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Handing Out NBA Free Agency Awards

The start of NBA free agency brought about a flurry of activity

Most Important Move – LaMarcus Aldridge signing with Spurs

Technically, the most important move was LeBron James re-signing with Cleveland, but, among moves that weren’t 100 percent certain to happen, this qualifies as the most important.

There are some questions about how Aldridge will fit with San Antonio due to his nature of holding onto the ball, but the bottom line is the Spurs got a supremely talented player with a versatile skill set. And if any team is going to maximize his talent, it’s San Antonio.

The DeAndre Jordan saga was a close second here, because it crippled one team’s immediate future while giving another a chance at a title. But the same can be said of this deal. Aldridge instantly puts the Spurs among the inner circle of title contenders, while Portland is almost certainly not a playoff team in the West next season.

Aldridge gives the Spurs a better chance at a title than Jordan gives the Clippers, so his signing was marginally more important.

Best contract – Amir Johnson (2 years, $24 million)

This category doesn’t include veterans who obviously took less money to play for a contender, i.e. David West.

Boston has to be disappointed with the majority of free agency, but getting Johnson for a middling number without having to commit to him long-term was a steal.

The Celtics desperately needed a big man who isn’t a matador on defense, and Johnson is a solid defender. He’s a starting caliber big who does all the little things well on offense, and this will help free up the motion the Celtics try to run. He won’t put up big numbers, but he’s an excellent screen-setter and ball-mover, so he’ll improve both sides of the ball while he’s out there.

Boston took advantage of the fact that there weren’t many contenders who needed a power forward, but that won’t always be the case. It’s possible that, in the next two years, Johnson is the exact kind of player a contender is looking for at the deadline. Don’t be surprised if the Celtics end up flipping Johnson and adding another asset. In the meantime, though, Johnson provides an upgrade to a frontcourt that really needed it.

Contract that looks bad now but will be a steal – Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million)

Joseph has spent a lot of his career as a third-string guard and has never put up impressive raw numbers. How did he get $30 million and a player option for Year 4?

For starters, he’s been very good when he plays. He averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 assists on over 50 percent shooting per 36 minutes last season, per Basketball-Reference. He has great vision and improved his three-point shooting every season. He’s also a capable defender.

Also, Joseph’s contract is going to be the going rate for a reserve guard as early as next season. In fact, if Joseph ends up playing as an above-average backup point guard, $7.5 million will be great value. And all the evidence suggests that he’ll be at least that.

There’s question about his fit on a team with Kyle Lowry and the recently drafted Delon Wright, and Joseph will likely be better suited in an offense that doesn’t run as much isolation as Toronto did last year. But there’s no question his contract will look great by the end of his time in Toronto, even if the numbers jump off the page now.

Contract that looks bad now and will stay that way – Enes Kanter (four years, $70 million)

Look, Oklahoma City’s front office basically had its hands tied with this one. The team couldn’t afford for the team to be any worse next season, as Kevin Durant needs to be reminded of why he should stay.

However, Kanter’s deal is just plain bad for a player who can’t play defense. There are plenty of sub-par defensive players who get and deserve max deals, but sub-par is light-years better than Kanter. He’s quite possibly the worst defensive big in a rotation on any team. It’s no coincidence the Jazz vaulted into an elite defensive team when he left. Obviously, the elite defensive talent of his replacement, Rudy Gobert, had a lot to do with that, but so did Kanter being gone.

Oklahoma City, for some reason, decided it needed a post presence. This is curious for a team with two players as talented with the ball as Russell Westbrook and Durant. Kanter isn’t quite a floor-spacer, either, so he doesn’t really fit what would make the Thunder’s offense significantly better. A player who can be more effective as a low-usage player would’ve helped the Thunder more than Kanter.

Serge Ibaka’s return to health should help erase some of Kanter’s mistakes, but Kanter seems to be a neutral asset on the court at best. He just isn’t as useful as his numbers suggest, and now he’ll block the development of Steven Adams, who was the best asset received in the James Harden trade. It’s unlikely the Thunder look back on this deal and love it, even with the cap set to explode.

Best fit – Monta Ellis

George Hill didn’t seem like a great fit for Indiana’s new system and roster. It seemed like he’d be a nice trade piece for a team with several needs.

Instead, Indiana went the other way and got a player who fits perfectly in the backcourt with Hill. Hill and Ellis are a great combination, because each covers up the other’s glaring deficiencies.

Hill isn’t a great distributor, particularly on the pick-and-roll. He also isn’t great as a primary playmaker for a point guard, and the Pacers certainly needed more of an offensive jolt from the backcourt.

Ellis is an excellent pick-and-roll player and a dynamic scorer. He brings creativity to an offense that often gets bogged down for minutes at a time. He’s a bad defender and long-range shooter, but Hill is a solid catch-and-shoot player and great defender. Playing with Hill will allow Ellis to hide on the less threatening guard on defense.

There aren’t many point guards in the modern NBA better served as the secondary ball handler, but Hill is one of them. Ellis has been searching for the right backcourt partner for a long time and has finally found that in Indiana.

Most important under the radar move – Bulls re-signing Mike Dunleavy

It was a surprise to see Mike Dunleavy agree to a deal so quickly with the Bulls when it seemed like he could possibly depart, but it’s a huge coup for Chicago to bring him back.

Chicago really needs Dunleavy’s shooting and ball-moving ability to help the oft-stagnant offense, and the team’s record last season reflects that. The Bulls went 41-22 with Dunleavy in the starting lineup last regular season and 9-10 without him.

If Dunleavy left, the Bulls wouldn’t have had any cap space to replace him, and would’ve had to rely on Tony Snell or Doug McDermott to start alongside Jimmy Butler, and neither has proven ready for that job.

The Bulls are right in the mix with three or four other teams as the second tier of the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland. Losing Dunleavy would’ve knocked the team out of that tier. Keeping him on a modest three-year deal keeps Chicago in that conversation.

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