Free agency began at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, and players and their agents started looking for big paydays, while teams will hope to spend less. That tug-of-war will dominate discussions in the coming weeks.
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GRADING THE DEALS
Washington Post national NBA writer Tim Bontemps hands out his grades for some of the bigger signings and trades during NBA free agency. Here they are, with the most recent first:
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Sacramento Kings sign George Hill to three-year, $57 million contract. Grade: B
The Kings paid market rate for Hill, the lone starting quality point guard remaining, and it came as a bit of a surprise after they drafted Kentucky star De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick in the draft last month. But Hill is big enough to play both guard spots, is a good defender and will be a solid locker room presence for a team with a million rookies. That the last year of the deal is partially guaranteed doesn’t hurt, either – and could make him more palatable as a trade piece later.
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Sacramento Kings sign Zach Randolph to a two-year, $24 million contract. Grade: C
Randolph, like Hill, is a wonderful locker room presence for a team with so many young pups. And, like Hill’s, the deal is relatively short. But it’s also spending $12 million per season on another center on a roster that’s already got several, and – unlike Hill, who at 31 is in the tail-end of his prime – Randolph is in his late 30s and on his way out of the league as a major contributor. The initial positives, however, make this a respectable deal, if not an optimal one.
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Golden State Warriors sign Kevin Durant to a two-year, $53 million contract. Grade: A+
If there was any doubt about how much Kevin Durant loved playing with Golden State last year, it ended with him agreeing to take close to a $10 million haircut to re-sign with the Warriors. Not only did it save the Warriors significant money, but it also puts pressure on ownership down the road to keep the gang together as it begins to get massively expensive in future seasons.
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Denver Nuggets sign Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract. Grade: B+
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Semaj Christon of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Philips Arena on Dec. 5, 2016 in Atlanta.
This contract has some risks – Millsap will be 35 when it’s up and is undersized for his position. But he’s also still an excellent player and on paper seems to be a perfect match with center Nikola Jokic. His defensive presence will be welcomed by Coach Michael Malone, as well. For a Denver team trying to make the playoffs, this was a necessary move in the Western Conference arms race.
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Toronto Raptors sign Kyle Lowry to a three-year, $100 million contract.Grade: B-
The Raptors find themselves in a fascinating situation. They have a team in the middle of its best stretch in franchise history, but one seemingly not good enough to truly contend for a title. Still, by keeping Lowry and Serge Ibaka on three-year deals, the Raptors can maintain being competitive and then have the opportunity to do a full reset in 2020. Lowry is 31, and the deal could be ugly by the end, but a shorter-term deal is a win for Toronto. Now it remains to be seen whether Toronto can shed salary (Jonas Valanciunas?) to save on luxury tax payments.
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Cleveland Cavaliers sign Kyle Korver to a three-year, $22 million contract. Grade: C
This is only spending Dan Gilbert’s money, so it’s good to see the Cavaliers retaining Korver. However, Cleveland should only be making moves with Golden State in mind, and while Korver is one of the league’s best shooters, he cannot play against the Warriors. The Cavaliers need more defensive options that can play against Golden State, and Korver is not that.
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Toronto Raptors sign Serge Ibaka to a three-year, $65 million contract. Grade: B-
Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press via AP
Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) blocks a shot from Milwaukee Bucks forward Michael Beasley (9) during the first half of game five of an NBA first-round playoff series basketball game in Toronto on Monday, April 24, 2017.
Toronto chose to keep Ibaka in the fold after acquiring him from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline, and did so on a deal for maybe slightly more money than the shrinking market rate, but the fact the deal is only three years long makes it a palatable one for Toronto. The big questions moving forward for the Raptors: will they also keep Kyle Lowry (who is represented by the same agent, Andy Miller), and will they be able to move on from Jonas Valanciunas and his big-money deal?
