2017 NBA Free Agency: Best and Worst Contracts
Every July, NBA fans prepare themselves for late nights and constant Twitter notifications. As teams commit billions of dollars to free agents, they can’t help but spend countless social-media hours every day during that heart of the offseason. whether that money is spent well is always debatable.
We’ve seen countless contracts handed out that made fans, analysts and front-office executives alike gasp and chuckle at the same time (I’m looking at your contract, Timofey Mozgov). On the other hand, we’ve seen smart front offices sign a key difference-maker to a below-market-value contract and be rewarded with a large return on investment.
Franchises have handed out a lot of money during free agency so far. Whether the several teams in the Western Conference entering an arms race in hopes of challenging the Golden State Warriors or some Eastern Conference squads looking to capitalize on the newly vacant playoff spots, they’ve dropped significant chunks of cash.
Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst contracts signed this offseason. This list will ignore the deals signed by stars like Stephen Curry, Gordon Hayward and Kevin Durant, as the returns will obviously be fruitful for their respective teams.
1. J.J. Redick (Philadelphia 76ers for one year and $23 million)
The Philadelphia 76ers lay claim to one of the most promising young cores in the league, but this offseason they added two respected veterans to aid in the growth of the team: Amir Johnson and Redick. The most important aspect of both contracts is that they are only for one year, giving the Sixers financial flexibility in the summer of 2018. At that time, the team will be more experienced and truly ready to compete for a top playoff spot.
Redick provides exactly what the 76ers need: a starting shooting guard who’s a lights-out shooter from beyond the arc and a respected veteran teammate. Last season, he shot 42.9 percent from downtown, and he’s a career 41.5 percent three-point marksman. Playing alongside Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, Redick will get a ton of quality looks from beyond the arc, which will likely allow him to hit over 200 threes in a season for the fourth straight year.
During his time with the Clippers, the 2-guard only averaged 5.8 three-point attempts per game, which is far too low for a legitimate sharpshooter. In Philadelphia, it’s entirely likely Redick gets up to eight deep attempts per game, and he could easily average over 17 points per game.
Due to the short commitment of the contract and what he provides, the Sixers absolutely nailed this signing.
2. Patrick Patterson (Oklahoma City Thunder for three years and $16.4 million)
After the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to fleece the Indiana Pacers in the Paul George trade, they still needed some frontcourt depth. That need grew as Taj Gibson signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves to reunite with head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Enter Patrick Patterson.
The Thunder signed the 28-year-old Patterson to a three-year deal, and he should remain in his prime for the entirety of the contract. The power forward provides exactly what they needed: a stretch 4 who can play above-average defense.
During the last four seasons with the Raptors, Patterson shot 37.3 percent from beyond the arc while also posting a 0.8 defensive box plus/minus. He has the capability to switch defensively—a crucial skill in today’s NBA. And while he’s a weak rebounder for his position (career 4.7 rebounds per game), he will be playing alongside big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, both of whom are capable of cleaning up on the glass.
The size of the contract is below Patterson’s market value, and he provides the exact skills Oklahoma City needed, making this an easy choice.
3. Tyreke Evans (Memphis Grizzlies for one year and $3.3 million)
The Memphis Grizzlies needed to evolve offensively, as their “grit-and-grind” style hasn’t resulted in profound success during recent years. That’s why they signed Chandler Parsons last summer and added both Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans this go-round.
Evans isn’t the shooter McLemore is, but he can certainly run an offense for stretches and create for others. For his career, he has averaged 5.1 assists per game, though his playmaking decreased significantly last season (3.1 assists per game).
Of course, the big concern with this new acquisition is his injury history. In nine seasons, Evans has played in just 473 total games, which averages out to about 53 games per season. Hopefully in a smaller role, he’lll be able to stay healthy and provide a spark off the bench or as a spot starter.
In Evans, the Grizzlies continue to evolve their offense, which is the next step they have to take in order to stay relevant in the Western Conference.
1. Langston Galloway (Detroit Pistons for three years and $21 million)
The Detroit Pistons have had an interesting offseason, to say the least. Up until the start of free agency, it seemed Detroit was going to have a quiet summer by just matching any contract for restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. However, right on July 1, the Pistons signed Galloway to this three-year contract in a head-scratching move.
Galloway is a fine backup player who has become an above-average three-point shooter (39 percent last season). But is there a consistent role for him in Detroit? After all, he has played 82 percent of his minutes at point guard throughout his career, and the Pistons already have Ish Smith to play behind Reggie Jackson. At shooting guard, the Pistons traded for Avery Bradley and drafted Luke Kennard, so you’d figure a large majority of the 48 available minutes at that position are taken.
If the Pistons were short on guard depth, this signing would make sense. After all, $7 million per year in today’s market is not an unreasonable salary for a player like Galloway. But this team doesn’t need him and will now be paying him for the next three years.
2. Kyle Korver (Cleveland Cavaliers for three years and $22 million)
This Kyle Korver signing isn’t terrible in a vacuum for the Cleveland Cavaliers, considering how great their offense can be when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are surrounded by shooters such as Korver. However, there are two issues with the deal: the length and the fact that Korver is someone who can’t really play against the Golden State Warriors.
Every move the Cavs make should be analyzed based on how it affects their matchup with Golden State, seeing as the two teams are heavy favorites to once again meet in the Finals next season. This past Finals, Korver played 19.4 minutes per game but shot just 31.3 percent on three-pointers while averaging 4.4 points per contest. When you add in the veteran’s poor defense, he was an extreme liability against the Warriors and will continue to be one moving forward.
Now, for the length.
Korver is already 36 years old, and though he doesn’t have a huge history with injuries, do you really want to pay a 38-year-old Korver slightly more than $7 million in a couple seasons? He’s already a very one-dimensional player, and his advancing age could affect other parts of his game, like running around screens to get open shots.
The sniper will be an important role player for the Cavs through the regular season and in the early stages of the playoffs. But he becomes a huge liability when it matters most, and that isn’t changing as he continues to get older.
3. James Johnson (Miami Heat for four years and $60 million)
James Johnson had a career year with the Miami Heat in 2016-17, averaging 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He was even in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, with several analysts listing him among their top three choices. When the votes were tallied, only four players finished ahead of him.
Therefore, you would think it makes sense to reward him with this four-year contract. Well, not so fast.
Johnson is already 30 years old, and it remains to be seen if he can maintain the same production from last season, in which he posted career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game. He also shot a career high from beyond the arc (34 percent) on a career-high number of attempts per game (3.4).
If Johnson maintains the same drive and replicates that production, this deal will be well worth it for at least the first two-to-three years. However, we’ve seen players put up career numbers during contract years, only to then fall back to their previous levels.
When you couple this signing with the four-year, $52 million contract it gave Dion Waiters and the four-year, $50 million deal to which it signed Kelly Olynyk, this Heat team will be paying career role players some serious money over the next couple of seasons.
In the end, every offseason creates contracts that make or break teams in the future. Teams that sign key contributors on below-market-value deals often enjoy both short- and long-term rewards. On the other hand, it now costs team at least one first-round pick to unload bad contracts onto rebuilding teams. Only time will tell how these contracts age and affect the respective teams, but on the surface, they already look like the clear winners and losers of this summer’s free-agency period.
Follow Eric on Twitter @ericspyros.