Most Overpaid and Underpaid Players of 2014 NBA Free Agency
Not every free agent lands a contract perfectly tailored to his talents, age and fit with his new (or old) roster. Inevitably, some players emerge from the summer festivities as massive steals, while others are so overpaid they might as well join a club populated by Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Gilbert Arenas, Gerald Wallace and so many others.
But, among the 2014 crop, who fits into each category?
Though the NBA's general managers tended to make reasonable signings throughout this offseason, they were by no means perfect. Overpaying didn't run as rampant this summer as it has in years past, but there are still a handful of players who should be counting their blessings.
So, what goes into determining a player's worth?
His age matters, as does his track record and the amount of untapped potential he has left in the tank. So too does his fit with the roster he's joining, his expected role and the structure of the deal.
In short, everything gets factored into the equation.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Overpaid: Marcin Gortat
New Team: Washington Wizards
Contract Details: Five years, $60 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 17.6 PER
Marcin Gortat's contract isn't terrible.
With an average of $12 million per year (even though the deal is an escalating one), the front end of the Polish Hammer's new agreement with the Washington Wizards is right in line with his on-court value. He's a quality defensive presence in the paint who can be relied upon for offensive contributions—especially in the pick-and-roll game—and plenty of work on the boards.
However, his impact is predicated on athleticism and physicality, which doesn't bode well for his future.
Gortat will be 36 years old when his contract comes to a close, and the big men who play his brand of basketball and have lasted that long are few and far between. Plus, he'll be making the most money during that final season, which will also happen to coincide with when he's least effective.
The Wizards are going into win-now mode, and bringing Gortat back was a necessity. However, including options at the tail end of the contract, ensuring that it followed a declining scale and limiting the length/amount of money he'd be paid would have allowed this to be viewed in a much more positive light.
If you're a Wizards fan, enjoy the present but be scared of how this looks down the road.
Underpaid: Lance Stephenson
New Team: Charlotte Hornets
Contract Details: Three years, $27 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 14.7 PER
With Lance Stephenson, you sometimes have to take the good with the bad.
His antics against LeBron James and the Miami Heat depressed his free-agency value, but he was playing like a guy worth eight figures per year before the postseason began. Stephenson might be a distraction in the locker room—and on the court—but he's also entering a culture with the Charlotte Hornets that's conducive to success.
Under Steve Clifford, the former Bobcats became an incredibly cohesive bunch. There was no fighting in the locker room nor were any distractions allowed. Only winning mattered, and that's the type of environment that "Born Ready" needs to be a part of.
Lest we forget just how much he can bring to the table, Stephenson is a shot-creating scoring threat who can facilitate from the 2-guard spot while locking down on defense and establishing himself as one of the best rebounding guards in recent memory. That's a deadly combination, especially if he can be taught to do away with the overdribbling and one-on-one plays that he's so fond of.
There's no doubt that $9 million per year is a great value for Stephenson, especially if (maybe when?) he puts everything together and gains consistency. He's only 23 years old, and there were lengthy flashes in 2013-14 in which he looked like a future max player.
Overpaid: Gordon Hayward
New Team: Utah Jazz
Contract Details: Four years, $63 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.2 PER
Speaking of max players...
Gordon Hayward is a unique case, largely because it's so difficult to figure out what type of player he is. He's put up impressive stats in the scoring, rebounding and passing columns but has also been quite inefficient. He regressed majorly in all shooting areas when he became a featured option, which could mean one of two things.
On one hand, it's possible that Hayward needs protection in the lineup and will excel when better teammates are drawing defensive attention. On the other hand, he might not be capable of carrying a team and excelling as a No. 1 option.
And that's the problem with the max deal he just received.
The Utah Jazz were forced into matching it when he signed an offer sheet with the Hornets, but it put them into a pickle. He's not worth the max at this stage and has to be that top offensive option to justify his money, something he won't get a chance to do for years. This squad is still so young, and while it's brimming over with potential, bottom-feeding status is likely to be achieved once more in 2014-15.
Of course, Utah's front office did what it had to do. Matching him was a smart decision, if only because it was the lone choice that made sense given the Jazz's current financial situation: unable to lure marquee free agents and devoid of big contracts on the books.
