One of the most exciting times of the NBA offseason occurs during the first few days of the NBA free agency period. It's hectic, fast-paced, and can change the outlook for a franchise for many years to come. This past offseason was especially critical as the new NBA collective bargaining agreement catapulted the players' salaries into a different stratosphere. The amount of money being thrown around this offseason was astounding and it made for some head-scratching moves, often leaving us with the reaction, "How did that guy sign for that much money?!" Seriously, these contracts were so large that they even had NFL players tweeting out that they had chosen the wrong sport.
Teams that are looking to rebuild will often focus on the draft in order to obtain cheaper talent, but for teams that are looking to build on a solid core in an effort to compete for the playoffs will sometimes take risks on overpaying players in order to entice them to signing. Sometimes these players join their new teams and immediately fit the system and provide a huge benefit. But other times, free agent signings backfire and the signing looks like a terrible move. Given the massive amount of money provided to players this offseason, it is easy to scrutinize many of the signings, but this list takes a look provides an update for 8 signings that have backfired and 7 that have exceeded expectations. Remember, however, it is still early on in the season and these signings could look very differently by the end of the year. Let's take a look.
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15 Regret - Chandler Parsons
Chandler Parsons made it very clear this offseason that he would not sign for anything less than a max contract, despite the fact that he missed the end of the 2015-16 season after tearing the meniscus in his knee. This injury risk placed his former team, Dallas Mavericks, in a difficult position as they wanted to re-sign the tall and talented shooter but did not want to be stuck with paying a large amount of guaranteed money should he not return to his former self after the injury. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban appears to have made a wise decision in refusing to give into Parsons' lofty demands.
NBA teams that are lacking star-talent will often take a risk on a player like Parsons who, despite the injury concerns, retains a lot of potential to be a franchise player. This is exactly why the Memphis Grizzlies took the bait and offered Parsons the max contract that he desired, ultimately signing him for $94.8 million over four years. So far this season, Parsons has only played in six games as he continues to struggle with injuries. Ouch. Hopefully, this signing turns around as Parsons regains his health but as of now, it certainly appears to have backfired on the Grizzlies.
14 Exceeding - Harrison Barnes
The Mavericks may not have felt comfortable giving the aforementioned Parsons a max contract, but that did not stop them from offering Harrison Barnes a max deal to replace him. Barnes was an often overlooked role player for the star-studded Golden State Warriors but always put up consistent numbers as the fourth option. Now in Dallas, Barnes role has expanded exponentially and he is certainly exceeding his lofty expectations, as he is currently averaging approximately 20.4 ppg.
Barnes is shooting a ridiculous 46 percent from the field, but his three-point percentage has regressed a bit. This makes sense as teams are now able to concentrate on guarding Barnes given the uninspiring talent surrounding him in Dallas (not named Dirk). The Mavericks have had a difficult time winning games this season but the blame cannot be put on Barnes, as he appears to be hitting his stride with his new team. With Dirk Nowitzki likely to retire after this season, the signing of Barnes gives the Mavericks a potential cornerstone to build around for seasons to come. The Mavericks have to be happy with their decision to sign Barnes over Chandler Parsons.
13 Regret - Matthew Dellavedova
Do the Milwaukee Bucks enjoy losing games? There are times where it's easy to wonder whether that statement is true, including the moment they decided to sign Matthew Dellavedova to be their starting point guard. Dellavedova, commonly referred to as "Delly," has a hard-nosed playing style that makes people either love him or despise him. While playing primarily as a back-up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Delly showed the ability to change the momentum of games, while also getting under the skin of his opponents. It was this potential that the Bucks must have been eyeing when they signed him to a four-year, $38 million contract.
