Now that we are in the midst of the 2017-18 NBA season, it seems like a good time to reflect back on the moves that were made this past offseason and determine which moves have and haven’t worked so far. Every offseason there are big name free agent signings that excite fan bases and increase their expectations for the season. But every year, there are a few of these big name signings that just don’t work out very well. Sometimes it’s a poor roster fit, injuries, or even just overpaying for a lack of production that causes these teams to regret their free agent signings.
On the flip side, there are players that teams sign to simply be role-players that end up blossoming and becoming a major bright spot for the franchise. These are the moves that help general managers get praise and contract extensions. Many times these players are guys that have a lot of talent but were forced to sign a lesser contract because of injuries or inconsistency in their careers. Whatever the reason, it can be a huge boost to your favorite team when they sign a player that far exceeds the expectations you had for him.
While it’s still early in the season, here are the eight most regretful signings this off-season and seven players that have proven to exceed expectations… so far.
15. Regret: George Hill – Sacramento Kings
While George Hill is a very solid starting point guard in the NBA, it made little to no sense why the Kings would sign him this off-season. After unloading the face of their franchise, DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings were thought to be entering a long rebuilding stage. But instead of creating space for their exciting young guys to get meaningful minutes this season, the Kings went out and signed Hill (age 31), Zach Randolph (age 36), and Vince Carter (age 40).
It’s one thing to bring these guys in for their leadership intangibles, but it’s another thing to actually give them significant minutes instead of developing their younger talent. Hill is having his worst statistical season since he was a rookie and is clearly upset with the Kings franchise. His temper is starting to boil over and it would not shock anybody to see him pull an Eric Bledsoe and demand a trade. Unless the Kings can get a first round pick for Hill at the trade deadline (unlikely), this is a very regrettable signing.
14. Exceeding: Rudy Gay – San Antonio Spurs
Rudy Gay was a budding super star in the NBA not too long ago, so it made sense that the Spurs would give him a chance despite his Achilles injury last season. So far, Gay has proved to be well worth the risk and has provided the Spurs with a reliable, veteran presence that was desperately needed while Kawhi Leonard was out with his injury. Gay has wisely accepted the role player role in Gregg Popovich’s style and is thriving again.
While his points per game and other offensive statistics may not be eye popping, Gay is affecting the game in many different ways this season. His presence is especially important on the defensive end, where his unique size, athleticism, and skill make him a nightmare for opposing scorers. With Leonard coming back soon, expect Gay to come off the bench and provide more pop to the Spurs second unit.
13. Regret: Dwyane Wade – Cleveland Cavaliers
Some pairings are just meant to go together: peanut butter and jelly; spaghetti and meatballs; and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. These two best friends are only a few years removed from running the Eastern Conference down in South Beach, but it’s clear that father time has started to creep up on Wade since then. Wade is still playing strong for his age and will be a solid rotational player for the Cavaliers, but when you’re an all-time great, expectations are bound to follow.
His numbers are down and he is coming off the bench for the first time in his career, but to Wade’s credit he has taken the reduction in value in stride. He acknowledges that his best role for the Cavs team is to be a factor off the bench instead of letting his pride make him upset about not being a starting caliber shooting guard anymore. Expect Wade to do something epic and Wade-like in a few playoff games, but as of now his signing has to be regretful.
12. Exceeding: Tim Hardaway Jr. – New York Knicks
Yes, the Knicks overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr. There is no getting around the fact that they backed up the Brinks truck in order to resign a player they already had years before. But if you can overlook that piece, they actually added a solid starter at the forward spot who is young enough (25 years old) to pair with Kristaps Porzingis for the foreseeable future.
Although he is currently dealing with a nagging injury, Hardaway Jr. is averaging 18 points, 3 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. Those are very respectable numbers for a player who continues to show improvement in different aspects of his game each season. In fact, Hardaway Jr. has flashed his growing offensive talent by scoring over 30 points several times this season, including a 38 point outburst in a win against the Raptors. If the Knicks make the playoffs this season, Hardaway Jr. will be a major reason why.
