Report Card Grades for the Top 2014 NBA Free-Agent Signings
Not every free-agent signing made during the NBA's frenetic offseason is a good one.
Then again, it sure seemed as though the league was getting smarter during the frenzy of the summer of 2014, as the overpays largely involved role players and shooters. Many of those even made sense given the relevant rosters and team options included in contracts.
Fear not, though. I'm not handing out straight A's, much as I'm sure the league's GMs would love my across-the-board approval.
Given the length and size of the contracts, as well as the fits of some of these players, not every marquee signing made sense this offseason. Some were excellent, the majority were quality deals and a select few stood out in a negative way.
That said, let's avoid discussing the order of this countdown. It's taken straight out of Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster's rankings of the top 50 free agents, with those who haven't signed removed from this particular article.
Indulge me, and let's have the focus center around the merits of each signing, or lack thereof, not the order in which these 20 players appear.
20. P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns
Contract Details: Three years, $16.5 million
P.J. Tucker continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NBA, as few recognize the full extent of his talents. Not only is the forward capable of locking down on the defensive end—and, perhaps more importantly, actually enjoying that process—but he's a capable sharpshooter and one of the best rebounders at his position.
Last season, Tucker thrived in his limited role, connecting on 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc while taking 2.4 attempts per game. All the while, as shown by 82games.com, he held opposing 3s to a player efficiency rating of 15.4, faring even better when he shifted over to shooting guard.
There's no doubt the 6'5" Tucker is a valuable cog in the Phoenix rotation, especially at an average annual salary of $5.5 million. The only downside is how clogged those wing spots are, as Tucker isn't capable of playing power forward for extended periods.
Given Jeff Hornacek's desire to play two point guards and the need to get Gerald Green significant running space, he's not quite the impact player he could be.
19. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Contract Details: Four years, $32 million
If Avery Bradley is going to thrive for the Boston Celtics, it's not going to be while surrounded with the current roster.
Rajon Rondo is obviously the best player on the roster, and Marcus Smart is brimming over with potential. Those are the two guards who will end up receiving the most opportunities, even during the 2014-15 season, unless Rondo is traded for help at other positions in a way that alters the rebuilding process in a positive manner.
With that in mind, how can the C's justify giving Bradley $8 million per year, especially when that's paying more than market value for a player with huge limitations? The combo guard is a fantastic defender—one of the best in the league—and started developing more of a consistent shot last season, but dribbling tends to throw him off. That's usually problematic for a guard.
The price was the subject of much discussion, as Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe makes clear:
But a key factor, other league sources said, was Bradley’s market value. After former Lakers guard Jodie Meeks recently agreed to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million with the Pistons, it seemed likely Bradley’s price tag might increase. And apparently, it did.
"It’s fair both ways — if Meeks can get $19 million, then [Bradley’s salary] is about right," one source said.
That's not how it works.
Jodie Meeks was overpaid, and one player isn't a good justification for giving another too much money, especially when there was little rumored interest elsewhere before he was inked.
18. Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors
Contract Details: Three years, $16 million
The Golden State Warriors needed depth in the worst way.
During the 2013-14 season, the Dubs were often held back by the second unit. According to HoopsStats.com, Golden State's bench finished 23rd in both offensive and defensive efficiency, a stat made even worse when considering the non-starters spent more time on the court than only those from six other teams.
The backcourt was particularly problematic, as neither the incumbents nor the midseason additions made much of an impact. And that's where Shaun Livingston comes in.
With the ability to provide positive contributions either as a point guard or a shooting guard, the big guard is a versatile addition to Steve Kerr's arsenal, and he'll only get more dangerous if the legendary sniper can work on Livingston's perimeter shooting while serving as the head coach.
Livingston adds credibility to the Bay Area bench, and he's doing so for less than $6 million per year. It's hard to complain about that.
17/16. Patty Mills and Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs
Patty Mills' Contract Details: Three years, $12 million
Boris Diaw's Contract Details: Three years, $22.5 million
Let's not separate these two San Antonio Spurs, especially not after they spent the postseason teaming up on the court and off it to take part in TV interviews.
Boris Diaw and Patty Mills were both key contributors to the title-winning Spurs, the former with his versatile play and the latter with his ability to knock down shots from all over the court. They aren't the most heralded players, but they've each thrived in Gregg Popovich's system.
Why would they leave it?
Paying Diaw $22.5 million feels like a bit too much over the next three years, but that's in a vacuum. On the Spurs, he's worth more than that, especially since the franchise is saving money by rostering Tim Duncan on a discounted contract and retaining Mills' services for only $4 million per year.
It's time for another one of those grades the Spurs rack up during the offseason. And the regular season. And the postseason, for that matter.
15. Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: Two years, $11 million
How much does the 36-year-old Paul Pierce have left in the tank?
If the 2014 postseason was any indication, the answer is still a good bit, but not a lot. After all, "The Truth" averaged 13.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and posting a 15.1 PER, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Those are pretty average numbers, especially by his lofty standards.
Pierce was declining throughout his first and only season with the Brooklyn Nets, but he'll be filling an even more limited role with the Washington Wizards, one that will allow him to stave off Father Time for a while longer.
Problem is, he's a glamorous name, but he's a downgrade from Trevor Ariza, who escaped during the offseason. Pierce isn't a comparable perimeter shooter, though that could change with diminished offensive responsibilities, and he doesn't provide quite as much athletic defense.
The price is great. The name is great. The idea is great.
But the actual signing falls just short of that status until Pierce proves he can thrive as a true role player.
14. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
Contract Details: Four years, $32 million
Speaking of Trevor Ariza...
General manager Daryl Morey failed to land a star during the offseason, striking out on his ill-fated pursuit of Chris Bosh and then letting Chandler Parsons walk away without receiving anything but cap space in return. However, he flat-out nailed the contingency plan, which is admittedly only a Plan B.
Ariza fits in perfectly with the Rockets, as he's an upgrade over Parsons in two key areas: perimeter shooting and defense.
Though there's a chance some regression occurs when Ariza no longer has John Wall setting him up for open threes from the corner, he's still an elite shooter. And his defensive mentality isn't going anywhere, not now that he's developed into a locker room leader.
Of course, there will always be concerns that the small forward overperforms during contract years. After signing a four-year deal for a reasonable salary, one that came in well below the eight-figure market value, he's no longer playing in one.
13. Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
Contract Details: Three years, $22 million
Is Pau Gasol a fantastic value for the Chicago Bulls now that he's making only slightly more than $7 million during the average year of his new three-year deal? Without question.
Is he still a potential All-Star, blessed with a tremendous blend of skills that are certain to age well because they don't rely on athleticism? Certainly.
Is he going to team up with Joakim Noah to create some of the most beautiful basketball you've seen played by a pair of frontcourt players? There's no doubt about that.
Despite the laundry list of positives, there's still reason to be worried about this signing.
Gasol's defensive shortcomings are widely known at this point, leaving Tom Thibodeau to scheme around hiding him, just as he did with Carlos Boozer before the Spanish 7-footer arrived. And with him on the roster, how is Taj Gibson going to find his way onto the court as often as he should?
The defensive stopper deserved more playing time and a larger role in 2013-14, and now the Bulls are risking potential unhappiness by putting another stalwart into the frontcourt rotation.
12. Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets
Contract Details: Three years, $27 million
"It doesn't get any better for the Hornets, especially with the free-agent market drying up like prunes exposed to hours of sunlight," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale after Lance Stephenson completed his transition from the Indiana Pacers to the Charlotte Hornets. "Stephenson, who led the league in triple-doubles last year, is exactly the kind of two-way threat they can use."
It was a long and tumultuous offseason for the rising Eastern Conference franchise formerly known as the Bobcats. After signing Gordon Hayward to a max offer sheet and watching as the Utah Jazz retained the swingman, they had plenty of money to spend on a dwindling market.
But they still struck gold. Maybe.
There will always be questions about "Born Ready" until his antics disappear and he proves he's not going to disrupt one of the NBA's most stable locker rooms. However, there's no denying the two-way talent he flashed over and over while with the Pacers.
Making the signing—one that's a perfect fit from a basketball perspective—even better are the specifics.
"And the Hornets limit their downside, should Stephenson not work out," explains Rick Bonnell for The Charlotte Observer. "At $9 million per season and only two seasons guaranteed, Stephenson probably is tradable no matter how this turns out."
11. Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: Five years, $60 million
Do you care more about the present or the future?
If you worry more about the former, you probably love the Marcin Gortat signing.
After all, the Washington Wizards retained a key contributor for market value, keeping together most of a core that is primed to make a run at one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. Given his defense and pick-and-roll stylings, Gortat is absolutely worth the $10.4 million he'll make in 2014-15, per ShamSports.com.
If you worry more about the latter, you probably hate this deal.
The Polish big man will turn 31 during the 2014-15 campaign, and centers with this much size don't tend to age well. Signing him to a five-year deal was bad enough, and it's even worse that it's an escalating one, a contract that will pay him $13.6 million in 2018-19.
Yes, 2018-19. When Gortat will be 35.
The center is eventually going to have an albatross contract, and the amount of money he's making, especially when paired with the eventual Bradley Beal extension, will make it awfully difficult to lure a talent like Kevin Durant back to his hometown when that opportunity presents itself.