Now, nearly a quarter of a season into the Delly experiment, the Bucks have to be questioning their decision to make the Aussie their starting point guard. While his production has stayed relatively similar to how it was when he was a back-up with the Cavaliers, it's uninspiring given the fact that he is now a starter. He can still manage a game and play with his feisty attitude, but his lack of offensive game does little to hide the liability he creates on the defensive end. While the Bucks are hovering right around .500, it is difficult to see Delly remaining a key starter for the Bucks in the future. If that was the plan when signing him, then this signing clearly looks regrettable now.
12 Exceeding - Eric Gordon
The time had finally come for Eric Gordon to leave the New Orleans Pelicans. After dealing with multiple frustrating seasons and injuries, Gordon chose to leave the Pelicans to sign with Houston Rockets this offseason. The move could not have worked out better for both parties, as Gordon has completely revived his career and is the early favorite for the 6th Man of the Year award. It's great to see a guy like Gordon finally living up to his immense potential.
Gordon is currently averaging nearly 18 points per game off the bench for the Rockets and shows the ability to take over a game with the Rockets reserves. This is huge for the Rockets as it allows James Harden to receive more rest and takes some of the scoring pressure off the potential MVP. Signed to a four-year, $53 million contract, Gordon will play with the Rockets future for years to come and looks like a bargain while doing it. As long as Gordon can remain healthy, this could go down as one of the best signings of this free agency class.
11 Regret - Solomon Hill
Although not a household name, Solomon Hill was viewed as a potentially high ceiling free agent given his size, athleticism, and shooting ability. Hill is a prototypical 3 and D guy, meaning his potential suitors would expect him to come in and guard the opposing teams best scorer, while also providing timely three-pointers when open. However, Hill showed late in 2015 that his offensive skill set was progressing to the point that he could be a very solid wing player for the right team.
The New Orleans Pelicans thought they were that team that could develop Hill into an every night starter. Thus far, it appears that was just a pipe-dream. Hill has started the majority of the Pelicans games this season but is only averaging 5.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. Those numbers are in line with his career averages but do not provide any hope that Hill will eventually develop into a game-changing talent. Those numbers also have to make the Pelicans front office cringe when thinking about the $48 million they shelled out to sign Hill. Hopefully, they find Hill's defense to be worthy of the $12 million a season they are paying for it... but it's unlikely.
10 Exceeding - Dwyane Wade
There were many who thought Dwyane Wade was over the hill and was sure to regress after leaving South Beach, but the old man has continued to be a productive scorer for the Chicago Bulls. After spending 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, D-Wade decided to return home when he signed a two-year deal for $47 million with the Bulls. His homecoming has been a hit thus far as Wade is averaging nearly 20 points per game in only 30 minutes, while also giving the Bulls a temporary face of the franchise after they traded Derrick Rose to the Knicks.
Although he is no longer the dominant force he once was, Wade is providing Chicago with a veteran presence that will be extremely vital if he can help return the Bulls to the playoffs this season. If he can manage to stay healthy, Wade will pair with Jimmy Butler to create a formidable one-two punch down the stretch. It was a lot of money to give to an aging star, but Wade will be worth his weight in gold if he can generate some playoff magic this season. This could be, and should be, his final stop in the NBA and it will be a pleasure to watch Wade continue to compete at a high level for the Bulls.
9 Regret - Rajon Rondo
If Rajon Rondo isn't dishing out assists, Rajon Rondo is worthless. The guy cannot shoot if his life depended on it. In all seriousness, Rondo is a great NBA point guard and can run an offense better than most ball-handlers in the league. This is why the Bulls signed him to a two-year deal for $28 million. It was expected that he would lead the Chicago Bulls offense to a fast-paced and high-scoring group, but Rondo has been very inconsistent this season.
Rondo is only averaging 8 points per game this season which isn't surprising, but more surprisingly, he is only averaging 7 assists per game. His game is based entirely on his ability to facilitate an offense and dish out passes, so it's possible that he just does not fit the Bulls system. Rondo is also shooting an abysmal 39 percent from the field this year. Worst of all, Rondo was recently suspended for conduct detrimental to the team after he got into a heated argument with a Bulls assistant coach. His lack of production on the court and source of distraction off of it, makes this signing appear to be a mistake for the Bulls. You can't win em' all Chicago.
