Today’s Fastbreak looks at some of the best bargains in spite of a money crazy NBA free-agency period. This edition is on Golden State’s acquisition of Zaza Pachulia.
It has been a record-breaking summer on all levels in the NBA, with contracts that have to be seen to be believed handed out. Guys that once made little more than the mid-level exception now have more money than they know what to do with, as their salaries have jumped to eight-figure sums.
Other players haven’t been so fortunate. Perhaps because of injuries; perhaps because of reputation. Or just maybe it’s that they haven’t quite gotten the appreciation they deserve.
Whatever the reasoning, there are those who haven’t quite gotten the money their talents deserve, and as a result, some teams have gotten lucky, picking themselves up a serious bargain contract.
The rich got richer this summer in Oakland. The Bay Area is enjoying a wealth of talent, and this is more than just Kevin Durant. Dallas Mavericks big man Zaza Pachulia walked in free agency, signing on to the Warriors’ title charge in perhaps the biggest bargain of the summer. The big man from Georgia inked a one-year, $2.9 million deal with the record-setting franchise.
Despite interest from the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets and a reported two-year, $20 million offer from the Washington Wizards, the former second-round pick bet on himself and his new star teammates by making the move to Golden State. It seems money couldn’t buy happiness for the Georgian.
Of taking a pay cut, Pachulia said this to Jimmy Durkin of The Mercury News: “I made a decision. I’m proud of my decision. I’m happy with it. I’m never going to look back.”
The Wizards ended up choosing a four-year deal with Ian Mahinmi worth $64 million, and it didn’t matter because when the Warriors made their move, Pachulia simply wanted to be wanted:
“My agent called me and told me the options I had and the team had interest in me,” Pachulia said. “I talked to coach (Steve) Kerr and he told me I was his first option. It was a very exciting moment for me. It always great to feel that you’re wanted by somebody, especially when you’re talking about a team like the Golden State Warriors.”
It seems like a no-brainer to make a decision like that, but to leave that much money on the table is tough. However, if Pachulia (his country’s most successful NBA export) brings a title to his home country, he’ll be a national hero and never need another cent.
Players with Pachulia’s skill set generally get paid eight figures in the modern market, not the room exception of $2.9 million. That is the NBA’s version of thievery.
The man once drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2003 will replace the departed Andrew Bogut as part of the Warriors’ cleanup crew, doing the dirty work that allows the rest of the team’s beautiful offense to orchestrate itself. He’ll set the screens, take the hits and do all the things that made his predecessor so appreciated.
He won’t be able to replace the Australian’s rim protection, but considering Draymond Green’s prowess, Ron Adams’ defensive scheme will only need a slight adjustment. They also added one of the more flexible defenders in the league in Durant over the summer, who proved his versatility and surprisingly effective rim protection against the Warriors themselves in the postseason.
Anderson Varejao also signed on for another year in the Bay, so there is the argument that this is one area teams could exploit going forward. Neither player offers much offensively or in terms of rim protection. However, the Warriors have so much versatility on the defensive end and unstoppable offensive firepower that it’s likely not going to matter.
Pachulia is the perfect fit into what coach Steve Kerr wanted this offseason knowing the salary cap squeeze that would come with Durant’s impending arrival. The big man needs next to no offensive touches, with lots of his baskets coming from cleanup work under the basket.
He averaged 8.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in a very good year in Dallas, offering a bruising presence on the front line to allow Dirk Nowitzki to stick to what he does best offensively without taking big hits under the basket.
Pachulia’s 12.9 rebounds per 36 minutes were eighth-best in the NBA among regular rotation players (1000 minutes or more), while also being eighth in rebound percentage under the same criteria. His 26 double-doubles placed him 23rd in the entire league. He was also one of the league’s best offensive rebounders, ranking seventh in offensive rebounding percentage. By comparison, Bogut was ranked 34th with just 9.5 percent.
Losing Bogut’s superb passing hurts, but Pachulia is an underrated passer. While not utilized in Dallas to the same extent, the Georgian’s passing game was a key feature of his play in his two-year Milwaukee stint, and that should be helpful with Golden State.
The best part of Pachulia’s acquisition is that the versatile and superstar-laden Warriors can play to his strengths. It is not set in stone whether or not he will be a starter, but if they need his size and presence he can offer that. If Andre Iguodala needs to start or come on the floor and they go small, the big man can sit.
Like all players seemingly on this team nowadays, his strengths will come to the fore. His unselfishness has been praised in days gone by, and it will be a welcome addition where unselfishness is an embedded part of the team’s identity. Former teammate Dirk Nowitzki praised Pachulia in early January, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:
“He literally chest bumps me harder when somebody else scores,” Nowitzki said. “He’s unselfish. He wants the team to win. When he has zero points, he’s as happy as when he has a double-double. He’s a team guy.”
Zaza in the Bay just seems like a perfect fit. And at the pay cut that he was willing to take, it might mean he’s the summer’s best bargain of all.