Last year, the first day of free agency was a pretty staid affair, with loads of the top free agents looking to dance around the league and be wooed by as many teams as possible. Those right below that top tier had to wait for them to choose a team before organizations knew how much money they had left to spend. In other words, it took a while for things to get interesting.
That’s not how this year’s free agency period has gone so far. Not at all.
The first day of 2015 free agency has been an absolute whirlwind of activity, with several big-name players agreeing to terms in the first 18 hours of free agency. Nine of the top 25 free agents already have agreed to terms with teams, and many others are either believed to be closing in on agreements of their own or have been tendered reasonable offers by teams and are making headway on something significant.
Here’s a look at what got done on Wednesday:
So Far, Home Is Where the Heart Is
All of the top names that actually agreed to deals on Wednesday did so with their current teams rather than finding a new home. Some of those guys were restricted free agents, like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton, but not all of them. Kevin Love, for example, stayed true to his word to stay put in Cleveland, while Goran Dragic proved worthy of his trade deadline price tag by agreeing to remain in Miami.
Brook Lopez, Paul Millsap, Danny Green, Thaddeus Young, Iman Shumpert and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. also agreed to deals that will keep them with their current teams, removing a number of top-tier and middle-tier free agents from the free-agent pool. Many of those were players other teams would have loved to lure away, but ultimately it looks like a lot of the big names preferred to stay where they were. That trend won’t hold up, but it certainly was the theme of day one.
Here’s a quick look at the agreements for the players who chose to stay with their current teams on Wednesday:
- Kevin Love agreed to terms with Cleveland for five years, $110 million.
- Jimmy Butler agreed to terms with Chicago for five years, $95 million.
- Kawhi Leonard agreed to terms with San Antonio for five years, $90 million.
- Goran Dragic agreed to terms with Miami for five years, $90 million.
- Brandon Knight agreed to terms with Phoenix for five years, $70 million.
- Khris Middleton agreed to terms with Milwaukee for five years, $70 million.
- Brook Lopez agreed to terms with Brooklyn for three years, $60 million.
- Paul Millsap agreed to terms with Atlanta for three years, $59 million.
- Thaddeus Young agreed to terms with Brooklyn for four years, $50 million.
- Danny Green agreed to terms with San Antonio for four years, $45 million.
- Iman Shumpert agreed to terms with Cleveland for four years, $40 million.
- Kyle Singler agreed to terms with Oklahoma City for five years, $25 million.
- Alexis Ajinca agreed to terms with New Orleans for four years, $20.2 million.
- Mike Dunleavy, Jr. agreed to terms with Chicago for three years, $14.4 million.
Sticker Shock and Player Options
There’s a lot of money being thrown around here, obviously, with Love’s $110 million offer being the biggest of the summer so far (not counting Anthony Davis’ and Damian Lillard’s extensions). Love will make over $20 million a year for four seasons and then likely forego his option on the fifth year of the deal to take a shot at more money when the cap is significantly higher.
Actually, the contract structures were the same with Leonard, Butler, Dragic and Middleton, each of whom agreed to take five-year deals featuring player options after the fourth season with their respective clubs, which is rather surprising considering how much chatter there was that elite players would take three-year deals with player options after the second season to take advantage of the incoming TV money and rising cap. That didn’t happen with any of these guys, all of whom are erring on the side of financial security rather than risking injury or degradation in the next two seasons, when loads more money will become available. There also is a potential lockout in a couple seasons to consider, and that may be playing a role in these longer deals as well.
Knight, who will sign a five-year deal worth $70 million deal, doesn’t even have an option on his deal. It’s a straight five years, which isn’t something any of us thought we’d see coming into free agency this year, particularly for a player that young and that promising.
Frankly, all of the money looks pretty massive, with Knight and Middleton both raking in an average of $14 million a year, Young averaging $12 million, Green a little over $11 million and Shumpert $10 million a season. Considering Stephen Curry will haul in just $11,370,786 in 2015-2016, the new numbers look pretty inflated, but that’s likely just sticker shock for the new financial reality of the NBA. Next year those numbers will look big, but two years from now this will be the new market value for role guys. It’s big cash by today’s standards, but the percent of the cap these deals take up in 2017-18 will be considerably less offensive.
Knowing that, Leonard at $18 million a year and Butler at $19 million a year could very well look like absolute bargains three or four years down the road. Shumpert at $10 million might look even better.
There Were Some Shake-Ups, Though
Not everybody stuck with their old teams. Tyson Chandler agreeing to terms with the Phoenix Suns was a bit of a surprise, especially as it pertains to the team’s sudden potential as a landing spot for LaMarcus Aldridge, the highest-profile name in the free agency pool with a real shot at changing teams. Chandler reportedly was at Phoenix’s pitch to Aldridge, who loves playing alongside a tough, defensive-minded center exactly like Chandler, in large part because it allows him to focus more on offense and play the power forward position.
Whatever happens with Aldridge, the Chandler signing should add some toughness and veteran leadership to a relatively young and inexperienced Suns team. Should they land Aldridge even in part because of that signing, Chandler’s reported four-year, $52 million contract will have been worth every penny.
The other notable shakeup Wednesday was DeMarre Carroll’s agreement with the Toronto Raptors, reportedly for four years and $60 million. That’s a significant amount of money for a defensive stalwart that was the fifth-most important starter for that great Atlanta team, and based on the money some of the other guys got, $15 million looks like a pretty big overpayment.
But Toronto is a market that has to overpay to get guys to head north, though Carroll is an odd addition with his recent injury woes and struggling offensive efficiency. Still, he adds toughness to the Raptors, which they need, having won the Atlantic two years running only to get ousted in the first round of the playoffs. It also helps that Carroll is coming off a postseason in which he played very well.
The money, like every other contract agreed to on Wednesday, looks ridiculous now, but it won’t be a couple of years down the road.
- Paul Pierce agreed to sign with the L.A. Clippers a year later than everyone thought he would. That reunites him with former head coach Doc Rivers, naturally, but it’s hard knowing just how much gas he’s got left in the tank after “calling game.”
- Boston got Amir Johnson to agree to a two-year, $24 million deal, which is a pretty solid bargain considering some of the other numbers that got thrown around on the first day of free agency. He’ll help shore up that young Boston frontline with Brandon Bass likely gone.
- Brandon Wright agreed to a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, meaning everybody’s favorite bargain-bin guy already is off the board. At $6 million a year over three seasons, he didn’t come quite as cheap as some may have hoped, but that’s appropriate cash for him and will look like a pittance in the last year of the deal.
Other notables from Wednesday include Jonas Jerebko to Boston and Al-Farouq Aminu to Portland, but we’re just getting started. There still are plenty more massive free agency signings to come in the next week and beyond!
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