8 Exceeding - Trevor Booker
Not all free agent signings are marquee moves, but that doesn't mean that some under the radar signings can't have a big impact. That is the case with Trevor Booker. Booker has largely been a role player off the bench for Washington and Utah in his career but signed with the Brooklyn Nets in hopes of earning a full-time starting position. So far, Booker has exceeded expectations by nearly averaging a double-double and has been a lone bright spot for the lowly Nets.
Although he will never be an all-star caliber player, Booker has shown he can be a dependable starter for the next couple of seasons. What makes this a great signing is the fact that Booker was signed for only $18 million over the next two seasons. In a year in which teams were throwing out massive contracts for potential reserve players, the Booker signing looks like an absolute steal. If Booker can continue to produce at his current level, he will be in line for a more lucrative deal after the 2016-17 season. It's always nice to see a guy finally come into his own and Booker is one of those players this season.
7 Regret - Bismack Biyombo
Bismack Biyombo stormed on to the free agent scene after his surprising 2015-16 season with the Toronto Raptors, often filling in for an injured Jonas Valanciunas. Biyombo showed his worth on the defensive end with his ability to protect the rim and rebound during the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He even had a 26 rebound performance in Game 3 of that series. His stock was at an all-time high entering the 2016 free agency period and Biyombo cashed in with a 4 year, $72 million deal with the Orlando Magic.
Given the massive contract he received, it was expected that Biyombo would be an every night starter and continue the production he showed in his season with the Raptors. However, Biyombo has struggled to fit with the Magic and recently lost his starting spot to Nikola Vucevic. It was unfair to expect Biyombo to continue such a high production level, given the fact that he has never been much more than a role player throughout his career, but when you sign a big time free agency deal, big expectations are going to come with it. It's still early in the season and it's possible that Biyombo is able to turn it around but as of now, this signing has been greatly unrewarding for the Magic.
6 Exceeding - Al Horford
When the Celtics lost out on the Kevin Durant free agency sweepstakes, they were at least able to find some solace in the fact they were able to steal perennial all-star Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks. Horford has been one of the best and most reliable big men in the league since being drafted #3 overall by the Hawks in 2007 and has shown no signs of slowing down with his new squad. Horford is currently averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and a pleasantly surprising 5 assists.
While the Celtics have failed to exceed expectations as a whole this year after their surprising 2015-16 run to the playoffs, Horford has certainly held up his end of the bargain. The Celtics currently sit third in the Eastern Conference and Horford's dominance will only help propel them into the postseason this year. Once the playoffs start, Horford will be counted on to carry the young Celtics in a deep playoff run. Having Horford's all around game will pay big dividends when the games get more meaningful and the Celtics will view this signing as a blessing.
5 Regret - Timofey Mozgov
One of the more surprising signings this offseason was the Lakers' aggressive pursuit of big man Timofey Mozgov, ultimately signing him to a $64 million contract. Mozgov won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, but he played a very small role during their playoff run. Maybe the Lakers were impressed with his ability to sit on the bench? No matter the true reason behind this signing, Mozgov entered this season as the clear starter at center for the youthful Lakers team.
So far this season, Mozgov has gone full Mozgov in the sense that he is currently averaging below double digits in both points and rebounds. What makes this signing truly uninspiring is the fact that Mozgov only plays roughly 20 minutes a game, despite the fact that he is the starting center. The Lakers are essentially paying $16 million per season for a player that plays less than two quarters a game. They can continue to mask this odd signing by claiming that Mozgov is the "starting" center, but the numbers don't lie. Congratulations to Mozgov for cashing in, but the Lakers need to take a serious look at re-evaluating their free agency decision making.
