The biggest free-agency steals from this NBA offseason

The biggest free-agency steals from this NBA offseason

Free Agency

The biggest free-agency steals from this NBA offseason

There’s no question that the Golden State Warriors were the big winners of the NBA offseason. Not only did the defending champions re-sign their core of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia and David West, they also added new contributors such as Nick Young, Omri Casspi and Jordan Bell. It’s admittedly hard to imagine a team other than the Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy next June, especially since the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to make a big acquisition and are now dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade request.

Still, this was a very active and entertaining summer for NBA fans. In the past month, All-Stars such as Chris Paul (Houston), Paul George (Oklahoma City), Jimmy Butler (Minnesota), Gordon Hayward (Boston) and Paul Millsap (Denver) joined a new team through free agency or trades. Irving and Carmelo Anthony may be next. And those are just the biggest names; plenty of other talented players changed scenery too.

Because so many stars changed jerseys this summer, there were a number of moves that flew under the radar a bit. Here are some free-agent steals that deserve some more attention:

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas

Nowitzki is the biggest name on this list, as he’s a future Hall of Famer and still a significant contributor for the Mavericks. The 39-year-old has obviously slowed down, but last season he averaged 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. Nowitzki’s new deal with the Mavericks flew under the radar for several reasons. First of all, everyone knew he was staying in Dallas; it seems inevitable that he’ll retire with the Mavs, so his free agency was rather anticlimactic. Secondly, Nowitzki quietly inked his deal on the same day that some insane contracts were handed out. Hours after Dirk re-signed, Tim Hardaway Jr. stole headlines with his four-year, $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks. That was also the day that the Miami Heat committed $110 million over the next four years to James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Also, several notable veterans changed teams that same day, including Rudy Gay (San Antonio Spurs) and Vince Carter (Sacramento Kings). Household names changing teams will almost always attract more attention than a notable veteran quietly re-signing as expected.

But Nowitzki’s team-friendly contract deserves more attention because it might be the best bargain in the NBA. He signed a two-year, $10 million deal… with a team option for the second season! Nowitzki has sacrificed a lot throughout his career, but this is extreme even for him. Teams are spending like crazy and executives value shooting more than ever (especially seven-footers who can shoot), yet Nowitzki gave Dallas an enormous discount on what could very well be his final NBA contract. This is essentially the opposite of Kobe Bryant’s final contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, which paid him $48.5 million over his final two seasons. Nowitzki will be the fifth-highest-paid player on the Mavericks next season behind Harrison Barnes ($23,112,004), Wes Matthews ($17,884,176), Dwight Powell ($9,003,125) and Josh McRoberts ($6,021,175). Props to Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson for getting Dirk to sign this bargain contract and for developing such a strong bond with Nowitzki over the years that he’s unconditionally loyal – a rarity among NBA stars. Shortly after Nowitzki re-signed, Cuban told HoopsHype, “Dirk is a legend. I hope he [plays] past this year.”

Jonathon Simmons, Orlando

It was initially reported that Simmons’ deal with the Magic was a three-year, $20 million pact. However, it turns out that Simmons will earn $6.3 million in year one, $6 million in year two and $5.7 million in year three – with only $1 million guaranteed in the final season. That means his deal is actually $18 million (with only $13.3 million guaranteed) over three years. The signing already seemed like a very solid move for the Magic, but it’s downright excellent given this new information.

Simmons is a talented player who should be able to carve out a larger role for himself in Orlando. Last year was just his second season in the NBA, but he’s nearing his prime since he’s 27 years old. Per-36-minutes, he put up 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks last season. He’s a good perimeter defender – ranking eighth among all shooting guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus last year – so he should be a nice fit with Magic head coach Frank Vogel. Simmons has struggled with his shot, which is a concern since Orlando’s roster lacks shooting. However, his age and shooting struggles are why he was obtainable on such a team-friendly contract. At the end of the day, this is a low-risk, high-reward signing for Orlando. Simmons turned heads throughout his time in San Antonio and showed glimpses of the player he could become if given more minutes and responsibilities. This is the first splashy move for Jeff Weltman and John Hammond since taking over Orlando’s front office, and it’s a smart pick-up. If Simmons breaks out and reaches his full potential, the Magic landed a steal on a great contract. If this doesn’t work out, they protected themselves by inking Simmons to a relatively short deal that they can easily get out of after two seasons.

