NBA Offseason Review: Looking Back at the Biggest Deals and Signings
Already forgotten all the mayhem from the NBA's offseason? Probably, but you shouldn't have.
Yesterday is critical to whatever you see today.
We've had a half-season to monitor the league's most lucrative free-agent signings and acquisitions. Now it's time to hunker down and see how the most expensive pacts are panning out. Finding new digs is always riskier than returning to old ones, so our scope will be limited to players who switched teams during the summertime frenzy.
We will also be focusing on the priciest annual salaries, sorted alphabetically, that resulted from the spending craze—because, you know, more money equates to stronger feelz.
EXCELLENT: Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets (4 Years, $80 Million)
Ryan Anderson is exactly who the Houston Rockets need him to be.
At a time when more power forwards are incorporating off-the-bounce playmaking and rim protection into their arsenals, Anderson is the classic stretch 4: He can put the ball on the floor and score as a pick-and-roll diver, but he's first and foremost a three-point shooter tasked with pulling defenses outside the paint.
More than 61.0 percent of Anderson's field-goal attempts are coming from long range, on which he's shooting a career-best 41.1 percent. Plop this efficiency alongside James Harden, and magic happens. As Tom West of FanRag Sports underscored:
When bigs run to protect the paint in transition or are too slow to run or switch outside in half court settings, Anderson can often be left open to benefit with his quick trigger. That marksmanship, and how he thrives when playing alongside the Beard in the starting lineup, is why Anderson and Harden are the Rockets' second-most used two-man combination with 995 minutes together this season. The pair owning the fourth-best net rating of any Rockets two-man duo at plus-12.1 when they're playing together isn't surprising.
Almost 46 percent of Anderson's buckets have been assisted by Harden, but he's not exclusively dependent on the MVP candidate. He maintains his shooting percentages in the scant time he plays without Harden.
Just over 50 percent of Anderson's looks come as spot-up opportunities, and he's swishing 45.5 percent of his wide-open triples. The offense doesn't ever need to run through him, but defenses have to plan their schemes around him.
That's the understatedly huge part of Anderson's value: He fits any Rockets lineup—and is thus, to this team, worth every penny of his $18.7 million salary.
MOSTLY GOOD: Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks (4 Years, $94.4 Million)
Important update: Featured option Harrison Barnes is still a thing halfway through the season.
No one on the Dallas Mavericks who has appeared in at least 15 games owns a higher usage rate. (Dirk Nowitzki leads the team in that category since rejoining the rotation, but Barnes is still working on career-high volume during that span.)
This dramatic uptick in usage has not coincided with a stark downgrade in efficiency. Barnes is averaging over 20 points per game with shooting percentages comparable to last season's performance. Even his turnover percentage is down.
Barnes, in fact, is on pace to record the second-best turnover rate (6.5) of anyone in NBA history to match his usage. Only the 2014-15 version of Anthony Davis was better.
This isn't cause for celebration.
Limiting turnovers isn't hard when a league-leading 27.8 percent of your touches come in isolations. Barnes' passes per minute (0.86) are down from last season (0.98) despite assuming a more prominent role, and his free-throw rate ranks 78th among 104 high-volume players. Assembling a hypereffective offense around this play style isn't easy. Dallas' attack is a statistical wash with Barnes on the floor—which is to say it's still bad.
While he seems to be earning his $22.1 million keep, it remains unclear whether Barnes can be a cornerstone for a Mavericks team that doesn't rent out the Association's basement.
BAD: Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic (4 Years, $68 Million)
It wasn't a dream: The Orlando Magic really gave Bismack Biyombo $17 million annually to join a frontcourt that already included Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic.
Just wait until they max out Ibaka this coming summer.
Biyombo is starting for the Magic, so there's that. But he has the lowest net rating of the three bigs and isn't having the intended impact as a shot-swatter and defensive rebounder.
