor for 59 games and 21.4 mpg. He hit a rock solid 48.1 percent of his shots and 45 percent of his threes, with the Bulls’ second-best effective field goal percentage at 54.1 percent.
In fact, while Derrick Rose had a 44.8 eFG% and an offensive rating of 96, Moore had put up a 105 on that end. He mostly stayed out of everybody’s way on offense and he’s really a combo guard, so a team with high usage players that initiate the offense would really be a good fit.
Defensively, he was somewhere between average to solid on a team that didn’t really value defense. Adding Moore means your team just solidified their back-up ballhandling role at the right price with some upside beyond that.
If I was ranking him as a point guard I’d put him below Ish Smith and above Deron Williams.
VERDICT: The Pelicans flew into the fray and dropped a four-year, $34 million deal averaging $8.5 million per year at Moore, so we nailed this projection cash-wise. They need help at both guard positions and Moore is going to give them that and he also fits in the work ethic crew they’ve assembled in Moore, Buddy Hield and Solomon Hill. Sneaky good summer so far for the Pels.
8. Evan Fournier
Projected: $17 million per year, four years
Fournier is a restricted free agent and already the Magic are putting out the ‘we’re going to match so don’t even try it’ type reports. At 23 years old he’s entering his prime years and is coming off a pretty good season, hitting 46.2 percent of his shots on a fairly impressive 11.8 attempts per game. He hit 40 percent from deep and actually had some nice defensive moments.
I’m tempted to say he’ll live up to the value on this contract, but it’s still a steep price to pay for a guy that may not be able to be a solid No. 3 guy on a winning team. Still, it will be a lot better than a lot of the contracts we see in this price range.
VERDICT: Fournier got extended for five years and $85 million with the last year being a player option — a sort of thank you for keeping negotiations quick and simple. That $17 million average is right where we thought he’d be and the extra year was the icing on the cake to keep him in Orlando. If you’re the Magic and we ignore everything else that’s going on — he’s an asset you want to keep.
9. Jordan Clarkson
Projected: $13 million per year, four years
Clarkson is a restricted free agent that will get a lot of buzz because he was a solid scorer for the L.A. Lakers. Still, questions about his defense will dog him in free agency and he was still somewhat buried in the headlines with the Kobe farewell tour, D’Angelo Russell/Nick Young stuff, and even a guy like Julius Randle gets more attention from the random fan.
GMs will look past all the superficial stuff and see a young kid that needs to mature in many different senses, but his ability to get into the lane and his age will make him a nice amount of money this summer. I could easily move him up ahead of Courtney Lee if I was hunting upside as a decision-maker, as this tier of players are very interchangeable in terms of price-to-value.
VERDICT: Clarkson got taken care of quickly by the Lakers and one has to wonder if the Timofey Mozgov backlash helped that along. He got four years and $50 million which was right in line with projections, and though there are the fit issues described above the asset is strong and the Lakers managed to hang on. Now about that Mozgov deal….
10. Dion Waiters
Projected: $14 million per year, four years
Waiters, a restricted free agent, doesn’t get this much money without the playoff run that he had. During that run he was everything one could ask him to be, particularly as the games got more important. In fact, if you covered the name on the jersey and forgot who he was and then watched the Golden State film you wouldn’t even think twice at the projected deal above.
But the obvious problem is the small sample size of the playoffs and everything in his career that we’ve seen to date. He has been through some personal tragedy as his brother was shot and killed, and perhaps it has mellowed or focused him on the basketball floor. That’s all speculation but playoff Waiters will be what teams are hoping for and given his high draft selection — GMs will have political cover to make this reach.
11. Bradley Beal
Projected: ~$23 million first year, ~$125 million five years with the Wizards
Ouch. There is no denying Beal’s talent but watching him get hurt and play hurt throughout his career has been hard. The Wizards completely mismanaged his minutes early on and now no matter how many times his agent says ‘Steph Curry’ he’s still going to be a massive risk for the Wizards. He looked terrible down the stretch this season and I’m completely spitballing here but I give him a 10-20 percent chance of living up to this contract.
VERDICT: Beal got the max contract that was basically bequeathed to him years ago even while he was dealing with major leg injuries. It’s easy to see why — when healthy he has been as dangerous as any top 10-20 scorer in the league. Playing next to John Wall there is a wow factor when it’s clicking and also an easy picture to paint for evaluators to latch on to.
The reality is that Beal’s injuries have called into question whether or not he can approach his previous levels of play. That’s before any aggravation or re-injury that throws this massive contract into whack. He looked terrible at the end of last season and a couple of times he hit the ground and looked like a player 10 years his senior.
The Wizards fell right in line with the ‘conventional wisdom’ and it’s fair to wonder whether or not another team would have had the fortitude to say they weren’t going to back up the truck.
But if you’re a GM and you’re evaluating based on pure basketball belief — throwing away any pressures that one might get from owners, GMs and anybody else connected to the decision-making process — I think you can take a stance that somebody else can have him. So that’s a long-winded way of saying I don’t like this deal and it’s all downside for the Wizards, with barely enough upside to keep it from being an open-and-shut case from Day 1.
12. J.R. Smith
Projected: $13 million per year, four years with a team option
Smith has really come into his own with the Cavs, and that’s not too surprising considering he has a real superstar in LeBron James to keep him accountable. But one has to credit Smith for that change, too. While he can still occasionally get into the headlines for the wrong reasons, those have decreased and on the court he has found a way to stay in his lane and improve his awareness on defense at the same time.
The result has been a steady, reliable low-end starting option for the Cavs that compares well to what other contenders have at the bottom of their starting rosters. The Cavs probably pay him this money and he’ll be a bit overpaid given his mileage, but any other team spending this much on Smith is bound to regret it should he regress on or off the court.
13. Jeremy Lin
Projected: $12 million per year, three years
Lin showed that he can be a quality backup option in the backcourt for teams and this would be the going rate for that. He has all sorts of injury concerns and primarily around his knees, but after the first and second waves of free agents have been picked up Lin is the type of guy teams will still throw money at.
And that’s a big reason he slid down this list. Whether it’s decline in play due to mileage or injuries, there will be missed games and the final year of the deal could look pretty bad.
VERDICT: Right on the dot here with the projection, the fit is even better in Brooklyn where he’ll get as many touches and minutes as his body can handle. That’s going to be 26-30 mpg at best unless he found a fountain of life somewhere along the line. His efficiency could tumble on a bad team and free agency is young, but if you’re the Nets and you’re looking to simply add talent this was a smart and safe grab to keep things from getting ugly.
14. Tyler Johnson
Projected: $8 million per year, three years (updated from $6 million after the Woj report – 12:32 p.m. PT)
If we weren’t concerned about his shoulder we’d be a bit more aggressive here on the restricted free agent. Smart teams know that Johnson can play and also that Josh Richardson makes him somewhat duplicative. Especially if the Heat are trying to wedge superstars under the cap, an aggressive team can get a nice young player at a discount.
15. Gerald Henderson
Projected: $9 million per year, four years with a team option
I could also see this as a shorter 2-3 year deal with more money per year. I think you sell Henderson to the fan base as a single-digit salary guy and give him the three years he probably wants. He’s coming off an injury plagued season (hip debridement) and he managed to look alright at the end of it. Can he continue along that trajectory?
In his eighth year of service at 28 years old he’s going to have to take less money to play for a winner or take more money elsewhere to get more playing time and that’s probably the rout he’ll go.