4 Exceeding - Marreese Speights
One of the NBA's most interesting players is Marreese Speights. More commonly known as "Mo-buckets" for his innate ability to score from all around the floor, Speights has become one of the most dependable reserve players in the NBA. The Clippers were able to pry Speights away from the Golden State Warriors this offseason when they signed him to a 2 year, $2.8 million contract. Yes, Mo-buckets only makes a little over $1 million a year despite the huge contracts that were given out to much lesser players this offseason.
His contract makes Speights a true free agent bargain and the Clippers have to be loving their new addition. While Speights does not play many minutes, he is extremely productive in his limited floor time. This season, Speights is averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds in just over 15 minutes per game. Other than his consistent production, Speights brings a strong veteran presence to a Clippers team who is primed to make a run for the NBA championship this season. As one of the lowest paid free agents this offseason, Speights is far exceeding his contract and was a great pickup by the Clippers.
3 Regret: Al Jefferson, Indiana Pacers
Al Jefferson was once of the most dominant post players in the NBA, averaging as much as 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Minnesota Grizzlies in 2008. As recently as 2014, Jefferson still averaged a solid 16 points and 7 rebounds while playing for the Charlotte Hornets. This offseason the Pacers signed the aging big man to help reinforce their front court as they attempt to regain their playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference, but he has provided very little thus far.
It was clear that Jefferson's game was fading as he got older, but nobody could have foreseen that he would be limited to only 15 minutes per game when he signed his three-year, $30 million contract with this offseason. When paying a player $10 million a season, they are expected to average more than just 7 points per game. Jefferson is a true old-school style big man, but it's possible that his game is now out-dated in a more up-tempo, guard oriented league. If the Pacers qualify for the playoffs this season, this signing could still prove to be valuable but as of now, Jefferson has been very disappointing.
2 Exceeding - Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was far and away the biggest target on the market this offseason (yes, LeBron was technically a free agent but it was clear he was staying in Cleveland), and it's obvious why. Durant was voted into seven all-star games in his first nine seasons in the NBA and was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2014. At 6'10", Durant possesses a unique skill set for a man his size, as he can create off the dribble and is lethal from three-point land. Entering this season, his career scoring average was at a remarkable 27.4 points per game. He also averages around 7 rebounds per game to boot.
It is very rare for a player of Durant's caliber to reach free agency, as teams will often do all they can to lock up their elite players. However, after the Thunder lost in seven games to the Golden State Warriors in last season's Western Conference finals, it became apparent that Durant was looking to take his talents elsewhere. He was highly sought after by many teams and at one point it appeared he could sign with the Boston Celtics, but ultimately he decided to create (essentially) an all-star team in Golden State. Now paired with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, Durant has continued to put up big numbers. The signing of Durant immediately improved an already stacked Warriors line-up and they appear primed to bring Durant his first NBA championship. With this incredible signing, the Warriors now have two former MVPs on their roster and are the team to beat this season.
1 Regret - Joakim Noah
It's difficult to say that this signing has "backfired," but the New York Knicks gave a lot of money to Joakim Noah in comparison to the production he has provided. Noah has never been a player that wows you with his statistical output and it was clear that his game was trending downwards the past few seasons, but that did not stop the Knicks from aggressively pursuing him this offseason. Now healthy, the hope was that Noah would return to his former self in which he consistently averaged double digits in points and rebounds.
This season has been well below average for Noah as he is only averaging 4.5 points per game (ppg) and 7.9 rebounds. Although he gives tremendous effort and has an ability to change shots at the rim, it creates a liability offensively for the Knicks. Fortunately for them, they have plenty of offensive talent in Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis but it's alarming how ineffective Noah is on offense. He continues to provide his trademark hustle and energy but after signing a 4 year, $72 million contract, the Knicks had to have been expecting more from Noah. Plus, Knicks fans now have to endure the eye-strain that comes with watching Noah shoot free-throws... it's a truly frightening sight.
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