But that doesn't mean the 24-year-old swingman isn't one of the NBA's most overpaid players.
Underpaid: Rodney Stuckey
New Team: Indiana Pacers
Contract Details: One year, $915,243
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 14.0 PER
Rodney Stuckey is worth more than that veteran's minimum contract in a vacuum, and the Indiana Pacers now offer him an opportunity to prove his worth and then some.
In the wake of Paul George's devastating leg injury while scrimmaging with Team USA, and especially after the loss of Stephenson to Charlotte, the Pacers don't have any scorers. Their top three returning contributors are...wait for it...David West (14.0 points per game), Roy Hibbert (10.8) and George Hill (10.3).
Think about that.
The three best incumbent scorers are a 33-year-old power forward on the decline, a big man known for his defense and putrid offense and a point guard the team has been trying to replace throughout the offseason.
None of the three aforementioned players can create their own shot, and Stuckey is the best incoming addition. He might not be a star player, but he's going to have to challenge 20 points on a nightly basis to keep the Indiana offense afloat. Even that might not be enough, but there will be no shortage of opportunities for Stuckey, whose driving skills are arguably the best offensive weapon on the entire roster at this point.
How many players on a minimum deal can claim that?
Overpaid: Jodie Meeks
New Team: Detroit Pistons
Contract Details: Three years, $19 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
The Detroit Pistons went from having virtually no shooting on the roster to claiming an abundance of it from the wing positions.
Even looking past the expected development of summer league standout Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons drafted Spencer Dinwiddie and signed D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin, all of whom can capably connect from the perimeter.
Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes masterfully broke down how this summer proved the royal nature of shooting in the current iteration of the NBA, and it was Meeks who would make Malcolm Gladwell proud. After all, he emerged as the tipping point:
The premium on shooting in the NBA has quietly become a bigger story over the past decade or so, but it reached a point at which it was no longer possible to ignore during this summer's free-agency period.
For posterity, we'll call that point 'The Jodie Meeks Watershed.'
The Detroit Pistons agreed to pay Meeks $18.8 million on a three-year contract at the outset of the July free-agency period, an eye-opening deal for a player who had collected just $5.3 million in his first five NBA seasons combined.
Even Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and president of basketball operations, came close to admitting that Meeks—a limited player who benefitted from playing under Mike D'Antoni and receiving extra minutes on a weak roster—was overpaid.
"So I'm not gonna say overpay, but you have to be more aggressive," SVG told Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News. "You don’t want to sit back waiting and everybody else is showing the same level of interest you are."
The Pistons definitely didn't wait. They pounced, setting a tone for the offseason that didn't apply universally.
Underpaid: Ed Davis
New Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Contract Details: Two years, $2 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.9 PER
The Los Angeles Lakers' frontcourt is prohibitively crowded, but that doesn't mean this is anything but a ridiculous value for a young talent like Ed Davis.
Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre will surely make playing time hard to come by, but new head coach Byron Scott is already working toward establishing a meritocracy. As Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders noted, Scott explained at his introductory presser that Randle can earn a starting gig by outplaying the competition, and it's hard to believe that only applies to the promising rookie.
Davis is just 25 years old, and he's consistently put up excellent per-minute numbers. Last season, he averaged 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, and those numbers were actually down from what he produced in 2012-13 while splitting time between the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies.
He's an efficient offensive player who does work on the glass and plays solid defense, which should fit in well with the mentality Scott is trying to implement in Tinseltown. On a contract worth $2 million over the course of two seasons, the latter of which will likely see him play without Boozer stealing minutes, that's quite valuable.
"Someone call the cops. Free agency has been burglarized—ransacked of logic and sensibility," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale right after the Davis signing was announced. "Our culprit is the Los Angeles Lakers, who stole—yes, stole—Ed Davis from the open market."
The subsequent waiver claim of the former Chicago Bulls power forward will make it harder for Davis to shine, but that doesn't change the value of his contract. He'll prove that in year two, even if his first go-round with the Lake Show is more underwhelming.
Overpaid: Avery Bradley
New Team: Boston Celtics
Contract Details: Four years, $32 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.7 PER
Avery Bradley benefited from a shallow backcourt last season, putting up impressive stats while the Boston Celtics were piling up the losses. When he was playing alongside Rajon Rondo, he wasn't nearly as good.
