The NBA free agency period has come and gone again in usual whirlwind fashion. Though the moratorium has not technically ended and contracts are not official, all major players have agreed to terms with their current or new team. Per usual, the flurry of activity that ensues after official communication with the players begins yields some catastrophic overbidding. Conversely, solid players that happen to fall through the cracks – or simply awaited the result of the drawn-out Gordon Hayward decision – received much more team-friendly deals. Now that the frenzy has passed, let’s reflect on the 2017 free agency period and assess the successes and failures that took place.
Kevin Durant: Golden State, 2 years, $53 million (second year player option)
What a killer move by both the Warriors and Durant. Last year, Golden State was a juggernaut on both ends of the floor, in large part due to Durant’s presence. However, many of the critical pieces from last year’s champions hit free agency this year and received huge pay raises. 2-time MVP Stephen Curry parlayed his unreal 3-point shooting into a record 5-year, $201 million deal. The Warriors also shelled out a combined $24 million per year to retain valuable role players Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. With these salaries, plus many others, already on the books, the Warriors were facing heavy luxury tax and years of binding cap restrictions. Fortunately, Durant bailed the Warriors front office out with the most team friendly contract of the year. If Durant chose, he could have earned a max contract worth $34 million this year with 8% raises each following year. Instead, he opted to offset his pay day a whole year, accepting $9 million less to guarantee that the Warriors could run back the unstoppable force they created last year. I could throw out any number of stats to prove Durant’s worth to the Warriors last season, but a visual montage of highlights from the NBA Finals might be more fitting.
Durant will earn his max contract next year once he opts out. But for now, his willingness to take a massive pay cut (almost 30%!) immensely helps the Warriors for next season. It would be impossible to write an article like this without citing Durant’s incredible deal.
George Hill: Sacramento, 3 years, $57 million
George Hill is a prime example of the massive implosion a player’s earning potential incurs after just a few days of free agency have passed. Entering free agency, Hill was considered the best point guard who was actually switching teams (both Curry and Kyle Lowry resigned with their current teams). However, Jrue Holiday quickly earned a 5-year, $126 million deal from the Pelicans, while the Timberwolves gave Jeff Teague 3 years and $57 million that same night. Though Hill and Teague have identical contracts, Hill is an objectively better player than Teague. Hill has a real +/- of 5.2, good for 20th in the league and equal to James Harden, while Teague’s is exactly 0.6, outside the top 100. Hill averages 2 more points per game on better 3 point shooting than Teague as well, while posting similar rebound and assist-to-turnover numbers. Nevertheless, the two earned identical contracts, making Hill a steal for the Kings.
While the Kings are loaded with young talent, no player on that roster provided primary ball handling, scoring, and intagibles such as leadership and positive culture from day one. In Hill, the Kings land exactly that player with an added discount. On the court, Hill will likely start as the point guard, where he has been elite for the last half decade. His scoring ability magnetizes defenders and forces them to leave open shots for Hill’s teammates; in this case, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, and Skal Labissierre will benefit. Once De’Aaron Fox grows into the superstar that his potential indicates, though, Hill can naturally shift to the 2, taking on secondary ball handling duties while spacing the floor with over 40% 3-point shooting. Off the floor, Hill is just as valuable. He comes from winning franchises in San Antonio, Indiana, and Utah, and can infuse that same positive culture into the young guns that comprise the Kings roster. Hill is a natural leader for the Kings, on and off the court, and $19 million a year is an absolute theft for Hill’s massive contribution.
JJ Redick: Philadelphia, 1 year, $23 million
Can you name the best 3-point shooter in the NBA over the last two years? Curry would’ve been a good guess, since both Stephen and Seth occupy spots in the top 3, but neither are right. JJ Redick has been the league’s most accurate long-range shooter over the last two years, and there’s no reason to think that will change with the 76ers. Redick, last year, shot 43% on 6 3s a game, which is insane production for that level of usage. While Redick is valuable on any NBA team, he’s especially valuable in Philadelphia, where 3-point shooting is by far the biggest weakness. Redick is the missing jigsaw puzzle piece that puts the 76ers’ offense over the top.
