Free agency is one of the three times in the year that the NBA landscape is dramatically changed (alongside the draft and trade deadline). Although free agents leave much less than projected, this is the year of player movement. Butler, George, Paul, and Cousins have been traded. Players like Jeff Teague have utilized their contractual freedom and changed landscapes. So I, putting on my 9th-grade English teacher hat (which definitely exists), am going to grade every signing. Every trade. Every time the Woj bomb explodes, I’ll be here. And it will be glorious. Well, probably not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t still do it!
FREE AGENCY GRADES: Stephen Curry
The Parameters: Stephen Curry agrees to a 5 year/$201-203.5 million contract to return to the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State Warriors: A+
The champions got back (one of) their star(s) for a 5-year deal? And didn’t have to give him an NTC, at least to the best of our knowledge? Seems like a good deal to me. Only issue could be if the ankle issues come back, but from everything you hear about how he works out and moves ever since the trainer switch, it seems as if he and the Dubs are safe from that at this point.
Stephen Curry: A+
Can’t get much better than this. Largest contract ever? Check. First Supermax ever, a five-year deal, and it seems like KD will be coming back as well. Steph will most likely get everyone important back, and will again be a top-five player with a top-1 supporting cast. He stays, gets a 5-year Supermax, everyone else (except perhaps Iguodala) is coming back, and is again a favorite to win the Finals. Did he get an NTC? No. Will the Dubs even think about trading him anytime soon? How about you square infinity and divide it by 0.3, then add an N in front of each 0? Sometimes, transactions happen where it’s an amazing deal for both sides. This is one of those times.
FREE AGENCY GRADES: Blake Griffin
The Parameters: Blake Griffin will receive a 5yr/$173mil contract from his incumbent team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Los Angeles Clippers: B
Seems like LA still wants to make a playoff push without CP3. Problem is that Redick seems to have no intention of coming back, and their 3rd-best player is Patrick Beverley. A team with two bigs who can’t shoot doesn’t seem to be a winning combination in today’s NBA. There is an argument to be made, however, that retaining the asset is always worth it. But for a big with injuries seemingly every year in and before the playoffs, is that a good enough haul? That remains to be seen. I would lean somewhere in the middle, that keeping him was the RIGHT thing, giving him 5 years was the WRONG thing, and the ~$30 million pay cut from the supermax makes it a decent enough deal. The question is if they are really building around Blake and DeAndre, who gets them the ball?
Who do they have around them that can shoot? I don’t see anyone. Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, they’re all good… but not CP3 good. It remains to be seen if the Griffin/Jordan combo can work in more than Chris Paul-less spurts, as well as whether or not Crawford and Williams will see each other as twins, immediately get jealous a la teenage girls, and refuse to play. Is that a tad bit ridiculous? Well, for a team that has Austin Rivers’ dad coaching, who gave him $11mil/yr and might start him over Beverley, no.
Blake Griffin: A-
Blake got to stay in LA, a town which he loves. He got 5 years, supremely important for a player injury-riddled as he is. And he got paid, something that is obviously a big factor. Yes, he lost out on ~$30 million, but with Paul gone, he probably got all the Clippers would offer him. He could have gotten an A+ save for the fact that 1) He lost his star running mate-admittedly not his fault and 2) He didn’t get the Supermax. Other than that, Blake got a GREAT deal. He went to a town he loves for a lot of years and even more money. Problem is, the team may not be good enough. With the moves this offseason, they seem to have dropped themselves further below SAS and GSW, Houston has pulled ahead of them, and MIN and OKC have passed them. A 6-seed seems inevitable unless another team (Denver, Portland, Dallas) Can make some moves to drop them to 7/8. Blake will seemingly spend the rest of his “prime” on a team stuck in the doldrums of the unfairly talented Warriors. If winning isn’t what he cares about, he got a steal. If it is, he got robbed.
