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Best Bargain Contracts in NBA Free Agency

Alex Kennedy looks at some of the best bargain contracts handed out in free agency this summer.

Alex Kennedy



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With August here, we can look back on last month’s unprecedented spending spree and evaluate some of the contracts that were handed out. Today, rather than focusing on the enormous deals that were signed, let’s take a look at some of the best bargain contracts that were inked:

Zaza Pachulia and David West, Golden State Warriors

One of the biggest surprises of the summer was the Warriors landing Pachulia on a one-year, $2.9 million deal. Just about every other center signed a ridiculously lucrative contract, but the 32-year-old Pachulia decided to prioritize winning over a big pay day. He felt that the Warriors provided him with his best shot at winning a championship, and it’s hard to argue with him, so he took a huge pay cut.

Reports have surfaced that Pachulia was offered a two-year, $20 million contract from the Washington Wizards, making this decision even more shocking. Pachulia should really strengthen Golden State’s frontcourt, averaging 8.6 points and a career-high 9.4 rebounds last season with the Dallas Mavericks despite playing just 26.4 minutes per game. Even in these limited minutes and despite only started 69 games, he ranked fifth among all NBA players in offensive rebounds (249) and ranked 23rd in double-doubles (26).

Fans of advanced analytics know just how effective Pachulia was during the 2015-16 campaign too. He posted career-highs in Win Shares (6), Offensive Win Shares (3.4), Value Over Replacement Player (1.7), Box Plus-Minus (1.4) and Total Rebound Percentage (19.7 percent). League executives were upset when this signing went down, with Zach Lowe of ESPN tweeting that teams were almost as angry about Pachulia going to Golden State for next to nothing as they were about Kevin Durant deciding to join the star-studded Warriors. Give Pachulia credit though: Few players would sacrifice so much just to compete for a ring.

Well, there are some others willing to make a win-at-all-costs choice; West is doing it for the second straight year. Last summer, West made headlines when he opted out of his $12.6 million contract with the Indiana Pacers to sign a veteran’s minimum deal with the San Antonio Spurs that was worth $1,499,187. West made a similar decision this summer, once again turning down larger offers from other teams in order to join the Warriors on a minimum deal that will pay him $1,551,659 this season.

The 35-year-old West is no longer in his prime, but he’s a terrific leader and he did produce for San Antonio last year, averaging 7.1 points, four rebounds and 1.8 assists in 18 minutes per game. He shot an efficient 54.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range (albeit on a small sample size). In the postseason, West averaged 5.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.7 blocks in 17.6 minutes for the Spurs while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. He ranked 20th among all NBA players in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (2.9) for 2015-16.

In addition to Pachulia and West, Anderson Varejao will re-sign with Golden State for the veteran’s minimum. At 33 years old, Varejao played sparingly last season and isn’t nearly as effective as he used to be, but he’s another big body who can be utilized in certain situations and specific match-ups. There’s no question that adding Durant was the jaw-dropping, NBA-landscape-changing move, but these bargain pick-ups are also important as they fill out their roster.

Dion Waiters, Miami Heat

Initially, reports indicated that Waiters had signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Miami. The deal is even smaller in reality – a room exception deal that will pay Waiters $2,898,000 next season, with a second-year player option ($3,028,410). This one stings for Waiters and his camp, mainly because he could’ve signed for the $6.8 million qualifying offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder for over two full weeks before it was eventually rescinded, but clearly he thought he’d receive a bigger offer. It seemed that Waiters was in good position to get a solid contract once the Thunder allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent, but instead he’s betting on himself in Miami and hoping his big pay day comes next summer (assuming he opts out).

Entering free agency, Waiters was being talked about as a possible near-max candidate and some wondered if a young team like the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets may throw big money his way. Instead, by comparison, he’ll earn the same amount as New York’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas next season. Some players making more than Waiters next season include Brooklyn’s Justin Hamilton, Memphis’ Troy Daniels, Denver’s Mike Miller and many others. This is obviously a great deal for Miami, as Waiters will be motivated to play well (and be on his best behavior) in an important contract year. Losing Dwyane Wade obviously hurts for Pat Riley and Miami, but this is a nice low-risk, high-reward signing to fill that vacant two-guard position.

