Best Bargain Contracts in NBA Free Agency

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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.