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Minnesota Timberwolves sign Taj Gibson to a two-year, $28 million contract. Grade: B
This is a fair-market contract for Gibson, a rugged power forward who doesn’t stretch the floor past the midrange, but who is a good defender and rebounder and is quite familiar with Timberwolves Coach Tom Thibodeau, who he previously played under in Chicago. Minnesota won’t have as much shooting as one would like, but they will be one difficult team to play against – which is exactly what Thibodeau wants his teams to be like.
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Washington Wizards sign Jodie Meeks to a two-year, $7 million contract. Grade:B-
A solid signing for the Wizards, as Meeks gives them a cheap-shooting wing who will love playing next to John Wall – presuming he is completely over the health issues that kept him off the court for much of the last two seasons. The curious thing about this move is it currently is slotted to use Washington’s biannual exception – which, if it does get used, would leave the Wizards hard-capped. That could make keeping Otto Porter difficult – and keeping him and Bojan Bogdanovic impossible. It should be noted, though, the Wizards can convert it into part of their taxpayer mid-level, removing them from being hard capped.
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Houston Rockets sign P.J. Tucker to a four-year, $32 million deal. Grade: C+
Look, if Chris Paul wants a player and you just traded for Chris Paul – you go get that player. And there’s little doubt that Tucker, a rugged forward who can play either spot, is an excellent fit as a defender next to Paul and James Harden, and should be able to make enough threes to be viable in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Paying Tucker from age 32-34, however, with a partial guarantee on the fourth year, could wind up being a rough contract down the road. But the Rockets are going for it this summer – kudos to them for doing so – and this clearly fits into that mind-set.
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Golden State Warriors sign Andre Iguodala to a three-year, $48 million contract. Grade: C
Ben Margot, The Associated Press
Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) reacts after scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017.
During the first 24 hours of free agency, Iguodala went out and did everything he could to get Golden State to up its offer and give him a fully guaranteed third year. The Warriors were loathe to do so, given the combination of Iguodala’s age (he’ll turn 34 next season) and the looming decision on how much to pay Klay Thompson when he becomes a free agent in 2019 (and then Draymond Green the following year). In the end, though, keeping Iguodala – a hugely important piece in the locker room, and one of the four players, along with Thompson, Green and Stephen Curry, who went to woo Kevin Durant in the Hamptons last summer – made it necessary to find a way to get this done and keep Iguodala comfortable and happy. This is a deal that could be rough in a year or two, however, just considering how Iguodala may perform on the court. If it impacts the team’s decision-making on Thompson and Green, however, that would be a far more painful ramification than anything to do with his performance level.
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Utah Jazz sign Joe Ingles to a four-year, $52 million contract. Grade: B-
Ingles, who will be 30 next season, likely will slightly age out of his contract over its final couple of years. But if that proves to be the difference in keeping Gordon Hayward, who is close friends with Ingles, then it will be worth every penny. Either way, Ingles is a wing player who is capable of both defending multiple positions and knocking down open threes, which makes him a valuable commodity in today’s NBA. And with Utah trying to lock in Hayward’s services, getting a commitment before his meeting Monday made plenty of sense.
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Philadelphia 76ers sign J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. Grade: A
This is a perfect deal for Philadelphia. With $50 million or so in cap space to spend, the Sixers had to do something. And by getting Redick, they acquire a veteran presence for the locker room and add another shooter to put around Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Redick was never going back to the Los Angeles Clippers, and while he had interest from several teams, Philadelphia was always seen as a front-runner. Now Philadelphia can use a chunk of its remaining space to potentially give Robert Covington a raise as part of a renegotiation and extension of his contract.
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New Orleans Pelicans sign Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million contract. Grade: A-
This is a big win for the Pelicans, who had no choice but to retain Holiday. The 27-year-old was not only one of the best free agents on the market, but he also was a player New Orleans had no realistic way of replacing if he chose to go elsewhere in free agency. That’s why, instead of letting him hold a meeting with someone, the Pelicans hammered out an agreement with him right away in the early morning hours of July 1. Holiday, meanwhile, has grown close with the organization after the way it handled his wife’s illness last season, allowing him to take as much time as he needed to be with her. That all added up to a deal being struck quickly, and at a good number for both sides.
