Report Card Grades for Most Important 2014 NBA Free-Agent Deals So Far

D.J. FosterContributor IJuly 7, 2014

Report Card Grades for Most Important 2014 NBA Free-Agent Deals So Far

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    The 2014 NBA free-agency period has played out like a lot of people thought it would thus far. Some of the biggest names available have chosen to re-sign with their teams, even if players like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony haven't made their minds up yet.

    Both teams and players are being patient, as Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge explained to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "We don’t want to do anything in a panic or in a rush to get there. There are free agents out there waiting to see what kind of team you’ll have and what opportunities are there."

    While there is still plenty of intrigue to come, the free agents who have re-signed matter a great deal as well. Not only have they set the market in some cases, but they've also taken a few teams out of contention due to a lack of available funds.

    To evaluate each of the most important free-agent signings on a case-by-case basis, we'll take a look at team composition, the price of the new deal, the overall franchise plan and comparisons to other players who provide similar production.

    With that in mind, grading a signing like Josh McRoberts to the Miami Heat is difficult to do, as Miami's situation is still up in the air and that grade would change drastically based on what the Big Three decide to do. We'll address that one down the line.

    So aside from a few we will deem "incomplete" for the time being, which teams got the best deals in free agency so far, and which teams didn't do so hot? Let's take a look and grade each of the most important signings in the early stages of the 2014 offseason.

     

    Stats and contract information accurate as of July 7.

Avery Bradley

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    Grade: C

    Contract Details: According to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, Avery Bradley re-signed with the Boston Celtics for four years, $32 million.

    This was a somewhat difficult deal to understand given the complexion of Boston's backcourt, but here's Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com explaining why it might make sense:

    With a rising salary cap, deals are likely to become only more lucrative moving forward. What looks like a splurge up front might look more like the league average for a starting shooting guard by the end of this deal. The Celtics are banking on the fact that the 23-year-old Bradley continues his development and exceeds his pay rate by blossoming into a consistent two-way force. 

    The risk for the Celtics is that they eventually add or develop another starter-caliber 2-guard, and Bradley would likely be overpaid in a reserve role. 

    Considering that the Celtics just used the sixth pick in the draft on Marcus Smart, a player who will need minutes at the 2 so long as Rajon Rondo is around, this signing is a bit curious.

    Bradley is primarily a defensive specialist who can really harass ball-handlers into turnovers, but Smart can do that as well. Given Bradley's inability to play point guard, it's tough seeing him as a "third guard" for $8 million a year. If Smart is great right away, that's what Bradley might end up being.

    This is decent insurance in case Rondo is finally dealt or if he bolts in free agency next year, although that doesn't seem like the ideal situation to plan for. Bradley will sop up cap room, but if he continues to improve on his shooting, he can certainly be a three-and-D guard who might be a little overpaid but not drastically so. It all depends on development. 

    It would have made more sense to sign and trade Bradley and receive some frontcourt help or future assets, but dealing him isn't off the table by any means. It was smart for Celtics GM Danny Ainge to not let him walk, but Bradley is a shaky fit with a history of injuries who is probably getting paid a little too much. There's a lot more potential for this to go wrong than there is for it to go right. 

Marcin Gortat

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    Grade: C+

    Contract Details: According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Marcin Gortat re-signed with the Washington Wizards for five years, $60 million.

    First, it's important to acknowledge that reliable centers always get overpaid in free agency. It's a supply-and-demand situation that always ends up in large contracts for competent big men.

    At least in that respect, Gortat's contract is plenty reasonable. Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic signed the same contract last year (five years, $60 million), and even though Gortat doesn't have his potential, he's right there in terms of production.

    Gortat's best asset is his dependability on both ends, which Washington needs given its reliance on the injury-prone Nene and its shaky depth up front. Gortat fills a big hole, but there are issues to be considered.

    The first is the length of the deal. With no team options or partially guaranteed years, Gortat will be on track to earn $12 million when he's 35 years old. A major injury or a steady decline in athleticism could make this deal look rough, although that's a risk most teams take when signing long-term contracts like this.

    The main issue with Gortat's new contract is that it doesn't elevate Washington's ceiling. The Wizards could have let Gortat and Ariza walk and used their cap space elsewhere to chase a star to put next to John Wall and Bradley Beal.

    The risk of missing out in this year or next year's free agency might have been too scary for a team that just returned to the playoffs, but it's hard to say that the Wizards have locked into anything but mediocrity in the East now, given their lack of assets and flexibility moving forward.

    Maybe Wall and Beal will both make massive leaps and Gortat's reliable production will become more critical, but the lack of upside and length of the deal are worrisome. 

Boris Diaw

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    Grade: B

    Contract Details: According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the San Antonio Spurs have re-signed Boris Diaw for three years, $22 million. The last year is partially guaranteed. 