Let's see if you can tell which time period I'm more concerned with.
10. Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns
Contract Details: Four years, $27 million
In the B/R NBA 200 series, Isaiah Thomas checked in as the No. 15 point guard during the 2013-14 season, and he's young enough that he's only getting better. But now, let's take a gander at how the floor generals directly in front of him are going to be paid in 2014-15:
- Jeff Teague: $8 million
- Jrue Holiday: $10.4 million
- Deron Williams: $19.8 million
- Kemba Walker: $3.3 million
- Kyrie Irving: $7.1 million (with a five-year, $90 million extension looming)
Is someone starting to seem like a bargain?
Yes, Kemba Walker is certainly one, but Thomas is even more significant. Walker will soon ink a big extension in Charlotte, but this diminutive point guard is now locked in for four years at a bargain-bin price.
Given his fit in Jeff Hornacek's two-point guard system and his salary, as well as the fact that he was acquired in a sign-and-trade that didn't require the Phoenix Suns to give up anything significant for their team-building purposes, this is one of the offseason's best signings.
9. Luol Deng, Miami Heat
Contract Details: Two years, $20 million
Pat Riley didn't want to give up on competing after LeBron James left town, and Luol Deng was the best player he could have signed at that stage, especially when considering the supporting pieces were no longer as stellar.
Deng isn't without risk, though.
Two years and $20 million is a reasonable contract for a small forward of Deng's caliber, but he's an aging one, affected more by the savage grips of Father Time because Tom Thibodeau ran him to death for so many years. In the right system, under the right type of supervision, Deng can still look like a fringe All-Star, but is that the case for the Heat?
Though he's the best tertiary player they could've found, Deng is going to fill too large a role on offense, especially on a team without consistent point guard play and devoid of too many quality perimeter shooters. The value gives Riley a boost here, but perhaps it would've been better to take a step backward to take a bigger one forward in the future.
8. Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks
Contract Details: Three years, $46 million
Did the Dallas Mavericks overpay for Chandler Parsons? Yup.
However, they could afford to do so because Dirk Nowitzki took such a massive discount, and they had to in order to lure him away from the clutches of the Houston Rockets. Parsons might never be worth $15 million per year—not until he commits on defense night in and night out—but his value isn't too far below that number. And again, necessity forced the Mavericks' hand.
Nonetheless, Parsons should thrive alongside Dirk and Monta Ellis, filling a role similar to the one he played so well in while calling Houston home. Plus, now that he's tasked with so much more defensive responsibility and saddled with the expectations that come hand-in-hand with a massive windfall, he should be more willing to exert maximum energy on the less glamorous end.
"I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface as to how good I can be," Parsons told Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm an extremely hard worker, and I'm going to keep getting better and better every single day."
It's time to prove it. Actions speak louder than words, as you might've heard from your parents while growing up.
Hopefully Parsons did as well.
7. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Contract Details: Four years, $63 million
Gordon Hayward is not a max player.
The Utah Jazz could afford to make him one, though. When the Charlotte Hornets signed the developing swingman to a max offer sheet, the Jazz had the ability to match it because the entire roster is so young. Without any highly paid players on the books, one contract isn't going to be crippling, especially when attached to a player with as much potential as Hayward.
Generally, basketball fans fall in one of two camps when it comes to No. 20.
Some think he's massively overrated, the product of opportunity. They believe he's a player who puts up empty stats while serving as the top option for a team that really didn't have anyone who could help him out during any given outing. Others hold the opinion that his efficiency stats would look far better and help justify the max salary if his teammates were capable of drawing more defensive attention.
We'll find out soon enough, though I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle. That's usually the case, after all.
The Jazz are only going to get better as the young prospects develop into NBA-caliber players, and that'll reveal the true extent of Hayward's talents. Still, this is a big commitment to a relatively unproven commodity.
6. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Contract Details: Four years, $48 million
Kyle Lowry had a pretty shoddy reputation prior to the 2013-14 campaign. He was notoriously difficult to coach, tended to play better when money was on the line and wasn't an effective presence in the locker room.
That all changed with the Toronto Raptors.
Not only did the point guard want to return to the team, but he did so after leaving an indelible impression north of the border, one that showed—without a shadow of a doubt—he'd turned a new leaf and become a team-first player.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun has more details:
He limped before Game 4, during the game and after. Yet he found a way, somehow, to get enough leg push for two late giant buckets. One was a three-pointer. A difference-maker making a difference.
He does all of that while working with a coach he once butted heads with, with a general manager who knows how to anger him and motivate him all at the same time, with a young family that enabled him to mature and maybe turn his basketball life around. All that while inside a locker room and on the floor with a group of teammates he has come to admire and adore: A team like this in a place like this at a time like this is something he has never before experienced. It’s also something Toronto has rarely seen in these decades of sporting emptiness.
