Free agency in the National Basketball Association is a time for teams to improve themselves and fill out their roster needs. During this time of year, many teams create salary cap space, in hopes of landing a big superstar around which to build their team. Few are able to land this big fish, but when they do, man does it have the potential to turn a franchise around and change the landscape of the league (think of teams like Miami, Cleveland, and now Golden State) However, at the same time, this attempt for improvement has backfired for many teams and as a result, they are stuck with long and ridiculous contracts (think of the Knicks and Wizards).
The 2016 free agency was unlike any we have seen before. This is mostly due to the vastly increased salary cap, which can be attributed to the new television deal the NBA signed. In this article, we will delve further into 2016 free agency by discussing 8 players that got overpaid this free agency and 8 players that were bargains.
Meanwhile, let us not forget there are other teams with limited salary cap space that try to find bargains that will take their team to the next level (players in the past like Mike Miller, Richard Jefferson, and Chris Anderson).
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16 Overpaid - Mike Conley
This is a situation where Memphis was kind of backed into a corner. Either they overpay for their player, or lose him for nothing in free agency. They chose the former. Now do not get me wrong, Conley is a very good player. He is a floor general, plays good defense, and can hold his own against most point guards in the league. However, he does not deserve to have the largest contract in NBA history, or earn more money than other great players like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.
If Mike Conley was tired of going unnoticed, he does not have to worry about that anymore. After all, with five years and $153 million comes lofty expectations. People will look to see how Conley backs up his contract signing. Will Conley finally help get Memphis to the next level in the playoffs? Will Conley even be able to sustain his production over the next five years? Likely not, as he has been dealing with concerning injuries over the past few seasons and he does have smaller body frame compared to most others in the NBA.
15 Bargain - Terrence Jones
Based off the contract Terrence Jones signed, it seems teams forgot that he averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game just two seasons ago at the age of 22. He seemed primed for a breakout season the following year, but health issues have set him back the past two seasons. Still, he is only 24 years old and a one-year contract at the league minimum for a player that has shown the ability to be a solid player in the NBA is a steal. Not to mention, this is a signing that made Anthony Davis happy, as he is a former college teammate of Jones.
Overall, the Pelicans are getting a potential high reward player with virtually no risk. Yes, Jones may not be able to shake off the injury bug, but one million dollars in the NBA today is well worth the gamble for a potential quality power forward.
14 Overpaid - Harrison Barnes
Here is the confusion related to this signing: Harrison Barnes is a good player that is only 24 years old and he sometimes shows glimpses that he can be a great player. Yet, after you watch him play, there always seems to be something missing from his game, which is why a max contract is just too much for someone that has not consistently proven he can be an elite scorer that can create his own shot. Some may attribute this to him being a third or fourth option on a stacked Golden State Team, but remember he could not consistently show these superstar traits at North Carolina either, where he was a top recruit.
In total, Barnes is locked in for the next four years for a total of $94 million. Overall, it would not be a surprise to see Harrison Barnes average 15 to 20 points per game next season, but do not expect him to be a guy that the Mavericks can rely on to take them back to the glory land. However, to be fair the Mavericks did upgrade from Chandler Parsons in signing Barnes.
13 Bargain - Seth Curry
In a league where three-point shooting has become so critical, I was very surprised to see that the best Seth Curry could get was a two-year contract worth $6 million. More and more, it starts to make sense why DeMarcus Cousins becomes increasingly frustrated with Sacramento. After losing Rajon Rondo, they also decided to lose out on the younger Curry brother. Now, Curry is no all-star at this stage in his career and may never be, but again, three-point shooting in this day and age is something that has so much value.
Let us not forget that Curry also shined at the end of the regular season when he was given a lot more opportunity. In the last 10 games of the regular season,, Curry averaged 15 points and four assists per game. He will probably not sustain these numbers in Dallas, but he will provide them with a solid bench player that will knock down threes and create opportunities for teammates. He also happens to be playing under a great coach in Rick Carlisle.
12 Overpaid - Dwight Howard
The Hawks were the latest team to fall under the Dwight Howard trap by signing him to a three-year, $71 million contract. The 30-year-old Howard averaged 13.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game, and 1.6 blocks per game last season, some of his lowest individual stats since his rookie season. While Howard does seem to be a good fit in Atlanta from a basketball standpoint, he is simply going to be paid too much.
Also remember that Howard has a reputation for being disruptive in the locker room, which there in itself should be a reason to pay a player less.
Besides his off-court issues, Howard is not the same player he once was. He appears to have lost most of his athleticism that made him a dominant force. Even ex-coach Kevin McHale said he felt sorry for Howard, referring to the multiple injuries that now limit his game.