Whether it’s the lower odds that he lives up to this deal or the fact that he’s probably an average backup at best for a top-16 team — GMs could correctly pass him up for some of the low-end guys we’ll detail in ‘THE REST.’
16. Jamal Crawford
Projected: $9 million per year, three years with team option
If he got more than this I wouldn’t be surprised because there are some real suckers out there. The only teams that should be buying Crawford this offseason are the ones that can stash him in the regular season and hope he is nice and charged up for the playoffs. He can’t sustain anything more than 25 mpg at this stage of his career and even with those reduced minutes he’s bound to miss double-digit games.
But even with the depth at shooting guard on the free agent market, he will be ranked way higher than this by many GMs. A tough shot-maker his whole career, he’s going to continue losing the ability to separate and his efficiency will tumble. That’s not good for a guy that can’t defend.
VERDICT: The Clippers almost apologetically backed a one-year, $12 million offer up with three years and $42 million. Was it because Austin Rivers got so much money and Crawford, as well as his teammates, were not thrilled with that? Of course once Kevin Durant was off the table things changed and that’s probably the more important dynamic at play.
The Clippers are basically getting the band back together and this Crawford contract is a symptom of that. The last year is partially guaranteed (we don’t know how much), but even if it’s effectively a two-year deal this is too much money for a player with so much mileage. They’ll need to keep him in the 23 mpg range with games off and unleash a hopefully effective version of Crawford in the playoffs to make this contract make sense.
It’s a short-term play for a team that may or may not be within range of a title. Especially with the shooting guard position having so much low-end depth during this free agency, there is no defending this decision.
17. Eric Gordon
Projected: $12 million per year, three years with player option
The ‘winning’ team will give him this option with hopes he takes off after Year 2 for one last multi-year deal. He’s going to get three years in this environment and both teams and media already overvalue what Gordon brings to the table. He pushed hard through his contract year and averaged 15.2 points on 41.8 percent shooting while playing just 45 games.
The ‘games played’ will hurt his value and teams are surely aware of his extensive injury history, but he looked good before a luck-of-the-draw finger fracture ended his season.
Somebody will talk themselves into an Eric Gordon revival and particularly because of his knee issues it’s going to be a mess. And that’s before you get to the part about his declining defense or the fact he commands more offense than he should on most nights.
VERDICT: The Rockets show up to create the league’s worst defensive team and pay everybody a lot in the process to do that. Gordon gets four years and $53 million so he gets more per year and more years than we projected, and we assumed our lower number was what the market would bear on an overpayment.
So nah, this isn’t a good deal even if you can appreciate that the Rockets are throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and hoping the offense-only plan will sneak up on folks. I’d like to say it’s crazy enough to work but it won’t. Daryl Morey will need to have Plan B ready from the outset.
The rest of the shooting guard position is pretty damn deep. Deep enough to say some of these guys would be better pickups for the savvy GM — rather than spending on a bigger name guy that’s going to go upside-down right away.
That said, these are lower-end rotational guys and they’re not going to move the needle with your favorite team. Could they join Tyler Johnson at No. 14 in these ranks? Sure. But their upside isn’t nearly as great and/or they have some fatal flaw weighing them down.
I’ll rank this list in a general order and give some quick feedback. Gerald Green has some pop in his legs and is a known quantity at this stage of his career. Randy Foye can get your team through some games but not in the playoffs. Langston Galloway (RFA) has one more crack at his upside before we know what he is for the most part.
Markel Brown (RFA) has had a fast, albeit anonymous start to his defensive-minded career. Seth Curry can make some plays but against good defenders he struggled at the end of last year, and his defense is somewhat underrated. The hope is to catch lightning in a bottle as a scoring sixth man.
Ian Clark proved he could handle some big minutes last year — that alone should warrant a look-see from teams. Marcus Thornton had some nice runs for the Rockets. Greivis Vasquez is now a shoot-first shooting guard but he has irrational confidence for the right team build.
1. Kevin Durant
Projected: $244.1 million over six years, which assumes he goes for the 1 + 1 deal and then goes for a five-year deal with the Thunder
Yes he could sign with other teams for less money and I wrote about that here. But it really doesn’t matter for ranking purposes. If you can get Kevin Durant, you get Kevin Durant. Figure the rest out later.
2. Kent Bazemore
Projected: $17 million per year, four years
This is a pretty big bet on a guy that was previously known as being the best cheerleader on the Warriors’ bench and that was before they went big time. After an Achilles’ tendon injury (not ruptured) he found his way to Atlanta by way of L.A. and was immediately a steal of a contract. Anybody watching him play for the Lakers knew that this was going to happen.
His transformation from energy guy with 3-point range and gangly athleticism on defense to playmaking, slashing and emerging cog of the Hawks offense has been fun to watch.
Coach Mike Budenholzer gave him the authority to penetrate at will from the perimeter and Bazemore showed some deft passing ability as the season went on. In the playoffs he didn’t shrink from the moment.
If he can develop an in-between game he’ll really be cooking and that’s what execs are hoping for from the late-blooming, 26-year old player with four years of NBA service.
Defensively, he is as poised as any non-star player to take that next step into season-end award recognition, and at a position that is very thin in the NBA he presents a perfect risk and reward quotient for smart GMs.
VERDICT: Four years and $70 million dollars or $17.5 million per year so I nailed this one. He gets the continuity of staying home and it could have been predicated on the Hawks’ concerns over keeping Al Horford. He will also have the breathing room to take on more responsibilities and our hope is that he develops a mid-range game over the summer, which would make him lethal.
3. Nicolas Batum
Projected: $25 million per year over four years or $23 million for five years in Charlotte
Good God that’s a lot of money. Batum predictably got aggressive in his contract season and showed what he was capable of for the Hornets. He’s in the prime of his career but the apex of his abilities will hit in the next 1-2 seasons, if it hasn’t hit already.
It won’t be a question of athleticism for Batum but rather whether or not he can maintain his edge late into the contract when he’ll have less agility and more reason to pass rather than shoot.
The best Batum is always the Batum that is putting defenders on their heels. The Batum that plagued Portland in his final season (albeit an injured Batum) was passive and lingering around the perimeter.
He’ll probably be at least an average defender through Year 3 of any deal, so Batum isn’t going to crush any team that pays him this money — but the end of the contract could get ugly. Still, he’ll be a solid pickup at a position of need for many teams.
VERDICT: Batum got a five-year deal for $120 million including a player option to stay in Charlotte, in what was a proverbial win-win for both parties. The Hornets as a small market team have some amount of trouble securing free agents but between their solid coaching and core of guys like Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist there’s something to like if you’re Batum.
And being real, the five-year deal at his age was a no-brainer. The big issue as detailed above is whether or not he goes back into shell mode as he was in his last year in Portland, but the fit is too good to worry about that and with big question marks at the wings the Hornets answered a big one with this deal.
4. Solomon Hill
Projected: $10 million per year, four years
Every year there’s a below market player that everybody fixates on to the extent that they are no longer below market. Solomon Hill is that player and yes he could be below market even with this type of deal. But being realistic, his late-season surge and playoff push can only do so much to erase his very slow start in the NBA. His 14.7 mpg last season is a tough sell to fans.
Still, he showed that he has a chance to be a LeBron slower-downer type and in the Eastern Conference that’s a pretty big deal. On the whole, he can shoot a little and has the ability to be a plus-defender at the NBA level, and those types of players are both rare and generally more expensive than this.
