Photo Credit: basketcaffe.com
Our NBA Free Agency Extravaganza rolls on with reaction and analysis of this year's free agent signings. Today, we're discussing the big name free agents who will play in new cities next season. Enjoy!
1) LaMarcus Aldridge inks max deal with the Spurs worth $80 million over four years. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili all re-sign. David West joins the team on a one-year deal.
The San Antonio Spurs have done it again: they’ve reeled in another superstar big man. LaMarcus Aldridge, this summer’s most desired free agent, is going to the organization that can do no wrong.
With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green returning, and the big (and old) three giving it one last go, Aldridge would have been dumb to accept any other offers. Not only is he in a fantastic position to win now, but Aldridge is set for the future. He will be “the guy” when Duncan retires (a title that he may never have been fully awarded had he stayed in Portland with Damian Lillard), and he is guaranteed to have a bunch of talent around him for years to come.
But honestly, who could turn down the opportunity to learn from two of the all-time greats? Under the tutelage of Duncan and Gregg Popovich, Aldridge can become the next Big Fundamental.
Imagine for a second, if you will, that the 2015-2016 NBA Finals are about to begin. Mike Breen welcomes us to the broadcast and introduces his fellow commentators, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Breen throws in a line or two about how terrific the playoffs have been, and that they’ll only get better now that we’re down to two.
Then, we see a video package showing the journey of the Cleveland Cavaliers who are making their second straight finals appearance. CVO (Cleveland’s Very Own) LeBron James, backed by a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, has led the Cavs to the Promised Land once again where he looks for redemption. Oh yeah, and he wants to bring the city of Cleveland its first championship since 1964.
On the other side, we have the team that beat LeBron for the title two years ago—the San Antonio Spurs. But the Spurs look different now. Their major off-season acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge has posted incredible numbers during the team’s playoff run. Kawai Leonard and Danny Green also have helped lead the charge, while Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are poised to win it all one more time.
A BANG here and a BANG there from Breen, and the video wraps up saying there can only be one NBA champion (while LeBron intimately hugs the trophy).
That’s a ton of firepower in a series: LeBron, Kyrie, Love, Thompson; and Aldridge, Duncan, Leonard, Parker, and Ginobili. It’s the future vs. the past, LeBron vs. the Spurs 3.0, and Delly (if he still remains in Cleveland) vs. Patty (the Battle of the Aussies).
So many storylines to consider. What if LeBron finally captured the championship that’s been eluding Cleveland for so many years? What if he was able to do it against the old men who smacked him the last time they met in the Finals? How about if Duncan won his sixth title, tying MJ, and the big three walked out on top (i.e. where they’ve been most of their careers)?
It would be an epic NBA Finals matchup.
Side-note: David West did something astounding this off-season. The free agent power forward gave up $10 million just to have the chance to win a title. He was set to earn about $12 million and in signing with the Spurs, he’s only making $1.4 million. That kind of sacrifice says a whole lot about the Spurs organization (and perhaps the player, too)—they know how to put together a first-class team, year-in and year-out, that wins.
Oh, and West flat-out rejected the notion of joining the Knicks. Go figure…
If I was a free agent, which I actually happen to be at the moment, I’d run straight for the Alamo City.
2) Greg Monroe signs with the Milwaukee Bucks for three years, $50 million.
The New York Knicks were the frontrunners in the Greg Monroe sweepstakes, but the power forward ended up signing a max deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. Classic Knicks. But this deal was all about the Bucks.
Milwaukee won big time with the Greg Monroe signing. Is Monroe a superstar that can single-handedly alter a franchise? No, but he’s a walking double-double that fits in perfectly with the Young Bucks.
Monroe joins MCW, a re-signed and loaded-with-potential Kris Middleton, a returning Jabari Parker, and the Greek Freak in a very interesting starting lineup. Monroe is the down-low banger and scorer the Bucks were missing last season. He’ll help the Bucks take that next step.
Khris Middleton will also figure prominently into Milwaukee’s ascension. Middleton was drafted by the Pistons in the second round of the 2012 draft, and then traded after his rookie season to the Bucks in exchange for Brandon Jennings.
A three-year college player (which is pretty rare these days), Middleton has developed quickly in the NBA, and his averages have improved dramatically from season-to-season. During the 2014-2015 campaign, he averaged 13.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 1.5 SPG at the small forward position. In the playoffs, he was terrific, leading the Bucks in scoring (16.8 PPG).
Jason Kidd inherited a great situation—no wonder why he left the Nets. Milwaukee has a very bright future with their new pieces and rising talent, and we got a glimpse of that during their recent playoff series against the Bulls. Don’t be surprised if the Bucks secure at least the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The may even make it to the Conference finals.
