Just like every other summer in recent NBA history, this season has seen unimaginable sums of money change hands within the league's free agency period. Free agency always brings its fair share of insanity, but this summer's wheelings and dealings have already forced fans to get used to the sight of LeBron James in Laker purple and gold and Tony Parker in Charlotte Hornet teal. Where seven players were set to earn salaries north of $30 million next season prior to July 1st, four players - James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Chris Paul - have already joined that well-compensated group since.
When this kind of money - estimated to be approaching $1 billion in total contract value - is being thrown around, you just know there's bound to be some regrettable and expensive decisions being made. No games are won and lost in July, but the free agent sweepstakes - particularly when it features the league's two biggest stars - certainly helps to shape the collective NBA power balance.
We remain months away from tipping off the 2018-19 season, one that will begin - like it or not - with the Golden State Warriors entrenched as heavy title favorites. However, amidst the dealings in the early days of 2018 free agency, it isn't hard to highlight some of the contracts that already look like enviable steals and others that, um, don't. Here's the early look at 10 contracts that already look like overpays and 10 that appear poised to be bargains - relative to the zany world of NBA money, that is.
18 Overpaid: Mario Hezonja
There's a temptation here to chalk this up as merely another mess on the record of James Dolan's haphazard New York Knicks. There is, however, at least some reason to believe that Mario Hezonja, a 23-year-old just three years removed from being the fifth overall pick, might thrive amidst new surroundings. But while $6.5 million won't exactly break the bank in today's NBA, it does seem a bit steep for a guy whose career PPG is under seven. Moreover, a one-year gamble in what is likely to be a lost season at Madison Square Garden seems more pointless than savvy.
17 Bargain: Joe Harris
While hardly a star, Joe Harris is exactly the type of heady, defensive-minded three-point threat that will continue to benefit the Brooklyn Nets along their slow climb back to respectability.
Retaining the 27-year-old for the next two years at $8 million apiece is a subtly significant move for GM Sean Marks and the Nets.
In an ideal world, Harris will be a key role player for a Brooklyn squad on the rise (they've finally paid off the Celtics trade!). More realistically, though, his contract remains very tradeable and could eventually bring in draft assets.
16 Overpaid: Doug McDermott
In an offseason where one- and two-year contracts were in vogue, it seems strange to see Doug McDermott get a three-year, $22 million deal to join the Indiana Pacers. I understand that more than 30 NBA players will make more this season than McDermott will make over the duration of his contract, but that still doesn't explain why Doug McBuckets deserves a 300% raise from last season. The Creighton star is now on his fifth NBA team in what will be just his fourth season, so it's unclear what the Pacers saw that warranted a three-year commitment.
15 Bargain: Fred VanVleet
Those who didn't watch much of the north-of-the-border Toronto Raptors last season will probably wonder why they've committed $18 million over two years to their third-string point guard. But Fred VanVleet took on an absolutely integral role for the 59-win Raps, serving as both the driving force of their much-heralded second unit and even a key crunch time presence. Toronto will dedicate a whopping $42.5 million to the point guard position next season between VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright, but if the club gets the same VanVleet from last season, the contract will be a bargain.
14 Overpaid: Avery Bradley
Two years and $25 million isn't an unreasonable amount for the pesky and versatile defensive presence that is Avery Bradley, but does he really fit on the current incarnation of the Los Angeles Clippers?
Bradley's game is ideally suited to serving the designated defensive stopper to make life miserable for a star guard in a tough playoff series, but these Clips hardly look like a playoff team.
DeAndre Jordan has followed Blake Griffin and Chris Paul out the door, leaving an odd mix of veterans better suited as secondary scoring options. If Bradley is asked to be a primary scorer, his contract may quickly become regrettable.
13 Bargain: J.J. Redick
There were plenty of chuckles in NBA circles last summer when the Philadelphia 76ers made a $23 million overpay for one year of the services of three-point specialist JJ Redick. No one is laughing now. With Redick playing an integral role, the Sixers announced their ascension to Eastern Conference contender with a second round playoff appearance. Now a viable free agent destination, Philly brought back Redick for another season - this time at somewhere between $15 and $16 million. The young, "Trust the Process" Sixers may not be done, but they already loom as a serious threat in the East.
