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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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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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