The Best and Worst 2014 NBA Free-Agent Signings
If only every general manager in the NBA could make one perfect signing after another...
Parity would abound (to some extent, at least), players would be perfectly valued when looking at their contracts and everyone would fit in flawlessly with the system and roster they're either joining or remaining in.
Sadly, though, that's not how professional basketball works.
This offseason has been no different, even if it seemed like most GMs made more savvy signings than we've seen in the past. There's no shortage of great deals and bargains struck this summer, while it's harder to find even five contracts that stand out as the worst of the bunch.
When breaking down the best and the worst of the summer, a lot matters. Fit comes into play, as does the length of the deal and the money that will be paid out to the player in question over the course of the contract. Age, playing style, the roster already in place, the future plans of the team and so much more all enter the equation.
Remember, these are determined from the perspective of the team. The players receiving the worst contracts are making out like bandits, after all.
Worst: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Contract Details: Four years, $32 million
Avery Bradley is, without question, a quality player.
Not only is he one of the most tenacious defenders in the NBA, one of the few who can truly pick up a man for the entire 94 feet of open space, but he's developing a perimeter game. During the 2013-14 season, he drilled 39.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc while taking 3.3 per game.
However, there are a bunch of questions.
Was that shooting fluky? The percentage is largely driven by a hot streak at the end of the year, and Bradley has never been anything even resembling a marksman. Sure, he could've improved drastically, but betting on regression is safe after a massive uptick in both volume and efficiency.
The bigger questions revolve around the decision to bring him back at $32 million over four years, though.
When Bradley signed, the news came out of left field. Perhaps the Boston Celtics were attempting to sign him to a deal before restricted free agency pushed his price up, but they still ended up paying more than the combo guard is worth, especially because of his role on the team.
With Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart—two guards who have trouble spacing the court—on the roster, the rotation is about to get a lot more crowded. Rondo is the face of the franchise (unless he's traded, which is still a distinct possibility), and Smart, as the first-round lottery pick this summer, is the future.
It seems strange to pay a third wheel $8 million per year over four seasons, particularly when he's making well over market value.
Best: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contract Details: Two years, $42.2 million
LeBron James was the biggest fish in the free-agent pool, and he swam back home during the offseason. The four-time MVP left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 after numerous postseason failures, but now the team is getting a mature, seasoned champion back four years later.
James understands who he is now, both as a basketball player and a person. He's been through tough times and emerged victoriously, and while he understands just how difficult it will be to end Cleveland's championship drought, he's also willing to take on that task.
"I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home," was the pair of sentences used to close LeBron's explanation of his decision, per Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. And as soon as those words were made public, they secured the best signing of the offseason for the formerly beleaguered Cavaliers.
The roster isn't finalized yet, nor will it be until the Kevin Love saga draws to a close. The team is still inexperienced, led—beyond James—by a multitude of young up-and-comers. The contract LeBron signed is only two years in duration and includes an opt-out clause, though the easy assumption is he'll be using that only to update his deal in order to mirror a rising cap.
Even with those caveats, this deserves top marks.
The King is going home, and he's single-handedly hoping to change the fortunes of Cleveland basketball.
Worst: Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: Five years, $60 million
Right away, the Marcin Gortat deal looks like a strong one.
He's important to his team—to the tune of 11.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com—and $12 million per season is a reasonable contract for a center who will turn 31 during the middle of the 2014-15 season. Gortat's rim-protecting skills help anchor the defense, and he's a consistent offensive player who can add a strong pick-and-roll element alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal.
However, the length of the deal—which contains an escalating salary, no less—is highly problematic.
In 2014-15, the contract will seem fine. In 2015-16, it may as well. But what about the seasons following that, when the big man is declining rapidly, forced into a lesser role by Father Time? What about the 2018-19 season, when he'll turn 35 and make $13,565,218, per Spotrac.com?
Centers don't tend to age well, particularly if they play a physical brand of basketball rather than a finesse game. Even if we look past the lack of financial flexibility Washington will have when players like Kevin Durant hit the market—don't forget about the inevitable Bradley Beal extension, one that will likely be a max deal—this is going to be an albatross down the road.
Mike Prada, writing for SBNation, had the following reaction after the deal was announced:
It is hoped that the deal is misreported, or at least not fully guaranteed. This is highly unlikely, of course, but perhaps the deal will be structured so that it declines in value. Something needs to mitigate this price tag. Good centers always cost big money and there is no denying that Gortat (13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 17.6 PER, .568 true shooting percentage) is that. He's one of my favorites. I love Gortat as a player, and he's an extremely good one. But he is going to be one for five years? Four years? Three years, even?
Unfortunately, it's not declining value. The opposite is true, which means it's even more of a mixed bag for the Wizards.
Sure, they're going to be better this season, perhaps even competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference after the strong signing of Paul Pierce, but they don't have a championship ceiling and will have trouble changing that down the road with this contract on the books.
Best: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Contract Details: Three years, $25 million
Dirk Nowitzki is a saint.
As ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote after ink met paper, the sharp-shooting power forward with the Hall of Fame resume easily could've earned far more money elsewhere:
Sources say that Nowitzki received strong interest in free agency from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers to leave Dallas for max-level money but refused to engage in negotiations with either team.