12 Overpaid: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
If LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers are going to make noise in a stacked Western Conference amidst titans like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, it will be players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who need to help the King get there. Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers seem to understand that, given KCP's $12 million contract for the upcoming season.
Still, given all the hoopla surrounding who might join James in La La Land (Paul George? Kawhi Leonard?), retaining Caldwell-Pope seems a little underwhelming for a marquee franchise who just added the best player in basketball.
11 Bargain: Tyreke Evans
For the same one-year, $12 million pact as the Lakers handed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Indiana Pacers landed a player who averaged six more points on considerably better shooting last seasons.
Tyreke Evans was a revelation for the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, who failed to find a trade deadline partner for the 28-year-old despite his 19.4 points on 45.2% shooting.
The playoff-minded Pacers will now have his services as a super-sub at a very reasonable cap hit. Sure, Evans may seem a tad redundant behind Victor Oladipo, but a one-year deal stands as a worthwhile gamble for a dynamic scorer.
10 Overpaid: Dante Exum
Given the three-year, $33 million deal that the Utah Jazz lavished upon RFA Dante Exum, you might assume that the 22-year-old would be well on his way to making good on the tantalizing potential that made him the fifth pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Sadly, that hasn't come to be as of yet. The injury-prone Exum has suited up for just 162 regular season games, or just under two full seasons, over his four years in the NBA. When healthy, he's looked the part of a serviceable backup point guard, having actually seen his minutes decrease each season. While the Jazz may have visions of an Exum / Donovan Mitchell back court of the future, for now they just handed $33 million to Ricky Rubio's backup.
9 Bargain: Derrick Favors
It hasn't been all bad in getting the band back together for the Utah Jazz. The club deserves credit for the two-year, $36 million contract that brought power forward Derrick Favors back into the fold. In a weak market at his position, the Jazz did well to not only retain their starting four of the past five seasons, but to commit just two years to the 27-year-old. The Georgia Tech star is still young enough that Utah may want him back once the deal expires, but the front court partner of Rudy Gobert has had knee issues, so who knows where he'll be at in two years.
8 Overpaid: Rajon Rondo
The Los Angeles Lakers' signing of LeBron James sent shockwaves through the NBA and prompted much speculation on what the purple and gold would do next. It's been a rather underwhelming trek ever since.
Maybe James' sway is fading, as bringing along Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee hardly matches up with his previous recruitment of Chris Bosh to Miami and Kevin Love to Cleveland.
Then there's the Lakers' signing of Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $9 million deal. Apart from the combustible element of having Stephenson, McGee and Rondo in the same locker room, L.A. managed to find one of the few point guards with as shaky a jump shot as Lonzo Ball.
7 Bargain: Jeff Green
It's been a quietly productive offseason in the nation's capital. Instead of wholesale change, which some felt was necessary after a disappointing 2017-18 season and some serious cap-related limitations, the Washington Wizards applied their modest space to address their shallow depth. The Wiz saved about $1 million by dealing Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers and then inked Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to team-friendly one-year deals. Getting Green, a key reserve for the NBA finalist Cleveland Cavaliers, at the veteran's minimum was a particular boon.
Overpaid: Ersan Ilyasova
A waiver wire pickup in February, Ersan Ilyasova proved to be a valuable depth addition down the stretch for the Philadelphia 76ers. It's telling, however, that they seemed readily willing to let him walk in free agency. Instead, the sharp-shooting big man landed in Milwaukee on a three-year, $21 million deal. While not outrageous, those terms serve to further bloat a Bucks cap sheet filled with significant money being allotted to middling veterans (Tony Snell, John Henson, Mirza Teletovic...). It doesn't bode well that the Sixers replaced much of Ilyasova's production by giving Nemanja Bjelica a one-year deal worth $4.4 million.
