One of the most fun things for fans to do in the offseason is play the guessing game. At the top of the list in this guessing game is predicting future free agent signings. This game has become especially fun in today's NBA, considering that money is being handed out like candy. Of course, 2016 free agency was something we have never seen before in terms of how much money was being dispersed. This is mostly because of the spike in the salary cap, which can be attributed to the new television deal the NBA received from ESPN and Turner Sports (do not be surprised if there is a lockout due to this contract, but that is a story for another day).
Now this is where I am going to issue a warning to NBA fans: if you thought 2016 free agency was ridiculous, just wait until 2017 free agency starts. The cap will increase significantly once again and as a result, we continue to see desperate teams hand out ridiculous contracts to average players. We will see the Timofey Mozgovs of the world pulling in $15 plus million a year. In addition, we will also see players at the level of Mike Conley, stars, but not superstars, continue to receive $30 plus million annually. Why the NBA did not find a way to slowly include all of the extra revenue they received from the TV contract, I will never know.
On the other hand, we cannot exclude the teams that are going to be tight against the cap, which usually turn out to be the already contending teams. Barring a trade to create cap space, these teams will have to stay away from high priced shopping in free agency, but that does not mean they cannot find bargain signings that will take them to the next level come playoff time. There are always players looking for a "prove it" type deal and many teams end up becoming the beneficiary of this.
With that being said, this article is going to play the guessing game by predicting eight NBA free agents that will be overpaid and eight free agents that will be bargains in 2017.
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16 Overpaid - Jared Sullinger
The Raptors were able to secure Jared Sullinger on a very team-friendly one-year $5 million contract this offseason, making him one of the best bargains in free agency for the upcoming season. Well, Sullinger will not be a bargain in 2017. Let me explain.
The Raptors gave him a prove it type deal in 2016 free agency and I am expecting Sullinger to come into the season with high motivation. I predict he will be in the best shape of his career and as a result, he will have a breakout season. He is also playing on a playoff team where the depth at his position is mediocre to say the least, thus, giving him even more opportunity to prove himself.
Overall, many teams are going to think he has finally committed to being the best player he can and line up for his services in free agency. My final prediction: Sullinger will receive around $15 million a year from a desperate team that will end up regretting the contract when he goes back to his old habits.
15 Bargain - Kelly Olynyk
I know many Boston fans cannot stand Kelly Olynyk due to his inconsistent play and his many injury-plagued seasons thus far in his career. Additionally, many Celtics fans cite Olynyk as one of those players that shows so much flash and skill, but somehow, in the end is a disappointment. As a result of all of these inconsistencies, teams will not be willing to hand out a large contract to Olynyk when he becomes a free agent and instead, he will have to sign a prove it type deal in the one to two year range worth around $5 million annually.
This type of contract will be a steal for whatever team signs Olynyk, despite the aforementioned flaws. Firstly, Olynyk can provide contending teams with depth at the four or five position. Also, remember that Olynyk has averaged around 10 points per game in his career in just 20 minutes of playing time per game, which is very respectable.
Finally, if he is able to put all of his talent together and shake the injury bug, he can be even greater than just a role player and provide very respectable sixth man type production. Overall, look for some team to benefit from signing Olynyk to a cheap short term contract before he eventually cashes in.
14 Overpaid - Dion Waiters
Similar to Sullinger, Dion Waiters was signed at a very reasonable one-year $2.9 million contract this offseason by the Miami Heat and like Sullinger, I expect Waiters to come into the season with extra motivation. He is going to want to cash in after his one-year contract expires and he will use this season to show teams there was a reason he was such a high draft pick. Well, he picked the perfect organization to prove his worth. The Heat and Eric Spoelstra are very good at showcasing a player's talents and the same will apply to Dion Waiters. It also helps that Miami is now in a rebuilding stage and there is plenty of opportunity for Waiters to receive tons of minutes.
My guess? I think Waiters will average around 15-17 points per game this season playing on a below average Heat team. As a result, as is usually the case, some desperate team will think that Waiters has finally put all of his pieces together and sign him to a high dollar, long-term contract. This team will instantly regret the contract, as Waiters has not proven he can be that type of player for a significant period of time.
13 Bargain - Tyreke Evans
Although Tyreke Evans has not been able to live up to his draft status and remarkable rookie season, he is still is a very good NBA player. Right now, he is making around $11 million per season, which is a reasonable price for a player that will average around 15 points per game a season. Evans also has very good play-making skills and brings considerable size to his position. Most importantly, Evans is just beginning to hit the prime of his career at the age of 28 (when free agency hits).
When the time for free agency does come, I expect Evans to sign for a lower price in comparison to his current contract and yes, for a player of Evans caliber in today's NBA, that is a bargain. People might think that Evans is going to see a much larger contract than I have predicted, but I argue against this because of his fringe starter status and injury history. Teams are not sure if he is able to be a full-time starter and as a result, many teams will be reluctant to break the bank for Evans. Of course, some bench players are an exception to this, but I do not put Evans in this category. Finally, keep in mind, this is a "risky" bargain, as Evans does have injury issues.