VERDICT: Hill got the casual fan in an uproar with a four-year, $52 million deal with the Pelicans, averaging $13 million per year. I undershot this deal considerably but it’s not too surprising considering his late push in the hype machine. So the question is whether or not this is too rich for the blood, and the question gets easily answered when we look at the Pelicans’ roster. They need players, period. Hill showed he can be a valuable defender and in the playoffs he looked like a nice young asset. If he can simply defend opposing stars he will earn this contract, and from there he just needs to tighten up his offensive game to make this a real win for New Orleans.
5. Evan Turner
Projected: $16 million per year, four years
Turner was a stat whore in Philly toward the end of his time there and he was absolutely terrible for the Pacers. But he started getting his weight under control and developing a more disciplined and streamlined offensive game. The moves were sharper and knowing he had to prove himself he found defense as his calling card under Brad Stevens.
Now the question becomes what about Evan Turner, highly paid player? Do you give him this type of money and install him as a No. 2 on your squad?
And you probably don’t want him as your No. 3 guy on a contending squad.
It’s for that reason he will find himself on a non-contender with the promise of more minutes and plenty of combo guard, point forward minutes. This type of contract has very little chance of being a bargain at any point in time but he’s probably not going to sink anybody’s ship, either — as long as he keeps the weight down.
VERDICT: Turner got a four-year, $70 million deal and a lot of folks will criticize it and even Turner said he thought he’d get what we projected for him. But don’t mistake that for being a bad deal. He looks like he’ll start at small forward or even push C.J. McCollum into a massive minute bench role in which he’s still functionally the small forward while C.J. is the two.
Either way, he gives the Blazers a strong defender and a more physical three-man compared to the Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless combo. The Blazers may not want to pay Allen Crabbe and/or Harkless so bolstering the overall depth of the team is a good move. The only thing that can derail this deal from at least toeing the line is if Turner loses control of his weight. Otherwise he has turned the corner on bad Turner and is a reliable NBA player at 28 mpg.
6. Moe Harkless
Projected: $9 million per season, four years with a team option
This is a lot of money for a player that didn’t start to show any real upside until late in the season for the Blazers. And yes, if we take out the magnifying glass we can pick out a lot of flaws with his game. He’s not even really a stretch four in the way we naturally think of stretch fours but the athleticism both he and Al-Farouq Aminu brought to the table was able to work defensively.
And his defensive versatility is probably where his greatest upside lies. He was used as a primary defender against the likes of James Harden and Klay Thompson this past season. He has a long ways to go in all areas of his development, but at just 23 years old he’s a solid bet for somebody looking to fill out their 3- and 4-slots.
7 & 8. Matt Barnes and Joe Johnson
Projected: $5-7 million per year for 1-2 years
Barnes is better liked on the court than off the court and can help any number of teams by doing the little things. Johnson is a nice offensive utility knife that can help teams in the playoffs, even if he didn’t really do that this year for the Heat. Just remember, if Richard Jefferson can make things happen in the playoffs so can Iso Joe. These aren’t huge gambles and they can pay off because you’re not overpaying somebody else.
VERDICT: Barnes got two years and $12 million so this is right in line with what our projection was. He gives the Kings a lot of flexibility and can handle a 25 mpg role just fine, so the Kings will have flexibility to trade Rudy Gay. Barnes also has the thumbs up from past Grizzlies coach and now current coach Dave Joerger, which alleviates concerns that he has on the precipice of falling off as Joerger would know.
The off-court stuff with Barnes isn’t great and because he’s from Sacramento — and because he’s a controversial figure in general — the locals aren’t sure how to take this one. Many of them dislike Barnes and that’s fair, but in the basketball sense this is another solid deal for the Kings.
DeMarcus Cousins is a fan and yes that’s low-hanging fruit for jokes, but Barnes will help do the talking for Cousins and keep players from hacking him excessively. He also brings a toughness to the equation that has been lacking in Sacramento. The price is right and the exposure is low.
VERDICT: Joe Johnson got two years and $22 million from the Jazz. Obviously, I swung and missed on the money here and I’m very surprised that the Jazz did this because if you cover the name on the jersey and look at the player it’s possible he only gives you old Joe in spurts. But the Jazz have had designs on veterans all summer and at least you get the sense of a game plan beyond just reaching for the fizzled out stars. If they keep him in a 20-25 mpg range he could be fresh for a low-seed playoff run and do some things.
9. Chandler Parsons
Projected: $20 million per year, four years
Ouch. This is not good and somebody out there is going to do it. Parsons’ knee issues alone should warrant concern.
And if he has any sort of decline he’ll have a hard time being the playmaker he has been in the past.
Defensively, there’s no justifying this deal even if he plays up to past standards on offense. We’ve seen a trend with the Mavs using him at the four slot and that will continue as he loses his lateral quickness. Unfortunately, if you’re playing Chandler Parsons at the four, which other teams would have to do too — you are losing a ton of basketball games.
VERDICT: Parsons got the deal everybody thought he’d get at four years and $92 million, which I should say is higher than I thought but everybody else’s thought process about him being a max guy prevailed. The only thing that doesn’t make this deal an albatross is the fact that he goes to the Grizzlies where his offensive skill-set is needed.
His knees, defense and growing tweener status are all still in play, but hopefully Memphis can hide him with their other good defensive players. I’d go lower with my grade but this might have been the Grizzlies’ biggest free agency signing in their history, or at least it was close, and that helps turn the narrative for a small market team.
The small forward position is light as it gets as the remaining free agents, for me, go in this order. Wesley Johnson can fill space as a backup and might help you slow an athletic wing defensively. Jordan Hamilton had some nice minutes late in the season for the Pelicans and can be had dirt cheap. He’s strictly a low-end backup though. James Ennis fits the same type of mold.
Arron Afflalo is a shooting guard but he should start playing the three. He is upside down the minute you sign him, and teams should only sign him if he agrees in writing that he is not a supposed to be shooting the ball. Somewhere along the line he became a terror to his own team on offense and defensively he isn’t stopping anybody.
That’s before we get to the injury concerns, and yes, somebody you know thinks he’s five years ago Afflalo. A bad team will probably give him $8 million per year for 2-3 years.
VERDICT: The Kings actually did a good thing here and effectively signed Arron Afflalo (C+) for a one-year deal. It’s a two-year, $25 million deal but only $1.5 million of Year 2 is guaranteed. This almost isn’t even about Afflalo and more about punting in this historically bad free agency market. Afflalo needs to be told that he is not a No. 1 or 2 or even 3 scorer for the Kings because he will think that from Day 1. He’ll have trouble defensively unless the Kings slide him over to the three as much as possible. But he’s a fine stop-gap solution so the Year 1 overpay is of no concern.
The Grizzlies’ awesome offseason continued as they picked up James Ennis (B+) for two years and $6 million. They can use him to back up Chandler Parsons right away and he has some untapped upside that timing-wise seems likely to hit now (or never).
1. Al Horford
Projected: ~$125 million over five years if with Atlanta, ~$100 million over four years somewhere else
Horford is just good enough not to have to wonder if he’ll get the max contract number. He will. And he’ll deserve it. How much room he has to outplay this contract is debatable, but you just want guys to meet their number when talking about a high-end deal.
The only thing that can stop him is freak injury, which is something he hasn’t been a stranger to in his career.
