Best and Worst Value of Free-Agent Deals in Young 2013 NBA Offseason
The initial throes of NBA free agency occur in an odd limbo state, with a flurry of agreed transactions awaiting confirmation on July 10, the end of the league's moratorium on signings. In this limbo, the offseason has already seen an array of trades, bidding wars, re-signings and instances of "taking-my-talents-to."
With news around the league coming furiously by the hour, let's pause for a moment and examine which deals have yielded the best value so far in free agency, and which have left some fans holding their noses.
The value of free-agency signings can be measured in a variety of ways: dollar value relative to production, dollar value relative to market rate, years relative to age, player's fit in rotation, player's fit in franchise plan, etc.
Considering the stringent new collective bargaining agreement, buyers in the offseason must seek to address their needs while remaining frugal, as one bad contract can severely hamstring a franchise for years (see: Hedo Turkoglu, Amar'e Stoudemire).
Value is paramount.
With the above variety of factors as our criteria, here are nine of the best and worst free-agency values so far this offseason. Let's see who landed the sweetheart deals and who got fleeced.
Best: Darren Collison
Continuing their bonanza offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers nabbed Darren Collison with a two-year, $1.9 million deal, as reported by Sam Amick of USA Today. The deal gives Collison a player option in the second year if he pulls a Dwight Howard and decides he doesn't like L.A.
After the Clippers traded backup point guard Eric Bledsoe to land J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, they needed a competent PG to spell Chris Paul.
Collison played in 81 games for the Dallas Mavericks last season, starting 47. He tallied 12 points and 5.1 assists per game, and knocked down 88 percent of his foul shots. Collison will turn 26 years old as he enters his fifth season, and he'll get a fantastic chance to learn the craft behind CP3.
The deal fills a need for the Clips at a great value. Collison moves to a sure contender and should hone his skills under Doc Rivers.
Worst: David West
David West got the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately contract, agreeing on a three-year, $36 million deal to stay with the Indiana Pacers.
Let me be clear: In no way do I seek to impugn West's quality. He punished the New York Knicks and Miami Heat in the playoffs, and his tenacity complements his physicality to form a daunting frontcourt presence.
However, West's age is what makes this a bad signing. He will be 33 years old when he hits the court for next season, meaning Indy will be on the hook for an average of $12 million in the third year of this deal, when West will be 35.
Given his punishing presence, West's health through his mid-30s is cause for concern. He averaged a robust 17.1 points and 7.7 boards per game last season, but there's simply no way that holds up. Thirty-three is like AARP age in the NBA.
The Pacers really couldn't afford to let West walk, but that is certainly a lot of money to give someone that old. He probably held their feet to the fire as the postseason highlight reel played.
Best: Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin is the league's only U.S.-born player whose style seems to come straight from the Euroleague. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
While he's not the most exciting player to watch, and he can be maddeningly inconsistent, Martin has the uncanny ability to accumulate stats without anyone realizing it. Perhaps that's why the Oklahoma City Thunder let their sixth man walk out the door without much resistance.
Their loss is the gain of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who came to terms on a four-year, $28 million deal, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. With Martin, Minnesota gets a capable scorer and competent defender to help round out its rotation.
In their continuing bid to keep regal rebounder Kevin Love happy, the T-Wolves have bolstered their backcourt and given Ricky Rubio an efficient shooter to work with.
In 77 games off the bench for OKC, Martin averaged 45 percent from the field, 42.6 percent behind the arc and 89 percent from the line on his way to 14 points per game.
Minnesota also re-signed Chase Budinger and will now set its sights on retaining Nikola Pekovic. If it can hang onto its Montenegrin center—and it isn't beset by injuries yet again—this team will surely be a playoff contender.
Unfortunately, Martin is another player with a history of injuries, but the T-Wolves can't afford to stand pat. This was a solid move for the franchise and improves the team immediately at or near market value.
Worst: Tiago Splitter
OK, before you start freaking out, let me explain myself. I'm not questioning the San Antonio Spurs (they're the closest thing the league has to infallible) as much as the NBA market value on so-called "quality" big men.
The Spurs agreed to keep Tiago Splitter for four years and $36 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. That's right, Splitter will earn $9 million per year, and it's obviously a sensible move because the Spurs made it.
But I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here! Did anyone else watch the playoffs? Yes, Splitter was a big contributor to the Spurs' sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, but he followed that up with 34 points in seven NBA Finals games. His playing time decreased steadily with each game, and he finished with two points in four minutes in Game 7.
I understand that Splitter is a strong, physical presence on the block and can finish around the rim. I also have observed the Brazilian look like a lost tourist admiring a tall building on Fifth Avenue as he gets blown by on the pick-and-roll.
The problem with this deal has more to do with the fourth year than the $9 million per, as Splitter's Bird rights take the sting out of that a bit. This offseason alone, Paul Millsap got two years, Al Jefferson got three years and David West got three years. Splitter gets four?
