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In case you missed these reports ...
Over/under of how many what the ... moments you had since free agency started! I say 10....
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) July 2, 2015
After a relatively normal opening few hours in which several key free agents reached mostly expected agreements, the NBA exploded with a flurry of activity that started Wednesday morning and ended ... well, it probably hasn't yet, but we have to publish this article at some point. The deals came in rapid succession, so here's a brief rundown of the biggest ones to get you up to speed.
The East champion Cleveland Cavaliers were the busiest team of the day, bringing back power forward Kevin Love ($110 million over five years), other power forward Tristan Thompson ($80 million over five years), and 3-and-D wing Iman Shumpert ($40 million over four years, as reported by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski) at seriously expensive contracts. As our Dan Devine explained, these deals pave the way for LeBron James to return to the Cavs, although his forthcoming salary will push the franchise well into the luxury tax for the foreseeable future. For that matter, the Cavs will have limited options to add players through any means other than the draft or via trade.
The Cavs' finals opponent, the Golden State Warriors, made their biggest move of the offseason in retaining do-everything forward Draymond Green for five years at more than $82 million in total salary. Yahoo's Marc Spears was the first to report the deal, which rates as a sound move for the Warriors at any price. It's hard to put a dollar value on a player who gives a championship team its identity and spirit.
The Spurs are gearing up to challenge the Warriors' status as the best team in the West. San Antonio beat out a host of new suitors to keep wing Danny Green for four years at $45 million, terrific terms given his track record and more lucrative deals won by less established players elsewhere this offseason. The Spurs also dealt center Tiago Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks as a move to open up cap space to sign coveted unrestricted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio remains one of several frontrunners to nab the four-time All-Star.
The Hawks had a very busy apart from obtaining Splitter. They lost versatile wing DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, to the Toronto Raptors for $60 million over four years and will need to replace him with a capable player soon. The good news is that they held on to two-time All-Star Paul Millsap at roughly $58 million for three seasons, which ensures that they won't enter 2015-16 scrambling to reclaim the identity that helped them to win 60 games in 2014-15.
The Chicago Bulls will be there to challenge the Cavs and Hawks again. After reports that he wanted to sign a shorter-term deal, the Bulls effectively pushed restricted free agent Jimmy Butler into taking a max-level five-year extension that should keep the 25-year-old All-Star in town through much of his prime. New head coach Fred Hoiberg should deploy Butler for fewer minutes and with more creativity than he experienced under Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls also held onto veteran wing Mike Dunleavy, who had been rumored as a target of LeBron James and Cleveland.
The fate of the Los Angeles Clippers' offseason also rests on their ability to bring back a top-tier free agent, but they can at least move forward knowing they have taken care of one priority. As reported by Woj, the Clips will sign veteran Paul Pierce for just $10 million over three years, a very good deal for a team that lacked consistent shooting and championship mettle this postseason. Just how good the deal ends up being depends on whether or not they bring back DeAndre Jordan, who spent a whole lot of time with the Dallas Mavericks on the first day of free agency.
The Mavs need him, too, because the Phoenix Suns just agreed to terms with their last center, Tyson Chandler, on a four-year contract for $50 million. That's a lot of money and years for a 32-year-old, but they apparently have confidence that Chandler will pair well with Aldridge, whom they were said to have impressed in a meeting Wednesday. Perhaps their chances are better now that the Los Angeles Lakers have been ruled out by Aldridge for reasons that should not surprise anyone who's followed the franchise of late.
Former Sun Goran Dragic is now set to become a whole lot richer after agreeing to a five-year, $80-million contract with the Miami Heat, who now must turn their attention to bringing back franchise icon Dwyane Wade. Yet Dragic wasn't the only young point guard to reach a five-year deal on Wednesday, because Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard will be around a while on a max-level extension that could total as much as $120 million.
Somehow, there were many more deals of note on Wednesday.
The Kings flail yet again, hand Sixers more assets
Can anyone explain the Sacramento Kings? Shortly after rampant draft-week speculation regarding the future of star DeMarcus Cousins and head coach George Karl, the Kings opened July by making a very confusing trade. Woj reported late Wednesday that Sacramento has dealt shooting guard Nik Stauskas and big men Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to some overseas players and one of Sam Hinkie's several thousand future second-round picks. Grantland's Zach Lowe says that the Sixers will also get a top-10 protected Kings pick well into the future (if ever) and could gain the right to swap first-round picks.
The Kings made this move to get up to $25 million in cap space, which they now plan to use to add free agents like Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, and Wesley Matthews. That trio can charitably be called problematic — Rondo may not have anything left, Ellis is a very talented scorer with glaring holes in his game that must be planned around, and Matthews is coming off an Achilles tendon tear that few players recover from fully. Tom Ziller of SBNation.com, the internet's foremost Kings analyst and fan, accurately referred to this move as "a huge bet on a pot we aren't even sure is worth winning." It's not clear that any of these targets other than Rondo wants to play in Sacramento, and the franchise's long-term vision appears to be nonexistent. As ever, the Kings are jumping from move to move with no eye for the bigger picture.
