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This Summer’s Most Creative NBA Deals

Salary cap guru Eric Pincus looks at some of the most creative contracts signed this summer.

Eric Pincus



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The initial barrage of free agency is complete.  While a few stragglers remain, most of the impact free agents are off the board.

LeBron James has yet to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that’s presumed to be fait accompli.  Kevin Durant has relocated to the Golden State Warriors.  The Los Angeles Lakers quickly locked in Timofey Mozgov.

Some teams still have spending power, like the Boston Celtics – who are still hoping to make a blockbuster trade – or the Brooklyn Nets with almost $19 million left in cap space.

A few franchises managed to stay above the NBA’s record $94 million salary cap, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in an either/or situation, presently over but capable of dropping under by as much as $14.4 million.

Of the many completed deals, a number jump out as particularly creative:

Short-Term Rondo

The Chicago Bulls invested in Rajon Rondo, but with a relatively cheap escape clause.  The veteran point guard will earn $14 million for the coming season, then $13.4 million for 2017-18 – but only $3 million of that second year is guaranteed.  Should the Rondo experiment go south, the Bulls can cut him, stretching out his salary over three season at $1 million apiece.

Rondo could also prove to be a trade asset, should a team want to come off a more expensive salary, looking for a cheap partially-guaranteed player to acquire and cut to clear cap space.

James Harden Renegotiate and Extend

The Houston Rockets had hoped to make a bigger splash in free agency than Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, but the team is happy with their summer acquisitions.  More importantly, the team used their available cap space to restructure Harden’s contract from $16.8 million for 2016-17, to a maximum salary of $26.5 million – locking in an additional year (or two, giving Harden a player option for 2019-20) for their generosity.

The mechanics of Houston’s move was covered in May.  The Utah Jazz still have just about enough cap room to do the same with forward/center Derrick Favors.

Moving Quickly Under Pressure

The Brooklyn Nets gave significant offers to restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe.  Both the Miami HEAT and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, opted to match – but they made sure to use up as much cap room as possible before they did.

The HEAT rushed to add in Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Luke Babbitt (via trade) and Udonis Haslem.

The Blazers made sure they locked in Evan Turner, Jake Layman and Festus Ezeli, before using Crabbe’s Bird Rights (with just a $2.7 million cap hold) to match his deal starting at $18.5 million.

Ezeli on the Cheap

While the Lakers gave Mozgov $64 million over four years, the Blazers landed Ezeli with a scant two-year deal worth $15.1 million.  Ezeli’s second season at $7.7 million is only guaranteed for $1 million – potentially one of the best bang-for-the-buck contracts signed this summer.

Arenas Rule Offers

The Nets were not successful luring Johnson away from Miami, but their offer – which would have hit their books at a flat $12.5 million a year for four seasons – will cost the HEAT $5.6 million and $5.9 million over the first two years, then $19.2 million each over the final two.

Johnson was a restricted free agent with Early Bird Rights, making him an Arenas-rule free agent.

The Detroit Pistons also made a similar, albeit smaller, Arenas-rule offer to Boban Marjanovic.  The San Antonio Spurs didn’t have Early Bird Rights for Marjanovic, and not enough cap room to match.  The second-year center will earn $21 million over three years in Detroit.

Lakers’ Checkmark Contracts

Whether or not the Lakers invested wisely in Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson and Mozgov is subjective, but the team clearly has an eye on cap room next summer.

The Lakers gave the trio of signings higher salaries for 2016-17, which then descend a year before rising again in seasons three and four.  The team could have nearly $32 million in cap space next summer.

Los Angeles also used their cap room to add on a couple of second-round picks, and a veteran reserve point guard in Jose Calderon from the Chicago Bulls.

The team has held off on signing Tarik Black, Marcelo Huertas and second-overall pick Brandon Ingram, keeping an eye on what could be $13.6 million in cap room (assuming the team also waives and stretched Nick Young).

The Lakers do have an unnamed trade target in mind, but are also preserving space for another opportunistic Calderon-like deal.

Additionally, Los Angeles chose to give Clarkson a $50 million contract over four years, instead of letting the third-year guard find an Arenas-rule offer, which would have nearly doubled the salary cap hits in the third and fourth years of his contract.

Warriors Clearing Room for Durant

While it can be important to plan for future cap space, the Warriors showed that room can be generated on the fly.

To land Durant, the team shed a number of free agents, including Harrison Barnes and Ezeli, but the key move was finding a taker for Andrew Bogut in the Dallas Mavericks.

Conley Got Paid

Hats off to the Memphis Grizzlies for giving Mike Conley the biggest contract in NBA history.  Right or wrong, it was a bold, unprecedented move with Conley benefiting from the unique economic circumstances of the summer.