Though Splitter is only 28 years old, the Spurs could be on the hook until 2017, at which point Splitter will be 32. By then, he'll look less like a tourist and more like the fake-statue street performers in Times Square. Except he'll be making $9 million instead of loose change.
Best: Jarrett Jack
Jarrett Jack finished up third in the voting for Sixth Man of the Year behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, so he figured to get a nice payday in free agency, whether or not he stayed in the Bay Area.
Instead, Jack agreed to a four-year, $25 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to the Associated Press.
The signing gives the Cavs one of the league's best young backcourts, similar to the one Jack just left. The 29-year-old will be the ancient veteran, as he joins two 21-year-olds in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Cleveland gets a better player than Kevin Martin for less money, so it's a major victory for them. If No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett is who they think he is, and if Tristan Thompson proves last year was no fluke, the Cavs will be headed directly to the playoffs every season for a while to come.
Jack has a vast arsenal, as he can play at the 1 or 2, and he doesn't shy away from the clutch shot. He may have to do so now, as Cleveland is Irving's town, but don't be surprised to see him on the court in late-game situations in favor of Waiters.
Worst: Josh Smith
Why the Detroit Pistons would want to sign Josh Smith for four years and $56 million is completely beyond me.
I can understand a playoff team locking him up, as Smith's impressive all-around contributions could be the thing to vault a good team from playoff contender to title contender. Josh compiled some fine stats to the tune of 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game last season.
But he also saw his free-throw percentage drop to 51.7, even though his career average is 65.4 percent. And Smith fumbled away three turnovers a night, his highest total in five seasons. This is also a guy who bricked a between-the-legs dunk in a playoff game.
He has never made an All-Star team, yet he's getting $14 million a year. Perhaps that's why current playoff contenders walked away.
Puzzlingly, Detroit will have to shift Smith to the 3 if it wants to start its talented pair of young bigs, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. The problem is that Smith is too slow and not a good enough shooter to play at the 3. The move crowds the rotation and locks up a significant portion of Detroit's money for four years, even though the Pistons appear unlikely to contend this season.
Best: J.R. Smith
In the end, the New York nightlife proved too alluring for J.R. Smith to entertain moving anywhere else. After all, like Smith himself, it's the city that never sleeps.
The man some call "J.R. Swish" decided to stay with the New York Knicks, who got an excellent bargain for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year at four years and $25 million, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports.
The Knicks would have had no way to replace Smith's scoring if he had opted to relocate, so it's a major boon for a team that had precious little money to spend. Smith averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and he played pestering defense off the bench as a super-sub.
While he did shoot just 33 percent in the postseason and struggled mightily for long stretches, the Knicks ended up getting the league's best sixth man for cheaper than either Jarrett Jack or Kevin Martin.
They will have to hope that Smith got that postseason funk out of his system, as they will need him to attack the rim and get in rhythm for their next playoff campaign.
Worst: Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson was one of the biggest fish in the free-agent pool this year, despite the fact that he doesn't seem interested in attempting to play defense all the time.
That's why it makes perfect sense that the Charlotte Bobcats would pay him $40.5 million over three years, according to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. Which is to say, it makes no sense at all. The 28-year-old joins a 61-loss team with virtually zero chance of making the playoffs during the life of the contract.
Perhaps Jefferson is planning on pursuing a championship as a bench player in his mid-30s, because there's no danger of that happening with the Bobcats.
It's not that Jefferson didn't earn the money, as he is a productive player on the offensive end with the footwork of a ballerina on the block. He racked up 17.8 points, 9.2 boards, 1.1 blocks and one steal per game in 78 starts last season. So why not take that production to a contender for slightly less money?
According to 82games.com, Jefferson allowed opponents a player efficiency rating of 17.3 at center and 22.6 at power forward. The league average PER is 15. A PER of 22.6 would have ranked as the second-best among all power forwards behind Tim Duncan.
Oh, and Charlotte has allowed the most points per 100 possessions in the league for each of the last two seasons. I'm literally shaking my head.
Best: Chris Paul
In a refreshing change of pace, a franchise moved heaven and earth to get a player who was actually worth it.
The Los Angeles Clippers locked up Chris Paul for five years and $107 million, securing the linchpin of their franchise for a prolonged pursuit of a title. Even at the eye-popping price tag, this is still the best value deal of the offseason.
Coming on the heels of their first-round flub in the postseason, the front office gave coach Vinny Del Negro the clip and swung a stunning agreement with the Boston Celtics to get Doc Rivers, he of the swarming defense and championship ring.
With a title-pedigree coach in place, CP3 happily signed on to stay with LAC. Losing Paul would have been crippling to the Clips, but now they are sitting pretty and poised to contend for a title for the next half-decade at least.
They also jettisoned Caron Butler's contract in the trade that exchanged backup PG Eric Bledsoe for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. And the Clippers re-signed Matt Barnes. And they snagged Darren Collison to replace Bledsoe, so now they don't have a potent talent stuck behind Paul, but instead a reasonably priced and capable backup.
The Clippers have stacked up their team around the league's best point guard, and they may have discovered the formula to deliver the first championship in franchise history.
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