At the same time, it's not clear that the Sixers have achieved a clear win. While the possibility of future picks is great news for Hinkie and the salaries of Thompson and Landry will help them inch past the league's salary floor, Stauskas is only a clear upgrade at guard because Philadelphia has the worst collection of perimeter talent in the NBA. Despite his delightful nickname, the eighth pick in the 2014 draft shot only 32.2 percent from long range with a 7.5 PER in his first season. Hinkie deserves credit for adding potential and future assets, but there's no guarantee that the Sixers will be markedly better because of this trade.
Pelicans keep Asik and Ajinca in the frontcourt
After opening Wednesday with a simultaneously massive and value-driven max-level extension for superstar Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans brought back centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca at contracts of five years at $50 million (reported by Woj) and four years at $20.5 million (reported by USA Today's Sam Amick), respectively.
The Asik deal seems particularly high (in both years and dollars) given his performance, but New Orleans seems to have decided that the opportunity cost was worth it given other available options. Asik only helps an offense as a screener and rebounder, but his defense helps take some pressure off Davis and allows the high-flying forward to thrive as a rover who can grab steals and blocks all over the court. At the very least, new head coach Alvin Gentry knows what he will get from Asik and can plan accordingly.
Ajinca is a more intriguing figure who put up fantastic per-36-minute numbers (16.7 points and 11.8 rebounds with a 19.9 PER) in limited time in 2014-15. Expect him to play more than his 14.1 minutes per game next season, particularly alongside Davis, with whom he proved a better fit than did Asik. The 7-0 Frenchman had been a disappointment since becoming the 20th pick of the 2008 draft but has potentially found a spot with the Pelicans.
Grizzlies land Brandan Wright, who could finally see real playing time
The Memphis Grizzlies did not wait for All-NBA center Marc Gasol to sign his presumed max-level extension before finding a replacement for fellow free agent Kosta Koufos. As reported by Woj, the Grizzlies will give 27-year-old Tennessee native Brandan Wright a three-year, $18-million contract at their full mid-level exception. The lanky Wright served as a sparkplug and rim protector for the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, and Phoenix Suns. He should be an upgrade over Koufos, in part because he gives the Grizzlies needed athleticism in the paint.
Wright is a bizarre player in that he has put up a PER of at least 20.4 in each of his last four seasons and somehow never averaged more than 19.8 minutes per game (his mark in 2014-15). In addition, lineups featuring Wright outscored opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 and 27 points in 2014-15. These are mind-boggling numbers skewed by limiting playing time but also so amazing that they theoretically should have given Wright the chance to play a great deal more. His pattern of limited time is weird enough that it's worth wondering if Wright has some hidden hole in his game that only reveals itself to coaches who see him every day. In theory, there should be a spot for a player of his talents.
The good news is that the Grizzlies are likely to play him quite a bit, especially considering Zach Randolph's advancing age and league-wide trends pushing even the most old-fashioned grit-and-grind squads towards more athleticism and versatility. Wright appears like a good fit in Memphis, but history suggests that something could get in the way. Analytically minded fans and, um, analysts should watch this situation with great interest.
Celtics hold onto, add yet more hustle-minded players
Let no one say that the Celtics are not committed to a particular brand of ball. After nabbing a surprising postseason berth seemingly through sheer effort, the Boston Celtics moved for several more players that fit that hustling, gritty mold. They will bring back wing Jae Crowder at a five-year, $35-million deal (reported by RealGM.com's Shams Charania) and forward Jonas Jerebko for two years at $10 million (reported by Amick) while adding longtime Toronto Raptors big man Amir Johnson for two years at $24 million (reported by Woj).
Johnson is the most interesting of the three, because he brings the Celtics rim protection that they sorely lacked in 2014-15. While Brad Stevens used the team's considerable defensive strengths on the perimeter to put together a solid unit, Johnson offers new possibilities and the potential for a top-10 defense. He's also one of the league's best screeners, which should help a side that features no game-changing scorers.
Crowder is a known quantity as a relatively poor shooter who nevertheless helps with defense and effort. Unlike many of Boston's defense-first guards, Crowder can play either wing spot and put up a reasonable 14.1 PER after coming over from Dallas in the Rajon Rondo trade last December. Jerebko was another midseason pickup who impressed as a role player. He will probably serve as a backup for Johnson moving forward.
OKC retains Singler for five years
One of the day's least exciting moves could end up being pretty meaningful. Woj reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to terms with restricted free agent forward Kyle Singler on a five-year, $25-million contract that should look much more affordable once the cap rises next summer. The Thunder have often re-signed role players to long-term deals in the interest of stability, and Singler fits the bill. The Duke product started 18 games for OKC in place of the injured Kevin Durant after a deadline deal and shot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc for the season. If Durant returns at full strength and Russell Westbrook continues his destroyer-of-worlds form, Singler should contribute as a bench option on a title contender.
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