On the other hand, he’s going to be an above-average player that can play both the 4 and the 5 on both ends of the floor — in a league that constantly struggles with intricacies of small ball vs. bully ball.
He can also be a piece to sell to Kevin Durant if you’re trying to assemble a crew worthy of a Kevin Durant. The pros drastically outweigh the cons here and no other available power forward is on his tier.
VERDICT: Horford goes to Boston instead of staying with the Hawks over a difference of $6 million according to Adrian Wojnarowski and that’s just stunning considering the Hawks backed up the truck for Dwight Howard. Stunning actually isn’t even the word for it. Tell me you just don’t like Al Horford, but don’t tell me that you lost him for Howard.
Anyway, the deal was four years and $113 million as a max offer and the Celtics get their first big name free agent in years, he fits their roster very well, they needed a big and now they’re Finals contenders. They still aren’t ruled out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes because nobody is and they just spent the day with Tom Brady pitching KD. Not too shabby.
3. Pau Gasol
Projected: $15 million per year, three year deal with team option
The dropoff from Horford to Gasol in the power forward department isn’t as great as the dropoff is at other positions.
And this salary could vary widely based on the team that he partners up with, whether they’re trying to shave cap as a contender and how much Pau likes the arrangement. He has other interests outside of basketball and is at a place in his career where he can be very choosy, which helps with his leverage.
There are going to be players that are a better investment than Pau so I could slide him down my list. But teams that will be in the market for Pau are probably salivating at the prospect of adding this offensive wunderkind.
Can you imagine the Warriors putting him in the high post and letting him spray the ball around to spot-up shooters?
If I’m Joe Lacob and Bob Myers I’m probably pissed to see this written on any website because they’re secretly plotting a sneak attack surrounding Gasol once the Durant decision is over.
Gasol can still block shots but he has major deficiencies on defense due to a lack of quickness. Keep him away from other lumbering bigs (i.e. San Antonio) and you have a recipe to hide his defense. When a contender picks him up, the other contenders are going to feel it.
VERDICT: The Spurs won this mini-sweepstakes and with Tim Duncan leaning toward retirement, this actually makes them a better ball club without having to figure out how LaMarcus Aldridge, Duncan and Gasol were going to split minutes. It’s a two-year, $30 million deal with a player out, so the money and commitment is right for all sides.
If you’re going to try and conjure a game plan to beat the Golden State Super Warriors, it starts with a chess and not checkers approach and Gasol is a nice step toward that on offense. Duncan wasn’t a slouch in this department, but he wasn’t a big contributor last year when it mattered and Gasol’s eventual decline isn’t going to hit in this upcoming season.
If the Spurs can acquire a point guard with some good athleticism to match up with Stephen Curry, they actually match up defensively if LaMarcus can make it a season-long goal to get ready to cover Draymond at the five. The Aldridge/Gasol tandem will be a liability at that stage, so if Aldridge can’t do that then Gasol probably doesn’t belong on the floor and you lose the thing that makes you special on offense.
This move falls into the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ department because how the hell else are you going to beat the Warriors and at worst you have one extra year of Gasol around and things could be worse.
4. Marvin Williams
Projected: $16 million per year, three years
Williams was great last season and it was easy to see by Week 1 of the season. And that’s going to throw a lot of people off because Williams has never been accused of being ‘great’ in a season, even if I’m being loose with the term a little bit.
‘Great’ meant that he was consistent, but mostly it meant that he was in great shape.
He defended well laterally, he rebounded and he took (and made) the shots he needed to make. He is a very good blend of speed, athleticism, talent and strength at the small ball four position in the NBA.
Now, at age 30, a team will have to decide if he can stay healthy and stay in shape at that level. He hasn’t exactly been healthy in the past but 81 games played (and 28.9 mpg) last season suggests he might have turned the corner on his ailments.
The good news is that unlike ridiculous free agent propositions like Ryan Anderson, who is nowhere near the talent that Williams is, he probably needs a major injury to be a bust. Having a small ball four that can do a little of everything these days is supremely valuable.
VERDICT: Part of me wonders if Marvin is tired of expectations being heaped upon him and decided to take less money than some of the numbers that had been flung around the Internet earlier in the week. He took an extra year and less money per year than I predicted, agreeing to a four-year, $54.5 million deal that is manageable if you’re the Hornets.
Yes, he has mileage issues and there was a time in his career when I wondered if his back was going to give him the hook, but he came into last year in incredible shape so the risks balance out. He makes the Hornets tick by handling the small ball four job very well and along with Batum their core is in place to try and improve over last year’s solid run.
5. Luol Deng
Projected: $15 million per year, three years with a team option
Some might think that Deng is a better bet over somebody like Marvin Williams — but he still has all those Thibs minutes on his chart.
And Deng now lags behind Williams in terms of athleticism and doesn’t shoot the ball nearly as well.
Deng is a better dribbler and playmaker than Williams but on the whole he’s a hair below Marvin on my list.
At this price, like Williams, Deng is a quality option if the guaranteed money stops after Year 2 and he will have no shortage of suitors.
VERDICT: Deng agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal that comes out to $18 million per year and that’s obviously way more than my projection and way more than I’d be willing to pay. I get that the Lakers are paying for an experienced player to both ‘be good at basketball’ and also be strong in their young locker room.
And there will be fit and playing time issues to deal with but aside from that it’s one thing to for Deng to gut it out and be ready for meaningful games as a member of the Heat — but how are those Thibs minutes and all the mileage going to look when the kids start flinging it around the yard? There’s not a great chance for Deng to live up to this contract and the Lakers have essentially overpaid for him to be a good example.
6. Jon Leuer
Projected: $7 million, three years with player option
If I was his agent I would be able to get this contract for him so Jon find my email address and let’s get me ready for that 10% cut.
Okay so let’s talk about the things he can do.
He can shoot, rebound, score, run the floor and defend a little bit. He’s agile enough to cut off angles in the lane, switch on to some pick-and-rolls, and still get back to rebound the basketball.
He gets bullied around a bit but so do a lot of players on this list and in the NBA. The Suns and their small market media didn’t think highly of Leuer at all, and some of it came across like he just didn’t connect with his teammates.
That’s a bit of gross speculation but the bottom line is that Leuer never got any hype. Mirza Teletovic might as well have had his jersey retired by comparison.
We’ve seen this small market phenomena play out with guys like Isaiah Thomas of the Kings, where there is practically no hype for a player because the rest of the nation read tepid headlines.
Playing in 67 games last season, he averaged 18.7 mpg with 8.5 points on 48.1 percent shooting (38.2 3P%), 5.6 boards and 1.0 combined steals and blocks per game. He was a top-5 guy on his team for both offensive and defensive rating.
And while we’re talking to NBA people through this blog — hey Vlade — go get Jon Leuer for less than half the price of Ryan Anderson — give me $1 million as a consulting fee and you will never regret it.
VERDICT: Stan Van Gundy clearly reads Hoop Ball because after Ish Smith he went right for my boy Jon Leuer, who agreed to a four-year, $42 million deal. I didn’t think the market would be this smart and so my three-year, $21 million contract was much too low. Still, at $10.5 million per year and for all of the reasons above this is a solid contract that SVG won’t have to worry about — even in a worst case scenario.
There could be a logjam brewing at the 4 and 5 slots with rookie Henry Ellenson and Aron Baynes also in the mix behind Andre Drummond, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris — but there’s time for them to work all of that out.
