The 2010 off-season is the biggest recent memory, with what is possibly the best market of all time, but I believe the best move of the free agent period so far was made by the Oklahoma City Thunder when they agreed to a 5 year 85 million dollar contract extension with rising star Kevin Durant.
Durant captured his first scoring title this season averaging just over 30 points a game at the age of 21. Durant has said he likes it in OKC and would like to stay there and the Thunder made it happen, and for cheap too. If they hadn't signed him to this extension they would have risked him leaving for a big market for a max contract that the Thunder would not have wanted to match. While obviously LeBron James is the big prize of this off-season I think that Durant is the most valuable signing.
Think about it, many NBA experts proclaimed that Dirk Nowitzki was doing Dallas a favor by signing a 4 year 80 million dollar deal. That is 20 million a year on average. Durant is 11 years younger than Nowitzki and averaged 5 more points per game, posted the same numbers as Nowitzki in both rebounds and assists, and was better defensively last season. Dirk is past his prime, Durant is not only a better franchise cornerstone, but arguably a better player right now. Dirk has more experience and better leadership qualities so their value is about even although Durant puts up better numbers, I might even give the edge to Dirk but that's beside the point.
Durant a much better piece than Nowitzki, and I believe Durant should have signed a much bigger deal than the one he did. He will make an average of 17 million dollars a year after his extension kicks in after next season. When Dirk is 36 and Durant is 25, Dirk will make somewhere from 4-6 million dollars more than Durant. My guess is that by then, Durant will have multiple scoring titles and maybe an MVP depending on exactly how many shots he takes, while Nowitzki will likely be a lot worse than he is now. While he may not currently be a top 3 player in the NBA I think with a couple more years under his belt he will challenge LeBron, Kobe and Dwayne Wade as one of the leagues elite players, and with a young, talented supporting cast around him who knows what his ceiling is.
In his third year in the NBA James averaged 31 points 7 rebounds and 6 and a half assists shooting 33% from behind the arc, and 74% from the free throw line while Durant averaged 30 points 8 rebounds and 3 assists while putting up similar defensive numbers to James on 37% shooting from behind the arc and 90% from the free throw line. While Durant's numbers are not quite as impressive, the numbers can be misleading as James was thrust into more of a playmaking point forward type role because of the Cavaliers lack of a point guard (their starter for all 82 games was Eric Snow who averaged 4 points and 4 assists per game) while Durant has Russell Westbrook who is not yet an all-star, but is developing quickly and is a true point guard. When Kevin Durant's extension expires the Thunder will be in a perfect situation to resign him to a deal through the remainder of his prime.
While Durant may not be the big prize of this free agency, the Thunder signing him to an extension at this price is a great deal for their franchise going forward. Durant is a player you can build your franchise around, the Thunder have been stocking up on young talent for the future, and with Durant on board for the long haul they have put themselves in a position to be a very good team for a long time.
Now that we have seen one of the great signings of the off-season, let's look at what I believe may be the worst signing in the last decade, the infamous Joe Johnson contract.
The Atlanta Hawks and Joe Johnson have agreed on a 6 year deal worth about 119 million dollars. Johnson is already 29 years old and is currently at his peak. In 6 years Johnson will be 35, and one of the highest paid players in the league, probably the highest tied with Dwayne Wade (if he takes his max 6 year deal) and LeBron James (if he signs with Cleveland) because by then everyone who signs a maximum 5 year deal this off-season will have signed a new contract under the new collective bargaining agreement, which will have a much lower maximum salary.
In 2016 it is likely that Joe Johnson will be the highest paid player in the NBA. Wow. This past season Johnson averaged 21 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists, in his prime. And this guy is going to be the highest paid player in the NBA when he is 35 in 2016.
Despite all this I believe the Hawks are in an impossible position. Without Johnson the Hawks are not a play-off team, and he is still an all-star. Jordan Crawford is talented but he is definitely not ready to start in the NBA. Without Johnson the Hawks are not a play-off team, they need him and if they didn't resign him, they couldn't sign another free agent. They were in a bad spot.
With Johnson thinking he could make more in New York by investing in Madison Square Garden, they had no choice but to offer him the 6th year, and the 119 million that comes with it. I still feel that a sign and trade for a quality starter or two and maybe a first round pick would have been the best option but the Hawks do get to make the play-offs this year, and if that's the path they want to take then they can be my guest.
Looking back on this deal, I don't think it will be viewed as the worst deal in history like many analysts have claimed. It will be up there on the list, but in the end this franchise would crumble without Joe Johnson and we have to remember that he is an all-star. The Hawks did what they had to do and they took care of business, but for 119 million dollars? Really? I can see where they are coming from but I still feel as if this is by far the worst signing of this off-season.