NBA AM: Summer Of Calculated Risks In Free Agency

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With a billion dollars up for grabs in free agency this summer, it’s no surprise players walked away from the negotiating table – paid in full. For many players, their new contracts represent dramatic raises over what they’ve earned in prior years – many becoming eight-figure guys where in the past the notion would seem to be an impossibility.

However, there remains a group of players who opted buck the trend and chose to take deals seemingly far below their respective market value for an opportunity to compete for a title, get increased playing time or opt for a more comfortable fit.

Whatever the motivation, the fact remains that with so much money flying around this summer, these players signed for deals much lower than they could have demanded.

Let’s take a look at some players who are taking a calculated risk by playing the long game and not cashing out in the short-term.

Zaza Pachulia, Center

2016 Team: Dallas Mavericks
2017 Team: Golden State Warriors
New Contract: 1 year, $2.9 million

Pachulia played at a near All-Star level last season in Dallas while logging 69 starts in 76 appearances. The veteran big man averaged 8.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 47 percent shooting from the floor for the Mavericks while reaching the playoffs. According to a CSN Mid-Atlantic report, Pachulia was tentatively offered a two-year, $20 million deal from the Washington Wizards. The problem was the Wizards didn’t move quick enough and Pachulia opted to take his talents to Golden State.

The Warriors made a huge splash this summer by luring former league MVP Kevin Durant to town and by doing so had to make room by moving personnel, such as starting center Andrew Bogut.

Bogut’s departure made securing a starting-caliber center a priority for Golden State and Pachulia, in search of a title, signed at a deal far below his market value.


Brandon Jennings, Guard

2016 Teams: Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic
2017 Team: New York Knicks
New Contract: 1 year, $5 million

The writing was on the wall for Jennings in Detroit when the franchise chose to reward guard Reggie Jackson with an $80 million deal last summer. Jennings was ultimately traded to the Orlando Magic midseason and found himself outside the team’s long-term plan at season’s end.

Enter the New York Knicks.

The point guard position was an area of weakness last season for the franchise and the club has spent the summer strengthening their crew of floor generals. The team acquired former league MVP Derrick Rose prior to the draft and then secured Jennings’ autograph on a one-year deal that should benefit both parties.

Jennings has started 416 out of the 460 regular season games he has appeared in since entering the league. In New York, even if he is behind Rose on the depth chart, he’s expected to play quality minutes on a much improved team. There will be another lucrative payday coming Jennings’ way in short order, especially if he’s able to perform consistently this upcoming season in New York.


David West, Forward

2016 Team: San Antonio Spurs
2017 Team: Golden State Warriors
New Contract: 1 year, NBA veteran minimum (reportedly)

Last summer West left over $10 million on the table by opting out of the final year of his with the Indiana Pacers in order to chase a  championship in San Antonio. West repeatedly stated that his desire to annually compete for a title is the primary driver for remaining in the league. However, the Spurs were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Spurs spent the early part of the summer strengthening their interior by adding former All-Star center Pau Gasol, but also lost future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan to retirement in the process. Ultimately, West opted to change zip codes to play with the suddenly retooled Warriors and pursue a championship. In the process, the veteran also likely left lucrative free agency offers on the table.


Jared Sullinger, Center

2016 Team: Boston Celtics
2017 Team: Toronto Raptors
New Contract: 1 year, $6 million

Sullinger entered the mix this summer as a restricted free agent. However, Boston renounced his contract rights in order to secure four-time All-Star Al Horford in free agency. Make no mistake, Horford is an undoubtable upgrade to start at center in Boston. However, Sullinger averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 81 games.

For Toronto, a franchise that lost Bismack Biyombo this summer, interior depth was a need and adding Sullinger on this one-year deal by being patient is a solid move.