With the injection of money equaling the GDP of a mid size European nation on the horizon coming to the NBA salary cap in 2016, the 2015 free agency season was billed as the calm before the storm.
With the amount of money that was thrown around and with the players grabbing the security of longer term deals, the 2015 free agency season may have been the storm.
Despite the cap rising, a bad deal is still a bad deal. There were plenty of them signed right here this July. Here are the top 10 in ascending order….
10) Kosta Koufos (Sacramento)
4 years at $32 million (4th year is a player option)
Koufos is a useful player and can certainly be considered on the higher end of backup centers in the league. The bigger question for Sacramento is what would ever give them the idea they have the luxury of paying Koufos $8 million a year when they have DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley Stein locked up for a similar amount of time. Their head coach George Karl has made it known he wants to play up tempo and has a particular affinity for Koufos from their days together in Denver. This combination reeks of a situation of Karl using his love for Koufos as an excuse to bury Cauley Stein on the bench, which will not be a net positive for his development. Granted, Sacramento is not exactly a hot bed for free agency defections and beggars can’t be choosers, but they needed more help in other spots. Like so many other things in Sacramento lately, this likely wont end well.
9) DeMarre Carroll (Toronto)
4 years at $58 million.
Carroll had a great year for Atlanta. His defense, versatility, and emerging shooting ability were a big asset for Atlanta. Even with the cap moving up, this is a whole lot of cash to pay for his skill set. The Raptors needed help on the wing, but they’re going to have to give Demar DeRozan a hefty raise when his contract goes up. Considering that the Raptors have had consecutive 1st round exits the last two playoffs, its fair to ask if a player making $14.5 million a year is the missing piece to help their program advance. As good as Carroll is and as much as they need his skill set, he’s not that guy. They need help up front and using Carroll as a small ball 4 is not going to cure what ails them.
8) Monta Ellis (Indiana)
4 years at $44 million.
Bringing in a player like Ellis represents a significant change in philosophy by Pacers management. First of all, the Pacers have assembled a roster that will be perpetually deploying small lineups. They brought back Rodney Stuckey, added Ellis, to a group of perimeter players that includes Paul George, George Hill, and C.J. Miles. With the loss of David West and Luis Scola and the trade of Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have committed to small ball from a personnel standpoint. That carries its own set of issues. However, the larger problem is the lack of quality defensive personnel within this group. Stuckey and Hill are average at best but Ellis is the larger problem. Although he consistently ranks among the league leaders in steals, his serial gambling weakens an entire team defense. And considering the fact that the Pacers dealt their defensive anchor in Hibbert, there is no one there to clean up the perpetual mess Ellis makes. When you combine that with Ellis’ shot selection, its tough to figure why the Pacers went in for $11 mill per. Ellis takes some shots that are going to make Pacer coach Frank Vogel miss the days of Lance Stephenson. If that’s not enough, he’s had TPS (This Place Sucks) syndrome in every locker room he’s been in. If it wasn’t for Rajon Rondo’s epic meltdown in Dallas, we’d be talking about how Ellis undermined the Mavericks chemistry last year. Its going to be a long 4 years in Indiana with Ellis.
7) Kyle Singler (Oklahoma City)
5 years at $25 million. (5th year is a team option, so deal is actually 4 years at $20 million.)
The Thunder made a trade at the deadline where they acquired Enes Kanter, D.J. Augustin, and Singler and gave up Reggie Jackson and a protected first round pick. There were other parts involved, but from the Thunder’s standpoint, that was the meat of the deal. At the time of the trade, Kanter and Singler were both due to become restricted free agents (as was Jackson). The Thunder made the trade with the thought of re-signing both of them. Kanter was clearly the most important piece, yet the Thunder were much more proactive about Singler. Singler was awful for the Thunder in 26 games. The Thunder like his 37% 3 point shooting, but he cant defend and he cant really shoot from anywhere else on the floor. $5 mill per, even with a rising cap, is overkill, but guaranteeing him 4 years is completely and totally not necessary.
6) Alexis Ajinca (New Orleans)
4 years at $20 million.
The Pelicans would have you think that they actually got a bargain on this contract when you look at his per 36 minute statistics and his efficiency on both ends of the floor. The problem with Ajinca is that when the Pelicans needed him to help in the playoffs against Golden State, they didn’t use him. He played in only 3 of the 4 games of this past year’s first round. This contract reeks of a statement from management that Monty Williams didn’t use Ajinca as much as he should have. The reality is that Williams didn’t use him because he didn’t believe he could handle himself defensively. Considering that Ajinca has never really proved himself on that end of the floor, Williams was more than justified in not using him. Guaranteeing Ajinca 4 years was wholly unnecessary. Even with the rising cap, $5 million a year is a lot for a big man who’s not strong enough defensively to make the playoff rotation.
5) Tyson Chandler (Phoenix)
4 years at $52 million.
