With the new television money one year in the NBA, there’s been plenty of money spent this past offseason. Finding bargains can actually be tougher because of how quickly salary inflation can outpace the cap expansion. This year, more than ever, organizational stature mattered bigger than any other factor, including money. Show a free agent the ability to be a consistently winning franchise, and money in some cases became incidental. Plus, being the San Antonio Spurs didn’t hurt much either. In reverse order, Letterman style, here’s the top 10 best contracts signed this offseason.
10) Mo Williams (Cleveland) 2 years at $4.3 million. For all the roster moves the Cavaliers made during last season, they never addressed the glaring need of having a backup lead guard behind the often injured Kyrie Irving. This bit the Cavs in the backside in the NBA finals where the entire offensive burden was on Lebron James from initiating the offense to setting other guys up to scoring himself. Williams helps in each of those areas. He made a good contribution last season as a bench player for both Minnesota and Charlotte. Plus, he has a successful track record playing with James. Even though Cleveland’s Prokhorovian luxury tax bill will make this more expensive, getting Williams for this cheap price makes guaranteeing the 2nd year more than worth it. Like many other guys on this list, Williams is putting a premium on competing for a title.
9) Bismack Biyombo (Toronto) 2 years at $5.7 million. The Raptors have put a lot of stock in starting center Jonas Valanciunas’ ability to defend. Valanciunas has largely been a disappointment and the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the Raptors haven’t had a capable backup behind him. Enter Biyombo. Biyombo is an excellent rim protector and an all-around excellent defender. He’s also a very good rebounder. Where Biyombo has issues is on the offensive end of the floor where he’s not able to do much outside of dunk. He can dive in the pick and roll and finish an alley oop, but he’s a clear 5th option. However, if the Raptors are going to spend time playing small with DeMarre Carroll at big forward, Biyombo’s rebounding and finishing ability can fit quite well. Plus, he’s the kind of defender that can cover for perimeter mistakes. At less than $3 million a year, his skill set is an big bargain for anyone, but even more so for Toronto based upon a pressing need.
8) Marco Belinelli (Sacramento) 3 years at $19 million. In the 2nd season of True Detective, Vince Vaughn’s character Frank Semyon tells Colin Farrell’s character, Ray Velcoro, that there are events in a person’s life that significant enough to create a before and an after. Vaughn could have very well been describing Belinelli’s career, which can be divided between before playing for Tom Thibodeau and after. Although Belinelli was not exactly a model of offensive efficiency for Chicago under Thibodeau, he learned how to defend. The offensive efficiency improved significantly in his two years in San Antonio playing for Gregg Popovich. He’s become a decent option as a 3D guy. When you look at the contracts these 3D guys got in free agency such as DeMarre Carroll and Wes Matthews, Belinelli at $6 mill and change per year is a downright bargain. Factor in that he’s only 29 and this is a deal with the potential for a lot of upside. In a tumultuous offseason for the Kings, where several mistakes were made, getting Belinelli at this salary figure is probably the best thing they’ve done.
7) Brandan Wright (Memphis) 3 years at $17 million. Memphis employed Kosta Koufos as their backup center the last two years and although Koufos played well for them and was his normal efficient self, his lack of versatility limited how much Memphis could use him. He could capably replace Marc Gasol but was an awkward fit playing next to him. Wright is much more athletic than Koufos and is athletic enough to be able to handle the responsibilities of big forwards on the perimeter defensively. When you look at the fact that Koufos got almost $8 mill a year from Sacramento for 4 guaranteed years and that an inferior big to Wright in Aron Baynes got over $6 mill a year for 3 years, this deal for Wright is a big steal for Memphis. Wright will be a valuable playoff weapon for the Grizzlies.
6) Josh Smith (L.A. Clippers)- 1 year at $1.5 million. Considering that Smith was waived via the stretch provision by Detroit last season and they’re paying him $5.4 million a year for the next 5 years to NOT play for them, it has been a great luxury for Smith to hook on with a contender at a cheap price knowing he has the Detroit money in his hip pocket. Nonetheless, this is a move for the Clippers that will have an enormous impact, not only for what it does for the Clippers, but because of the fact that it takes Smith from the Houston Rockets, who he played for last season. In the Clippers epic collapse in the 2nd round of the playoffs, losing a 3-1 series lead to the Rockets, including giving up a 20 point lead in game 6 with 13:00 minutes left in the game, Smith was an enormously important player to the Rockets. He played point guard during that run and the high/low Houston repeatedly ran with Dwight Howard was one of the Rockets more effective sets in the playoffs. Smith is an ideal bench big for today’s NBA. He’s big and strong enough to hold his own inside and athletic enough to be effective on the perimeter on both ends, save for his periodic ill-advised three-point attempt. A look up front for the Clippers with Blake Griffin and Smith is well equipped to match up with the Golden State Warrior small ball units that were so instrumental in their title run.