Festus Ezeli, Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers’ deal for Ezeli immediately elicited shock when the terms were reported because most people assumed the former Golden State Warriors center would earn significantly more. Portland landed Ezeli on a two-year deal worth $15,133,000, and perhaps even more shocking is that the contract isn’t fully guaranteed; he’ll earn $7,400,000 next season, but just $1 million of the second year’s $7,733,000 salary is guaranteed. Not only is the contract a bargain on its face, the fact that so little of Ezeli’s second season is guaranteed means he could be used as a possible trade chip or, in the worst-case scenario, be waived in the event of a major injury or the situation turning toxic for some reason. It’s hard to understand this deal from Ezeli’s perspective, but it’s excellent for Portland.

This is even more of a head-scratcher when scanning what other big men earned last month. While Ezeli didn’t have the most productive postseason and was used sparingly throughout the year, those factors didn’t limit former Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov from getting $64 million over four years from the Los Angeles Lakers – and the 26-year-old Ezeli is four years younger than Mozgov. Mozgov wasn’t even the only big man to cash in this summer, with many centers inking lucrative deals including Bismack Biyombo ($72 million over four years from the Orlando Magic), Ian Mahinmi ($64 million over four years from the Washington Wizards) and Miles Plumlee ($52 million over four years from the Milwaukee Bucks) among others. Perhaps Ezeli had larger offers elsewhere and just really wanted to join this attractive up-and-coming Portland team, but it seems like he’s worth more than he’ll earn on his current contract.

Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah a Moute – L.A. Clippers

In addition to re-signing their own key contributors in Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson, the Clippers did a solid job of filling out their roster even though they didn’t have much to work with in terms of salary cap space. They managed to bring in four quality veterans who should bolster their bench and make them a tougher out in the loaded Western Conference.

It goes without saying that the Warriors are the favorite to win the West and, for that matter, to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. But teams like the Clippers must continue to assemble the very best team possible, and Doc Rivers deserves credit for making these moves with what was essentially an empty wallet.

Bass, Speights and Felton were all added on veteran’s minimum contracts, and reportedly turned down larger offers to join Los Angeles. The Clippers enter next season with their same star power and a lot of continuity, but they also added some new role players who should be able to make solid contributions.

Terrence Jones, New Orleans Pelicans

This was a move that truly surprised me. Jones had larger offers from some other teams (such as the Toronto Raptors), but he wanted to join New Orleans and decided to take the veteran’s minimum. In an interview with our Oliver Maroney, he said, “I wanted an opportunity to play for a team that is young and defining itself, but could still compete right away. I wanted a larger role, where I could really compete and help a team win. I want to win. Period. Every level I’ve played at, I’ve been a winner and that’s my motivation every time I step onto the court. I always leave it on the floor and believe in winning at all costs. Part of my decision was a finding a team that fit with that philosophy of always having a chip on their shoulder.”

Jones also said that he wanted to play for Coach Alvin Gentry and play alongside his former Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis. After playing inconsistent minutes in Houston and dealing with some injuries, Jones wants to go to a situation where he can thrive in a contract year. Jones is still just 24 years old, and it’s easy to forget that he averaged 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds in just 27 minutes a night two seasons ago. It’s shocking that he didn’t earn more, but he could cash in next summer if all goes well for him this season in New Orleans.

Brandon Jennings, New York Knicks

Jennings inked a one-year, $5 million with the Knicks, and I love this move for New York for several reasons. I thought the 26-year-old point guard would earn more on the open market, so landing him for just $5 million is a steal. It’s also great when you look at New York’s roster, as Jennings is a starting-caliber point guard (he’s started 416 of his 460 games throughout his NBA career) and excellent insurance in the event that Derrick Rose gets injured.

I understand why Jennings signed this deal, coming off of a down year as he recovered from an Achilles injury before being traded at midseason from the Detroit Pistons to the Orlando Magic. He’s hoping he can get his stock up by playing well on the new-look Knicks and then sign a lucrative, long-term deal next summer. In the meantime, he makes $5 million, which is fair for a back-up point guard who may end up starting a number of games depending on what happens with Rose. I think this is a good deal for both sides and I like the situation for both parties as well.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Thornton (one year, veteran’s minimum from the Washington Wizards), Jared Sullinger (one year, $6 million from the Toronto Raptors), Roy Hibbert (one year, $5 million from the Charlotte Hornets)

Is there another bargain signing that you liked? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.


Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”

Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.

Dennis Chambers



The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.

Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.

With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.

One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.

“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”

Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.

“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”

In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.

“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”

Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.

While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.

Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.

“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”

The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.

Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.

“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”

Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.

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NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.

Steve Kyler



The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.

Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.

Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.

There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.

Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.

In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.

Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.

Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.

This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?

There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.

Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.

Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.

The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.

There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.

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