3) Monta Ellis signs with the Pacers for $44 million over four years.
The Pacers are going through a transition phase. Their two big men, David West and Roy Hibbert, hit the road after long tenures with the team.
As we know, West bolted for San Antonio and the chance to win a title now. The Pacers traded Hibbert to the Lakers (a guy who was probably L.A.’s plan F). Hibbert’s been in a bit of a downward spiral over the past few seasons. He pretty much turned from an all-NBA defensive player to a gigantic blob that takes up space. Maybe L.A. will rejuvenate him.
West and Hibbert represented three-fifths of the 2013-2014 number one seed Pacers (can you believe it was only last year that they finished first in the East?), but President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird felt it was time for a change. The two weren’t producing at the level they used to. Not to mention, West and Hibbert were front and center for the Pacers’ catastrophic crash towards the end of the 2014 season. Simply put, Bird wants a culture change.
Paul George will return in 2015-2016 from his horrific leg injury, along with point guard George Hill. The Pacers also brought in free agent, Monta Ellis.
Ellis found his niche in Dallas, which helped resurrect his career. Rick Charlisle showed that if used correctly, Ellis is one of the best combo guards in the NBA. He can run an offense and take over a game when his team needs him to. Pair him with a returning superstar Paul George, and you’ve got a dynamic scoring duo. Just don’t ask Ellis to play any defense (or rather, don’t expect him to play any defense).
The Pacers also signed Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and Lavoy Allen to replace Hibbert and West in the frontcourt. Although I like what the Pacers are doing, they’re not in a position to contend yet. As cool as a George Hill-Monta Ellis backcourt combination is (just so much versatility!), the Pacers have entered a semi-rebuilding stage.
That being said, the East is so bad that the Pacers could secure a middle-of-the-pack playoff spot, assuming that Paul George is back to his old self. The new-look Pacers will play sound, defense-oriented ball under coach Frank Vogel, so don’t be shocked if they pop up in the playoff picture.
4) World-renown head case Rajon Rondo signs a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Kings.
One of the more interesting questions coming into this summer’s free agency period involved Rajon “The Mercurial Menace” Rondo. What team would take a chance on the man who constantly butted heads with his well-respected coach (Rick Carlisle) and legitimately quit on the Mavs during last year’s playoffs?
We got our answer pretty quickly: the Sacramento Kings.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an organization like the Kings would bring in Rondo given their tendency to do things that just don’t make any sense.
As part of this off-season’s entertainment, the Kings are not looking to put together a winning team or a bunch of pieces that fit well together. Instead, they are apparently trying to assemble the most knuckle-headed roster in NBA history. And that’s not a knock on the talent the Kings have. Rondo, Cousins, Cauley-Stein are all extremely talented individuals. It’s controlling their craziness and harnessing it into effective (and smart) play that’s going to be the biggest challenge.
George Karl will have his hands full, especially since his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins is rocky (although it’s supposedly on the mend). A recent awkward handshake between the two perhaps best sums up their rapport.
All things considered, the Kings are going to be fun to watch both on and off the court. Expect fights, breakdowns, some incredible fast-breaks, a J.R. Smith signing (that’s not a rumor, he just fits perfectly with the whole nut-job mentality thing they have going in Sac-Town), and a very homesick Kosta Koufos. Although he just signed a four-year contract with the Kings, he may take the first flight back to Greece after season’s end.
The Kings certainly have the talent to secure a playoff spot in the West, but their “unstable” cast of players will make that difficult. I see them finishing somewhere between eighth and twelfth in the conference.
5) Tyson Chandler strikes four-year, $52 million deal with Suns; guard Brandon Knight re-signs for five years, $70 million.
The Phoenix Suns have been really busy this off-season. They inked Tyson Chandler to the same exact deal that the Knicks did four years ago (shows how valuable teams think Chandler is when he’s healthy), which will give them the defensive anchor they’ve desperately needed the last few seasons.
The Morris Brothers were separated when Phoenix traded Marcus to Detroit. Marcus expressed his displeasure over the deal, claiming that the Suns knew how much he really wanted to play with his older bro.
While the move was executed for salary dumping purposes, Phoenix violated an important unspoken rule: you don’t separate twin athletes.
Given the laws of sibling science, twins play a lot better when they’re on the same team (or at least, that was my line of reasoning with Sidney and Ashley Webber in Backyard Baseball). Splitting the Mo Bros was a cardinal sin, and the league needs to take action against the perpetrators who brought on this atrocity!
In all seriousness, the Morris Brothers were a great tandem to have. They brought scoring, rebounding, and versatility. Now that Marcus is gone, Markieff may also want out. Moral of the story: if you have siblings, particularly twins, on your team, do not trade them under any circumstance.