7. Dwight Powell
Projection: $8 million per year, three years with a player option
Powell is a tough player to measure as a restricted free agent. Rick Carlisle never unleashed him because of the inconsistencies in his game but at the same time he has some great characteristics as a hybrid PF/C.
He’s extremely athletic and his per-36 numbers check in at 14.5 points, 9.9 boards, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. He’s not adverse to shooting threes (0.6 3PAs per 36) and though it wasn’t a factor in his game last season it’s not hard to see him improving in that regard. He was 4th on the Mavs in offensive rating and 6th in defensive rating last season, though at 14.4 mpg it’s hard to put a ton of stock in that.
Powell was (and is) still raw but the upside is there and with Carlisle burying him in the rotation the market won’t adjust to the value and potential he brings. Especially with the Mavs chasing big name free agents per usual, a smart team can throw out an offer including a poison pill for the third year and put Dallas on a decision.
And if we’re the Mavs we’re pretty optimistic about forward slots occupied by Justin Anderson and Powell, so they probably match. Wherever he plays, the price-to-value and upside are a great asset to invest in this offseason.
VERDICT: The Mavs paid big with four years and $37 million including a player option, a move which was probably designed to keep him from getting an offer sheet. Opinions were decidedly not in line with our thinking on Twitter after the deal was announced, but even at the increased cost we still like the deal.
It won’t cripple the Mavs if it doesn’t work out and Powell gets a year or two to play behind Dirk so there won’t be a ton of pressure on him. He just needs to keep refining his shot and learning the game. Yes, we understand the risk he doesn’t develop. But if he can get to the top-30 in the power forward group this contract will be a steal — and it’s a low bar to clear — but his athleticism makes it more likely to happen than less likely to happen.
GRADE: B+ (extra points for the Mavs for going against the grain)
8. Brandon Bass
Projected: $7 million per year, two years
Bass’ season didn’t hit anybody’s radars last year, especially playing for the circus known as the Lakers. Hiding behind that insanity was a guy that played 20.3 mpg with averages of 7.2 points on 54.9 percent shooting, 4.3 boards, 1.3 combined steals and blocks — and 84.5 percent foul shooting on a healthy 2.2 attempts per game.
He wasn’t winning you any games but he sure wasn’t losing them for the Lakers. He ONLY had an offensive rating of 127 (!!!) as he ranked 7th in minutes on the team, just as he was seventh on the team in defensive rating.
He’s not stretchy enough to get buzz but he can stick a mid-range jumper and do the little things that help teams win.
At a bottom-barrel contract he’s a perfect signing in lieu of crazy-talk names you’ll hear in the next few days.
9. Darrell Arthur
Projected: $10 million per year, three years with a team option
This contract may surprise a few people but anybody watching the Nuggets last year knows how important he was to Michael Malone’s squad. He averaged 21.7 mpg and played in 70 games, which were more or less career-highs, and provided a security blanket at the four slot with average defense and average offense.
During that time he had 0.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game while hitting 38.5 percent of his 3-point shots — which was just enough to keep defenses honest while he was on the floor.
Like a lot of guys on this list he can be used to neutralize a small ball four lineup, but this is a lot of money for a guy with major knee concerns. He’s a bad bet to play up to this contract but teams don’t have to spend a lot to get 20-24 quality minutes as a backup.
VERDICT: Arthur said he took less money to stay in Denver and we’re guessing the market slept on him a little bit, too. At three years and $23 million he came in way below the projection, which could easily be due to corporate knowledge about his knees. Still, Arthur was one of Malone’s favorite players and now the Nuggets hang on to a tough stretch four that can balance out their bigger bigs. He has been great in the locker room, too.
10. Harrison Barnes
Projected: $21 million per year, four years
Could a team go higher than this for Barnes? Sure, but they’ll be flirting with a max contract.
The penalty for his uneven career and playoff disappearance could be about $10 million over the life of his deal if I had to guess. Nevertheless, I used these max-ish numbers so we could low-ball his price-to-value. Still, Barnes drops toward the bottom of my ranks.
Simply put, he doesn’t have the makeup of a player you want to be your No. 2 guy going forward and this type of salary almost certainly puts him on course to be that guy for any suitor not out of Oakland.
I give him a puncher’s chance to play up to this contract or within arm’s reach of it, because he certainly has the tools to expand upon. But without a go-to talent on the offensive side against good teams, especially deep into the playoffs, he becomes a good, but not great player at best when everything counts.
If the Warriors match an offer like this it means they don’t want to disrupt chemistry (and they didn’t get KD). More importantly it means they did not find anything better on the market — and though they’re saying all the right things about Barnes I won’t believe that until I see it.
They can sustain the hit of paying Barnes. But a non-contender that reaches for Barnes is going to see a dip in efficiency that makes this $21 million number hard to meet.
Having this much money invested in a player that is more likely to be upside down than not — and seeing this player struggle when everything was on the line — makes it very hard to envision this being a quality snag on the RFA market.
VERDICT: Barnes goes to Dallas on a max deal of four years and $94 million as a part of Kevin Durant’s blockbuster decision to play for the Warriors. The Mavs wanted big names like Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside and after striking out — planned or not — they ended up with a big name in Barnes. This is actually a good landing spot for him.
He won’t have to be the star in Year 1-2 and at same time he will also have a larger role on offense than he had for Golden State, which should unlock parts of his game that we don’t see that much. If we had to bet we’d bet against him developing into a No. 2 player on a contending squad, but if you asked us if he can be the current version of Marvin Williams we can go for that.
Williams is a strong fourth or fifth player on a contending team. The Mavs need him to be a strong No. 3 player on a contending team for this deal to be a win.
Keeping the culture of winning in place and investing in young players at the same time you can respect this risk taken by the Mavs, and it’s a good time for them to take this type of a risk because game-changing free agents aren’t lining up to play for Dallas in the next 1-2 years. Or at least it’s not likely. By the time Dirk is gone the impact of an upside down contract to Barnes is diminished.
11. Jeff Green
Projection: $12 million, three years
Green has been overrated enough lately to be somewhat underrated, but in the end he’ll probably produce a slightly over-market contract during this free agency period.
That’s because at age 29 we’re probably not going to see a Jeff Green revolution of sorts. At least with Marvin Williams’ resurgence we can point to injuries that have subsided to explain his fountain of youth.
With Green we’ve seen his act in many different locales, whereas Williams was showing signs of improvement as far back as with the Jazz. There’s also a certain lack of toughness that we’ve seen in Green’s game that doesn’t translate well to a bigger money deal with the big three-oh on the horizon.
If you’re making a mid-tier play like this you want the player to have exhibited some type of spark, rather than being somebody you have to jump-start.
VERDICT: Green went for less years and more money and it’s an interesting deal for both sides. Green is essentially gambling that he can cash in during another bonanza offseason for free agents, and the Magic add some (expensive) depth as they work through a confusing plan to put it nicely. His path to minutes won’t be easy as he only has a one-year deal and the players around him are better than he is, but at 29 years old the hope is that he can just be solid in a 25 mpg role. If he can do that he will be the least of the Magic’s worries next season.
12. Trevor Booker
Projection: $7 million per year, two years
Booker has gotten good marks over the years for his locker room presence and specifically his toughness when on the floor. There should be questions about his ability to stay healthy after knee issues and other injuries kept him off the floor early in his career, but teams shouldn’t be looking at him as more than a 20 mpg guy anyway.
