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NBA AM: 2016 Free Agency And Buyer’s Remorse

With free agency less than a week away, here’s a look at last year’s regrettable signings.

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The annual free agency frenzy is an exciting time for fans around the league. But it’s also a time where seemingly good moves, on paper, turn into being long-term mistakes that could take a franchise years to overcome. Of course, sometimes, winning free agency can lead to immediate title contention—such as Golden State landing Kevin Durant last summer or the return of LeBron James in Cleveland back in 2014, the latter of which has resulted in three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

Today, we’ll take a look at last season’s most regrettable signings. Some may have been great in theory, but the early results haven’t been as good.

Timofey Mozgov, Center, Los Angeles Lakers (subsequently traded to Brooklyn)
Four-years, $64 million
2016-17 Stats: 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 52% FG, 54 games played

In league circles, it will be hard to find anyone who has played with (or coached) Mozgov that will say a negative word about the big man. The veteran’s work ethic and knack for being an excellent teammate is well noted. However, it was extremely easy to criticize the Lakers decision to offer the center a contract worth $16 million per year at the time and even easier almost a year later.

Mozgov was signed by the old front office in Los Angeles, but Mitch Kupchak is no longer calling the shots. The team’s new president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, recently dealt Mozgov and second year guard D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn in exchange for former All-Star Brook Lopez. The draft pick strapped Nets had to absorb Mozgov’s salary in order to secure the rights to Russell.

Dwight Howard, Center, Atlanta Hawks (subsequently traded to Charlotte)
Three-years, $70 million
2016-17 Stats: 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 63% FG, 74 games played

The days of Howard being a dominant force are long in the rearview, however, the veteran center put together a very respectable campaign during his lone season in Atlanta. The problem, Howard’s declining athleticism and limited offense in the post did little to free up Atlanta’s perimeter attack.

With Atlanta hiring new general manager Travis Schlenk, Howard became victim of a cap clearing move meant to give the Hawks more flexibility. The good news for Howard is that he rejoins head coach Steve Clifford in Charlotte – a coach he has a long history with since entering the league.

Joakim Noah, Center, New York Knicks
Four-years, $72 million
2016-17 Stats: 5.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 49% FG, 46 games played

Noah has been one of the league’s grittiest players over the past decade, but many scratched their heads at Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson’s decision to sign the veteran to an enormous deal last summer. Especially since Noah was coming off a campaign where he lost a spot in Chicago’s starting lineup and had missed 53 contests due to various injuries. The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Star will turn 33 close to next season’s trade deadline and it’s a fair question to ask – how much does he left in the tank with three years remaining on his deal?

Miles Plumlee, Center, Milwaukee Bucks (subsequently traded to Charlotte and then to Atlanta)
Four-years, $52 million
2016-17 Stats: 2.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 59% FG, 45 games played

In 2014, Plumlee showed the potential of being a nightly double-double threat while averaging 8.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in 80 games with Phoenix. But his playing time has diminished significantly in the three campaigns since and will head into the 2017-18 campaign on his fifth team.

Plumlee was recently traded to Atlanta and may find time in their rotation depending on how free agency shakes out this summer with Paul Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries all headed to free agency.

Luol Deng, Forward, Los Angeles Lakers
Four-years, $72 million
2016-17 Stats: 7.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 39% FG, 56 games played


The 13-year veteran appears to be the latest victim of Father Time after averaging the least points of his career on a lottery bound team desperately in need of a consistent wing scorer. The young Lakers were seeking a veteran locker room leader during their rebuild and the two-time former All-Star seemed to be a logical fit. Yes, there were rumblings about the Lakers possibly overpaying before the ink dried on his new deal, but if Deng even produced at a similar level as his last two years in Miami most of this chirping would have subsided. The Lakers are now on the hook for three more years on a veteran guy that may no longer be able to play 25-30 minutes a night at a high level.

The Jury is Still Out

The following players weren’t exactly busts after signing big deals in free agency last summer, but didn’t exactly produce as expected.

Evan Turner, Forward, Portland Trail Blazers
Four-years, $70 million

Turner’s start in Portland was rough, however, the versatile forward started to make progress before fracturing his right hand In February derailing a lot of the momentum (14.3 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists in three February contests before the injury).

Turner’s style of play appears to run counter to how the Blazers work as a team, but head coach Terry Stotts worked in a variety of sets that played to Turner’s strengths as the season rolled along.  The potential is there for this to ultimately end of being a respectable signing.

Kent Bazemore, Forward, Atlanta Hawks
Four-years, $70 million

Bazemore’s ascent from crowd favorite to becoming a legit full-time starter in the league is a testament to hard work and is a great feel good story. However, Bazemore had a rough season after signing his mega deal. Bazemore’s points, rebounds, field goal, free throw and three-point percentages, steals and blocks all declined from the 2016 campaign.

The good news for Hawks fans is that post All-Star break Bazemore regained his shooting stroke knocking down 44 percent of his field goal attempts (40 percent Pre All-Star) and 39 percent from three- point range (33 percent Pre All-Star).

With the 2017 NBA free agency session rapidly approaching, this is a reminder that not all of these deals pan out and even some of these signings noted above may not qualify for inclusion next season.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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