Conley’s has an early termination option on his final season (2020-21) and, should he decide to finish his contract, “only” $22.4 million of his $34.5 million is guaranteed.  Conley can lock in that full salary if he played in 55 games in either of the 2018-19 or 2019-20 seasons.

Ramping Guarantees

Both the Mavericks and HEAT got a bit extreme in the guarantees with rookies Dorian Finney-Smith and Rodney McGruder, respectively.

Finney-Smith has $100,000 of his three-year rookie deal locked in, but will get $150,000 if he can last to opening night, then $200,000 by Dec. 15.  His salary for 2017-18, should he get through his various cut-down dates this year, has a similar schedule.

McGruder has even more milestones to get through, starting at a similar $100,000.  He then steps up to $150,000 on Aug. 1, $300,000 by Miami’s first game and $400,000 on Dec. 1.

Both Finney-Smith and McGruder will earn minimum salaries over their three-year, $2.5 million deals.  Both will be fully guaranteed for 2016-17 on the league-wide cut-down date of Jan. 10.

Rookies on Three-Year Deals

The New Orleans Pelicans have agreements with a number of free agents, but have held off on signing, making sure the franchise has the cap room first to ink Cheick Diallo (33rd overall pick) to a three-year deal.

The Houston Rockets made sure they had enough room to agree to a three-season contract with Chinanu Onuaku (37th pick).

In most cases, teams should have cap room to sign at least one rookie free agent for three years instead of two, establishing Full Bird Rights before inking their summer’s free agent haul.

The Warriors could have with Pat McCaw (38th pick), but either neglected to or McCaw’s agent wasn’t open to a longer contract.

Kings Win with Afflalo, Tolliver

Sacramento signed Arron Afflalo to a two-year, $25 million contract.  Anthony Tolliver will earn $16 million over the same period.

Afflalo only has $1.5 million of his 2017-18 salary locked in, while Tolliver’s is slightly higher at $2.0 million.

Should the Kings look to package the pair in trade, the combined outgoing salary of $20.5 million, guaranteed for just $3.5 million combined, might be especially attractive to other teams in trade.

Honorable Mention

The Cavaliers paid $200,000 to the Milwaukee Bucks to generate a trade exception for Matthew Dellavedova, which they immediately used to take on Mike Dunleavy from the Bulls – enabling Cleveland to keep their $9.6 million trade exception for Anderson Varejao, which doesn’t expire until Feb. 18.

Cap room isn’t all about free agency.  The Jazz were able to add on George Hill and Boris Diaw with cap room via trade, although the team did give up the 12th pick in June (Taurean Prince) to the Atlanta Hawks to bring on Hill (from the Indiana Pacers in a three-team deal).

Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers signed a favorable deal with Gerald Henderson, who will earn $9 million flat for two straight years, but his second season is only $1 million guaranteed.

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New Orleans Pelicans and Cliff Alexander Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto



The New Orleans Pelicans and free agent forward Cliff Alexander have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Alexander will give New Orleans 20 players heading into training camp.

Alexander spent last season playing 40 combined games with the Erie Bayhawks and Long Island Nets in the G-League, where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game. Alexander also shot 52 percent from the field and blocked one shot per game.

The 21-year-old forward was a McDonald’s All-American and won MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic in 2014 before attending Kansas University. Alexander played 28 games as a Jayhawk and averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game before declaring for the draft.

After going undrafted, Alexander played in eight games for Portland during the 2015-16 season and received a 10-day contract from the Brooklyn Nets in April.

For more information on the salary cap and roster situation for the New Orleans Pelicans, click here.

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Atlanta Hawks and John Jenkins Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto



The Atlanta Hawks and free agent guard John Jenkins have agreed to a training camp deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Jenkins will give Atlanta 20 players heading into training camp.

Jenkins drew interest from several other teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.

The 26-year-old guard began his career in Atlanta after the Hawks selected him 23rd overall out of Vanderbilt in the 2012 draft. For his career, Jenkins has averaged 5.1 points in 12.8 minutes per game while shooting 45 percent from the field overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

For more information on Atlanta’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.

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Golden State Warriors 2017-18 Season Preview

The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the NBA crop, even after several franchises went all in this offseason. Can anyone really beat the Warriors in a seven-game series? We look at the Warriors in this final NBA season preview.

Basketball Insiders



After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors were highly favored to win the 2016-17 championship with the offseason addition of Kevin Durant. In the Warriors’ third straight Finals match up with Cavaliers, Golden State, with plenty of help from Durant, over-matched Cleveland in last season’s NBA Finals. This year, with Durant taking a pay cut, the team did a masterful job of bringing back just about all of the key players from last year’s championship run. Now the team is primed to wreak havoc on the league once again.


It’s almost comical at this point how the best team in basketball keeps getting better.