Nowitzki consented to such a steep pay reduction -- from last season's $22.7 million to the roughly $8 million he'll get for this coming season -- to give the Mavericks added flexibility to strengthen the supporting cast around him.
Plus, chances are strong Mark Cuban would've given him a max salary if he'd requested it.
Instead, he took a massive pay cut so the Dallas Mavericks could make more big moves during the offseason and push itself into the realm of contenders. It may seem strange that Chandler Parsons is making nearly twice as much as the Dallas legend, but that's only because Nowitzki enabled that type of move. There's no reason for him to feel bitter, seeing as he facilitated this arrangement.
The German 7-footer is worth closer to $25 million per year than the same chunk of cash divvied up over the course of three seasons. While stars shouldn't feel pressured to take pay cuts for the good of the team, seeing as the owners have already implemented an arbitrary price ceiling that caps the players' earning potential, they still can, and they can still be praised for it.
Such is the case for this particular lifelong Maverick.
Worst: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Contract Details: Five years, $118 million
Chris Bosh hasn't served as a No. 1 option since his days with the Toronto Raptors, as he was always the second or third fiddle while playing alongside LeBron and Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat. He didn't draw as much defensive attention, and his role on the perimeter prevented him from putting up rebounding numbers similar to those he produced north of the border.
Well, Bosh now gets a chance to prove he can be the top dog once more.
If he's no longer able to assert himself as a 20/10 guy, Pat Riley will be left overpaying him, seeing as he's been granted a max deal over the course of the next five seasons. Age-related declines shouldn't be too concerning for a finesse big like Bosh, but can he really anchor a defense while leading the charge on offense?
However, even if Bosh looks like the All-NBA player of old, this is far too much money for him.
By paying $118 million to the big man over the next five seasons, Riley is essentially limiting the Heat's ceiling. It was tough enough for Toronto to get into the playoffs and compete while rostering a prime Bosh as the team's best player, and the Heat may not fare too much better, even in this ridiculously weak iteration of the Eastern Conference.
This team may be doomed to upper-level mediocrity until Bosh comes off the books. Miami will at least remain relevant and make revenue from its playoff appearances, but there's not much hope for anything drastically better than that type of outcome.
Best: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Contract Details: Four years, $48 million
Kyle Lowry's prior reputation is now firmly in the past.
Once thought of as a coach-killing point guard who failed to make positive impacts in the locker room, played selfishly, didn't listen to direction and worked hardest in contract years, Lowry changed all of that during this latest go-round with the Toronto Raptors. He played hard throughout the season, challenged his teammates to get better and served as a bona fide leader from start to finish.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote about this after the postseason run:
He does all of that [fighting through injuries during the playoffs] while working with a coach he once butted heads with, with a general manager who knows how to anger him and motivate him all at the same time, with a young family that enabled him to mature and maybe turn his basketball life around. All that while inside a locker room and on the floor with a group of teammates he has come to admire and adore: A team like this in a place like this at a time like this is something he has never before experienced. It’s also something Toronto has rarely seen in these decades of sporting emptiness.
Even though he was admittedly doing all that in a contract year, Lowry doesn't seem like fool's gold. The 28-year-old turned over a new leaf during the 2013-14 season, and he did so while becoming one of the league's elite point guards.
Now, he gets a chance to continue leading the charge for a young Toronto squad that features some impressive upside and could potentially compete for a top spot in the weak Eastern Conference. On top of that, he'll be doing so for the reasonable average annual salary of $12 million.
There's nothing to complain about here.
Worst: Channing Frye, Orlando Magic
Contract Details: Four years, $32 million
Channing Frye is worth the salary he'll be making, but he sure picked a strange location.
One of the league's best stretch 4s, Frye should make a nice impact for the Orlando Magic, but he'd be far better off spacing the court for a contender. Though Orlando may offer him the most playing time right now, how long will it be before the young guns force him into a reduced role?
Not only are the Magic a long way away from being a competitive team, but they feature plenty of young talent at power forward.
Aaron Gordon was the team's top draft pick, and it's unlikely he can be converted into a 3 without first developing some semblance of an offensive game in the half-court set. Playing him at small forward right away is setting him up for failure. Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn both play power forward as well, and Tobias Harris can in smaller lineups.
Having Frye on board as a quality player and veteran presence in the locker room will surely help a young team seeking to get on the right track, but at what expense? If he keeps younger talents off the court, that's problematic, and it's similarly bad if they eventually take over and leave him as an $8 million-per-year role player for a mid-tier team.
Unless Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and all the other young prospects on the Magic roster develop far more quickly than expected, Frye is a luxury item on a team that shouldn't be focused on luxuries quite yet.
Best: Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns
Contract Details: Four years, $27 million
It's hard to find a better value this summer.
Isaiah Thomas has gone from being Mr. Irrelevant to becoming one of the better point guards in the NBA, as he developed into an offensive phenom for the Sacramento Kings. Though it might have gone largely unnoticed, the diminutive floor general averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game with a true shooting percentage (for the third consecutive season, strangely enough) of 57.4 percent, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
In fact, Thomas, James, Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook were the only players in the Association to top 20 and six during the 2013-14 season, and each of them—save Thomas—is making eight figures per year.