Surround him with enough shooters, and Biyombo becomes a dangerous diver and screener—a measurable offensive plus. But the Magic don't have the means to make that happen; they rank 27th in three-point accuracy and 25th in catch-and-shoot efficiency. Where Biyombo averaged 1.18 points per possession as a roll man with the Toronto Raptors, he's down to 0.88 in Orlando.
Additional volume isn't an excuse for this plunge. The Magic have neither the frontcourt makeup nor sweet-shooting wings to incorporate Biyombo's skill set.
Until they do, this doesn't look like $68 million well spent.
NEUTRAL: Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers (4 Years, $72 Million)
If Luol Deng's last three outings are any indication, he may have regained the offensive swagger established with the Miami Heat last season. He's averaging 14.7 points on 51.5 percent shooting, including a 50 percent clip from long distance.
Even if Deng's offensive resurgence proves to be the new normal, he remains an iffy big-picture fit with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"When I agreed to come here the main idea was this is going to be a process," Deng said, per Lakers Nation's Serena Winters. "The main thing is really sticking with it. It's hard when you've got basically a new system and a new team and you have a lot of young guys."
Those young guys will cut further into Deng's role as time wears on. Rookie Brandon Ingram, like Deng, is a combo forward. And he's improving fast.
Playing the two together is fun in theory, but the partnership has been ineffective thus far. Then there's Julius Randle and, when healthy, Larry Nance Jr. to consider. One of Deng or Ingram can't be a full-time 4 when those other quality players factor into the rotation as well.
The Lakers may get by this season playing the patience and process cards. Next season, too. But unless they envision that two of their frontcourt kiddies will eventually play with Deng on a regular basis, his purpose has peaked—making their decision to tab him as their highest-paid player that much more bizarre.
EXCELLENT: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (2 Years, $54.3 Million)
Nothing's changed since.
Durant's true shooting percentage—the cumulative measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy—sits at a career-best 64.8. That mark has been matched on just nine other occasions through the 353 times a player averaged at least 25 points per game for an entire season.
And get this: Durant's offense hasn't been the most impressive part of his game.
He was always going to approach never-miss status playing beside Golden State's gaggle of All-NBA talents; his defense for a top-four fortress is the real revelation. Draymond Green is the only Warriors player who has saved more points on the less glamorous end, according to NBA Math. Durant is holding opponents to 48.4 percent shooting around the rim, a top-12 rate among those who have challenged as many point-blank looks—and one that's boosted knowing the spindly MVP is an actual deterrent.
Rival offenses average significantly fewer attempts per minute inside five feet of the hoop when Durant is in the game. Don't be surprised when he gets some second- and third-place Defensive Player of the Year votes.
It's safe to say the Warriors don't miss Barnes.
GOOD: Al Horford, Boston Celtics (4 Years, $113.3 Million)
Al Horford is doing Al Horford things with the Boston Celtics.
This is the fifth time he is clearing 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and one block per game. Pau Gasol is the lone active player with more such seasons to his name, and only Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins and Durant match those benchmarks this year.
Horford's field-goal percentage is at an all-time low, but he's still putting down 45-plus percent of his attempts while launching more threes than ever. The mere threat of his range is all Boston needs—its effective field-goal rate jumps from a cruddy 49.5 to a blistering 54.4 whenever he's on the court.
Integrating Horford into what was a top-five defense last year has been more of a challenge.
The Celtics have locked down for games at a time but are not nearly consistent enough. They place 20th in points allowed per 100 possessions and are worse off when playing Horford.
Crafty offenses will try to force Isaiah Thomas and Horford to switch assignments. That often leads to obvious disorder—crazed rotations and uneven help amid multiple mismatches. And while Horford is a serviceable rim protector, he doesn't dissuade attacking guards and wings or drum up rebounding totals.
Still, there's a lot to like about the Celtics defense. It doesn't relinquish a ton of corner threes, and the perimeter pests do a nice job cutting off drivers before they reach the basket. Add a more imposing giant to the interior rotation, and they'll be fine.