After adding Kevin Durant last summer, and then completely decimating the entire NBA, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the Golden State Warriors did was go out and add two players in Omri Casspi and Nick Young who almost perfectly fit their brand of “you’re not out-shooting us” basketball.

The powers of the NBA all shuffled around their rosters this season in hopes of trying to assemble some type of “anti-Warriors” remedy, and when it’s all said and done, those moves will be all for naught. Expect Golden State to ride their legendary roster to another NBA title.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Dennis Chambers

What do you need me to say about the Warriors that you don’t already know? Two of the best five players in the league are on the roster, as well as arguably the top defensive player in the league and a cast of reserves that fit perfectly with the superstars running the show. Even JaVale McGee is shooting three pointers now. The Warriors are unstoppable and in some ways even better than the team that won a championship a few months ago. It’s going to be a long season for every other team in the league. They’re all playing for second place.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

The road to the NBA Finals obviously goes through Oakland, especially after the club managed to re-sign JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Nick Young will give the team some additional firepower, but they probably don’t even need it.

So long as these guys stay healthy, they’ll probably find their way to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, and with the Clippers having lost Chris Paul, the Warriors should have a relatively easy time winning the Pacific Division for the fourth straight year.

I’m usually longer-winded than that, but I’m not sure much else needs to be said about the Warriors.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

At this point, what’s really left to say? The Warriors had arguably the best basketball team ever assembled last season, and that was while dealing with minor role concerns and dealing with Kevin Durant’s midseason injury. Then they went out and improved this offseason, adding the likes of Omri Casspi and Nick Young as perfect end-of-roster pieces. Combine that with what most would expect will be even better fit and chemistry across the roster this season, and the Warriors stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league even with several squads making big power moves to try and bridge the gap. Anything but a third title in four years will fail to do justice to the incredible, historical talent on this roster.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

The best team in the NBA went out and retained key players and signed Omri Casspi and Nick Young to round out the roster. As has been the case for several years now, the Warriors enter the upcoming season with the most overall talent, improved chemistry, good health and every ingredient necessary to win an NBA championship. Several other contenders pulled off some impressive moves to try and bridge the gap between themselves and the Warriors, but Golden State still holds the advantage against every other team in the league. So long as the Warriors are playing up to their potential, or anywhere near it, the other contenders are out of luck. Unless the Warriors face some serious injuries this upcoming season or some internal discord, we should expect them to win their third championship in four seasons.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte


Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant

Don’t knock me for not clearly choosing a single player here. The individual excellence of both Stephen Curry and Durant cannot be stated enough. While Curry’s statistics did take a bit of a step back from the year prior, he still led the way for the Warriors last season. Last year, Curry led the team in points per game (by a slim margin), three-pointers made, assists and usage percentage. Keep in mind, Durant was excellent but Curry still commanded the offense for the most part. However, Durant was right on Curry’s heels and in the playoffs actually slightly surpassed Curry in points per game. In addition, Durant remains as tough to cover one-on-one as anyone in the league. Regardless, both players are unbelievable individual talents and would easily be the top offensive player on just about any other team.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

For the foreseeable future, Draymond Green has this category on lockdown for the Warriors. Green uses a combination of length, strength, timing and sneaky athleticism to smother his opponents. Green’s versatility allows him to guard a range of positions in the post and switch to guard guards and forwards on the wing effectively as well. His versatility is the lynchpin of the Warrior’s vaunted death line up that uses Green at center and brings Iguodala off the bench to close games. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year race came down to Green and Utah center Rudy Gobert. In the end, Green’s versatility as well as his ability to guard the rim effectively made him the top choice in voters’ minds. Expect Green to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year this upcoming season as well.

Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry

When the Warriors added Durant to the roster, many wondered, even for a team as unselfish as the Warriors, how would Stephen Curry and Durant manage to share the ball? That question was answered when Curry took a step back and allowed Durant’s individual offensive brilliance to shine. Curry’s points per game dropped (30.1 to 25.3) as did his usage percentage (32.0 to 29.2). Curry’s individual excellence continued regardless as he remained the Warriors’ top distributor (followed closely by Draymond Green). In addition, Curry garners so much attention that his simple presence on the court creates more room for teammates to operate. Curry’s ability to pull up from virtually anywhere on the court and willingness to make the extra pass to teammates makes him a nightmare to cover and the Warriors’ top playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant/Stephen Curry

Once again, you could give this award to either of the Warrior’s two best offensive players. Curry dominates most of the advanced statistics when breaking down clutch play, defined as the last minutes of a game within 5 point or less, per However, based on Durant’s size, length and ability to get off a shot in isolation, he makes for an excellent clutch player in just about any situation. Either is an extraordinary option and their play in crunch time continues to be critical to their championship fortunes.

