Top 5 Best and Worst Free Agency Moves

by Robert Petrosyan

Continuing right where the trade deadline left off, the NBA’s off-season got off to an exciting start. With over a billion dollars in deals being given out, there were many huge signings, both to retain key players, and acquire pieces for a title run. For this list, we will focus only on signings involving a player moving to another team, so we won’t be seeing the likes of Anthony Davis or Brook Lopez on this list. With that being said, let’s see the best and worst deals that have happened so far.

5th Worst: DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors for 4 years, $60 million

After a breakout season, DeMarre Carroll finally got his payday with a long term and lucrative deal. It wasn’t with the Hawks, but the Toronto Raptors are a solid playoff contender and they are filling their biggest need with this acquisition. Whether its been Terrence Ross or James Johnson, the 3 was by far the weakest position north of the border, and that weakness was exploited by Paul Pierce and the Wizards, who swept them in the first round of the playoffs. Carroll, as an archetypical 3 and D wing, seems like a perfect fit. So why is he the fifth worst acquisition?

While the salary cap is set to rise in the next couple years, paying $15 million per year for DeMarre Carroll is still to much to pay for someone who was fifth fiddle on his team. He benefited from having four All-Stars as teammates, and a good system of offensive distribution. He’s not one to create his own shots, as 82% of his shots are assisted. He won’t have the same conveniences in Toronto, where only Kyle Lowry could be considered a true distributor. Even if Carroll does manage to replicate last year’s production, he will need more than his 13 points and 5 rebounds per game to justify his price tag.

5th Best: Gary Neal to the Washington Wizards for 1 year, $2.1 million

There were a lot of excellent big money acquisitions this week, but we will begin with one of the best bargains in free agency. Gary Neal used to be one of the best bench players on the San Antonio Spurs, but he endured a shaky two years after leaving for the Bucks. The Bucks traded him to Charlotte and the Hornets traded him to Minnesota, where he had a respectable finish to the season, with career highs in points and minutes. However, he did not have enough of a performance to warrant a multiyear deal. What Neal needs is an audition for a good team that can utilize his skill set without putting too much pressure on the spot shooter.

This is a match made in heaven for both teams, as the versatile Gary Neal will likely be the sixth man for a team capable of contending in the East. He will get a lot of open looks from beyond the arc, and Neal could parlay a good year into a major payday come 2016. For the Wizards, getting someone with experience and long range proficiency like Neal for around $2 million is a steal. While Gary Neal can’t replace what Paul Pierce brought to the team, getting Neal on the cheap leaves enough cap room for the Wizards to bring in someone like  Jared Dudley, which would bring their bench, and the team as a whole, to the next level.

4th Worst: Al-Farouq Aminu to the Portland Trail Blazers for 4 years, $30 million

Al-Farouq Aminu was a decent role player for the Mavericks, but this contract is hardly one that can be justified. Aminu is a good defender but with 6 points per game and a 28% 3 point percentage, he’s nonexistent offensively. He is too one dimensional to be a starter, and yet Portland paid him starter money. I know Portland got wrecked by free agency but they would have been much better off spending that $30 million on someone who can start, or at least someone with a more balanced skill set, because there is only so much offensive pressure that Damian Lillard can handle.

Aminu would have been much better off being a role player for a contending team. With the moves the Mavericks have been making, it would have made perfect sense for the defensively adept forward to stay in Dallas. However, one can hardly blame Aminu for taking Portland’s comparatively lucrative offer. An optimist’s view is that the 24 year old still has plenty of room to grow and that he has a Draymond Green-esque skill set. However, he hasn’t shown too much offensive development in his five years in the NBA so far, and Portland’s money would have been invested much better elsewhere.

4th Best: David West to the San Antonio Spurs for 1 year, $1.4 million

This was a more recent deal that was completed after I finished writing this article, but this deal is too good to leave it off the list. Getting David West for the veteran’s minimum? When San Antonio goes all in on free agency, they go ALL IN. David West is 35 years old, and declined last season at Indiana, but he’s still at the very least an $8 million a year player. However, West wants to go out with a ring, and he was willing to sacrifice the green for the gold, as demonstrated by his rejection of a $12.6 million player option.