12 Overpaid - Rudy Gay
Remember when people thought the Grizzlies were crazy for trading away Rudy Gay? After all, they were having some successful seasons with him as the leading scorer. Well, after a few seasons it turns out the Grizzlies knew exactly what they were doing. Gay has not proven he can be a reliable number one or two option on a winning team, yet he continues to be paid like he is. When you are a high volume shooter like Gay, you need to be able to average above 25 points or more per game and not around 18. At first, I thought Gay was struggling because he was having vision problems (as he himself stated). However, his numbers did not improve very much after he corrected this problem.
Overall, first the Raptors fell for the hype surrounding Gay, then the Kings. Now, some desperate team in free agency (may even be the Kings) will make the same mistake and give him $17-20 million per year. In the end, teams should know from history not to pay this much money to Gay, but desperation causes some teams to throw rational thinking out the window.
11 Bargain - Danilo Gallinari
People might think I am insane for listing Danilo Gallinari as a bargain, but hear me out. I understand Gallinari has not been able to live up to the hype in his career yet. He has shown skill on the court, but injuries have slowed him down exponentially. Injuries, however, are the exact reason he will be a steal for some team in free agency. No team is going to want to give Gallinari a big contract unless he shows he can sustain his health. Obviously, up to this point Gallinari has not been able to do so, which is why he will end up signing a team-friendly deal. If this does happen and Gallinari is able to keep himself healthy, some team will greatly benefit.
In the end, I know this is a lot of "ifs," but Gallinari is just too skilled to ignore what could happen when he is healthy for the majority of a season. Let us not forget that this is a guy that averaged 19.5 points per game in 58 games last season. I can just imagine a contending team locking him up and then limiting his minutes until playoff time and benefiting greatly.
10 Overpaid - Kyle Lowry
It hurts me to put Kyle Lowry on this list. I know a lot of media and fans questioned his "heart" and dedication when he left to the locker room before the first half expired in the Eastern Conference Finals this past season. However, this questioning could not be more off-base, as Lowry is the heart and soul of the Raptors team and he lays his body on the line every single game. The instance where he left to the locker room early is something he does regularly, but got overblown in this case because people needed something to talk about during the Conference Finals.
So clearly I am a big fan of Lowry, and you must be wondering why I put him on the overpaid side of things? Well, by the time free agency rolls around, Lowry will be 31 and with his bulldog style of play, it is tough to envision his body holding up for another four years at this All-Star level (with a probable salary of $22 plus million).
This contract will likely come from the Raptors and I understand why they would do it and it is definitely well earned for Lowry, but it is just too bad for both parties that this contract could not be coming with Lowry at a younger age.
9 Bargain - Tony Allen
Many people like to dismiss Tony Allen because of his poor offensive game. However, I am here to argue that Memphis would not be as successful as they have been the past few years without him. He is one of those players that every team needs because of his grit and toughness. In addition, the bigger the stage, the better Allen plays. Anyone that follows the Grizzlies knows he is usually one of their better players in the playoffs. Also, do not forget the fact that he has consistently been one of the best defenders in the league throughout his time in the NBA and many players have come out and called him the toughest defender they have to face.
So why do I think he will be a bargain? Circumstance. Allen is going to be 35 when he hits free agency and many teams will be reluctant to pay him big money or give him more than a year or two length in contract because of his age. However, I still feel that Allen can play his role effectively, and as a result, some lucky team will lock him up for a cheap price and have themselves one of the best defenders in the league.
8 Overpaid - Jeff Teague
In my opinion, Jeff Teague is one of the most overrated players in the NBA. He is small and does not seem to have the floor general skills required to be an elite point guard, even though he was playing in a point guard-friendly system. My argument can be supported by the fact that the Atlanta Hawks were willing to sit him during crunch time in favor of Dennis Schroeder during the playoffs. It is likely the Hawks thought Teague was overrated as well, which is why they were willing to shop him around at multiple times during his tenure in Atlanta. In the end, he was ultimately dealt to Indiana and personally, I do not even think Teague will be an upgrade over the Pacers former starting point guard, George Hill.
Currently, Teague is making a fair salary of $8 million annually, but with the craziness in the NBA dollar, expect him to see a huge raise in 2017. Some team will give him close to the max, only to be disappointed when they learn he is not as good as many believe him to be.
7 Bargain - Nerlens Noel
In the NBA, there are many types of contracts that seem like an over-payment at the time, but end up being a bargain. This can be attributed to many players being signed based on their potential, instead of their current level. We have seen this with players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, and many other players. It is just how the NBA contract system works.
One player we can add to the aforementioned list in the coming years is Nerlens Noel. He will probably receive a contract extension from the 76ers that many people deem to be as an over-payment, but by the end of the contract, people will be calling him one of the underpaid players in the NBA. Noel is still a very young player that has showed tons of promise. His game showed improvement in many areas last season, which is backed by his statistics.
Overall, the only thing that I can see holding Noel back is the crowded front court in Philly. Perhaps this is why he has been linked in many trade rumors the past several weeks. We will see if some team is lucky enough to acquire him.