Brandon Knight signed a huge contract extension with the Suns that mirrors the years and money the team gave to Eric Bledsoe in 2014 (five years, $70 million). Although Knight has shown glimpses of star power, it’s difficult to see him ever becoming an elite player in the league, especially considering how many great point guards are out there. His counterpart Eric Bledsoe is the true star in the making.
What the Suns are attempting to do with the Knight signing is unclear. Do they want Knight and Bledsoe to play side-by-side? Have they deemed Knight as the chosen one instead of Bledsoe? Do they intend to trade Bledsoe to free up cap-space?
While there are more questions than answers at this point, one thing remains clear: they Suns are trying to re-gain legitimacy in the deep Western Conference. Knight, Bledsoe, Chandler, and Markieff Morris are all solid building blocks. Making the playoffs will be tough for the Suns, and I don’t see it happening in 2016.
6) DeAndre Jordan signs a max deal with the Mavericks for four years, $80 million (jk, lol).
The Mavs didn’t end up getting DeAndre, but at least they snagged Deron Williams!! Right? Right??
Okay, maybe that signing would have been more exciting if it happened three years ago when D-Will inked the mammoth five-year, $100 million with the then New Jersey Nets.
Williams’ tenure with the Nets was very disappointing, to say the least. He did not turn out to be their franchise point guard, and his numbers steadily declined right after he signed his deal. Williams went from all-star on the rise to second-stringer.
It’s bizarre how quickly and dramatically things shifted for Williams, and it’s hard to pinpoint what triggered his downfall. The mula certainly could have begun a “decentivizing” process. But D-Will has always been known to be sort of a weird cat.
Jerry Sloan, the former Jazz coach, quit after almost twenty years with the team because he just couldn’t stand Williams. Forcing one of the all-time greats out the door is not a great thing to have on your resume.
In New Jersey and then Brooklyn, D-Will never lived up to expectation. He was surrounded by a bunch of really talented guys (i.e. Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce), but couldn’t figure it out. Pierce recently said that he thinks the pressure caught up to Williams. He had so much ability, but he didn’t want to have to handle the pressures of being an MVP-type player.
Williams will get the chance to prove himself once again in Dallas. This could be the best situation for the point guard since he’s going to a team with very small expectations. Not to mention, he will be playing in his home state.
Does Williams make any kind impact in Dallas? I actually think he will. He’s got a great coach and some good veteran leadership around him. While D-Will is no DeAndre Jordan, he’s a good risk sign for the Mavs.
The Head Scratchers:
7) Al-Farouq Aminu receives $30 million from the Blazers over four years.
The Blazers realized early on they were losing LaMarcus Aldridge. As a result they freaked out a bit, which is clear in their egregiously (shout-out to Stephen A.) lucrative signing of mediocrity in basketball player form: Al-Farouq atah adonai Aminu.
Aminu is known for his above average defense and bricking corner threes in NBA 2K. His stats this past season (5.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG) are similar to a young Kwame Brown—if Kwame Brown had a down year. The move clearly came out of desperation, as the Blazers are headed into the dark dungeony depths of the strong Western Conference.
8) DeMarre Carroll gets $60 million from the Raptors over four years.
DeMarre “The Challah Bread Haired Wonder” Carroll spun the wheel-of-fortune and also landed on jackpot. His $60 million contract means that he’s making more money than per season than 2015 regular season MVP Steph Curry.
Carroll is a good, versatile player, but not $60 million good. He’s a hustle guy who’s a real pest on defense. He can also shoot a bit and has some slashing ability. He’ll never be an all-star though, and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs outside the Hawks’ San-Antonio-esque system (designed to maximize everyone’s unique abilities).
Cory Joseph, who inked a four-year, $30 million contract, is another Raptor acquisition that will get the chance to prove he’s more than just a product of Spur brilliance.
Next year’s salary cap increase makes the Carroll and Joseph deals more comprehensible. However, the DeMarre deal in particular seems like one of those splurge signings the Raptors are involved in every summer for a guy who over-performed the previous season (ala Hedo Turkoglu and Landry Fields).
Unfortunately, Toronto and Drake are not big enough sells to lure significant free agents to the Raptors. That’s why they sign guys like DeMarre Carroll for $60 million.
Bottom line: The Carroll signing makes the Raptors a little better but they will still be fighting for a playoff spot in the East. The departure of Amir Johnson also doesn’t help their cause.
Some Crickets for the Knicks and Celtics; Dead Silence for the Lakers:
9) The Knicks sign Aaron Afflalo for two years, $16 million; Robin Lopez for four years, $54 million; Derrick Williams for two years, $10 million; and they acquire Kyle O’Quinn from the magic via sign-and-trade.
Big name guys just aren’t taken with the bright lights of NYC—nor are they taken with an abysmal, win-later (much, much later) team. LaMarcus Aldridge even cancelled his meeting with the team. Jeez. Monroe appeared to be a lock to sign with the Knicks at one point, but he was swayed by the Bucks’ max offer and young, potential-packed roster.
All things considered, Phil Jackson and the Knicks secured some solid pieces. The Aaron Afflalo signing was good from both a financial (two years, $16 million) and basketball standpoint. Afflalo is a great shooter, defender, and knows how to score the basketball. What more could you want out of a complimentary two-guard?
The Knicks also signed big-haired Lopez brother, Robin since DeAndre chose to sign somewhere else (naturally). Although he lacks the offensive skill of Brook, Robin is a much better rim protector. He brings the intangibles and has even shown that he can average double figures in points.
Afflalo, Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn (who the Knicks acquired via sign-and-trade), and Derrick Williams are not the most flashy pick-ups, but they’re going to help usher in a culture shift. The Knicks will play hard on both ends of the floor every single night, which will certainly be a welcomed change. Their pieces will also fit nicely with one another—something the Knicks haven’t had in years.
Draft picks Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant will begin their development as NBA players. Both of them have terrific NBA potential. Personally, I can’t wait to see the 7’2” Zinger take the MSG court.
This summer’s off-season for the Knicks is a step in the right direction, but it’s next year’s off-season that will determine if the team can actually contend for a title while Melo is still around. As a Knicks fan, that’s all I can hope for (KD2016!).
10) The Celtics re-sign forwards Jae Crowder (five years, $35 million) and Jonas Jerebko (two years, $10 million); they sign free agent Amir Johnson to a two-year, $24 million deal; and trade for David Lee.
Although they got off to a slow start this off-season, the Celtics actually wound up with a few solid players. They acquired double-double machine David Lee (who played very well for the Warriors in the finals) and big man Amir Johnson.
Lee is a versatile presence on the offensive. He’s very agile for his size and can finish around the rim with either hand. Lee also has a very solid mid-range game and is an extremely underrated passer and decision-maker. He’ll bring veteran leadership to a young Celtics squad.
Lee is skilled, whereas Amir Johnson is more of a banger down low. He’s averaged around 10 PPG, 7 RPG, and 1 BPG over the past two seasons with Toronto. Johnson will bring the defense, Lee the offense.
The Celtics have also re-signed Jae Crowder—a very feisty defender—as well as Jonas “Bro” Jerebko.
Although they didn’t make a huge splash, I really like what the Celtics did this off-season. They brought in (and re-signed) some great locker room guys who will only help the team improve from last year.
With another year under their belts—a lot of their roster from last season is returning—I think the Celtics, under coach Brad Stevens, will continue to take steps forward in the Eastern Conference. They’ll make the playoffs again, and then look to sign a major free agent during the off-season (Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Joakim Noah are all realistic options).
11) Lakers sign Lou Williams to three-year contract worth $21 million, Brandon Bass to two-year, $6 million; trade for center Roy Hibbert.
While the Knicks and Celtics didn’t hit a home run in free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers struck out swinging. No one is swooning at the idea of being a Laker anymore, given that they weren’t close to signing their top free agent targets. DeAndre Jordan quickly slashed the Lakers off his list and LaMarcus Aldridge ultimately decided Hollywood wasn’t for him. Even Rajon Rondo, a guy who many expected would join good pal Kobe Bryant in L.A., wound up in Sac-Town.
They managed to pick up the leftovers, signing serviceable guard Lou Williams and the Bassmaster Brandon Bass, but not much else. They also acquired the gigantic 7’2” shell of Roy Hibbert.
Similar to last season, the Lakers will have a real mishmash of mediocre players. At least this year, second overall pick D’Angelo Russell will perhaps be able to keep Laker fans entertained (though he’s had a pretty abysmal summer league thus far). Julius Randle is set to return and finally enjoy a true rookie season—one that is not marred by injury.
And of course, Kobe Bryant will be playing his final year with the Lakers. Hopefully, Kobe views the season as a teaching opportunity. It would just make things easier on everyone, including himself. Knowing Kobe’s competitive nature, though, it’s hard to imagine him accepting losing and not trying to score even if he’s quadruple-teamed.
If Swaggy P gets traded, that will certainly ease Kobe’s nerves a bit.
Like the Knicks and Celtics, the Lakers are reliant on the next few off-seasons to sign stars and regain prominence. For now, the three teams must focus on filling out rosters with guys that will play hard.