Getting Horford was a huge boon for the offense and has allowed the Celtics to chase the East's No. 2 seed. They should have no regrets.
NEUTRAL: Dwight Howard, Atlanta Hawks (3 Years, $70.5 Million)
Dwight Howard is starting to look like a weird fit with the Atlanta Hawks.
To be sure, this has nothing do with his play. Howard's 17.1 points, 16.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes aren't being matched by anyone else in the league, and he's shooting a career-best 63.2 percent from the floor. Atlanta's offense is pumping in fewer points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup, but that says more about its lack of spacing. The Hawks are one of the worst three-point-shooting teams in the league and, like every squad before them, lean too much on Howard post-ups.
According to NBA Math, though, Howard still profiles as an above-average contributor on offense. He joins Paul Millsap and Mike Muscala as Atlanta's sole plus performers on both ends of the floor.
The mounting weirdness has everything to do with the Hawks' situation. They just sent Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers and were primed to sell until they abruptly pulled Millsap off the chopping block, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
"I just know that we feel strongly about this group, we feel good," head coach Mike Budenholzer said, per ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk. "The collection of guys, the way they fit and play together, we have shown an ability to play well for long stretches and against good teams. We just have to maintain that for the rest of the year and we are excited about the group."
Stick with what remains of their core, and the Hawks needn't second-guess their decision to give an over-30 Howard $70.5 million. But Tim Hardaway Jr. (restricted), Thabo Sefolosha and Millsap (player option) are all slated for free agency over the summer, so this won't be the last we hear of a potential fire sale.
With the prospect of a midseason reset still in play, Atlanta's current pursuit of the East's fourth-best record isn't enough to justify the Howard addition as a worthwhile investment.
NEUTRAL: Serge Ibaka, Orlando Magic (Trade)
Serge Ibaka's numbers since joining the Magic are fine—really good, even.
He's averaging a career-high 15.6 points per game despite playing fewer minutes, and his rebound (12.7) and block (4.4) percentages are where you would expect them to be. He's also drilling 37.8 percent of his threebies for a crummy offense that doesn't generate quality outside scoring opportunities.
You can even get on the board with the price Orlando paid the Oklahoma City Thunder for Ibaka. Ersan Ilyasova didn't have a future with the team, Victor Oladipo was due for a massive payday and Domantas Sabonis, while a lottery pick, didn't fit the team's vision for playoff contention.
Except the Magic aren't viable postseason hopefuls.
They are four games back of the East's eighth and final playoff spot, and Ibaka is going to command a max deal over the summer. Orlando has no choice but to pay him; otherwise the trade becomes a disaster. Then again, investing more money into a blobby frontcourt isn't good business either.
Shipping out Vucevic ahead of the Feb. 23 trade deadline helps perception, but it's not a cure-all.
Biyombo and Ibaka complement one another on defense, and the latter chucks enough threes to make it work on offense. But neither is a deft shot creator or passer, and moving Vucevic does little to help power-forward-who-should-play-some-center Aaron Gordon escape his small forward prison.
Maybe the Magic end up figuring out their cluttered rotation in due time. Until then, any frontcourt-related items will, at best, grade out as "meh."
TERRIBLE: Joakim Noah, New York Knicks (4 Years, $72.6 Million)
Here's a novel concept: Maybe the New York Knicks shouldn't have paid Joakim Noah $72.6 million to play Kristaps Porzingis' best position—especially when they could have kept Robin Lopez, who is three years younger and earning almost $4 million less per year.
Giving up Lopez in the humdinger of a Derrick Rose trade is a different disaster altogether. The Knicks could have stomached losing RoLo if they didn't replace him with a more expensive center no less than two years removed from his prime.
New York's defense is 2.1 points per 100 possessions better with Noah on the bench. That's while spending more than 75 percent of his minutes next to Porzingis, who allows him to cover less ground while protecting the paint.