6 Overpaid - Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala is another person that was very difficult to put on this list due to the respect I have for him as a player. He is a great leader, defender and most importantly, he is selfless, as evident in his willingness to come off the bench for the Golden State Warriors. In addition, the Warriors would not have won a championship if it was not for his great defense on LeBron James and overall calming presence on his team.
However, like Lowry, circumstance is going to make Iguodala an overpaid free agent when 2017 arrives. The major factor that is going to make Iguodala overpaid is age and attrition. He will be 33 years old when his free agency arrives and this is a pretty "old" age considering he has put tons of miles on his body and his statistics have been declining. Also, remember that for much of his career, Iguodala has guarded other teams' top players on a nightly basis, which is surely going to catch up with him sooner than later.
Still, all of this is not going to stop some desperate team from throwing tons of money at Iggy. Well, I say good for him, as I would rather be overpaid than underpaid, that is for sure.
5 Bargain - J.J. Redick
Yes, J.J. Redick is going to be 33 in 2017, but with his graceful style of play, age will not be too much of a concern for teams. Redick is just one of those players that fits on any playoff team and yet, he is still underrated by many around the NBA. He will surprise many with his solid defensive play, is a great team player and provides solid leadership. Most importantly, he still is one of the premier three-point shooters in the league and with how basketball is being played today, this a very valuable asset. Just remember, he had the best three-point percentage of his career this past season at .475%.
The one catch with Redick is that to be at his best, he needs a lot of help around him. He is going to need a good play-maker to feed him the ball when he is coming off screens. However, I do not expect this to be a factor for his free agency, as he likely will sign with a contending team that has great players around him. Overall, anything around $11-12 million a year for Redick will be a good signing.
4 Overpaid - Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has all the tools to be an NBA superstar and at times, he has played like one. However, this superstar performance has not been consistent enough for the massive contract Griffin will get in 2017. Another weakness of Griffin is that he seems to get frustrated too easily at times, as witnessed numerous times in his playoff battles with the Memphis Grizzlies. Moreover, Griffin has had too many injury problems throughout his career to receive a superstar contract. Despite all of these aforementioned issues, Griffin will undoubtedly receive max contract offers from numerous teams. It is hard to blame these teams, as some are in desperate need of a player to turn their franchise around, but I just do not believe Griffin has shown he can be that guy.
Personally, I fully expect Griffin to leave the Clippers, as there is just too much friction with Chris Paul and the team, especially after the whole punching a team staffer incident. Overall, Griffin still has plenty of time to prove people like me wrong, but for now, he belongs in the soon to be overpaid category.
3 Bargain - Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston has been great for the Golden State Warriors the past couple of seasons. When watching him play, I get the sense that he could start on several other NBA teams. He creates mismatches for opposing defenses and can run the show. However, I do not know if this will be enough to convince teams to give him a large contract raise. He may get long-term since he has now proven that he can stay healthy, but I am not sure about the annual dollar. I just get this feeling that other teams will think he was the product of a great team and system. As a result, they will be willing to offer him less than what he is worth in comparison to other players.
In the end, I predict a lack of huge offers from outside suitors will help convince Livingston to stay with the Warriors on a team-friendly contract. Right now, he is making around $5.5 million per year and I am guessing he will earn a raise to around $8.5 million per year, which is a bargain for a player of his caliber in today's NBA.
2 Overpaid - Derrick Rose
Why have I been getting the recent feeling that Derrick Rose is going to stay healthy this season? Maybe it is because he is going into a contract year. I expect Rose to have a good year in New York this season. Of course, he will not be what he once was, but nonetheless he will be more than capable for the Knicks. This is going to lead to teams thinking that Rose has overcome his injury bug and treat him like the old Rose. As a result, he will sign a a huge contract with some team.
The other factor that will ensure Rose is overpaid is if the Knicks make the playoffs. On paper, it is clear that they have a good enough team to do so. So what does this have to do with Rose getting paid? Well, if the Knicks indeed make the playoffs with Rose as the starting point guard, there will be tremendous pressure in the Big Apple to keep him. This could involve the Knicks being in a bidding war and ultimately having to pay Rose much more than he is worth. Overall, if there is one team we can count on to screw up a contract signing, it is the Knicks.
1 Bargain - George Hill
George Hill has always been one of the more underrated players in the NBA. I remember watching him in the playoffs against Miami in the LeBron days and have been impressed with him ever since. He always seems to make the right play, plays outstanding defense, is a good shooter, and can run an offense efficiently. These are some of the reasons I was very surprised to see Indiana trade Hill and replace him with Jeff Teague.
Anyhow, some may argue that Hill will be 31 by the time free agency roles around, which makes it hard for him to be a bargain. However, I argue that this will not be a problem for a good team that is looking to add a veteran as a short-term option. He will not break the bank and probably can be signed for seven to $10 million per year, which is a bargain in my books. In addition, Hill has been very durable over his career, which makes it more likely that he can be productive on a three or four-year contract. Some team is going to be very happy when they sign Hill in 2017.
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