He gives you a little bit of defensive presence, and threatens defenses over the top and also from the 3-point line in small doses. If you’re a GM looking for a backup combo forward or a placeholder starter you could certainly do worse by spending big money on a flashy alternative.
VERDICT: The Nets get him for two years and $18 million. He’s going to help bring respectability to the team and he’s a good veteran to bring on for what will be a youngish Brooklyn squad.
13. Ryan Anderson
Projection: $17 million per year, four years with a team option
I’d like to think the NBA isn’t this silly outside of Sacramento, who has practically built the market surrounding Anderson with early and ongoing indications of interest in the forward.
The interest has been telegraphed in a way as to simply assume that a) he’s good enough to deserve this much money and b) that there are any number of teams willing to hand this to him.
I’m guessing we’re going to see a major market regression here as the league collectively comes to its senses, and the Kings start to wonder why everybody isn’t on board with their originally conceived plan.
Those that actually watch the league know that Anderson has seen his minutes cut by the shallow-beyond-shallow Pelicans because he has either gone cold offensively or can’t hack it defensively. Rebounding has been a problem.
It’s not all bad with Anderson as he can obviously shoot the ball and he has a deceptive mid-range/post game full of twisting moves and fadeaway jumpers.
The problem is that he won’t ever be as good at those mid-range moves as he is right now coming up on the down-slope of his career.
He’s not really as good of a shooter as everybody thinks he is with just a 37.7 percent mark from deep for his career.
Defensively he’s going to weigh teams down as much as anybody at his position in the league. We haven’t even gotten to his ultra-significant injury risk yet.
Anderson is a very good guy and he’ll be easy on whoever coaches him. He’ll provide a little extra boost to offensive numbers for his squad that don’t show up in the box score.
He could potentially play near the value of his contract in Year 1 or maybe even in Year 2, but that is extremely optimistic and the last two years are almost certain to be albatrosses. All-in-all he is among the candidates to be the bust of this free agency class.
VERDICT: Houston is going for it and though we’re not sure what ‘it’ is we can surmise it’s some sort of Mike D’Antoni, offensive jaugernaut that doesn’t play any defense. Ryan Anderson, step right up because you’re a good fit. Statistically he could be in line for a very good season, presuming he can stay on the floor for starter’s minutes.
It’s defense and general effectiveness that are the issues for him and at $20 million per year for four seasons this could end up being the worst contract of this draft season. He’s a great guy and great locker room guy and we’re rooting for him, and the fit is strange in that it works despite defense being optional and all that, but there is no defending this deal.
14. Terrence Jones
Projection: $8 million per year, three years with a team option
I’ll admit I have no idea what the market will bear for Jones, who has seemingly been on the block for most of his time in Houston. Aside from the major absences due to serious and sometimes freakish absences, one wonders what additionally might be going on to cause his slide from nice prospect to total question mark.
On one hand it’s fair to say that a less effective version of Jones — the one we’ve seen for the last year or so — is a total bust because he’s not doing anything well on the floor.
On the other hand when he was playing at his peak we saw the upside of a positive-value stretch four.
This is a league that pays for potential and a big offer like this isn’t that big in the grand scheme of things. And with the way the Rockets seemingly don’t value Jones, we could see a team come in and snag him with a low-end gamble.
Obviously he’s ranked low here for a reason and maybe these plugged-in decision makers know the real story behind his slide, whatever it may be, but there’s enough upside to keep him out of the bargain bin below.
The power forward position is loaded with middling, low-tier and duct tape guys. It’s yet another reason not to pay big money for the position. Here they are in a loose ranking of sorts.
Marreese Speights showed he can do the one thing he does (scoring) really well and so you can actually gauge how to pay for that. Andrew Nicholson is a Magic castoff and because of that (and good things we’ve seen) there could be some intrigue there.
Jared Dudley will play some small ball four and keep his hometown media happy. David Lee can be a knight on the chessboard so to speak and could be a nice specialist in an 18 mpg role.
Jordan Hill is a nice backup big to bring off the bench for the same amount of minutes. James Michael McAdoo is a shot in the dark at some late-blooming physical upside.
Jared Sullinger is near the bottom of this list because he’ll probably be overpaid and his NBA days are directly tied to his waistline. Mirza Teletovic is a nice specialist for any team that understands he’s good for about 15-20 mpg based on how he’s shooting.
James Johnson can slow down LeBron for maybe 10-15 playoff minutes per game. David West can’t really play anymore but he’ll be a nice locker room piece that can be dusted off every once in a while. Tyler Hansbrough can come in and foul people in order to disrupt rhythm.
VERDICTS: Dudley (C-) gets three years and $30 million and I know the media loves him because he’s a great quote but even after he was suprisingly good at power forward last year for the Wizards I can’t get behind this. The Bucks continued to bewilder with their offseason and grabbed Mirza Teletovic (D+) at three years and $30 million. It’s not the dollars but the fact that they’re choosing to allocate resources when there is no real, clear need for a stretch four at this rate. And yes, the money is bad for a guy with one or two NBA level skills, too.
Anthony Tolliver (C+) wasn’t on here and he should probably get a better grade just because he helped the Kings avoid Ryan Anderson, but this is good enough for a guy who really only has one trick and that’s shooting the three. The Kings did well to effectively make it a one-year deal, but with two years and $16 million there were a couple of other guys on the list above that would have been better plays.
1. Hassan Whiteside
Projection: Just under $25 million per season, four years
Hassanity is here! Only in the NBA can a player go from out of the league to the top player on the free agency board at his position. Going against the decision to retain Whiteside at this dollar amount is the intangible question of maturity.
The stories preceding my time as a quasi-Kings beat reporter are epic, painting the picture of a player that was bound to drive everybody around him crazy. Not necessarily in a bad way — just in a very young way and that’s why we saw him depart from the NBA spotlight.
Since then he has matured both on the court and off the court, relatively speaking of course, and when he landed in Miami he found the proper organizational structure to harness all that potential. All of that is old news and well-known news.
The question now is do you allocate this much money to this particular player, and the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Even if we assume that he doesn’t show drastic improvement off the ball or learning the finer points of playing NBA defense, and even if we assume he doesn’t continue to show improvement on the offensive end — he’s still a beast protecting the rim defensively.
Offensively he’s going to threaten the backside of the rim and be a force on the glass. But what gets NBA decision makers in an uproar is the improvement he showed at the foul line and shooting the ball from the mid-range. By the end of the season he was shooting 75 percent from the foul line on a whopping 5.9 attempts per game over his last 28 contests. When given the chance to shoot from the elbow he was draining jumpshots.
Yes — there are some injury concerns dating back to his early days in the league and he missed nine games last year as well as playoff time to various injuries. But big men with this type of potential are extremely rare and allocating this amount of money to the position is a championship bet.
You can live with the fallout if it goes south because at least you took a shot. The hope for Whiteside is that he values organization over other factors, but NBA decision-makers have to step up and make sure their investment doesn’t go south.
VERDICT: The deal with the Heat will be up to four years and $98 million and the only way it’s going down is if they have to try and fit Dwyane Wade and/or Kevin Durant under the cap. So this was the deal we expected and the Heat secure their game-changing center and they have to feel good about their ability to continue harnessing his ability. Are their risks and road-bumps ahead? You know it but this is an undisputed win for the Heat to keep the top center on our board.
