Been a weird year all around, no? Well, that extended to the first weekend of 2020 free agency, where Michael Jordan will give Gordon Hayward more in four years than His Airness made in his entire career.
Yes, while this free-agent crop lacks marquee players, that hasn’t discouraged teams from paying marquee money. Call it the High Cost Of Pretty Good Players, where the likes of Hayward and Davis Bertans cashed in and made the best of a market that followed the rules of supply and demand anyway.
What didn’t happen over the weekend was contracts for Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram, the two biggest names, mainly because everyone expects them to re-up with the Lakers and Pelicans. Also, the crazy saga of Kings swingman Bogdan Bogdanovic will get sorted out very soon, now that he signed an offer sheet from the Hawks. Meanwhile, at least a half-dozen teams are holding firm with their money, saving up for next offseason when Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and maybe the big whale, Giannis Antetokounmpo, are scheduled to hit free agency.
Here’s the top 20 signings so far based on scope of contract, level of surprise and potential impact:
1. Gordon Hayward to the Hornets: Hayward hadn’t caused this level of fuss since barely missing the championship-winning buzzer-beater against Duke in college. The Hornets are making a habit of overpaying: Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Terry Rozier. Oh, well: Michael Jordan will simply hike the price of Air Jordans. Anyway, at four years and a reported $120 million, who knows, Hayward might revert to being the Utah Gordon Hayward. He’ll help … but wow.
2. Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers: Basketball fans in L.A. want to know which Trez the defending champs are getting. Is it the high-motor worker who hustled for inside buckets the last few seasons? Or the undersized big who was dreadfully exposed in the playoff bubble? Yes, the Lakers did steal him from the LA Clippers, and he doesn’t need to guard many centers with Anthony Davis around, but he got far less money and years than he envisioned after winning the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award, which means the league was cool on him.
3. Danilo Gallinari to the Hawks. This was the big head-scratcher after Hayward. Why did the Hawks commit so much (three years, $61 million) to someone who plays the same position as John Collins, who’s nine years younger, better all-around and due a significant contract extension? Gallo will at least rescue an inefficient shooting team that’s still waiting on Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish … and a verdict on Bogdanovic.
4. Christian Wood to the Rockets. He’s a rags-to-riches story and the most intriguing of all free agent signings. Now that Wood has left the Pistons, securing the bag (three years, $41 million) and a meatier role — he’ll compliment James Harden and Russell Westbrook assuming they’ll stick around — the undrafted big man must demonstrate he wasn’t a tease last season (13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds per game).
5. Serge Ibaka to the Clippers. He’s more versatile and brings better shooting as the replacement for Harrell. He’s also a proven fit in the pick and pop. You wonder, though, how much less of a defender he’ll be at an age (31) when that skill begins to decline.
6. Fred VanVleet staying with the Raptors. This wasn’t much of a surprise; VanVleet was destined gets paid (four years, $85 million) by the Raptors and the combo guard loves Toronto. Still, you wonder how he’d have fit in Atlanta next to Trae Young (instead of Rajon Rondo), Dallas next to Luka Doncic or given the keys to the New York Knicks.
7. Rajon Rondo to the Hawks. This is a somewhat sensible addition to the Hawks but not without some questions. While he’ll be a good tutor for Young, Rondo can’t play off the ball, so the two can’t be on the floor for long stretches. Also, with Atlanta reportedly adding Kris Dunn, too, the Hawks now have three point guards … and only one can shoot.
8. Davis Bertans staying with the Wizards. Just repeat to yourself “it’s not my money” and this reported five-year, $80 million contract extension suddenly makes sense. Bertans only does one thing well, but shooting range is highly valued, and he’s one of the best high-volume shooters in the game (42.4 percent on 8.7 3-point attempts per game). That said, if the Wizards won’t have a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal back, Bertans won’t make a big difference.
9. Joe Harris staying with the Nets. It’s a rich deal (four years, $75 million) for someone who’s a secondary option, but the Nets have championship dreams and Harris will get plenty of open looks next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
10. Jerami Grant to the Pistons. He won this three-year, $60 million contract with his sparkling play in the bubble, an astonishing rise by a career role player. While Grant is a solid defender, the analytics people have convinced him to abandon his inside game — where he once flourished — in favor of falling in love with the 3-pointer.
11. Rookie max deals. Kings guard De’Aaron Fox has gotten better each year, is quick, pushes the ball and brings an improved jumper. But a $163-million max extension is a steep price for a potential All-Star (he’s not there yet). There are less questions about already-stars Donovan Mitchell, who’ll sign the max in Utah, and Jayson Tatum, who will do the same in Boston.
12. Wesley Matthews to the Lakers. Matthews cashed in four years ago when the Mavericks overpaid him, so money wasn’t as big of a motivator as the chance to play next to LeBron and Davis and get plenty of open looks. The Lakers hope he works out a lot better than the dreadful Danny Green experience.
13. Tristan Thompson to the Celtics. If reports about the Celtics declining a sign-and-trade involving the Pacers and Myles Turner for Gordon Hayward were correct, then Turner would’ve been a better option than Thompson. Anyway, Thompson brings grit and a scent for rebounds to a team loaded with finesse players.
14. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope staying with the Lakers. KCP came up large during The Finals, so of course he was staying. The Lakers, Klutch Sports and LeBron have been very good for him and his bank account.
15. Jae Crowder to the Suns. Crowder wanted multiple years, which the Heat weren’t offering because they want to keep money next year in case they can get Giannis Antetokounmpo. Phoenix isn’t a bad alternative for a solid 3-point shooter and defender. The Suns are onto something.
16. Kris Dunn to the Hawks. He might be the best defensive point guard in the NBA, which makes him valuable to the Hawks because Young is one of the worst. If you could fuse their talents together you’d have an Kia MVP contender.
17. Marcus Morris stays with the Clippers. Whenever a team surrenders assets for a player headed to free agency — the Clippers gave the Knicks a No. 1 pick for Morris last spring — it always backfires in negotiations. That team loses all leverage because it has to sign that player to justify the trade. The Clippers rewarded Morris (four years, $64 million) for overcoming a poor start in L.A. with solid play in the bubble.
18. Derrick Jones Jr. to the Blazers. A young, athletic wing and ferocious finisher at the rim, he’s part of a reloading project that gave the Blazers some much needed depth. Portland also re-signed Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood and traded for Robert Covington and Enes Kanter.
19. Jordan Clarkson stays with the Jazz. Clarkson’s career was in danger of falling off a cliff just a year ago. Then he joined the Jazz, gave them a big scoring boost off the bench and cashed in at four years and $52 million. What a turnaround.
20. Goran Dragic stays with the Heat. As Dragic said, teammate Jimmy Butler threatened his life had he signed elsewhere. Anyway, Dragic knows he’ll be in Miami beyond this guaranteed season; the player and team are a good fit.
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