Even though his effort can't compensate for his physical profile on defense, Thomas now has one of the most reasonable contracts throughout the entire league. Plus, it's one that works nicely in Phoenix's scheme no matter what happens with Eric Bledsoe.
If the incumbent point guard returns, Thomas will function as a favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, earning plenty of playing time in Jeff Hornacek's two-point guard system. If Bledsoe leaves for some reason, Thomas will be a perfect fit in the starting five, thriving alongside Goran Dragic while being backed up by Tyler Ennis.
It's a win-win situation, especially because Thomas has already stated he's more interested in winning than starting.
"I value myself as a starter, but when it comes down to winning, I'll do anything it takes to win," the new member of the Suns told the Associated Press, via ESPN. "I want to be on a winning team ... At the end of the day, we're going to play with each other, no matter who starts and who comes off the bench. It's about winning. The individual success will come."
Worst: Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Contract Details: Two years, $14 million
At least this contract only lasts for two years.
The Charlotte Hornets made plenty of fantastic signings throughout the offseason—Lance Stephenson's deal should be considered an honorable mention on the "best" side, and Brian Roberts is a great value—but Marvin Williams is being massively overpaid.
"Marvin is a proven veteran player with high character and high IQ," Steve Clifford explained to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, about the new addition who he views as a combo forward. "You watch him play at both ends of the floor and everything he does makes sense. I think he will bring versatility."
82games.com shows that he earned a net player efficiency rating of 6.8 while playing small forward and minus-4.5 at power forward. Averaging 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 35.9 percent beyond the arc, Williams did make the lowly Utah Jazz better on offense, per Basketball-Reference.com's on/off splits, but he also made them worse on defense.
Plus, he's just going to get in the way of development.
If Williams plays the 3, he's hindering the progress of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor. If he lines up at the 4, he's conflicting with Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh.
I get the need to win now, but Charlotte would've been better off either saving cap room for next offseason or spending it elsewhere. Williams, unless he becomes a far better three-point shooter, doesn't do wonders for this team, even if he's an indication it's moving into win-now mode.
Best: Vince Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
Contract Details: Three years, $12 million
Vince Carter is a perfect fit for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Coming off a season in which he hit 39.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc while taking 4.6 attempts per game, Vinsanity can still clearly provide a major impact for a team in dire need of some perimeter shooting. The Grizz would qualify as such, seeing as they made the fewest triples of any team in the league last season.
But Carter's other contributions fall in line with the "grit and grind" mentality of this Memphis squad, which has remained a defensive one even after Dave Joerger took over for Lionel Hollins.
Over the last few years, Carter has completed the transformation from superstar to super role player. He's thrived coming off the bench and providing offensive sparks while locking down on defense, which has made him a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
It's the defense that is key, even if the artist formerly known as "Half Man, Half Amazing" has always been known for his high-flying offensive exploits.
Basketball-Reference.com shows Carter helped the Dallas Mavericks allow 3.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court last year, and 82games.com reveals that he held opposing 2s and 3s to respective PERs of 11.6 and 13.8.
This defensive mentality will serve him well, whether he's coming off the bench as a top-notch sub or displacing a declining Tayshaun Prince from the starting lineup. Either way, he fits the Memphis system perfectly and could be an understated reason the Grizz see their second-half momentum carry over into the 2014-15 campaign.
Worst/Best: Detroit Pistons
It's been a mixed bag for the Detroit Pistons, who deserve their own category. Matt Moore of CBS Sports surely agrees:
I can have all the faith in the world that Stan Van Gundy will make the Pistons better next season through his coaching and look at this list, Caron Butler (2-years, $9 million), D.J. Augustin (2-years, $6 million), Jodie Meeks (3-year, $19.5 million!), Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray, and still want to throw up. The Pistons spent $14 million for next season on D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler, and Jodie Meeks.
I don't know how to spin that as a win.
Neither do I.
But at the same time, it's not a loss either.
The Jodie Meeks contract is a massive overpay—the worst of the bunch—but even he's still a quality shooter. Stan Van Gundy desperately needed to add shooting to the Pistons roster, and that's exactly what he did.
Yes, Detroit paid far too much for this collection of role players. But at least they can all shoot and should make solid contributions to a team in dire need of floor-spacing for Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and—probably—Greg Monroe, who is still a restricted free agent.
Last season, D.J. Augustin shot 40.1 percent from downtown while taking 4.7 attempts per game. Caron Butler, splitting time between the Milwaukee Bucks and Oklahoma City Thunder, connected on 39.4 percent of his 4.4 attempts per outing. Cartier Martin checked in with 2.6 attempts per contest and a 39.1 percent clip.
And Meeks was the best of the bunch: 40.1 percent shooting on 5.2 attempts during his average game.
Detroit did exactly what it needed to do by acquiring one marksman after another. It just had to add a bunch of questionable—and that's being nice in some cases—contracts to the books in order to do so.
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