Now, Lowry is back as one of the best values of the free-agency period.
Perhaps I'm overly optimistic, but I have no worries about his ability to stay motivated now that he's on the books for the next four years. Everything changed for Lowry during his breakout season with the Raptors, and he's surely well aware that he's playing on a team with a legitimate shot to earn a top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Landing one of the Association's top 10 point guards for $12 million per year deserves top marks.
5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Contract Details: Two years, $31.1 million
It's time that the general public stops overreacting to Dwyane Wade's decline.
Yes, the veteran shooting guard is getting worse as he ages, and his knees don't bode well for his long-term future. But even if he failed to excel during the postseason and took quite a few maintenance days before the playoffs rolled around, Wade was still dominant when he spent time on the court.
Let's not forget that he averaged 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and earning a 22.0 PER, as shown by Basketball-Reference.com.
Any guess how many players submitted a 22 PER or higher while spending 30-plus minutes on the court during the average outing?
Doubt Wade at your own peril.
Pat Riley certainly didn't when making the 2-guard a leading face for the post-LeBron era, but he was smart about it. Just in case the decline comes faster than it should, Wade is operating on a two-year deal at a discounted rate.
4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Contract Details: Three years, $25 million
I understand if you think that's a typo.
Dirk Nowitzki's worth is closer to $25 million per year over three seasons than a total of $25 million over the same span. He's proved his loyalty to the Dallas Mavericks yet again by inking a ridiculous bargain of a contract to ensure his franchise has as much financial flexibility as possible.
There's sacrificing money for the team (which no player should have to do but can still choose to do), and then there's what Dirk did. That's such a massive discount that it can't just be called a sacrifice. A stronger word is needed.
As ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports, the legendary power forward could've been making max money next season:
Sources say that Nowitzki received strong interest in free agency from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers to leave Dallas for max-level money but refused to engage in negotiations with either team.
Nowitzki consented to such a steep pay reduction -- from last season's $22.7 million to the roughly $8 million he'll get for this coming season -- to give the Mavericks added flexibility to strengthen the supporting cast around him.
This cements Nowitzki as one of the most loyal and team-oriented superstars of all time.
Kudos to him, even if there's no shame in chasing the cash.
3. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Contract Details: Five years, $118 million
Chris Bosh absolutely thrived as the No. 3 option for the Miami Heat, and now he'll have a chance to be the top dog once more.
Ultimately, the stretchy power forward did what was best for his family, turning down a chance to fill in a hole for the Houston Rockets and form the league's best starting five so that he could remain in Miami, a city that adores him. He reciprocates that feeling, and it helps that he's making max money while keeping his family in South Beach.
But this isn't about Bosh; it's about the Heat.
Paying $118 million to a big man who isn't an excellent rebounder and hasn't served as a No. 1 player since leaving the Toronto Raptors is a risky proposition. Bosh could very well live up to the contract, but by committing so much money to him, Pat Riley is limiting what he can do elsewhere.
In some ways, he's turning the Heat into the new version of the pre-Danny Ferry Atlanta Hawks—a team that was mired in upper-level mediocrity because it couldn't accept a full rebuild when the situation called for one. It's hard not to admire Riley's tenacity, but this may prove to be a significant misstep a few years down the road.
2. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Contract Details: Five years, $124 million
The New York Knicks landed their primary target.
Well, I suppose he was also their only major target, seeing as the team was completely capped out regardless of whether Carmelo Anthony chose to return to Phil Jackson's organization.
And he did.
Ultimately electing to buy into the vision of the "Zen Master" and earn as much money as possible, Melo stayed on board for $124 million over five years. It might not be the best situation for him on the court, but it does allow him to keep his family in one place while remaining a part of the team he's wanted to help win a championship for so long.
For the Knicks, re-signing Anthony is a mixed bag.
On one hand, New York retained the best player it had access to, and it now has something to build around when big contracts come off the books going forward. But on the other hand, giving Anthony this much money could be a crippling investment, and that slightly tempers the positive vibes for the 'Bockers.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contract Details: Two years, $42.2 million
The Cleveland Cavaliers brought LeBron James home, and nothing else matters.
Even though he only signed a two-year deal with an opt-out clause after the first season, he still decided to take his talents out of South Beach and back to The Q. Even though the Cavs had to trade some of their depth to clear up space for LeBron's max deal, King James is returning home to finish what he started back in 2003.
The impossible became possible.
Nuances of LeBron's return have been discussed ad nauseam in plenty of other locations, so we'll keep it simple here. How could Cleveland get anything other than the top mark for making this type of move?