11. Regret: Paul Millsap – Denver Nuggets
Ouch. The Nuggets have to be frustrated after losing Paul Millsap for most of the season to a torn ligament in his wrist after signing him to a massive free agent deal this offseason. Millsap was supposed to come in and help the Nuggets get over the hump and back into the playoffs this season, but those expectations may have to be curbed for now.
It’s a shame too because Millsap was performing up to his lofty standards before the injury. He was averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Those are the kind of numbers that any team would want from their starting power forward. His skill-set is unique in that he can create opportunities for his teammates on offense, something that his likely replacement, Kenneth Farried, is incapable of. At the age of 32, Millsap isn’t getting any younger, so let’s hope the Nuggets can cash in on his talent sooner rather than later.
10. Exceeding: Mike James – Phoenix Suns
It’s easy to exceed expectations when there are no expectations. When the Suns signed Mike James this offseason, it was believed that he would simply help fill spots on their summer league roster and then possibly man the point guard spot for their G-League team. This made sense given the fact that at age 27, Mike James had never played in a NBA game before.
While James was a successful European hooper for the past several years, nobody expected him to actually make the Suns roster. But his play in the summer opened some eyes and when Eric Bledsoe demanded a trade from Phoenix, James miraculously became the Suns starting point guard for 10 games. While James has returned to his role off the bench, he is still averaging a respectable 11 points and 4 assists per game. The Suns just signed him to an extension, so it’s clear that he is exceeding their expectations.
9. Regret: Nick Young – Golden State Warriors
Nick Young (aka Swaggy P) decided to take his talents to the world champion Golden State Warriors this off-season. It seemed like a good fit for Young because he loves to chuck up three pointers and very few teams shoot more three’s than the Warriors. But Young has been pretty dreadful off the bench for the Warriors so far this season and has provided zero help on the defensive end.
Luckily for Young, the talent that surrounds him on the Warriors masks a lot of his basketball flaws and lack of basketball I.Q. But the Warriors had to have been expecting at least a little bit more out of Young given his offensive talent. While this signing could play big dividends if either of the splash brothers suffer a significant injury, it appears to be a bust thus far. For all of his faults, I will admit that Swaggy P at least keeps things interesting and makes things fun when he’s on the court.
8. Exceeding: Taj Gibson – Minnesota Grizzlies
After years of up and down play with the Chicago Bulls, Taj Gibson finally got a fresh start in Minnesota. Gibson has long been one of the most frustrating players to watch because at times he shows glimpses of brilliance where he seems almost impossible to guard. But other times, Gibson appears lazy, and disinterested. It was no shock that he signed with the Timberwolves given that his former coach, Tom Thibodeau, is the current head coach of the team.
What has been surprising, is Gibson’s high level of play to start this season. As the Timberwolves’ starting power forward, he provides them with a veteran leadership that their young team desperately needed. He also provides energy and defense that gives opposing teams headaches throughout the game. If Gibson can continue to keep his effort level up, this will be one of the better signings of the past summer.
7. Regret: Michael Beasley – New York Knicks
It’s hardly surprising that the Knicks decision to sign Michael Beasley this past summer is turning out to be a regretful decision. In fact, I would say that it was almost assured that the Knicks would regret it. I mean, it’s Michael Beasley we are talking about here. But Beasley has been even more Michael Beasley-esque than normal this year, despite a recent streak of good games.
Despite promises of scoring 30 points a game if given enough minutes, Beasley is simply just another body on the Knicks second unit that buys time for the starters to come back in. But Beasley hasn’t even been good at that this season due to his propensity for fouling. This was never more evident than when he fouled out in only 10 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks . . . 10 minutes! The Knicks crowd, of course, gave Beasley a standing ovation for his efforts. The Knicks and Beasley truly deserve each other.
6. Exceeding: JJ Redick – Philadelphia 76ers
When JJ Redick left Los Angeles to sign with the lowly Philadelphia 76ers this off-season, it appeared that he was just chasing a final big payday instead of competing for a potential playoff contender. Well due in part to Redick (and a large part to young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons), the Sixers have grown into a likely playoff team this season.