Sub out Noah's security blanket, and the Knicks are a different kind of screwed. They cough up more than 120 points per 100 possessions when he plays without Porzingis, according to NBAWowy.com—an unfathomably terrible mark.
So in sum: Noah is blocking Porzingis from playing his best position, and he also needs the 21-year-old for him to have a puncher's hope of making a positive impact.
There will be nights when Noah delivers like he did for the Chicago Bulls in years past, but it's never been more painfully obvious that New York tethered a huge chunk of its future to a player who doesn't exist anymore.
BAD: Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (4 Years, $94.4 Million)
It's too early to tell whether Chandler Parsons' max deal will be a bust.
Let's just say the Memphis Grizzlies took an expensive risk that has yet to pay any dividends.
Parsons missed the first six games of the season while recovering from right knee surgery. Six outings into his return, he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee. Another 18 games later, Parsons made his second comeback. While he has yet to play more than 17 minutes in a single tilt or see time on the second night of a back-to-back, he's at least in the rotation.
But the silver lining ends with his availability.
In eight appearances since returning to the lineup, Parsons is a demonstrative minus on both offense and defense, with the worst net rating among Memphis' everyday rotation players.
Career-worst shooting percentages can be chalked up to rust, and Parsons has looked much better during recent wins over the Utah Jazz and Warriors. Plus, the Grizzlies have the means to bring him along slowly. They're on course for almost 50 victories and are only two games off the West's No. 4 seed.
At some point, though, Parsons needs to go from liability to luxury. The Grizzlies didn't make him their second-highest-paid player to be someone they win in spite of.
TERRIBLE: Derrick Rose, New York Knicks (Trade)
Derrick Rose might be indispensable to New York's offensive livelihood.
Which should scare the bajeebus out of the Knicks.
When Rose is on the floor, New York is scoring 107.6 points per 100 possessions—a top-eight clip. That number nosedives to 99.8 once he leaves the court, which would rank 29th overall.
Never mind that Rose, like Anthony, is a defensive sieve. Forget that he's not an exceptional passer or finisher around the basket. Disremember that he often forgets Porzingis exists. The Knicks could live with all of this—or at least try to—if it wasn't for the fact that Rose, unlike the rest of the world, fancies himself a superstar ahead of his foray into free agency.
"Some close to Rose have told friends he will seek a max contract this summer," wrote ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "For Rose, that pact would be for five years and nearly $150 million."
Shelling out max or near-max money for a point guard who can't shoot threes, doesn't play consistent defense and won't notify his employer of abrupt departures is beyond stupid. But the Knicks don't have an alternative in waiting, and as a league laughingstock, it's unlikely they poach another point guard in free agency.
No suitor is giving Rose a long-term max; team president Phil Jackson has that going for him. In reality, though, there isn't a price that's reasonable enough for the Knicks to retain a player who keeps them on the fast track to nowhere.
NEUTRAL: Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls (2 Years, $47 Million)
Old age doesn't look bad on Dwyane Wade.
His 42.9 percent clip from the floor is a new low, but he's sustaining a career-best three-point success rate amid increased volume. He's also one of just eight players averaging 18 points per game while posting an assist percentage north of 22 and steal rate better than two.
Despite Chicago's Rajon Rondo problem, Wade appears to be a motivating presence for his teammates—or at least Jimmy Butler.
"I can't let D-Wade down," Butler said after spearheading the Bulls' Jan. 4 victory over the Cavaliers, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. "D-Wade has been doing that for years. The fourth quarter is always go time. I want to show I belong here."
It's too bad Wade isn't having as profound an impact on the rest of the group. The Bulls are statistically better on both offense and defense when he takes a seat, and his "improved" three-point shooting isn't a remedy to clunky spacing.
Indeed, Wade has been good on an individual level. But his efforts aren't translating into wins or an overall prettier product—a predictable dilemma the Bulls face after making their oldest asset their highest-paid player.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.
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