The Unheralded Player: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a phenomenal talent who does a number of things well. He’s an unbelievable three-point shooter and defends elite point guards to alleviate the pressure on Curry. For a team with two elite offensive players, having Thompson as your third option on offense is just unfair to the rest of the league. Thompson lights up the league with his ability to hit outside shots without needing to dominate the ball. Don’t just count on Thompson to score as he takes pride in his defense and his ability to lockdown on defense.

Best New Addition: Omri Casspi

Overall, the Warriors have had an unbelievable stretch of luck when it comes to injuries, which will hopefully rub off on Omri Casspi this season. With his length, versatility and the ability to stretch the floor, he can slide into either forward spot. His addition strengthens the team’s ability to survive the grind of the regular season and lessen the minutes of the starters. Casspi fills a lot of needs for several teams that are looking to challenge the Warriors, so simply keeping him away from those teams is an added benefit to his signing.

– James Blancarte


1. Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr continues to be the perfect coach for this team. He helps to keep the players focused on their individual roles within the larger team structure and has so far prevented major dissension and discord. Kerr took the team that Mark Jackson previously coached and helped to transform the team into champions. Credit is deserved for his part in successfully orchestrating the move of former All-Star Iguodala to a bench role and meshing Durant’s individual brilliance with the Warriors’ pre-existing, pass-happy offense. Kerr has missed significant time due to his botched spinal surgery, but if he can manage his health, count on Kerr to keep the Warriors a well-oiled machine.

2. Nick Young

Nick Young is a player that has had an up-and-down career. Credit Young for carving out a relatively successful career as a journeyman three-point shooting wing. Keeping Young focused and unlocking his full range of talents has been difficult for many organizations. The Warriors are up next and will give the 11th year pro an opportunity to do what he does best — knocking down three-pointers. As a career 37.6 percentage three-point shooter, Young will have a chance to get more open looks from distance than he has previously in his career. Like JaVale McGee, Young will also have a chance to transform his reputation if he proves to be a disciplined, effective contributor to a championship team.

3. Jordan Bell

What’s the perfect piece for a rebuilding team in need of young talent to build around? Jordan Bell, selected with the 38th pick in this year’s draft), is just that sort of player. The Warriors acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls for cash consideration. The Bulls loss is the Warriors gain as hopes are high for the young talent from the University of Oregon. The Warriors will take their time with the 6-foot-9 forward and hope that he will build on and develop his defensive talents and one day be a reliable contributor for Golden State.

4. Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston is many years removed from the knee injury that nearly ended his professional career. While Livingston has played for nine teams in his career, he continues to be loyal to the Warriors, the team with which he has experienced the most success post-injury. Livingston continues to do whatever the team requires as he slides into either guard slot when needed and provides reliable production from the bench. Opposing backup point guards often get caught being posted up by the lengthy 6-foot-7 guard. Count Livingston as another essential cog who will do whatever it takes to help the Warriors win at all costs.

– James Blancarte


The Warriors are a major spender at $135.4 million in guaranteed salary, resulting in at least $32 million in luxury taxes. Golden State used its Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to sign Nick Young at $5.2 million for a season. Having re-signed on one-year deals, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee can block any trades.

Before November, the Warriors need to decide on 2018-19 team options for Kevon Looney and Damian Jones. Next summer, Kevin Durant can opt out again but now the team has his Early Bird Rights and the ability to give him a raise in the $35 million range. The Warriors seem willing to pay for a winner but for how long as luxury taxes grow progressively as the team gradually becomes a repeat offender?

– Eric Pincus


This team continues to have everything you could want in a modern NBA team. An electric point guard who is nearly unstoppable, a 3-and-D wing with a killer three-point shot, an unstoppable one-on-one player who can score from anywhere, a dominant and flexible defensive forward who can play center and a defensive wing who is a great glue guy. That’s just the five players that are normally used to close out games. The rest of the roster has a number of key contributors ready to do whatever the team needs. Oh, and they also have a great coach to keep everyone on the same page. With all the pieces a team could want, expect the Warriors to again push a possible record-breaking pace in the regular season on their way to the playoffs and likely the Finals.

– James Blancarte


The easiest answer here is none. Eventually the injury bug might hit the Warriors but for now they have everything they could want to continue their excellent play. Perhaps some players may lose a sense of urgency in the regular season after breaking records and dominating the last few seasons, though that seems unlikely. On paper, this team is not afflicted by any major weaknesses.

– James Blancarte


Can anyone stop the Warriors?

Other teams continue to make moves to get better. On September 23, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded agreed to terms on a deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. With that move, count the Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and the Cavaliers as the biggest potential obstacles in the Warriors’ path to repeat. One of these teams may beat them, but the Warriors are the heavy favorites and the team most likely to win the championship next year.

– James Blancarte

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