The NBA Free Agency period began just five days ago, and already many teams have made headlines. It’s been a crazy week, full of surprising moves (and non-moves) by free agents and teams, alike.
As the landscape in the Association sorts itself out before players can officially sign with their respective teams on Wednesday, let’s take a look at six of the most intriguing signings (in my personal opinion) this offseason has had to offer thus far:
C/PF LaMarcus Aldridge:4 years, $80 million, San Antonio Spurs
Overview: When the talented 29-year-old became an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-2015 season, many suitors came calling for his services. After all, he averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game with the Portland Trail Blazers last season – he was considered one of the most talented forwards in the league. Unfortunately for Portland, their best big man wasn’t sticking around.
Portland’s loss, apparently, was San Antonio’s gain. After receiving pitches from teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, Aldridge chose the Spurs – a team known for its well-oiled machine of an organization and its no-nonsense, uber-successful head coach in Greg Popovich. It has also made the postseason every year since 1998 – a model of consistency in the NBA that Aldridge was likely attracted to.
As for San Antonio, the rich, it seems, only gets richer. The Spurs already inked their franchise SF Kawhi Leonard to a 5-year, $90 million deal, solidifying a front-court that could prove to be the best in the league in the near future. While an aging Tim Duncan is returning to the team for what might be his final year in the NBA, Aldridge will likely serve as his long-term replacement.
Blatantly Short Analysis: No doubt, the Spurs have solidified themselves as an early favorite to win it all with the moves they’ve made thus far – including grabbing a potential replacement for Tim Duncan in Aldridge. It’s practically unfair, but that’s what a winning program can do.
PF/C Kevin Love:5 years, $110 million, Cleveland Cavaliers
Overview: For the Cleveland Cavaliers, trading for Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Kevin Love was a bit of a risk. After all, he only had two years left on his current deal, with an opt-out option after 2015, and they were forced to give up the 2014 No. 1 overall pick – current Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins – for Love’s services. When the Cavs struggled out of the gate last season, there was already talk that Love would jump ship to the Lakers as soon as he was able to.
Then, the Cavaliers showed their mettle, succeeded under Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving, and got to the playoffs with a 53-win season and a 2-seed in the East. Then, even after Love went down with a shoulder injury in the playoffs, James essentially put the Cavs on his back – all the way to an Eastern Conference championship.
That was enough to convince Love of sticking around, long-term. He signed a five-year deal with Cleveland, with the understanding that James – also a free agent, at the moment – will, eventually, also re-sign with the team. If (or, more likely, when) the James signing goes down, Cleveland’s Big 3 will be expected to be among the favorites to win the NBA championship in 2016.
Blatantly Short Analysis: Love obviously knew what could have been in 2015, had he not gotten injured in the postseason, so signing up with the Cavs long-term was a no-brainer – considering the alternatives included rebuilding in Los Angeles. As long as LeBron re-signs, this was a great decision.
SF/PF Draymond Green:5 years, $85 million, Golden State Warriors
Overview: Once, he was the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft who couldn’t even garner a $3 million deal from the Warriors. Now, he is the driving defensive force for a championship team. With that, headed into free agency, he became Golden State’s main priority. What’s more, Green had already said, prior to negotiations, that he wanted to stay in Oakland.
That doesn’t mean it was necessarily a lock to keep him in blue-and-gold. After all, initial reports were saying that the Warriors’ front office would allow the market to dictate Green’s ultimate value (despite the fact that he was indispensable for Golden State, and Golden State only). With this in mind, Joe Lacob and Co. almost shot themselves in the foot, in order to save a few bucks – while simultaneously straining a relationship, needlessly.
Instead, the Warriors gave Green the pay raise he deserved – one of more than $16 million per year – and they didn’t waste much time in doing so. While they had to trade away David Lee and his eight-figure salary to make the contract work, it was a small price to pay for keeping one of the best forwards in the league.
Blatantly Short Analysis: It was a match that had no reason to be in any danger of separating. Green and the Warriors are made for each other, and if they play their cards right, they could parlay this relationship into multiple championships.
PG Damian Lillard:5 years, $125 million, Portland Trail Blazers
Overview: Drafted in 2012 with the sixth overall pick, Lillard’s small-school pedigree (four-year starter at Weber State) was the only question on whether he would excel in the professional ranks. Apparently, it only fueled his meteoric rise in the Association. Along with pieces like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, he helped bring the Blazers back to respectability – including a 51-win season in 2015.