This was a confounding signing by the Suns. Yes, Chandler was certainly a big part of Phoenix’s pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge and Chandler’s involvement in the recruitment process kept the Suns in serious consideration. However, in the end, they didn’t get Aldridge. So now they’re paying Chandler $13 million a year to stand as a road block to their promising third year center Alex Len. In spite of Chandler’s leadership qualities, the minutes he takes away from Len will be a net negative. If Chandler were the missing piece on a title contender, you do what you have to do and sign him and that’s not the spot the Suns are in. They gambled that Chandler would be the piece that got them Aldridge and they lost. The price is going to be paying Chandler $13 million a year when he’s 37 years old in the last year of his deal. Chandler can still play, but history tells us that more times than not, he’s broken down physically.
4) Tobias Harris (Orlando)
4 years at $64 million.
There is a fine line between a versatile player and a tweener. Harris could very well fall on the wrong side of that line. Harris can score and score often. He rebounds some but is a very poor defensive player and is not a willing or a very skilled passer. Harris can play both forward spots but he can’t defend both forward spots. He’s going to play for a coach in Scott Skiles that puts great value on defense and who buried Harris on the bench his first season and a half in the league. The Magic missed the boat by not trading Harris a year ago, but they exacerbate that problem by paying him $16 million a year. Even with the rising cap, this will be a tough contract to use to get value in a trade because Harris is not a guy that a team can win with.
3) Corey Joseph (Toronto)
4 years at $30 million.
Joseph has always been a solid defensive player. His shooting numbers have improved every year to the point where he shot career bests of 50% from the field last season and 36% from behind the three point line. The Raptors are going to use him as the primary backup to Kyle Lowry. Their first guard off the bench last year was 6th man of the year Lou Williams who signed a 3 year $21 million deal with the Lakers. The Raptors essentially replaced Williams with Joseph at the same money and gave Joseph an extra guaranteed year. Joseph had a limited role on the Spurs as their 3rd string point guard. There’s a decent probability that he gets exposed on the offensive end with a significant increase in minutes. Williams was a sure thing from an effectiveness standpoint. I understand the need to shore up their perimeter defense, but to take a proven commodity and replace him with a guy who may be able to do it, but never has at the same money with an extra guaranteed year makes little to no sense. Sometimes, if it isn’t broken, you don’t need to fix it.
2) Aron Baynes (Detroit)
3 years at $19.5 million.
Baynes is the big man version of Joseph, a third stringer for the Spurs who gave a nice account of himself in limited minutes for the Spurs. The big problem with Baynes is that he’s not a physically strong enough or athletic enough big man to ever be effective in the playoffs. Baynes is efficient enough to look really good on a stat sheet. However, playing in the cocoon of San Antonio has masked a lot of Baynes’ weaknesses. When you look at the fact that the Grizzlies signed Brandan Wright, who is a much better, and much more athletic player than Baynes, it’s hard to call this money well spent. The Pistons intend on being a playoff team and hopefully more in the next 3 years. Even in a rising cap environment, to pay a role player who can’t play a role in the playoffs this kind of money for 3 years just isn’t smart. This is a very similar situation to New Orleans and Ajinca except at more money per year.
1) Wes Matthews (Dallas)
4 years at $70 million.
In a cruel twist of fate last season, Matthews tore his Achilles tendon in a contract year. As Chris Towers of CBSSports.com illustrates in this piece, more times than not a player isn’t the same after coming back from an Achilles tear. Matthews reportedly turned down an offer from the Sacramento Kings for 4 years and $66 million to take an offer from the Mavericks that was initially 4 years and $53 million. However, that offer existed in a universe where the Mavericks believed that they were going to sign DeAndre Jordan. When Jordan spurned the Mavericks and decided to go back to the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas owner Mark Cuban reportedly gave Matthews the option to look for another deal. When Matthews told Cuban he would honor his word during the moratorium and sign with the Mavericks, Cuban bumped the deal to $70 million. Although it was a very nice gesture, it took a bad contract and made it an atrocious one.
The odds of Matthews returning to form are pretty daunting. I spoke to injury expert Jeff Stotts of the website InStreetClothes.com. Stotts told me that Matthews was 28 at the time of the injury and plays a style not predicated on athleticism so he does have a chance to return to a respectable level. However repeating his previous success won’t be easy. Very few players, Dominique Wilkins being one of the notable exceptions, failed to post a PER near or higher than their pre-injury levels. Jeff thinks Matthews is in good hands with the well-respected Dallas medical staff but he wouldn’t be shocked if he takes a step back next year. Very frankly, $17.5 mill per year is questionable value at best for a 100% healthy version of Matthews. Coming off an Achilles tear, its downright absurd. The two comparable players from a position and skill set standpoint in this free agency class were Carroll and Danny Green. Carroll’s contract isn’t a great one as was detailed above and he’s not coming off Achilles surgery. Cuban’s instincts to reward loyalty and keep his word are admirable, especially because his smartest course of action would be to immediately commence a rebuild but he’s postponing it because Dirk Nowitzki took a below market contract last year to help keep a competitive team in Dallas during Dirk’s twilight years. Unfortunately, Matthews contract not only doesn’t help the Mavs stay all that competitive, it also hamstrings them financially for the next 4 years.