5) Patrick Beverley (Houston) 4 years at $23 million. This deal is essentially a 3 year $16 million deal because the last year of the deal is non-guaranteed. Beverley was sorely missed during last year’s playoffs. From a statistical standpoint, he’s very average. However, he’s an excellent defensive point guard who plays with a unique level of energy and tenaciousness. Plus, that hardnosed style and the fact that he can be an effective player without the ball in his hands make him a very good fit for the Rockets next to James Harden. In the last two seasons for the Rockets, Beverley has averaged over 30 minutes a game. His level of effectiveness and the way he fits make $6 million a year a downright bargain. Bench guards like Lou Williams and Corey Joseph are taking down more money per year than Beverley, who is a key cog on a title contender. Beverley has certainly had his share of injury issues but at this price, there’s very little risk to this deal. Also, the non-guaranteed year at the end of the deal makes him an interesting trade candidate in the last year of his deal.
4) Mike Dunleavy (Chicago) 3 years at $14.5 million. The 3rd year of this deal is only partially guaranteed. Dunleavy is 35 and has had plenty of injury issues over the course of his career. However, in a league where a premium has been put on the three pointer, the Bulls signed a player who shot almost 41% from behind the arc last season for less than $5 million a year. And it’s not like Dunleavy is a defensive liability. He’s an adequate perimeter defender and works extremely hard on that end of the floor. Plus, with Jimmy Butler as the opposite wing, Dunleavy will always draw the easier perimeter matchup, which he can handle more times than not. With the way the league is financially valuing Dunleavy’s skill set, this contract is an absolute bargain. As much as I like the Belinelli contract, this one is better. The Bulls already know that Dunleavy is a great fit. Also, the partial guarantee allows them an out in the third if need be.
3) LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio) 4 years at $84 million. The hierarchy of the Spurs (head coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford) both saw the writing on the wall after last season’s first round loss to the Clippers. Their championship window was closing. Tim Duncan still has enough left in the tank to be a wonderfully complementary big man but not the guy who could continue to carry the championship load like he used to. Manu Ginobili is on the 18th hole of a storied career. And Tony Parker just doesn’t appear to be the same player. He can certainly be effective, but injuries and father time have robbed him of that trademark speed that made him dominant. As good a young player as Kawhi Leonard is, he’s not enough to keep this aging core competitive for a title all on his own. Enter LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge felt forsaken in Portland where he felt that Damian Lillard was more appreciated than him. In San Antonio, Aldridge is not going to be the man, but he’ll be part of something larger. Yet, at the same time, for the Spurs to stay competitive for a title, they needed a lead dog. Aldridge will have more support than he’s ever had in his career. The Spurs paid him the maximum contract they could, which is a product of other guys taking less to be a part of the Spurs dynasty. Aldridge is such a good fit for the Spurs in so many ways that a max contract is a great contract.
2) David West (San Antonio) 2 years at $3 million. The 2nd year of this deal is a player option. We hear from players all the time that winning is their biggest priority, yet the majority of the time, money rules a day. It’s rare that a player will put their money where their mouth is so to speak. David West is that rare player. West opted out of the last year of his $12 million deal with the knowledge that he’d never get a lot of that money back. He spoke on the record on not approving of how the Pacers handled Roy Hibbert in trying to convince Hibbert to opt out of his contract. West wants to win and wants to be part of a first class organization. The Spurs satisfy both of those criteria in the biggest of ways. The fact that the Spurs are in a position to get a player of West’s caliber for the veteran minimum isn’t luck or coincidence. Its because they epitomize the word “team”, more than any other team in professional sports. Yes, West is 35 years old, but he still averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes per game last season. With San Antonio, he’ll play closer to 20-25 minutes, but having a big like West off the bench will give Popovich the luxury of economizing both Duncan and Aldridge’s minutes. Also, West is a very good team defender. He’s not all that quick on the perimeter, but he’s smart as can be and helps out really well. Getting a player of West’s caliber, even at his advanced age, at the veteran minimum is the steal of steals and is the 2nd best example this off-season of why the Spurs are the Spurs.
1) Danny Green (San Antonio) 4 years at $40 million. When free agency began, Green was one of the hotter players on the market. He’s one of the better “3D” guys in the league because of his ability to guard point guards and his championship experience. For the Spurs, he was irreplaceable. One of the reasons the Spurs can get away with playing Parker big minutes when his defense is so bad, is that Green (and Leonard) allow Popovich to hide Parker. Leonard normally guards the toughest wing player and Green handles most point guards. At this stage of Ginobili’s career, although he’s always come off the bench, he’s now more suited to be a backup during crunch time. Green is a career 42% shooter from behind the arc and quite frankly, he’s the most reliable three point shooter on the Spurs roster. How strong is the Spurs culture? They got a 28 year old player in his prime who was a hot player on the free agent market to take a significant discount to stay in San Antonio on a 4 year deal. Demarre Carroll is making $5 million more a year than Green. Go back and read that last sentence again. Iman Shumpert signed the identical deal to Green to remain in Cleveland. Iman Shumpert is a good player and defends in a similar way to Green, but offensively, he’s not a pimple on Green’s backside. There are organizations that can get players to ‘invest’ back into the program by taking less money. Dirk Nowitzki has done it with the Mavericks. Dwyane Wade has done it in Miami. No one can get multiple players to do it like the Spurs can. The Spurs have done one of the most impressive jobs in recent history of showing why they are the gold standard of all sports franchises. All hail the Spurs.