This year’s NBA free agency moved fast and furiously, with virtually all of the big-name free agents agreeing to contracts early during the league’s moratorium period and well before the first actual date they could sign contracts on July 9.
If you blinked, it was easy to miss something, especially some of the fringe moves made by second-tier teams while the volume was blasting on contending teams’ pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge. While there are still some solid free agents available, the majority of rotation-caliber players have been snatched up at this point, so here’s a look back at how this year’s wild free agency period panned out.
DeAndre Jordan Drama Dominates Before and After
When Jordan verbally committed to joining the Dallas Mavericks on the Friday before Fourth of July weekend, it was one of the biggest decisions of free agency, essentially torpedoing the Clippers’ chances at contending while lifting the Mavericks up from the dregs of imminent mediocrity. Then the weekend happened, and it became THE biggest decision of free agency, at least in terms of attention.
We know what happened from there: Jordan got cold feet about his choice, called up Blake Griffin, who told Doc Rivers, who immediately phoned Jordan to further coax him back to LA, then everyone –– both Mavericks and Clippers –– got wind of the story before cohorts from each team tweeted emojis while descending on Jordan’s home in Houston. Only one team got to see him, though, and Jordan wound up staying with the Clippers.
The saga was kind of a bad look for the league, but it garnered a lot of attention nonetheless. It also immediately changed both teams’ directions again, putting LA back where it had been and forcing Dallas to settle into some face-saving style moves as Dirk Nowitzki‘s career nears its end.
By keeping Jordan, the Clippers will actually have a chance to enjoy real upside from their other offseason acquisitions, which were very strong. Doc Rivers finally put in a decent offseason as GM, not only saving Jordan from leaving, but swinging a trade for Lance Stephenson and signing Paul Pierce and Wesley Johnson to replace the departed Matt Barnes. Pierce gives them proven leadership and scoring ability, while Johnson gives them a solid wing defender, and Stephenson could be a big contributor off the bench if he haves a bounce-back campaign.
LA also re-signed Austin Rivers this weekend, which means the currently on-the-block Jamal Crawford will almost certain remain there, especially since the Clips have only replaced one of Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis, their two departed backup big men from last year, and they did it with Cole Aldrich. Expect at least another move in this area, even if it comes during the season.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks are sad in Dallas, and even though Mark Cuban has been fair and diplomatic (for him) publicly, there’s no denying how badly the Jordan decision messed up what they were trying to do for next season. Since then, they’ve settled on a trade for Zaza Pachulia and signed the mercurial Deron Williams after Brooklyn disliked him so much they bought him out when he had two years and over $40 million left on his deal. While they hung on to their commitment from Wesley Matthews, their other prized free-agent signee, they upped his contract to a max deal, and even he’s coming off an Achilles injury. Sadly, this sounds like it could be another very disappointing season for the Mavs.
San Antonio Spurs Put Together Historic Offseason
The Spurs are typically quiet during offseason free agency, sniping high-value targets that they believe can fit in their system. They have a strong player development system between this strategy and the draft that helps sustain the timeless core of Duncan-Parker-Ginobli.
This year, however, San Antonio went off-script a bit, making a serious all-in pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge that even including the salary-dumping of Tiago Splitter. They first re-signed Kawhi Leonard and breathed a sigh of relief when he accepted their max contract offer, before turning their attention to luring Aldridge.
Because it’s the Spurs, of course it worked out, and Aldridge immediately vaulted them back to elite contender status in the Western Conference, especially since they also hung onto Danny Green and also replaced much of their departed depth. While they had to relinquish Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph to fit Aldridge under the salary cap, they convinced former Pacer David West to play for the veteran’s minimum, then traded for Ray McCallum from Sacramento. What’s more, they should be able to keep Patty Mills and Boris Diaw as well, given that the recently announced $70 million cap for next season was higher than anticipated.
The small, team-friendly contracts that Duncan and Ginobli continue to sign would be remarkable enough alone, but the Spurs’ successful pursuit of the biggest name on the market this offseason, as well as their savvy ability to rebuild even in other areas they sacrificed, makes this a banner offseason for San Antonio, especially if it catalyzes another championship run.
Other Contenders Retain Crucial Players
Guys who chose to forego the drama of changing teams and instead accepted long-term, big-money deal from their incumbent teams included: Marc Gasol with the Grizzlies, Kevin Love with the Cavaliers, Draymond Green with the Warriors and Jimmy Butler with the Bulls.