    This isn't quite the discount we've come to expect from re-signing Spurs players, but Diaw was undoubtedly an integral part of the championship formula with his passing, versatility and defense. At 32 with his intelligence level, you'd think Diaw will produce at a high rate for the life of his contract.

    The smart thing the Spurs did here was to partially guarantee that final year. Diaw has had trouble in the past staying in shape, so if things go south quickly, the Spurs will have an easier out. 

    Over $7 million a year is fair for Diaw, and placating Tony Parker by keeping him around is a wise investment. There's no reason to split up the team that just marched through the Finals, and when Parker is a free agent next year, having his childhood friend Diaw on contract might help eliminate any incentive to leave.

    The Spurs are built around intelligent basketball players, and Diaw is one of the smartest. There's a little risk given his history with maintaining his playing weight, but there aren't many contenders in the league who would balk at a strong two-way player like Diaw at this price.

Shaun Livingston

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    Grade: B

    Contract Details: According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Shaun Livingston signed with the Golden State Warriors for three years, approximately $16 million. The last season is partially guaranteed.

    Is it a little much for a backup point guard who doesn't really score and address the biggest need of the bench? On the surface, yes.

    That being said, you have to account for Livingston's unique versatility, especially on the defensive end. Thanks to his height and length (6'7" and 6'11" wingspan), Livingston can cover three positions without any issues, meaning he can feasibly back up multiple players. With guys like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson spreading the floor, his lack of shooting range might not matter too much.

    Having a steady hand to run the second unit should help offensively, even if Livingston's impact will mostly come on the defensive end. Alongside Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, Golden State's rotation should be one of the nastiest defensively we've seen in quite some time. It would be a shock if they aren't a top-three defense next year, even with a rookie coach in Steve Kerr.

    Livingston will help Kerr's transition as well, as he's a great leader who should have a strong influence on the locker room. Livingston sounds ready to be on a contender, as he tweeted this once news broke: "Thank you Brooklyn for embracing me....Golden State, excited to be part of the movement!!!"

    As long as Harrison Barnes becomes a more reliable scorer and the offense shows more innovation, this signing should be pretty solid even if it doesn't directly address the need of finding scoring off the bench.

    You'd like it more if Golden State had other assets to utilize, but adding such a versatile player with the mid-level exception is tough to argue against.

Kyle Lowry

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    Grade: A-

    Contract Details: According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Lowry re-signed on a four-year deal worth $48 million. Lowry has an early-termination option after the third season of the deal.

    Let's start with the negatives first.

    Lowry doesn't have a long history of sustained success, and last year he could have been on his best behavior in order to land a new contract. Point guard is also the deepest position in the NBA, so paying big money for one might not be the best use of funds. Lowry has clashed with coaches before, so if Dwane Casey doesn't stick around forever, will Lowry be able to co-exist with whomever replaces him?

    Lowry has also had injury concerns throughout his career. He missed 72 games as a rookie in 2006-07 after breaking his wrist, along with a myriad other ailments over the years (knee, ankle).

    Those are concerns, to be sure, but the positives far outweigh the negatives in this case. Retaining a highly sought-after unrestricted free agent after he put forth a season that was unquestionably one of the best in the league is no easy task, particularly when you're the Toronto Raptors.

    We've seen stars like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh all walk in the past, so retaining the face of last year's playoff team is huge. The Raptors couldn't afford to lose Lowry for nothing and kill all the positive momentum, and general manager Masai Ujiri did his job to make sure that didn't happen.

    And by no means is this an overpay, especially since Lowry was unrestricted. This wasn't a situation where a discount was really possible, so getting away with a fairly valued contract is a pretty big victory for Toronto here.

    If things do go south, Lowry's deal should be easy to flip as well. That seems unlikely, though, as Lowry has shined in a leadership role with the Raptors, who should be a factor in the Eastern Conference for the next few years at least. This was a strong move. 

Dirk Nowitzki

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    Grade: A

    Contract Details: According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Dirk Nowitzki re-signed with the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year deal thought to be in the $30 million range. The deal contains a player option on the final season and a no-trade clause.

    This shouldn't be expected or become the norm, but you have to applaud Nowitzki for leaving money on the table in order to have a better chance at another ring in his last few years.

    Nowitzki is worth far more than $10 million per year, as he hasn't really slowed down all that much. At age 35, Nowitzki still posted a 23.6 PER and a 60.3 true shooting percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.com, which are both outstanding numbers that rank among the league's best.

    This is a steal for Dallas, as the Mavericks will maintain the cap room necessary to chase the biggest free agents and not be hindered by a large deal.

    These are the types of things that can happen when both franchise and player are on the same page and remain loyal to each other over the years. Ultimately, though, the Mavericks are incredibly lucky that Nowitzki was willing to take well below his market price.

    It's pretty tough to find anything wrong with this deal, even if Nowitzki slows way down in the next few years. As long as he can avoid injury and remain upright, this is a value signing that probably won't be topped.