3. Andre Drummond
Projection: Five years and $120 million from the Pistons
Drummond is a restricted free agent and reports out of Detroit indicate that they’ll offer him a max deal (or close) in an attempt to dissuade would-be offers from hitting their desk. Of course, they could always let the market set the price on Drummond but in this climate with big men at a premium, they probably want to sign a deal on their terms and try to shave a few dollars off the max.
In the end, Stan Van Gundy has built a lot of the Pistons’ future with the understanding that Drummond was their long-term guy. While reasonable analysts can debate the various aspects of his game and how he is deployed, there is no arguing that he has the potential to be a beast for years to come.
Should he improve his foul shooting, or more saliently his defensive awareness and post game, he’ll be able to be a positive asset even at this big number. Still, I showed a small dropoff from No. 1 Whiteside to No. 3 Drummond because he’s not out there hitting jumpers and foul shots like Whiteside is.
VERDICT: Five years and in excess of $125 million. There was no surprise here and now it’s on the Pistons to develop him. We can’t imagine making a move away from a talent of this type, even if his trouble spots tend to get overlooked by analysts and media.
4. Bismack Biyombo
Projection: $17 million per year, four years
There is talk that DeMar DeRozan might take less money in order to help Biyombo stay in Toronto, and also that Biyombo seems amicable to taking less money in order to keep the band together.
Still, that’s a heavy lift if you’re Toronto and you just drafted center Jakob Poeltl at No. 9 to step into the backup minutes. You also have Bebe Noguiera that is arguably ready for the role.
It just seems like there needs to be another shoe to drop in order to make Biyombo in Toronto a reality, and at the same time there are a number of teams that recognize he can be a game-changer if deployed in a specific role, probably at about 20-25 mpg.
Is this a lot to pay for a guy that’s not playing 30+ mpg? You betcha. But for contending teams — like say, the Warriors — the boost he gives your defense and rebounding is going to be too much to pass up.
Though the Warriors are saying all the right things about Harrison Barnes (not Festus Ezeli), they have tough questions to ask with Andrew Bogut and Biyombo would seem to answer them. And then there’s the rest of the league that will be in hot pursuit of a young, athletic big man that seems to be constantly improving.
He can meet or exceed the value of this deal if he becomes a game-changing force on the interior — because big man are always valued disproportionately to the other positions on the floor (and yet so appropriately given their value).
Still, there is enough chance that he becomes ‘just a guy’ to keep analysts from jumping all the way on the bandwagon. That’s why free agency is great because half of us will be dead wrong.
VERDICT: The Magic come out of nowhere and shock everybody again with four years and $72 million to add Biyombo to a very crowded frontcourt. We actually think they should trade Nikola Vucevic before everybody figures out that he’s a major defensive liability and not worth the big numbers and/or expectations, but at any rate now they’re on the clock.
For the Magic, they could play their trio of Biyombo, Vucevic and Serge Ibaka but the questions start coming in with Aaron Gordon and on down the line with guys like Elfrid Payton that haven’t proven they can shoot. The four years and $18 million per year were right in line with expectations and we like what we’ve seen out of him from a developmental standpoint. Big men take years to figure things out and we’ve been seeing that in small doses offensively and in general. His athletic tools are off the chart so though the fit is weird we like the signing.
5. Ian Mahinmi
Projection: $13 million per season, three years
Mahinmi fits the mold of a guy that casual fans will freak out about when they read about his contract in the next few weeks. The big man premium is definitely going to drive a lot of this number, but he led the Pacers in both offensive and defensive rating.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Mahinmi averaged 25.6 mpg and put up 9.3 points with 7.1 boards, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks while hitting 58.9 percent of his shots. He even handed out 1.5 assists per game as an underrated passer. He had (or maybe even has) back issues that are on the radar as a concern. He’s also 29 years old and these will be his last, best years.
The name value is virtually non-existent and the Pacers are probably moving toward featuring Myles Turner at center, so there isn’t a fever pitch surrounding Mahinmi or anything close to that, really.
But at his rate he is one of the smartest pickups at center in this free agency period whether you want him to be a high-end backup or a guy that simply holds his own in the paint as a starter.
VERDICT: The Wizards missed out on Al Horford and sort of lunged at Mahinmi by the sounds of things. He agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal at $16 million per season and that blasted away our three-year, $13 million per year projection. The Wizards now have a ton of money locked up in their center position on two older players, and in Mahinmi’s case he has both back and general durability issues. We liked him as a value play for NBA GMs but the fit here is questionable and the price will demand much more out of him, especially in Years 3 & 4 of that deal.
6. Joakim Noah
Projection: $18 million per year, four years with a team option
The Noah free agency story seems to be close to being nailed down and the only question is if he gets four years and how he gets them. Oh and yes, he’s going to the Knicks it seems.
The Knicks and Noah are a good match because they need each other, as the Knicks aren’t going to get much better on the free agent market and neither is Noah.
One can question if the Knicks should be investing in a 31-year old player with so many injuries, let alone Thibs minutes, but there are some silver linings. Namely, having Noah play next to Kristaps Porzingis is actually a nice fit.
Porzingis can shoot and that keeps defenses honest against Noah — who lost all (read: ALL) confidence in his offensive game by the end of last season.
The defensive presence of the two bigs could be compelling if Noah can keep his lateral quickness in check, which has been an issue as he racks up miles and puts on muscle to his frame. He would almost be better served by getting leaner so he can be more explosive as that strength sometimes goes to waste.
Noah also gets to reunite with old teammate Derrick Rose and there could be some synergy there, but let’s cut to the chase and say this is pretty much a bad investment. Noah is a major injury risk and even if he gets back to a reasonable level of play it’s asking too much for him to play like he did just 2-3 years ago.
As long as the Knicks are realistic about what they are getting here — one can say that they’re investing in Noah to help out their other investment in Porzingis. Keeping the Latvian off the block and out of harm’s way would be job No. 1. But then again they could have simply kept Robin Lopez.
VERDICT: Noah got a fully-guaranteed four-year, $72 million deal as the Knicks try to construct the most injury-prone team ever. Kidding aside, the gamble is real for Phil Jackson as he reunites Noah with Derrick Rose but more importantly he gives a breather to Kristaps Porzingis on the dirty work.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this signing — the whole thing could explode in Year 1 and it all comes down to Noah’s health, and separately whether or not he can get his confidence back. Last year he was short-arming everything and hid from the foul line. The only silver lining here for both parties is that as I mentioned above — both parties needed each other way more than anybody else needed them.
7. Cole Aldrich
Projection: $8 million per year, two years
Aldrich’s knees are mush and if they weren’t he would get a lot more attention than he gets. He was the fourth rated Clippers player in terms of offensive efficiency (113) and he led the team in defensive efficiency by a large margin (94 to DeAndre Jordan’s 98).
Of course, playing just 13.3 mpg against backups will help those numbers along. But every time he was called upon to play good minutes he brought the numbers with him. Virtually any 25-plus minute game would have some sort of a higher-end double-double type line including multiple steals and blocks.
This isn’t a new phenomena as he did that in New York and Sacramento. Again, this is all about keeping his workload light (20 mpg) and monitoring his health. As a backup big he is a lock to play up to this contract and if his knees fail him this amount of money is easily absorbed.