Jamal Crawford, Minnesota

Crawford didn’t expect to be a free agent this summer since he just inked a three-year deal to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason. However, he was shipped to the Atlanta Hawks in the trade that sent Danilo Gallinari to Los Angeles and he was ultimately able to negotiate a buyout with the Hawks’ front office. Crawford would’ve liked to return to the Clippers, but a player can’t re-join a team that traded him for up to one year due to NBA rules. Eventually, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year narrowed down his free agency options to the Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards. Crawford was determined to join a team that could compete at a high level and he felt that his game would fit perfectly alongside the talented core that Minnesota has assembled. He inked a two-year deal worth $8.9 million, with a player option for the second season. The Wolves’ starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns was already stacked, but adding Crawford could push them over the edge. In addition to providing instant offense off the bench, he’ll also give this group some much-needed shooting, spacing and veteran leadership. Crawford has averaged double figures in points in each of the last 15 seasons, and Tom Thibodeau has made it clear that Crawford will be a key contributor.

“They have the young pieces, they have a role for me that I feel I can fit into perfectly and they have Coach Thibs,” Crawford said on a recent episode of The HoopsHype Podcast (which you can find below). “I’ve always been a fan of Thibs, even going back to his Chicago days. I almost went to play for him [in 2011] before I went to Portland. It really came down to Chicago and Portland and Sacramento at that time, but I’ve always been fond of Coach Thibs. I also know some different people in Minnesota. And I just saw how they got really good, really fast. At first, it was like, ‘Oh, they’re going to be good one day. They have those young pieces in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.’ Well, then here comes Jimmy Butler. Then Taj Gibson signs. Then Jeff Teague signs. And it’s like, ‘Oh, they’re serious right now.’ It became intriguing on a lot of different levels and just made sense to me.”

Tyreke Evans, Memphis

Since being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft and winning Rookie of the Year honors, Evans’ career hasn’t gone as planned. However, when healthy, he’s been a solid role player who can score the ball with relative ease and play multiple positions. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to see Evans sign a one-year, $3.3 million deal with the Grizzlies. When the contract was first reported, even some rival executives were shocked that Evans didn’t get more money. Injuries have certainly hurt Evans’ stock; he’s played in just 65 games combined over the last two seasons. However, there’s virtually no risk for Memphis here since he’s on a cheap one-year deal.

When he was healthy last season, Evans averaged 10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 0.9 steals while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three-point range. He needs to improve his shooting percentage and shot selection, but the 27-year-old could be a steal for the Grizzlies at this price. Evans is clearly betting on himself by signing this contract; he hopes to have a strong year with Memphis and then ink a lucrative, long-term deal next summer. He’s basically trying to duplicate what Dion Waiters just did with the Miami Heat. Waiters earned just $2,898,000 with Miami last season, but he took the deal because he felt he’d thrive with the Heat and cash in the following summer. He was right, and his winning bet will pay him $52 million over the next four years. Evans is hoping to resurrect his career in similar fashion, but staying healthy will be the biggest obstacle for him.

PJ Tucker and Nenê, Houston

Tucker turned down a three-year, $33 million offer from the Toronto Raptors to ink a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets. He said that he did this because he wants to play with James Harden and Chris Paul, and he felt Houston’s roster gave him a better shot at competing for a title. Tucker is one of the better perimeter defenders in the  NBA – the type of defender who opposing players respect and wish he was on their team because they hate to play against him. The acquisition of Paul, Harden’s monster extension and all of the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors overshadowed Tucker’s arrival in Houston, but he’s going to be an integral piece for them.

Re-signing Nenê was very important for the Rockets too. They nearly lost him after an initial four-year, $15 million agreement fell through due to the NBA’s Over 38 rule. After weighing his options, he ultimately decided to re-sign with Houston anyway – accepting a three-year deal worth $11 million. The Rockets’ backcourt is obviously star-studded and their wings are solid with Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (with Carmelo remaining a possibility as well). Bringing back a reliable veteran like Nenê, who played very well last year, was another strong move that really helps this squad. Tucker and Nenê obviously weren’t the Rockets’ splashiest moves this summer, but both guys are talented veterans who know their role and will make Houston’s supporting cast significantly better.