Furthermore, he has earned “franchise point guard” status: in his three years in the NBA, he has never missed a game, and has started every game he’s played in. Thus far, he has averaged 20.2 points and 6.1 assists per game, and it seems his best days are ahead of him. And, that’s taking into consideration that he makes plays like this … in the postseason:
The only downside for Lillard? His talented teammates left him behind this offseason: Aldridge signed with San Antonio, Matthews took a deal with Dallas, Batum was traded to New Orleans, and Robin Lopez migrated to New York to play for the Knicks. Now, the Blazers are considered a team in full-on rebuild mode. At the very least, they have a franchise point guard to build around for the next five years.
Blatantly Short Analysis: A nine-figure deal for a marketable player with big-time game? $25 million per year will certainly keep Lillard warm at night when his Blazers likely struggle in 2016 to a possible lottery spot.
C DeAndre Jordan:4 years, $80 million, Dallas Mavericks
Overview: Coming off a devastating seven-game collapse at the hands of the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers were hoping to keep an asset who was a big part of getting to within a game of the Western Conference Finals in the first place – big man DeAndre Jordan.
And it looked like there was a good chance he wasn’t going anywhere – as it went, he was a much-needed defensive stopper on the interior, and his offensive game in the paint was impressive, to say the least. Clippers PF Blake Griffin said, himself, that he wanted DJ to stick around in LA for as long as possible, and he was certainly needed to retain the on-court success they had shared over the past couple years.
But Jordan was playing third fiddle to Griffin and PG Chris Paul. You add the fact that Paul’s personality rubbed him the wrong way – to the point where Paul was snubbing Jordan on high fives on the sidelines – and it added up to the Clippers ultimately pushing him away from Tinseltown.
Luckily for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, he and his franchise were ready to swoop in with promises of a larger role on the offense, and the chance to be the “franchise player” successor to Dirk Nowitzki, when the German Wunderkind eventually retires. It was a major get for a team who had just lost their starting backcourt in free agency.
Blatantly Short Analysis: A big man who still needs to work on his free throws … but when it comes to All-Star defensive tenacity and an inside game, it’s hard to argue he won’t do well for a team in dire need of both. Whether he helps Dallas contend right away remains to be seen.
UPDATE – July 8, 2015: Well, apparently, Jordan has reneged on the agreement he made with Dallas, and will be returning to Los Angeles, per multiple reports. If anything, this will be looked at by future sports scholars as “What NOT to do as a highly-sought after free agent.”
Overview: In what has been viewed by much of the national media as a disaster of an offseason for the Sacramento Kings, this was a move that simply added to the dysfunction – or so they would go on to say. And it’s easy to believe: as it stands right now, the Kings have gone through internal drama of all kinds throughout the past year. From an owner who thought that a 4-on-5 cherry-picking offense was a good idea; to not one, but two coaching changes during the 2014-15 regular season; to an apparent feud between current head coach George Karl and franchise center DeMarcus Cousins that led to trade rumors for the talented big man, Sacramento quickly turned into the NBA’s resident laughingstock.
Throw Rajon Rondo into the already-volatile mix, and the media had already given the Kings the crown for most dysfunctional team in the league. After all, the 29-year-old former All-Star had come off the worst year of his career, and was infamous for clashing with coaches and teammates, alike. What could the organization possibly have been thinking, inking him to a near-$10 million deal when no one else was even willing to take a flyer on him?
For Sacramento, it was simple: it was a short-term investment on a big name, with the possibility that he could take the team over the top. One that had, according to NBA metrics, one of the best starting lineups in the league in 2014. No, I’m dead serious.
As for Rondo, he has an incentive of his own – namely, turning that one-year deal into one more long-term payday. If he can show the rest of the league he can keep from rocking the boat in the locker room, and produce on the court, everybody involved wins. Worst case scenario, Rondo flames out and Sacramento keeps the “dumpster fire” tag. It’s up to Rondo and the team to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Blatantly Short Analysis: Will he be a cancer with an already beleaguered/scrutinized team? It’s certainly possible. But how about we wait and actually see how this experiment actually works out before affixing the official title of “Dumpster fire” to the city of Sacramento?