Already, Philadelphia sports one of the league’s best defenses simply by employing Joel Embiid. Embiid, when on the floor, led the 76ers to the best defense in the NBA. Redick, while not a plus defender, is no worse than TJ McConnell or Nik Stauskas, so the defensive numbers should stay the same. However, Redick immediately offers more spacing on offense. Top picks Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons operate most effectively while driving to basket and scoring at the rim, so a threatening outside presence is key. Redick’s innate ability to knock down open shots will force defenders to respect his shot, thereby opening up plenty of space for drives from Fultz and Simmons, as well as post ups for Embiid. Redick gives the 76ers a new offensive dimension on a one-year deal, and may even lead them into the hunt for the East.
Tim Hardaway, Jr.: New York, 4 years, $71 million
Tim Hardaway is a backup shooting guard.
Tim Hardaway was traded by the Knicks two years ago in order to acquire backup point guard Jerian Grant, who was traded for Derrick Rose, who was renounced so that Hardaway could make $71 million.
Hardaway will now make 13 times as much money as second round pick Damyean Dotson to provide the exact same skills.
Kelly Olynyk: Miami, 4 years, $50 million
Miami had been doing an excellent job in free agency through the first few days. Though they couldn’t quite land Gordon Hayward, they successfully resigned primary scorer Dion Waiters and big man James Johnson. That core of four players (Waiters, Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, and Goran Dragic) is an excellent building block for a burgeoning playoff team. Unfortunately, Kelly Olynyk’s deal handicaps them from acquiring valuable role players. Olynyk himself is a good piece for the Heat, as Hassan Whiteside needs a backup center. Olynyk can rim protect s little on defense and stretch the floor on offense form the center position off the bench. However, that role does not merit $50 million, and Olymyk’s yearly salary prevents Miami from adding solid contributors now and in the future. For Olynyk’s yearly salary, the Heat could have signed Patrick Patterson and Ben McLemore. Patterson on his own might be a better player than Olynyk, and McLemore could spell Waiters nicely. Olynyk will positively contribute for the Heat, but his ugly salary figure will be a reminder to Miami of what much better alternatives were available.
Best Free Agency:
Even excluding the demolition of Indiana in the Paul George trade, the Thunder have had an amazing offseason. Oklahoma City didn’t draw any big-name free agents, but then again, they didn’t need to. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are the centerpiece of next year, so it is instrumental to surround those two with quality role players. In free agency, the Thunder resigned defensive specialist Andre Roberson, nabbed stretch-four Patrick Patterson from the Raptors, and inked veteran point guard Raymond Felton to the minimum. Roberson is part of the Thunder’s long term core, and his $10 million a year salary figure is perfectly reasonable. Roberson provides All-NBA level defense while maintaining competence on the offensive end. Patterson was a steal of free agency (who almost made this article) and will certainly outproduce his $8 million a year contract. Patterson will likely start between George and Steven Adams, acting as a tertiary threat on offense while offering versatility on the defensive end. His floor spacing is crucial in OKC where 3-pointers are hard to come by. Lastly, Felton should be a solid, competent backup point guard who can manage the offense well while Westbrook takes much needed breaks. It’s hard to poke a hole in what the Thunder just did in free agency; they killed it.
Worst Free Agency:
Chicago lands here mostly because their signings don’t really address any particular need at all. So far, besides dealing Jimmy Butler for considerably less than his worth, the Bulls have only resigned Christiano Felicio and Justin Holiday. Felicio, who was nearly not an NBA player last year, is a reasonable piece to bring back, but not for $32 million. He is still incredibly raw and may not develop into anything more than a fifth big man off the bench. For $8 million, there were many better developmental options; the Bulls could even have bought a second round pick with that money. Holiday is very much a mediocre signing; his role on the team is minimal and he will likely not play much next year. By trading Butler, the Bulls are clearly trying to tank and rebuild, but they may not be constructing their roster in the most efficient way possible. So far, Zach LaVine is their only proven young star, and even LaVine is coming off a season ending injury. In order to totally rebuild, the Bulls can’t dole out huge chunks of cash to purely speculative players like Felicio. At this rate, it will be a while before they reach prominence again.