VERDICT: The Wolves nab him for three years and $22 million and this is just an awesome move. They don’t need him to play more than 18-22 minutes and he’ll be a nice contrast to Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. It’s hard to be truly deep at the center position and now the Wolves are exactly that.
8. Festus Ezeli
Projection: $15 million per year, three years
Anybody watching the playoffs with a keen eye will bristle at the idea of paying Ezeli this much money but reports have pegged him at about three years and $50 million for a while.
NBA decision makers will start to rationalize that the playoffs were a small sample size and that they can develop him into a starting NBA center. They’ll start to believe that at three years and $15 million per year that it’s a good investment.
The risks are well-known with Ezeli’s knees and he hasn’t ever played big minutes. The playoff slump showed a player that Steve Kerr didn’t trust and though Kerr had depth to play with — Ezeli would have been a great foil to Tristan Thompson but just couldn’t hang.
There is a decent foundation to work with in terms of his post game, and theoretically he profiles as a big that can handle other larger centers.
There isn’t a great chance that he outplays this contract, though he could meet it if he stays healthy and simply holds down the fort on defense.
In terms of price-to-value he’s a neutral asset at best and figures to be a slightly below-average asset going forward.
9. Al Jefferson
Projection: $10 million per year, two years
Jefferson is age 31 and he can’t defend a lick. How much he has left in the tank is a very real question. What’s not a question is that the old man can still get you twisted up in the post.
In a playoff game he’s still a good bet to put a defensive center in foul trouble while providing a pass-penetration target to get defenders’ heads turned around.
That still has value no matter how many people want to make small ball the end-all, be-all of the NBA.
It’s going to take the right fit for this to work, but in a 15-20 mpg role off the bench he could give a contender a nice wrinkle on the offensive side.
VERDICT: Big Al got three years and $30 million from the Pacers though we’re not sure if the last year of the deal is guaranteed or a team option, but more or less he got what we thought he would get.
What’s interesting is that the Pacers opted to go for Jefferson when they could have re-signed Ian Mahinmi, so they either though he would be way too expensive or their corporate knowledge led them to believe they needed a post scorer than a well-rounded, superior (and probably more expensive) player in Mahinmi. And by corporate knowledge I mean that Mahinmi has had some pretty bad back issues and is generally banged up.
But back to Al, he can show Myles Turner innumerable post moves even if he probably won’t want the kid to take his job. It’s a configuaration that can work if Jefferson plays 23 mpg and they stagger Turner’s minutes away from him. Finding a home for Jefferson wasn’t going to be easy, but this one actually makes at least some sense.
10. Dwight Howard
Projection: $17 million per year, three years with team option
Note: For integrity’s sake I forgot Howard when I initially released so this projection/prediction comes after the reports of some GMs not thinking he’ll get half the max (Howard Beck) to the Chris Broussard report that he’s meeting with the Celtics, Hawks and two mystery teams.
Howard may have gotten the message that nobody wants him anymore and that there are now preconditions to his employment with his new team — especially since he’s still getting a big money deal (especially after the Timofey Mozgov deal on Thursday night).
Still, he would be best deployed in a 25 mpg role and given limited responsibilities on offense so he can focus on the glass. His injury history is not pretty and he’s not the plus-defender he once was.
This is all name value, too much extra-curricular baggage and a bunch of risk. He could fit in Boston or Atlanta but even then he’s still an overpay for teams trying to crack their glass ceilings. They need to have a specific succession plan with this as a move to get to another move otherwise it’s just spending bad money.
VERDICT: Three years and $70 million. I don’t want to blame the Mozgov deal but your guess is as good as mine as to why NBA general managers continue to bow to whatever pressures make them make this type of deal. He’s a durability risk, his defense is sliding, his athleticism had slid and he wants more offensive touches than he deserves. The only thing that can save him is a serious change in approach.
But all of that aside I liked the fit in Atlanta if Horford was sticking around and Howard was getting paid way less, with Howard in a 25-28 mpg role that would allow for him to stay healthy. But this big money screams expectations and that will filter in to the offensive end, and now if they lose Al Horford they’ll expect/need more out of Howard.
It’s a recipe for disaster and at best it keeps them in the mushy middle but maybe they can shed some cap space and sign Horford. Then you have a pretty compelling frontcourt of Paul Millsap, Horford and Howard. The jury is still out but it’s just not a good deal any way one slices it.
The low-end big man market is still going to get paid in excess of $5 million per year and not surprisingly the position isn’t as deep as the shooting guard or power forward positions. I’ll try to rank these guys and give some commentary, but it’s a bit of a mess.
Miles Plumlee as a restricted free agent has a chance to be a top 25-40 center in the league. He had a nice finish with the Bucks last year. Boban Marjonovic has some appeal as a niche player for a contender that creates a unique distraction on both sides of the floor.
Timofey Mozgov might be too far into his own head — or his knees are shot. If he bounces back he’ll be able to give a quality 20-24 mpg.
Zaza Pachulia can give 20 mpg if you monitor his health and don’t ask him to do too much. Tyler Zeller has young legs and might be able to take a step forward in a less crowded situation than the one he was in with Boston.
Dewayne Dedmon and Tarik Black are top 40-50 guys that can plug holes. Roy Hibbert needs to show he can handle a 15 mpg per game role and do it well, and everybody that voted him DPOY a few years back can officially admit they forgot about the Pacers’ other great defenders.
VERDICT: I’m bummed I didn’t have Justin Hamilton (A) on this list. He’s on the legal pad but I didn’t think he was on the NBA radar, perhaps playing overseas. As the founder of the Justin Hamilton fan club in 2015 he’ll be a fine pickup at two years and $6 million for the Nets. If Brook Lopez gets hurt he’ll be a nice fantasy pickup as he was in 2015 before a nasty concussion ruined what would have been an epic late-season run.
Roy Hibbert (B-) at one year and five million is right where you want to be with the big man. His defense in Indy was tied to having great defenders around him and the Lakers were terrible in that regard. Look for a mini bounce-back from Hibbert and even if it doesn’t happen you paid nothing to see if he can give you 20 good minutes.
Zaza Pachulia (A) for one year and $2.9 million to the Golden State Super Warriors. I don’t want to give Bob Myers an A for essentially taking requests from players around the league to play for nothing. But we’ll call it spillover from being able to secure Kevin Durant and on its face, this is a bargain.
Tarik Black (C+) got two years and $12.85 million and beat reporters have said that Black’s lack of minutes was one of the things that Byron Scott was criticized by the front office for. So there could be some hidden upside in terms of contract value and what he can bring to the table. If he can just hang in the top 30-40 range as a center then this deal will be a steal.
TIMOFEY MOZGOV VERDICT
Talk about burying the lede. Mozgov kicking off free agency will definitely be on the One Shining Moment reel of NBA Free Agency 2016. I’ll put it like this — IF the Lakers performed due diligence and determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that his knee wasn’t an issue and his athleticism resembled 2015 Playoffs levels — then I can at least talk about this deal.
Mozgov’s confidence was shattered last season but Cleveland is a unique situation with LeBron and Tristan Thompson being tight, and so much spotlight on them that they didn’t have much room to ease Mozgov back into his normal self.
The bottom line is that I’m throwing out every caveat possible to explain how this deal could have been made and that in of itself is the problem. With way better options up and down our ranks to jump at Mozgov early might be the boob move of the transaction season, but the deal isn’t dead in the water like some of the other ones we’ve seen.