Overall, Howard does fit a need for Atlanta, in terms of defense and rim protection, but the money is too great. Let us hope that Coach Bud is at least able to keep Howard happy, something most coaches have not been able to do, thus far.
11 Bargain - Marvin Williams
Marvin Williams may always be remembered to some as the guy that was drafted ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. However, Williams has found himself a home in Charlotte and is a very reliable player. His hard work helped him earn a four-year contract worth $54.5 million. Now some may argue that over $13 million a year for a player that averages around 11 points is a bit much, but remember he reportedly turned down multiple offers over $15 million annually this offseason to stay in Charlotte. Williams is the perfect "stretch" four or combo forward for today's game. There is proof of this in him shooting over 40 percent from three this past season. In addition to his shooting, he is a very capable defender at both the three and four spots.
Overall, this was great signing for Charlotte at a hometown "discount." With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set to return to the lineup next season, we may see an even better performance by Williams due to less reliance and a fresher body.
10 Overpaid - Solomon Hill
This was one of the more surprising signings in NBA free agency. Somewhat of an unknown player, Solomon Hill shocked a lot of NBA fans when he received a whopping four-year, $52 million contract from New Orleans. Now to be fair, Hill did have some nice moments in the first round playoff match up against the Toronto Raptors, which is probably why he was able to receive so much money in free agency.
However, ask yourself this: is a player that only averaged 4.2 points per game over the course of the regular season worth this kind of money, even with the increase in the cap? Now, maybe by the end of the contract Hill will prove me wrong, as he is only 25 years old and still could reach another level, but on the surface, it is just not right. I hope for the Pelicans sake that it works out because they have a superstar in Anthony Davis they need to keep happy.
9 Bargain - Brandon Jennings
Some will consider Phil Jackson's decision to sign Brandon Jennings a risky move, but this is a smart risk. It is not like the Knicks broke the bank to make this signing. At one-year and $5 million, Jennings is a great flier signing. He will provide instant scoring off the bench and be able to start games if (probably when) Derrick Rose misses time. Jennings should be huge for the Knicks' second unit and will be able to create his own shot in critical situations, such as when the shot clock is down. Also, remember Jennings is now about a year and a half removed from a torn Achillies, which means we may seem him return to form.
Overall, if Jennings can play like the player he once was, which is a likely possibility since he is only 26, this could be a great pickup for the Knicks. If not, Jennings will be gone in a year and thus, will not set the Knicks back too far.
8 Overpaid - Bismack Biyombo
There is no doubt Bismack Biyombo had a major impact on the Toronto Raptors this past season. He filled in more than capably when starting center Jonas Valancunias went down with injury and he had a couple of dominant performances in the playoffs. He is a great all around rebounder and defender. He stays within his limits and does not try to be a "hero."
However, four years and $72 million for a backup center with little offensive upside is too hefty of a price. Adding further confusion to this signing is the fact that Orlando is loaded in the front court/center position. Why dump so much money on Biyombo when the team just traded for Serge Ibaka and still has Nicola Vucevic? Orlando also has Aaron Gordon, who will now have to play the three spot to free up time for all of these players. Orlando is clearly taking a major risk here and relying heavily on their new front court. Let us see how it all plays out.
7 Bargain - Dion Waiters
Another "prove it" type deal. After testing the free agent market for several weeks, Dion Waiters must have realized the best move would be to sign somewhere for cheap in an attempt to prove his worth before he heads back to free agency next season. This is exactly what happened and Waiters signed a one-year contract worth $2.9 million in Miami. Waiters did have an up-and-down season in Oklahoma City, but he is still only 24 years old. Miami, who is suddenly in a rebuild stage with the departure of Dwyane Wade, has a young core with Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, and Josh Richardson, and considering his age and flashes of talent, Waiters should fit in nicely with the team.
Overall, if this signing does not work out, Waiters will leave next summer in free agency and there will not be much harm to the Heat organization. Who knows, maybe this signing works out and Waiters shows everyone why he was once chosen 4th overall in the draft.
6 Overpaid - Joakim Noah
First, I must say that Joakim Noah is a heart and soul type player that leaves everything on the court, which is why it is hard to put him on the list. However, a four-year contract worth $72 million for a 31-year-old that is coming off many injury plagued seasons is just outrageous. Classic Knicks. I know Phil Jackson may feel desperate as he has been letting down basketball-crazy New York Knicks fans, but I still do not understand this signing. Noah is coming off a season where he averaged 4.3 points per game, and 8.8 rebounds per game in just 29 appearances due to injury. This was the second straight season that Noah's numbers declined, which is not a surprise, given his age and style of play.