B-List Free Agents Cashed In Before Rising Cap
With the salary cap rising almost by more than $30 million over the next two offseasons, this year’s contracts looked inflated under this year’s $70 million cap. Those deals will obviously only look high for one year before –– teams hope –– fitting in properly under the market value of the next couple seasons.
With the rising cap, some of these deal could look like bargains during the next few seasons, but there’s no doubt, many of these guys cashed in with the looming uncertainty of market prices. Check out these deals:
- Greg Monroe, 3 years, $51 million from the Milwaukee Bucks
- Brandon Knight, 5 years, $70 million from the Phoenix Suns
- Goran Dragic, 5 years, $86 million from the Miami Heat
- Paul Millsap, 3 years, $58 million from the Atlanta Hawks
- Reggie Jackson, 5 years, $80 million from the Detroit Pistons
- Khris Middleton, 5 years, $70 million from the Milwaukee Bucks
- DeMarre Carroll, 4 years, $60 million from the Toronto Raptors
- Wesley Matthews, 4 years, $70 million from the Dallas Mavericks
- Tobias Harris, 4 years, $64 million from the Orlando Magic
Most of these guys got the max contract they could have, or close to it, except for Carroll, but his $15 million salary with Toronto this year will be more than he’s made in the rest of his six years in the league combined. It was certainly a market in which teams were unafraid to spend money, especially to retain incumbent players they believed in. Carroll, Matthews and Monroe are the only three players here who changed teams, and age, injury and circumstance, respectively, had a strong hand in each of those situations.
Knicks and Lakers Settle for Plan B, Again
Once again, the Knicks and Lakers took aim at big-name free agents, and once again, they couldn’t find a way to consummate the agreement. Players like Aldridge, Jordan and Monroe spurned New York and Los Angeles for teams with better presentations in their meetings and better positions in the standings. Both of the storied clubs were forced to fall back on underwhelming secondary options.
The Knicks signed Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn all to multi-year contracts, while the Lakers inked Lou Williams and Brandon Bass and traded for Roy Hibbert. Neither teams’ offseason wound up being a complete failure, as all of those deals were fair money for solid NBA rotation players –– and even some upside, depending on how you feel about Williams or O’Quinn at this point –– but neither was a smashing success either, and both franchises seem to be approaching another transitional season as they continue to try to dig their way out from years of bad contracts and relying on prestige.
Other Notably Active Teams
- In trying to bounce back from the ugly public rift between George Karl and Boogie Cousins, the Kings spent some money in free agency, landing Rajon Rondo on a one-year deal, as well as inking Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli to multi-year contracts. Signing a strong backup big man and a proven bench scorer make far more sense than signing a point guard who can’t shoot coming off his worst year ever, but it’s certainly an interesting team (made even more interesting by the Andrea Bargnani signing), even though Sacramento dumped last year’s lottery selection Nik Stauskas and forwards Carl Landry and Jason Thompson in a salary-dumping deal to the 76ers. Hopefully the end-product will be something that suitably surrounds Cousins, but right now, it doesn’t look like it will be.
- Larry Bird and the Pacers were busy in their transition away from “smash mouth” basketball that revolves around length and size. After West opted out of his contract, the team signed Monta Ellis to boost their backcourt scoring, then found a way to unload Hibbert to the Lakers, which allowed them to re-sign Rodney Stuckey –– coming off a career year in Indiana –– and Lavoy Allen. Then, the team signed Jordan Hill and traded for Chase Budinger, who both fit into their “smaller, faster” mantra for next season, at least to some extent. Ellis is a solid piece even though he and Stuckey have some overlap, but both Hill and Budinger will have to prove their worth in Indiana. Bird has taken some risks in accelerating this transaction, but that team will definitely score some points, and he seems to be treating this as a transitional year to see what works in the Pacers’ new style before trying to make some more earnest moves under the new salary cap.
- After unloading Greivis Vasquez for a first-round pick (!) on draft night, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri continued another strong offseason with some great value free-agent signings, other than his potentially nutty signing of DeMarre Carroll, should Carroll’s three-point shooting regress. But adding Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola to that bench is good work, and Carroll should turn out to be a strong defensive complement to Toronto’s young wing players, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross.
- Other than having to bite the bullet on Deron Williams’s deal, the Nets also had a good offseason, somehow convincing Brook Lopez and Thad Young to stay in town while hitting the mark on their other smaller moves: trading for Steve Blake and signing Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin all to low-cost contracts with some upside. Finally, a decent offseason in Brooklyn –– just don’t take a look at their draft pick debits.