With "sources" shadowing and tweeting a player's every move, the NBA really has become a year-round league. The saga of where LeBron James would sign; the tale of whether Carmelo Anthony would be chasing rings instead of money; the epic back-and-forth between Marcin Gortat and the Wizards… Okay, maybe that last one is a little far-fetched, but the point remains: NBA free agency is just as jam-packed as the actual season. And with all the trades and rumors flying back and forth, it's quite easy to miss a player switching teams. But, don't worry, we've got you covered. Here's a look at five of the best, and five of the worst free agent signings so far this off season. We'll analyze both in terms of fit and contract…
The Five Best Signings:
LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers, 2 years, $41 million
Anytime you can sign the best player in the league, it's probably a good idea to do so. The Cavs did just that, when LeBron announced he was coming home in a letter posted on Sports Illustrated. Of course, as a savvy businessman, LeBron structured his contract in a way that it'll expire before both the league's new television deal and collective bargaining agreements begin. In other words, after the two years are up, he'll be able to re-sign in Cleveland for more than he would have if he took the maximum over four years now. Or, if he wants to just become the world's biggest villain, he can leave after the two years–or even one, since this deal has an option to opt out after the 2014-15 season. In the meantime, Cleveland fans will be researching how to unburn a jersey.
Pau Gasol: Chicago Bulls, 3 years, $22 million
Bulls fans worldwide rejoiced at the news of the former Laker coming over to Chicago. Not necessarily because Pau is a major upgrade at power forward (which he is), but because it finally meant the Bulls could amnesty Carlos Boozer, who's due $16.8 million next year. Even though the Bulls will have to pay a chunk of that, it won't count against the salary cap. To be able to bring in Gasol, a terrific passer and someone who actually gives effort on defense besides yelling at a teammate to grab a rebound, is a big move for the franchise. Coupled with incumbent Taj Gibson and fellow Spaniard Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls are stacked at the 4-spot, with each player bringing something unique to the table.
Kyle Lowry: Toronto Raptors, 4 years, $48 million
Sometimes a player just perfectly fits a system. Kyle Lowry and the Raptors are one such perfect fit. Lowry had bounced around the league a bit, clashing with coaches and teammates before finally landing north of the border. He had the best season of his career last year, averaging about 18 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists a game, leading the Raptors to their highest playoff-seed ever. While there were talks of him getting max money elsewhere, it was in the Raptors best interest to keep their starting point guard. What's more, they were able to do it without panicking, offering a very fair $12 million a year.
Dirk Nowitzki: Dallas Mavericks, 3 years, $25 million
Taking a page from Tim Duncan's "Hey, I've made enough money for several lifetimes, I'm comfortable taking a paycut if it gives us a shot to win a championship or two before I retire" playbook, Nowitzki turned down max offers from both the Rockets and the Lakers to re-sign with the only team he's ever known. Of course, he's still a great player himself, finishing 12th in the NBA in PER last year. It's a bit of a monetary sacrifice on his part, sure, but at this stage of his career (he's already 36 years old), Nowitzki only has his sights set on adding a second championship to his mantle. Assuming he has a mantle at home where he keeps his trophies and ring. In any case, taking less money means the Mavs had a bit more wiggle room this off-season, and they were able to pry Chandler Parsons away from divisional rival Houston. That's the kind of teamwork that makes the dream work.
Patty Mills: San Antonio Spurs, 3 years, $12 million
Mills opted out of his contract after this past season, only to return home to the Spurs with a three-year deal. Like Lowry, Mills is another guy that fits his system incredibly well. As an energy guy off the bench, Mills will stay play meaningful minutes under the tutelage of the best coach in the game. The best part? By the time this contract is up, he'll only be 28 years old–if he keeps improving at the rate he's been showing, he can still snag a hefty contract from someone willing to reward him handsomely the next time he's a free agent. Because if NBA owners love anything, it's overpaying for players.
The Five Worst:
NBA teams sure do love to spend a lot of money. Heck, that's a big reason why there was nearly a lockout during the 2011-12 season–owners were upset over money they were losing when tossing out ill-advised contracts left and right. Of course, it's hard to change overnight, and teams still dole out big contracts for players that probably don't deserve them. Luckily, we've got you covered in case you blinked and missed a big deal. Here are the five worst contracts from this NBA offseason.
Gordon Hayward: Utah Jazz, 4 years, $63 million
Let's start off by saying that Gordon Hayward isn't a bad player. He's part of a small group of players who have ever averaged 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a season, and he's done that on a Utah Jazz team that is pretty bereft of playmakers. Of course, that's part of the problem. It was going to take a big contract to convince Hayward to keep around, and the Charlotte Bobcats made things worse by throwing this big offer at Hayward, who was a restricted free agent this offseason. Not wanting to let one of their young players walk for nothing, the Jazz were forced to match. Hayward may prove to be worth it in the end, but for now this looks like a massive overspend. Here's hoping he's practicing his halfcourt shots, too.
Jordan Hill: Los Angeles Lakers, 2 years, $18 million
Deals like this make it seem like Los Angeles doesn't know what its gameplan is. Sure, Kobe Bryant's massive contract eats up most of the Lakers cap space, making it difficult to lure star players without said star taking a paycut. But just because they whiffed on Melo, throwing $9 million/year at Jordan Hill is not the solution. Hill's WAR last year was -0.9, meaning that if you replaced with him with a league average player, the Lakers actually would have been one game better. And with recent news that L.A. just signed Carlos Boozer to a one-year deal, the Lakers' plan is even more of a head-scratcher.
Trevor Ariza: Houston Rockets, 4 years, $32 million
Technically, this was a sign-and-trade deal, but it seemed like Ariza leaving Washington was an inevitability. This one is baffling for a couple of different reasons: for one, Ariza mentioned how much his Wizard teammates had come to be like brothers, yet he apparently turned down this same contract offer from Washington. This also seems like a panic move on Houston's part. After whiffing on Chris Bosh, losing Chandler Parsons to the in-state rival Mavs, and giving away Jeremy Lin for nothing, Houston probably felt like they needed to do something during free agency. Since this was a trade, they also lost one of their twin defensive towers in Omer Asik. In the long run, it seems like the Rockets got a lot worse this offseason, and Ariza, who did play well last season but only has a career average of 9.7 points a game on 43% shooting, is not the greatest consolation prize.
Jodie Meeks: Detroit Pistons, 3 years, $19 million
The Pistons haven't made the playoffs since 2009, and it's largely thanks in part to dishing out curious contracts like this one, which will pay Jodie Meeks over $6 million a year. Meeks isn't the worst player in the league by any stretch of the imagination, but he's still an undersized shooter who broke 40% from long range for the first time last season, his fifth. What's equally perplexing is that the Pistons offered this contract incredibly early during the free agent process. Meeks likely would have signed (even with Detroit) for a lot less. But hey, if Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are still around next season, Meeks' shooting will look incredible, and this'll seem like a good bargain.
Marvin Williams: Charlotte Hornets, 2 years, $14 million
This contract reeks of what both the Hawks and the Jazz have hoped for in the past–that Williams will realize his enormous potential. After all, he was drafted in 2005 by Atlanta, ahead of more proven college performers like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. But Marvin has never averaged 15+ points a game in his career, and he's also never appeared in all 82 games in a season. Charlotte is probably overreaching with the dollar amount here, but on the bright side, this contract is short enough that the Hornets aren't hamstringing their long-term cap space if things don't pan out.