NBA Free Agency comes with surprises for many
The beginning of Free Agency 2015 was as frantic as anyone in the NBA has ever seen. $1.4 billion was committed to players on July 1 as teams gave huge contracts to retain players who would command a much higher salary a year later, with the massive cap boom of 2016 looming. It would be hard to call anyone a real loser of free agency with the draft always a way to load up on talent, but there were some clear winners and losers this time around.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were favored heavily as the eventual landing spot of top free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and they delivered on that front as Aldridge signed a 4 year, $80 million deal to leave Portland after nine years. While that deal on its own would comfortably make them winners of the offseason, the other moves they managed to pull off while luring Aldridge away from his other suitors set them apart.
Forward Kawhi Leonard was locked down to 5 year, $90 million max contract as soon as free agency began. The deal represents a mild bargain already, given how important he is to their offense and defense, but accounting for his development and potential as an MVP candidate this season or next, the contract is an absolute steal. An even bigger bargain is the 4 year, $45 million deal they got guard/forward Danny Green to accept. 3-and-D “specialists” are usually players proficient in one of those skills, but Green is truly a player who’s absolutely elite at both. His fit in the Spurs system is impeccable and when compared to the 4 year, $70 million contract Dallas Mavericks guard Wes Matthews and 4 year, $65 million contract Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll got, the Spurs saved a ton of money for equal production.
Returning the best wing rotation in the league along with one of the top-5 big men would be enough, but RC Buford and Gregg Popovich had a few more tricks up their sleeve. David West signed at the veteran’s minimum and both forward/center Tim Duncan and guard Manu Ginobili return at bargain deals for one final run at the title. This has the potential to be Pop’s best roster ever, and all signs point towards him making it count.
The suitor list for big time free-agent center Greg Monroe was not too long, but he had the two biggest markets in the league chasing him. The Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks made it clear that they would be willing to pay him top dollar to secure his commitment. Since no major contenders required this type of player, one of those teams was considered a near lock to lure him to their roster. In a near unthinkable move, one of the premier offensive centers in the league chose one of the smallest markets in the league, with considerably worse living conditions over the two behemoths.
While it goes a long way toward showing how dire the state of those teams is, lets not take credit away from the Bucks front office as they pulled off a major coup and instantly made the team one to watch in the putrid Eastern conference. Oh, they also took care of business by locking down guard Khris Middleton to a five-year deal as early as possible on a bargain contract, considering the cap boom of next summer, especially if he continues improving as projected. All things considered, it’s been a terrific summer for Jason Kidd.
Where can you begin? General manager Neil Oshley knew at the beginning of the summer that he had one very important target to achieve and everything came after that. It cannot be overstated how important Aldridge was to this franchise. He was their player since the draft, he was their franchise superstar despite the emergence of guard Damian Lillard, and more frequently than not he was the man bailing them out game after game every single season. Losing a player of his caliber for nothing in return would already make it an awful summer, but the Blazers managed to lose Matthews, one of the top 3-and-D players and the heart of the team, as well as center Robin Lopez, mascot bruiser and terrific post defender, to bloated contracts from the Mavericks and the Knicks respectively for no compensation again.
This was all after they had already traded away forward Nic Batum. Credit to him, Oshley didn’t just give up and go on full on Sixers level tank mode. The Blazers have made solid low-risk, high reward moves by offering talented but unpolished players such as Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis above market deals to give them sufficient playing time in a proven system suited to a lot of their strengths. Hopefully some of his moves work out, otherwise Oshley and his coach Terry Stotts will be very worried about the drop in talent level at the franchise.
At one point the Mavs seemed like locks to land on the former list. They had secured a verbal commitment from Wes Matthews and within the next couple of days had a commitment from center DeAndre Jordan as well. With just a point guard to look for, it seemed like the Mavs had the potential to become a major contender in the bloodbath that is the Western conference. Then the Jordan NBA reality show of July 8 happened, leaving the entire world laughing, and the Mavs fuming.
At the end of the day, the Mavs let center Tyson Chandler and guard Monta Ellis walk, and only have a recovering-from-Achilles-surgery Wes Matthews to show for it. Their only real salvation could come in the signing of guard Deron Williams, who has looked worse with every game for three years straight now. It’s been a very poor summer indeed for Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle.