Free Agency Shootaround

By: Scott Levine, Ethan Giles, and Brian Kane


Thibs wyd… (Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons)

This offseason was not the grandiose money bath that was the summer of 2016. However, it had its fair share of polarizing contracts, some of which we will discuss. We didn’t mention signings like Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, and Blake Griffin because those have been discussed at length other places on the internet.

Favorite signing

Scott: P.J. Tucker to the Rockets, 4 years, $32 million

Going into last season, many were concerned how Houston would guard anybody. While Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, and Clint Capela are good defenders, they signed defensive nonfactors Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. James Harden was coming off a laughable defensive season. Houston overachieved, finishing a mediocre 16th in the league with a 106.4 defensive rating.

With the Tucker signing, the team has found a way to incubate Harden’s defensive woes without sacrificing floor spacing. Instead of waiting for Sam Dekker to become P.J. Tucker, they went out and got P.J. Tucker.

They also signed Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, who is not as prolific of a three point shooter as Tucker, but is comparable defensively and can hit the occasional corner three. Rockets are nine-deep and have cemented themselves as the second best team in the west on paper (Spurs always look underwhelming on paper but win 60 games every year).

Ethan: Omri Casspi to the Warriors, 1 year, $2.1 million

This is cheating a little bit; Casspi probably would not have taken the league minimum anywhere else. But holy crap did the Warriors do something incredible here. Casspi is a lethal three point shooter and a solid defender. The team that needed the least help on the wing got a lot of it at an absurdly low price.

Brian: Nick Young to the Warriors, 1 year, $5.2 million

The Warriors have built their identity not just as a powerhouse of near-perfect basketball, but as a team that loves shenanigans. As the up-and-comers in 2015, one of their most notable features was Steph’s unabashed propensity for celebration. From prancing, to high leg kicking, to the run-down-the-court-before-the-three-goes-in (I’m not sure if we’ve come up with a better name for this yet), to two-stepping after a game winner from 40 feet out, Steph’s performative nature defined and permeated the culture of the Warriors.

Once they became seemingly unbeatable, their image changed from being happy-go-lucky-millennial fun to being the bully on the playground. But the roots of celebration remain. Nick Young, if you remember, also loves to celebrate (and you do, because KD made sure to remind you).

Young will hopefully inspire the Warriors to continue their grandiose and oft mean-spirited displays, and everyone should be all the way here for that. Because no one likes a boring supervillain.

Signing that you’re hopeful about but are not fully sold on it working

Scott: Jonathon Simmons to the Magic, 3 years, $18 million

The Magic have tied up almost half their payroll to mediocre guards and bigs this season: They have D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack on the books for $13 million combined and $30 million dedicated to Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. Getting a decent wing in Jonathon Simmons for a bargain basement price was huge for them.

Simmons proved in San Antonio he can defend most shooting guards and some small forwards. He adds toughness and defense to an offensive-minded wing rotation of Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, and, if he ever figures it out, Mario Hezonja. Simmons also gives Frank Vogel flexibility to try lineups with Gordon at the 4 and Isaac at the 5.

We could, however, see Simmons’ offense wilt to the point where he’s borderline unplayable. He is a smart cutter and shot well his rookie year over a small sample, but shot below 30% from three last season. The 2017 Spurs were not the pass-happy open-three-generating machine that the team used to be, but he is going to a less shooter-friendly environment in Orlando.

The Magic don’t have a starting-caliber point guard, and their spacing was already cramped before they signed Simmons. It’s unclear how Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon will draw enough help to set guys up from three, and a lineup that features Payton, Gordon, Simmons, and a traditional center might be too bricky to work.

But at $6 million a year, this is a risk worth taking to find the versatile defensive wing the team has lacked since trading Moe Harkless for pocket change.

Ethan: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Lakers, 1 Year, $18 Million

First, a disclaimer: The fact that I have Caldwell-Pope here is a testament to how many teams I thought did pretty well in free agency. The other person who I was considering putting here was Dewayne Dedmon, but the Hawks don’t actually matter, so I didn’t view that as necessary.

The main reason I have Caldwell-Pope here is simple: The worst case scenario for the Lakers is that KCP fails to meet expectations. The best case scenario is that Caldwell-Pope plays well for one season and then becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The Lakers have not made it a secret that they hope to be major players in free agency next year, meaning they will probably not look to re-sign Caldwell-Pope unless they strike out on better players. There is a good chance that Caldwell-Pope will receive an offer he likes before the Lakers figure out what they want to do with their cap space, increasing the chance that he leaves Los Angeles after a one year stay.

My other reservation is Caldwell-Pope’s fit on the team. All teams could use a player with his defense and potential shooting ability, but the Lakers projected starting five (Ball, KCP, Ingram, Randle, Lopez) does not feature a player capable of beating a defender off the dribble, collapsing the defense, and generating open shots. They had one before the draft, but they thought trading him was worth ditching Mozgov’s contract. Ball’s incredible instincts will generate enough open looks for KCP, but as we saw with the absence of good Reggie Jackson last year, Caldwell-Pope’s play suffers without a primary ball handler in the lineup.

All of that said, I think this was a no-brainer of a decision for the Lakers, especially considering their lack of incentive to tank. The worst case scenario of either Caldwell-Pope not fitting in with Ball or him leaving after a year is worth the $18 million dollar contract. The deal just lacks upside, and might not be as great in practice as many think it will be.

Brian: Rudy Gay to the Spurs, 2 years, $17.2 million

On the surface, this deal reads like a home run for the Spurs. Rudy Gay is a pretty good overall player and an above average scorer, and they landed him for relatively cheap. He’s a good three-point and mid-range shooter and he’s about the size of the modern 4, which gives San Antonio a ton of lineup flexibility with Aldridge at the 5 (particularly defensively). Knowing Pop and the Spurs, it’s likely that a lineup of Patty Mills, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge will be an absolute nightmare. However, the quietest voice in the back of my head still wonders how at age 30, Rudy Gay will transition from a career of being a go-to option on bad teams to being a complementary scorer.

Again, this will probably be a perfect signing. Anyone who knows a lick about basketball knows to just inherently trust everything the Spurs do; it’s practically written in the bylaws by now. The fit of Gay’s skillset is clear. He should knock down open threes, support the offense when Kawhi rests, create open driving lanes, and hit tough shots when necessary. That’s the kind of player he is. But there is a chance he struggles to acquiesce to a system built to value winning over everything else (and all things Kawhi) and not him hitting tough shots in losing efforts. It’s not likely, but it’s something to keep in mind. Besides, we’re now just two years out from the Spurs signing a much bigger name, who also existed as a go-to scorer on a worse team than the Spurs. And I think if you asked people from San Antonio how that’s panned out, they’d express some disappointment.

Least favorite signing

Scott: Taj Gibson to the Timberwolves, 2 years $28 million

When I first saw Karl-Anthony Towns play in Minnesota, I thought, This is it. This is the center of the future. He can do everything. Whoever drafts him should surround him with guys who can space the floor and let him go to work.

Towns is entering his third season and has yet to play alongside a frontcourt partner who can shoot. His starting frontcourt partner this season will be Gibson or Dieng.

Gibson provides defensive versatility. He is one of the few big men who is comfortable both guarding the perimeter and protecting the rim. But like Dieng, he will prevent the team from unlocking Towns’ potential on offense.

If you have Towns, you should focus on maximizing his talent, not using his versatility to incorporate players with limited offensive skill sets. His teammates should be spacing the floor for him, but he has become the floor spacer.

The Thunder signed Patrick Patterson for less than half the annual money Gibson received. I prefer Patterson alongside Towns because his shooting would create a clear lane for Towns to roll to the rim.

Tom Thibodeau is a fine coach, but as a GM, he has tied up $30 million annually to Dieng and Gibson to play alongside Towns, and picked another center in Justin Patton with the 16th pick. Meanwhile, the team owes 7 million to Cole Aldrich this season and next. Towns is the center of the future, and Thibs’ plan is stuck in 2011.

Thibs allegedly took a year off from coaching in 2015-2016 to watch film. Is it possible he did not once watch the 73-win Warriors that year? Wouldn’t he have noticed Draymond Green catch the ball from Steph Curry on a short roll, hit Klay, Barnes, or Iguodala for an open three, and, after accepting the job in Minnesota, think, We could do that but with Towns instead of Draymond? We may never know.

Ethan: Danilo Gallinari to the Clippers, 3 years, $65 million

Danilo Gallinari is a very good player who I’d like to have on my basketball team. That being said, this deal was horrible.

The Clippers need shooting on the wing, which Gallinari will give them. However, Gallo at this point is better off guarding 4s. The Clippers do not have enough minutes to play him consistently at the 4. This will be a massive problem for them.

Additionally, the Clippers have a horrible track record with injuries. Blake Griffin is always hurt. J.J. Redick was out for portions of last season. Chris Paul was a guaranteed injury at one point of every season. It is fair to question the efficacy of the Clippers’ injury prevention programs (if Doc Rivers has them at all). Danilo Gallinari has never shown an ability to stay healthy.

The worst part of this: The Clippers had to give up a first round pick to make this happen. Gallinari is probably worth the Rockets’ first rounder in a nutshell, but adding in this three year commitment, the fact that he will play out of position most of the time, and his injury history make giving up a first rounder for him borderline moronic. This deal will help the Clippers win a few games, but reduces their flexibility for years to come and forces an awkward fit in their frontcourt.

Brian: George Hill to the Kings, 3 years, $57 million

Let De’Aaron eat.

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