Alan Williams, Phoenix

Many casual fans probably don’t know much about Williams. After all, he’s played relatively few minutes and averaged just 7.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals for a struggling Suns team last season. However, it’s important to note that he posted those numbers in 15.1 minutes per game off Phoenix’s bench and he was efficient, shooting 51.7 percent from the field with a 19.6 PER (which was second-best on the Suns behind only Eric Bledsoe’s 20.5 rating). Williams’ per-36-minutes stats – 17.6 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals – show he’s capable of producing at a high level if given more playing time. Had he played enough minutes to qualify, he would’ve finished fifth among all players in Total Rebounding Percentage.

When he received significant minutes in the second half of the season, he thrived. Last March, the 24-year-old played 23.7 minutes per game and he responded by averaging a double-double (11 points, 10.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals). Williams re-signed with the Suns on a three-year, $17 million deal (and the final two years of the contract are non-guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe). Now, Phoenix will see if he can reach his full potential and consistently produce while on a team-friendly deal.

Willie Reed, Los Angeles Clippers

It was surprising to see Reed sign a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Clippers because he performed so well in reserve minutes for the Miami Heat last season. In five games as a starter last year, he averaged 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 28.4 minutes while shooting 68.6 percent from the field. His per-36-minutes stats were similarly impressive: 13.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Dwyane Wade summed up what many fellow players were thinking when they saw the terms of Reed’s agreement:

For the Clippers, this move was a no-brainer. They add a talented backup center behind DeAndre Jordan on an excellent contract. When Reed met with the Clippers earlier this month, Doc Rivers and Co. praised his game and told him he’d receive significant playing time. This is why he ultimately decided to join Los Angeles. Reed’s free agency didn’t go quite as planned, but if he can contribute at a high level on a potential playoff team (and in a large market), he should be able to help his stock and have some better offers to choose from next July.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio

This was one of the more surprising signings of free agency, as Gay opted out of a $14.2 million salary with the Sacramento Kings and hit the market just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon. Gay ended up signing for less than many expected, joining the Spurs on a two-year deal worth $17.2 million (with a player option in year two). At the end of the day, the 30-year-old wanted the chance to play for a first-class organization and potential contender after spending the last three and a half seasons with the Kings. It’s no secret he was frustrated in Sacramento and he’s thrilled to now be part of the NBA’s model franchise in San Antonio. Gay has been to the playoffs just once in his 11-year NBA career, back in the 2011-12 season, and he was sent packing in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers. Joining the Spurs virtually guarantees that he’ll end his postseason drought and there’s a good chance he’ll win his first playoff series too.

Gregg Popovich is excellent at getting the best out of players and there’s no question that Gay is skilled. Prior to his injury last year, he averaged 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range. It’ll be interesting to see what Gay can do under Popovich and how he’ll perform alongside talented players like Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol among others. This is the kind of deal that makes sense for everyone involved. San Antonio gets a versatile scorer for much cheaper than expected (and they prevented him from joining the Golden State Warriors, which was a real possibility). Meanwhile, Gay gets the chance to finally play for a winner and he can hit unrestricted free agency again next summer if he has a strong bounce-back year.

Patrick Patterson, Oklahoma City

The Thunder’s big offseason acquisition was obviously Paul George, but Sam Presti also did a good job of putting a talented supporting cast around George and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. A great example is Patterson, who signed a three-year deal worth $16.4 million with a player option in the final year. The 28-year-old is a great fit in Oklahoma City’s starting lineup since he’s strong defender (he had the ninth-best Real Plus-Minus among power forwards last season) and he can knock down some three-pointers (last season he shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc on 3.9 attempts per game). Patterson is a solid role player and you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. He’ll make an impact on the Thunder by switching on defense, spreading the floor and making hustle plays. A starting line-up of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Patrick Patterson and Steven Adams is intriguing and it should give opposing offenses some problems next season.

Which under-the-radar offseason additions did you like? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts with Alex Kennedy on Twitter.

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