6 Bargain: Kevin Durant
To the extent that paying someone $30 million a year to play basketball can be considered a discount, the Golden State Warriors continue to benefit from Kevin Durant's willingness to take a shave for the greater good.
Widely considered one of the two best players in the league right now, KD will actually make $10 million less next season that teammate Steph Curry.
That hometown discount has enabled the Warriors dynasty to prosper and has brought Durant two rings in two seasons in the Bay Area.
Overpaid: Zach LaVine
You get the sense that the Bulls' decision to match the four-year, $78 million offer sheet that the Sacramento Kings heaped upon Zach LaVine was done with something less than pure enthusiasm. Sure, the Bulls wasted no time in matching, but they likely aren't thrilled with the prospect of committing nearly $20 million per season for the next four years on a defensive liability who played just 24 games during his first season in Chi-town after undergoing ACL surgery.
At 24 years of age, LaVine still has a chance to make good on his new contract, but the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade has now taken a good chunk from the cap room that Chicago felt would help expedite their rebuild.
5 Bargain: DeAndre Jordan
It might take some time for Dallas Mavericks fans to fully get behind the signing of DeAndre Jordan, given that it was a mere three years ago that the 29-year-old center reneged on a verbal commitment with the club to rejoin the Los Angeles Clippers.
Winning helps heal old wounds, and Jordan could be the missing link to returning Dallas to respectability.
A one-year, $24.1 million deal for the two-time member of the NBA All-Defense team represents a worthwhile gamble for a guy who might be able to serve as a bridge between the Mavs' young (Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic) and old (Dirk Nowitzki) guard and make the club competitive now.
4 Overpaid: Nikola Jokic
During a remarkable two-year rise from fairly anonymous big man prospect into a player reverently known as "the Unicorn", there hasn't been much criticism aimed at Nikola Jokic. And to be sure, career-high averages of 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds at 23 years of age prove Jokic to be deserving of the praise heaped upon him. But a five-year max contract that is set to pay Jokic just under $30 million per season will make the spotlight shine that much brighter.
A closer look reveals that he hasn't demonstrated consistent chemistry alongside Paul Millsap in Denver and while his 2017-18 stats were impressive, they were only good for 30th in scoring and ninth on the glass. He's still got plenty to prove.
3 Bargain: Julius Randle
Almost a footnote in the aftermath of LeBron James signing with the Lakers, restricted free agent Julius Randle quickly and quietly agreed to a two-year, $18 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle, who won't yet be 24 when the season kicks off, instantly represents a younger, less volatile and potentially more complimentary front court partner to Anthony Davis than the Pelicans had with DeMarcus Cousins.
Coming off a season in which the Brow led them to a second round playoff appearance, Randle will at least be able to offer more to New Orleans than an out-til-December Cousins could in the season's first half. And here's betting he pays off well beyond that.
2 Overpaid: Chris Paul
Look, there is no questioning the greatness of Chris Paul, nor his integral role on a 65-win Houston Rockets team that may well have toppled the Warriors and become NBA champions had CP3 not been felled by a hamstring injury late in the Western Finals.
The hamstring injury, however, points to the biggest looming concern over the four-year, $160 million contract signed by Paul to remain a Rocket.
When healthy, Paul is probably just a shade below Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook in the league's point guard rankings. That doesn't, however, change the fact that he'll be 37 when the contract ends and has already missed 45 games across the past two seasons. Paul getting a bigger deal than LeBron James or Kevin Durant also doesn't seem right.
1 Bargain: DeMarcus Cousins
In 2010, LeBron James announcing that he was taking his "talents to South Beach" easily loomed as the league's biggest news story of the year. This time around, in his second departure from Cleveland, James' move to LA barely topped the NBA news cycle for 24 hours. That's because as NBA fans wondered whether James could help build a Lakers quad poised to take the West, the Golden State Warriors reminded everyone who was the Conference's top dog with their shocking signing of DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million deal.
Only the Warriors could convince one of the league's most dominant bigs to come on board for, essentially, the mid-level exception. Though out until the holidays while recovering from an Achilles surgery, Boogie will make the title favorites that much more dominant when the season really heats up in 2019.