As a Spur, he won’t be a starter, but he could still play a big role off the bench behind Tim Duncan and the newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge. The most likely scenario is that he could absorb some of the minutes that were taken up by Tiago Splitter, who was traded to Atlanta in a salary dump. At 6′ 9″, West can’t play center, but he could put up meaningful minutes at the 4 alongside Duncan or Aldridge in a David Lee-like role. With Manu Ginobili also slated to return for another season, the Spurs would sport one of the best benches in the NBA, competing with the likes of Cleveland and Golden State on all fronts.

3rd Worst: Aron Baynes to the Detroit Pistons for 3 years, $20 million

Aron Baynes had a decent spell as a backup big man in San Antonio. He’s someone who could provide about 15 to 20 front-court minutes per game off the bench. But he’s not a player worth this kind of contract, and its a total mystery why Detroit would overpay to this degree. Losing Greg Monroe leaves a huge hole for the Pistons, and its not one that Baynes is capable of filling. Baynes brings size and a decent post game to the end of a bench’s rotation, but Detroit could have gotten that for a lot less than $20 million, especially when considering Baynes’ defensive limitations.

While this isn’t nearly as criminal of an overpay as Detroit’s infamous max contract to Josh Smith, this was still a financially imprudent move that takes away from other much needed improvements Detroit could have made. At the very least, the Pistons could have used the $20 million to acquire someone younger (Baynes is 28) who could develop into a potential starter. Or better yet, they could have spent less on the backup center position and focused on finding a starter at small forward. Maybe Aron Baynes steps up in a big way for Detroit, but judging from Jodie Meeks, the last bench player to get overpaid by the Pistons in free agency, that is unlikely.

3rd Best: Greg Monroe to the Milwaukee Bucks for 3 years, $50 million

Greg Monroe was arguably the most likely player to change teams this offseason, but his choice of team was a surprise. Despite being connected to the Knicks for most of the season and also receiving a max offer from the Lakers, Monroe chose the max deal offered by the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were never known as a marquee free agency destination, and small market teams rarely get free agents of Monroe’s stature. However, as important as being in a big market is, it can’t replace franchise direction, and unlike the rudderless ships of the Knicks, Lakers and Blazers (who also put forward a max offer), the Bucks are a team that has the potential to be great, whether in Milwaukee, or elsewhere in case they move.

Greg Monroe joins a team with one of the best young cores in the NBA. Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are exciting young and very versatile players that can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4. Michael Carter-Williams is more of a question mark, but at his worst he’s still a starting caliber player, and a full year with the “Point Guard Whisperer” Jason Kidd should take his game up a notch. Make no mistake, bringing in Greg Monroe is a win not just for the Bucks, but also for small market teams who have either lost superstars (Minnesota) or are threatened by a potential free agency exodus (OKC). If moves like this become a trend, the league will become more competitive for it.

2nd Worst: Amir Johnson to the Boston Celtics for 2 years, $24 million

After the Celtics made a surprise playoff appearance, there were rumors of them snagging a star in free agency to take the team to the next level. However, they missed out on guys like Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan, so they compensated by adding Amir Johnson. Amir is someone who is good enough to start, and was a decent rim protector at Toronto. However, there was a reason Toronto didn’t re-sign him. He doesn’t bring much in terms of blocks, and has suffered nagging injuries in each of the last three years. And paying $12 million a year for Amir is about $4 million too much.

Most importantly, this trade stifles the development of Boston’s contingent of young and promising big men. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are both hitting critical points in their development, and bringing in Amir Johnson takes away much needed playing time from the two youngsters (trading for David Lee doesn’t help either). Boston would have been much better off bringing back Brandon Bass, someone who knows the Celtics’ system and can split time with the youngsters more effectively. He also could have been had for almost half the price that Amir was acquired for. At the very least, however, there seems to be a team option for the second year, so the Celtics could cut and run if they need cap space to sign a superstar next year.