FREE AGENCY GRADES: Jeff Teague
The Parameters: Jeff Teague is leaving the Indianapolis Pacers to join the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 2+1 (PO) year/$57 million deal, after trading Ricky Rubio to the Jazz for a 2018 1st-round pick.
Minnesota Timberwolves: B+
Minnesota gave up Ricky Rubio for a 1st-rounder, which reports are coming out about them giving that pick to dump Cole Aldrich and sign Millsap or Redick. Regardless of whether or not that happens, Teague was a pretty good signing. He is a better 4th option than Rubio, and the only issue is his far inferior defense as compared to Rubio. Sure, Thibs is regarded as a great defensive coach, but with 3 of their “Big 4” as FAR subpar defensive players. And their backups aren’t great on that end either- Tyus Jones? Nemanja Bjelica? The distant possibility of Shabazz Muhammad? Not exactly stalwarts. However, his shooting and… judiciary?... creation is valuable, and only being locked in for at most 3 years is valuable.
Jeff Teague: A-
This was GREAT by Teague. He got $19mil/yr, with a PO, and is on a young “contender” where he fits in incredibly well. The weather isn’t that much worse in Minneapolis as compared to Indy, and he is used to ending city names with –apolis. The main issue I have with this signing is that he doesn’t have a fourth year, but he did get that PO instead, which I would have to assume was the choice presented to him. $19mil/yr is good, especially considering that they only had about 20 seconds after free agency started to agree to terms… definitely not sketchy at all… (cue conspiracy music). Teague got a good deal, especially with how much less space there is this year. Timberwolves are going to score a lot next year, but give up a lot too, led by Jeff Teague, a two-way fringe All-Star wing, an offense-only wing, and a stretch center. Hmm, where have I heard that before?
FREE AGENCY GRADES: Jrue Holiday
The Parameters: Jrue Holiday agrees to a 5-year/$126 million contract, with a 5th year PO and incentives that could raise it to around $150 million.
New Orleans Pelicans: B+
They got their PG back, and they got him for under $30 million/year. Sure, incentives could raise it to that level, but they are apparently deemed “unlikely” by the league, as they are not part of the official cap figure. 25.2 million is a lot for him, but he is a two-way player who can shoot and create. And they needed him more than he needed them. Whatever price they got him at would’ve been, whether it was expensive or not, the right move. They want to keep Boogie next year, and to do that you probably have to make the playoffs- which wouldn’t have happened without Jrue, and may not happen with him. The fact that they were able to retain him despite the Wolves rumors was, in all effect, a boon for them. Without Jrue, Boogie likely would’ve left, and then who knows what would happen with AD after that.
Jrue Holiday: A
Jrue just got paid the big bucks. 5 years? $123-150 million for a fringe All-Star in New Orleans? Congrats. Last year you were paid similarly to Omer Asik; This year you will be paid with the likes of… Melo? Dirk? Less than Al Horford? A little more than Chandler Parsons and Mr. I-got-traded-for-Miles-Plumlee Dwight Howard? Clearly those are among the lower-end players with contracts that size, but the point remains the same: He got a LOT of money. Like, a whole lot. Remember when Scrooge McDuck is swimming in coins? Well, imagine that with dollar bills. And he got a player option too. It’s incredible how much leverage he had.
TRADE GRADES: Paul George
The Parameters: The Indiana Pacers receive Victor Oladipo and DomantasSabonis in exchange for sending Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Indiana Pacers: D
Yeesh. You got Oladipo and Sabonis after some big offers from the Celtics. Now, Celtics sources are to be trusted about as much as a Disney Channel villain, but they (reportedly) offered three 1st-rounders (Celtics, Grizzlies, Clippers) and two starters, including Jae Crowder (The players were eventually removed from proposals). Well, the NBA has changed significantly since draft night. They apparently didn’t want to wait for Boston to sign Hayward, which they would have been the point in time at which Boston would be willing to pull the trigger on a PG trade. Unfortunately, Indiana seemed unwilling to wait (Perhaps they didn’t think Hayward would go to Boston…?), and settled for another TERRIBLE trade proposal. Oladipo is from Indiana, sure, but that doesn’t make him more than an above-average starter!