As if his recent injury woes and play are not enough, you also have to question the fit alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Noah loves to play in the high post and this is where he has the most impact, so are the Knicks going to force Porzingis to become a low post scorer sooner than he is ready? If you think Noah is declining now, good luck to the Knicks in three or four years when Noah is approaching 35.
5 Bargain - Zaza Pachulia
One major concern Golden State likely had after signing Kevin Durant was how they were going to fill out the rest of their roster. If you recall, they were forced to lose many of their bench players that helped create their slogan "Strength in Numbers." Luckily for Golden State, they were able to convince some players to come play for them at a cheap price. Included in that list is Zaza Pachulia, who signed a one-year $2.9 million contract. Last season, at the age of 32, Pachulia had one of his better seasons by averaging 8.6 points per game, and 9.4 rebounds per game. While he will not be as good at protecting the rim and overall defense as his predecessor, Andrew Bogut, Pachulia will set effective screens and make good passes from the post area. He will also provide better shooting than Bogut.
Overall, this was a great value signing for Golden State and likely the best they could have done in replacing Bogut with the limited salary cap space they had after signing Kevin Durant.
4 Overpaid - Evan Turner
When Chandler Parsons turned Portland down in favor of Memphis, the Blazers quickly turned their attention to Evan Turner. Turner was signed for four years at an outrageous price of $70 million. Turner did have a decent season last year, but you would hope that $70 million would at least land you an above average starter, which will unlikely be the case in Portland. Keep in mind that this $70 million is for a guard that will most definitely be playing behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Besides the over-payment, the other issue with this signing is the fit. It was clear during the playoffs that perimeter defense was a major weakness for Portland. Turner could help a little in that regard, but it definitely does not address the weakness enough for Portland to take the next step in the playoffs. The other issue is that Turner is a player that needs the ball in his hands. Maybe he will be able to do that on the 2nd unit, but when Lillard is on the floor, we know this is not going to happen. Unless Turner elevates his game to sixth man of the year status, this is a massive over-payment.
3 Bargain - Festus Ezeli
Not all was bad in Portland this offseason. They were able to acquire one of the steals in free agency by signing Festus Ezeli to a two-year, $15 million contract. I know some people are wondering how the heck Ezeli can be considered a steal after his finals performance (particularly Game 7), but I encourage people to look past that. Ezeli is one of the best rebounders in the game and also provides great rim protection, a clear need for Portland this offseason. He will provide solid minutes for the Blazers behind Mason Plumlee and give them an overall strong rotation at center. Ezeli does need to improve his offensive game, but he still has the athleticism to dive to the rim and finish alleyoop plays.
Another factor to remember with Ezeli is that the Blazers have had a great developmental system under Neil Olshey. This means that Ezeli will have a tremendous opportunity to take his game to the next level and cash in when he hits free agency again at the age of 28.
2 Overpaid - Timofey Mozgov
The Lakers signed Timofey Mozgov to a four-year contract worth $64 million. Mozgov averaged 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds for the Cavaliers last season as he saw his role diminish greatly under coach Ty Lue. For the Lakers, they did rank 29th in offense and 30th in defense last season, so there was little doubt that they would pursue an upgrade over Roy Hibbert at the center spot with their significant cap space.
However, is Mozgov even that great of an upgrade over Hibbert? He suffers from many of the same limitations that Hibbert does. Add the fact that Mozgov signed a contract that will take him well out of his prime and you have to wonder what the Lakers were thinking.
Besides the money, you also have to question the fit in this signing. Mozgov is most effective at a slow down pace, as we saw in the 2015 finals. So will he be able to keep up with the young Lakers and the fast-paced offense they are likely to employ (Luke Walton has said as much). Scratching my head on this one.
1 Bargain - Jared Sullinger
This summer, instead of overpaying for Bismack Biyombo, Masai Uriji managed to sign Jared Sullinger for a cheap (by NBA standards) one-year, $5 million contract. What is there not to like in this signing? There is limited risk for the Raptors in terms of Sullinger's health and play due to the one-year status. The biggest criticism of Sullinger in his NBA career has been his fitness, which is another reason this contract looks great for the Raptors. It is hard not to imagine Sullinger being highly motivated so that he can cash in next summer, similar to what Biyombo did this summer. This makes it reasonable to assume that Sullinger will be in the best shape of his NBA career this season. He will also have plenty of opportunity in Toronto, as the four spot is one of their weaker positions.
Overall, Sullinger is a great pickup for the Raptors that should allow Patrick Patterson to return to his bench role, where he looks much more comfortable. Look for Sullinger to raise his game this season.
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