Below you can see his per-36-minute marks when Rondo was on and off the court, via NBA.com's statistical databases:
The Celtics are paying for the player who thrives when Rondo isn't on the court—except the All-Star point guard will be healthy and raring to go in 2014-15. He's still the face of the franchise, and even if he's dealt during the beginning of the season or the stretch run of the summer, Marcus Smart will just take over and continue to provide no floor spacing for Bradley.
What makes this worse is that the signing came out of nowhere.
The C's could have waited for Bradley to sign an offer sheet and either match a better value or let him escape as an overpaid defensive specialist. Instead, they jumped the gun and overpaid for him.
Bradley's defense is valuable, but his 2013-14 offense should stand out as a circumstantial fluke now that Rondo and Smart are set to take over in Beantown.
Underpaid: Isaiah Thomas
New Team: Phoenix Suns
Contract Details: Four years, $27 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 20.5 PER
Isaiah Thomas is now one of the most underpaid players in the NBA, at least among those not operating on a rookie-scale deal. Even though he's established himself as an elite offensive option, becoming one of the handful of players to average 20 points and six dimes per game last season, he's just not receiving that type of monetary compensation.
Want to blame his defense? Well, it's not that bad.
The diminutive point guard isn't an average stopper, thanks primarily to his height, but he's such a hard-working player on the less glamorous end of the court that he's managed to avoid becoming a complete liability. According to 82games.com, he held opposing 1s to a player efficiency rating of 14.5 in 2013-14, and Basketball-Reference.com reveals that the Sacramento Kings actually allowed 3.9 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.
Effort pays off, and that's just one more reason why Thomas is massively underpaid. He's a borderline elite point guard who's only 25 years old, and he's making less money per year than Avery Bradley.
And Marvin Williams, Jordan Hill, Channing Frye, Boris Diaw, Trevor Ariza and Lance Stephenson from this free-agency class alone.
Overpaid: Chris Bosh
New Team: Miami Heat
Contract Details: Five years, $118 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.0 PER
Is Chris Bosh worth a max deal? It depends.
On a team that's competing for a championship and hoping to roster him as a second or third option, absolutely. In other words, he would've been well worth that deal had LeBron James returned to the Miami Heat rather than departing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But on a squad that promises to feature him as the No. 1 option? That's a lot more iffy.
Bosh is no longer a high-quality rebounder, though playing closer to the basket would certainly help his stats look a little more impressive. He's also not going to serve as a rim-protecting big who can bang around in the post, even if he's an underrated defender.
The 30-year-old big man isn't at risk of a precipitous age-related fall from grace, seeing as his game is predicated on finesse rather than athleticism, but it's also been a long time since he carried a team on his shoulders over the course of a season. After all, that was LeBron's job over the past four seasons.
This is by no means a horrible deal, if only because Pat Riley made it—in part—to keep Miami relevant and in the postseason hunt. A three-man core of Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng is certainly a playoff-caliber one, even if the ceiling falls well short of a championship.
However, it's about five years too late when it comes to making Bosh one of the NBA's richest players.
Underpaid: Dirk Nowitzki
New Team: Dallas Mavericks
Contract Details: Three years, $25 million
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 23.6 PER
This is just laughable.
Dirk Nowitzki is coming off a season in which he was just a handful of missed opportunities away from joining the 50/40/90 club as a scorer averaging more than 20 points per game. The veteran 7-footer may not be a stellar defender or make a significant impact on the glass, but he's a game-changing offensive presence, one who helped spark the Dallas Mavericks to boasting one of the NBA's best point-scoring units in 2013-14.
It's not like it's a secret that he knowingly accepted a contract leaving him massively underpaid.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Nowitzki turned down max deals from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers so that he could remain a Maverick for life. That's a big discount, but there's no swaying Dirk when it comes to team loyalty.
"That just shows what kind of guy he is," Chandler Parsons—who is definitely not underpaid thanks to Dirk's sacrifice—told Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. "Dirk is a true pro, and he's so loyal to Dallas and the organization. Those are the guys you want in the locker room and to be teammates with. To take a cut like that, obviously he knows he could make a lot more, but it says a lot about a guy."
Championships are just worth more than cash at this stage for the German 7-footer.
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