And Sabonis… Oh, Sabonis. Don’t get it twisted, he ain’t no Arvydas. He played 20 minutes a night, sure, but… 39.9% from the field? We ragged on Westbrook’s efficiency without looking at his teammates! And he wasn’t exactly great from deep either, shooting at a 32.1% clip. The combo big shot less than 1 FT/game, and shot 65.7% on said free throws. He isn’t a maestro, with just one assist per game. And with just 3.6 rebounds per game, he doesn’t seem like a beast on the boards. 0.4 blocks don't seem like great rim protector numbers, and in his 20 minutes of playing time, he had more fouls than AST + STL +BLK, by 0.6. And he isn’t exactly an advanced stats darling either; 6.9 PER and a 9.8 TRB% is pretty bad, the latter part especially for a big guy. 0.8 WS, -4.8 BPM and -1.2 VORP isn't ideal either. This is a HUGE play on Sabonis’ improvement. Problem is, I’m not sure how much he’d have to improve to get to Indiana’s current perception.
The main issue with this deal, at least on Indy’s side, is that this deal wasn’t going away. OKC wasn’t going to just find a new Paul George, or decide Vic and Dom were too much to give up. Yet Indy, rather than wait out the market, or even for the Hayward decision, decided to get it over with. And everyone there, as in Boston, will be much the worse for it.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
SAM PRESTI IS A WIZARD. Ok, maybe that will bring up some bad memories for the Thunder GM, as for years there was a talk of the Wizards. You know - KD2DC. And he did leave, and whether it was to DC or not, this could dredge up some bad stuff from his past, stuff that he believes subliminally messaged KD to got- Am I reading too much into one 5-word compliment I gave to Sam Presti? Ehh, probably not. I would give this an A+ except for the subject of the previous 4 ½ sentences: Kevin Durant. There are numerous ways, so I’ll go down the list of how Kevin Durant will negatively impact the quality, and possibly duration, of George’s OKC stay.
1. False Expectations/Narrative
It seems as if Paul George will come in and be an elite two-way combo forward, who is best with the ball in his hands. Remind you of anyone? Yup, that’s just like Durant. I expect George to play a similar offensive role to what Durant did in OKC, as it is essentially the same team around him but with Terrence Ferguson instead of Serge Ibaka.
Problem is, Paul George, as talented as he is, is nowhere near the level of Kevin Durant. And he’s supposed to carry that offensive burden? Westbrook hated sharing the ball with KD, why would he ever want to defer to PG?
George is on a one-year deal with clear intentions of signing with the Lake Show in the offseason. And if you think about it, who has come to play with Westbrook? No one has come as a free agent to play with Westbrook. No one has said, hey, I want to be the last wheel in a one-man show. Sure, some have re-signed, but it seems like everyone has left when they had the chance. Ibaka? One year left, they got him out. Harden? Wanted out, they wouldn’t offer him what he wanted. KD? Left. Every star around Westbrook is gone, and yet he doesn’t change his ways. He just keeps jacking bad threes and hogging the ball. Is this the best situation for George? No, it isn’t and when he gets sick of Westbrook (Or just still wants to be a Laker) and leaves for nothing, he will be hated. And two top-15 wings have left within two years. Sure, everyone will act surprised and mad, but don’t blame him- you knew where he was going. If anyone, blame Westbrook.
Yes, if Roberson is brought back they’ll be great defensively. But the Rockets and Wolves both improved exponentially, and Utah could still keep Hayward, and Denver could get Love, and Phoenix could get Millsap, and- you get the point. Their conference is stacked beyond all reason, and they don’t seem to have a clear path to the top. And if Westbrook stays, they don’t seem to have a clear path to the bottom.