2nd Best: DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks and then back to the Los Angeles Clippers for 4 years, $88 million

Remember when I said there won’t be any re-signings on this list. Well, this is different. After a seemingly done deal with Dallas, DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart and the Clippers sent an entire delegation to Jordan’s house in Houston in order to convince him to re-sign with Los Angeles.  In a way, it was the Clippers wh0 sought to acquire DeAndre. After much convincing and shutting out Mavericks from getting the last word, DeAndre Jordan re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers right then and there. The controversial nature of his return is one that has a lot of opinions, whether you’re a relieved Clippers fan or an angry Mavs fan, and we’ve even written an article with our thoughts on the matter. But for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on how it impacts both teams on the court.

Dallas had thoughts of moving up in the Western hierarchy when grabbing DeAndre Jordan, as a combo of DeAndre Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki is one that has every fundamental of the NBA down. Dallas would have a star on both offense, defense, the post and the perimeter. The Clippers, meanwhile, were slated to fall to playoff bubble status. However, now that the Clippers have DeAndre back, they are once again playoff contenders, especially with the addition of Paul Pierce and the prospective reclamation of Lance Stephenson. They still have a lack of frontcourt depth and a spectacular playoff collapse against Houston to overcome, but they should be good enough for 55 victories next year. The Mavericks, on the other hand, are now a team on an extreme slide. Without DeAndre, Dallas does not have a center, and there isn’t much left on the free agency market at the position. They still have Wesley Matthews, albeit on a max deal, and are rumored to be in the market for the newly bought out Deron Williams. However, even with those additions, the Mavericks are no longer a favorite to make the playoffs, especially with rising teams like OKC and Utah looking to take over.

Worst Acquisition: Rajon Rondo to the Sacramento Kings for 1 year, $9.5 million

This acquisition has an even mix of lovers and haters, but personally, I would have to put myself firmly against this acquisition. Simply put, this is a lose-lose for the Kings. At his worst, Rondo would be no different from his form last season. He would be a net negative on the floor, like he was for Boston and Dallas, and he would be a headache for coach George Karl and the rest of the locker room. As if the Kings didn’t have enough distractions with DeMarcus Cousins and the rest of the general dysfunction in Sacramento. A disappointing performance from Rondo next year may be what it takes for the Kings to give up on its current core and start from scratch a la the Philadelphia 76ers [shudders].

However, even if Rondo returns to form next year and goes back to being a nightly triple double threat, this would be a bad deal for the Kings. Such a performance would make Rondo a candidate for a max contract next season, and not only would the Kings be unlikely to match such a contract, but Rondo wouldn’t take the offer anyway. Sacramento isn’t exactly a stable environment for franchise development, and as we learned from the Kings’ failed attempt to grab Tobias Harris with a max deal, even a major overpay isn’t enough to land a top shelf free agent. A resurgent Rondo would be a sure flight risk. The Kings did minimize risk by paying below $10 million for a one year deal, but they also minimized any long term reward they would get in the event Rondo pans out. Whether Rondo succeeds in Sacramento would depend a lot on whether DeMarcus Cousins remains a King. Either way, however, the Kings lose with this deal.

Best Acquisition: LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs for 4 years, $80 million

Was there any doubt? With Aldridge, not only are the Spurs in the mix to be title favorites, but they have two stars to build around once their current Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Manu retire. A core centered around LaMarcus Aldridge and re-signed forward Kawhi Leonard could keep the Spurs competitive for another 5 to 10 years, while also making them Western Conference favorites in the short term. The Spurs rarely make free agent splashes, especially not for someone of Aldridge’s stature, so we know Gregg Popovich has huge plans for the former Blazer. Given his high basketball IQ, passing ability, and post game, Aldridge should mesh well with front-court buddy Tim Duncan and the rest of the Spurs.

LaMarcus Aldridge was initially slated to re-sign with the Blazers and become the “Best Blazer of all time” but another playoff collapse proved to be the undoing of his Portland tenure. The thought of playing for a top tier contender in his home state was too alluring to refuse, and no big market offers from New York or LA were going to change that. This was a big loss for Portland, as it is now highly unlikely that they make it to the playoffs with four of their five starters gone in free agency. For the Spurs, this move puts them ahead of the Golden State Warriors for the position of Western Conference favorites, and it represents LMA’s best chance at finally snagging a championship ring.

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