Despite all the young talent surrounding him, Redick has continued to start every game for the Sixers and has been averaging over 16 points per game. Not only is Redick producing on the court, he is providing invaluable leadership to the young guards on Philadelphia’s roster. Redick is essentially another coach out there on the court and given his effectiveness in that role, it would not be surprising to see Redick become a coach when his playing days are over. But with the way Redick is exceeding expectations, don’t expect him to stop playing anytime soon.
5. Regret: Gordon Hayward – Boston Celtics
This selection is simply based on the expectations for this season. The signing of Gordon Hayward is still a huge get for the Boston Celtics in the long run, but so far this season it has backfired on them. Though it’s not his fault, there is a sense of regret this season surrounding Hayward because of all the promise and talent that he brought to the Celtics roster this season. His opening night injury really put a damper on everything, but luckily the Celtics have been able to keep rolling right along without their centerpiece.
Hayward will be great in Boston, if he can come back issue free from this gruesome ankle injury. But Celtics fans can’t help but imagine what could have been this year had Heyward not been injured. Having Hayward in their lineup right now would be nearly unfair and would put them neck and neck with the Warriors for most talented lineup in the league. While disappointing, his injury may be a blessing in surprise because it allows the Celtics’ younger forwards to gain experience that will be invaluable next season.
4. Exceeding: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers knew this past offseason that they had several big moves to make if they wanted to speed up their rebuilding process. Besides drafting Lonzo Ball to man the point-guard spot for the next decade plus, the Lakers decided to go all-in on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope had shown glimpses of brilliance in his first four seasons in Detroit, but the lack of consistency ultimately led him to being a free agent.
The Lakers were in need of a quality small forward and jumped all over the chance to acquire Caldwell-Pope. That move is now making Magic Johnson and his staff look like they might actually be capable of leading this historic franchise out of the Western Conference depths. Caldwell-Pope is steady on offense, but his defensive ability makes him vital to the future of Lakers core. At only 24 years old, expect Caldwell-Pope to be a mainstay in LA for years to come.
3. Regret: Rajon Rondo – New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans had a vision in mind when they signed Rajon Rondo as a free agent this summer and that vision entailed endless pick and roll opportunities for Rondo and the new twin towers, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. In theory, Rondo is a perfect point guard for those two bigs given that he is a creative passer and doesn’t feel the need to look for his own shot.
So far, this signing has not worked out the way the Pelicans were planning. Rondo appears to finally be slowing down with age and his limited ability to shoot is actually allowing teams to clog the paint and help defend Cousins and Davis. Admittedly, Rondo has shown signs of life recently, which New Orleans will need to continue if they want to make any noise in the stacked Western Conference. This signing may work out in the long run, but it’s not looking great at this point.
2. Exceeding: Tyreke Evans – Memphis Grizzlies
I was a huge Tyreke Evans fan when he first entered the league and won rookie of the year. His size, speed, and ball-handling ability were so unique for the point guard position at that time and his skill-set made him an ultimate game-changer. But the past few seasons, Evans has been nothing but an afterthought due to injuries and poor-play. The Grizzlies offered him a one year deal for only $3.3 million, which is a major drop for this former standout.
So far this deal has proved to be beneficial for both parties as Tyreke Evans has returned to his early career form for the Grizzlies. This will increase Evans’ value in the upcoming free agency next off-season too. Evans is averaging 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists this year which is especially good when you consider that he has mainly come off the bench for Memphis. It’s good to see Evans healthy again and playing at such a high level, regardless of whether he helps Memphis make the playoffs or not.
1. Regret: Derrick Rose – Cleveland Cavaliers
Derrick Rose is a tragic tale of a young superstar whose career was completely derailed by injuries. It made sense for the Cavaliers to sign Rose this off-season given their need for a backup point guard and Rose’s relatively low salary, especially with the idea that Rose may miraculously find his MVP caliber game again. Unfortunately, Rose has continued to be riddled with injuries again in 2017.
Making matters worse, it appeared that Rose had some sort of mental breakdown this season as well when he excused himself from the team in late November. Rose has yet to return to the team and has likely played his final game for the Cavaliers. While Rose was never expected to be a major contributor for the Cavaliers, it’s undisputed that the Cav’s are already regretting this signing.
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