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Golden State Warriors sign Stephen Curry to a five-year, $201 million contract. Grade: A
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors walks off the court after being defeated b the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 9, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.
This one is easy. When the NBA created the Designated Player Veteran Exception in the latest collective bargaining, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Curry was the obvious candidate to sign it. And, not surprisingly, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time NBA champion agreed to a deal shortly after free agency began. The most surprising thing? That Curry didn’t get a no-trade clause from the Warriors – though it is exceedingly unlikely he would ever get traded from the team he’s become synonymous with.
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Los Angeles Clippers sign Blake Griffin to a five-year, $173 million contract. Grade: B-
The Clippers weren’t able to keep Chris Paul, but they did manage to keep Griffin, getting him to agree to cancel his meetings with the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns to come back to Los Angeles on a five-year deal. For all of Griffin’s talent, this deal comes with risks – specifically his injury history. But he still is a supreme talent, and perhaps with Paul out of the picture, the increased ballhandling responsibilities that will come with it will allow Griffin to take yet another step forward as a player.
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Minnesota Timberwolves sign Jeff Teague to a three-year, $57 million contract. Grade: B
When the Timberwolves dealt Ricky Rubio in the hours leading up to the trade deadline, the expectation was that Teague would be his replacement – a deal that was agreed to minutes after free agency began. While the deal is a fairly high-dollar number per year for the Wolves – averaging $19 million per – the fact it’s only two years guaranteed, with a player option for the third Teague could exercise, limits the potential downside risk for Minnesota. Now the Timberwolves are expected to chase one more significant signing, with J.J. Redick thought to be at the top of their shopping list.
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San Antonio Spurs sign Patty Mills to a four-year, $50 million contract. Grade: B+
Hard to argue with this deal for the Spurs, who managed to convince their latest hometown player to take a discount to remain in San Antonio. Mills has developed into one of the best bench players in the NBA, and will potentially be San Antonio’s starter this year – or, at worst, co-starter alongside second-year guard Dejounte Murray – while Tony Parker recovers from a severe leg injury suffered during the playoffs.
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Milwaukee Bucks sign Tony Snell to a four-year, $46 million contract. Grade: B+
This was another deal done quickly after the start of free agency, and was another good deal for the incumbent team. Snell developed nicely with Milwaukee this past season after being acquired from the Chicago Bulls, giving the Bucks the kind of quality “3-and-D” option on the wing that every team is looking for. Now they’ve locked him in for the next three years (he has a player option on the fourth year) as part of their burgeoning young core.
Golden State Warriors sign Shaun Livingston to a three-year, $24 million contractGrade: B+Livingston told friends that he was willing to stay as part of Golden State’s juggernaut for less than he’d get on the open market, and that proved to be the case. The conventional wisdom was that Livingston could get an eight-figure contract, but instead he got $8 million each of the next two seasons and then only $2 million guaranteed in the final year of the deal.
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Chicago Bulls sign Cristiano Felicio to a four-year, $32 million contract. Grade: B
Felicio is an interesting test case, as the Bulls essentially bet on his long-term upside by giving him a contract that, if he grows into it the way Chicago hopes, will wind up being a bargain. He’s only 24, and has shown flashes in his two seasons, but he’s still played in a combined 103 games in his pro career, and now has been handed $32 million. But given where Chicago is at, as a rebuilding team after trading Jimmy Butler, it’s a more than understandable – and fairly cheap – risk for them to take.
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Oklahoma City Thunder get: Paul George; Indiana Pacers get: Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Grades: Oklahoma City: A+, Indiana: C-
This is a grand slam for Oklahoma City. No, it does not mean Russell Westbrook is going to sign an extension with the Thunder in a few hours, or even at all. But what it does mean is that Thunder General Manager Sam Presti traded for one of the top 15 players in the league to pair with the reigning Most Valuable Player, and did so for about 25 cents on the dollar. Both Westbrook and George can be free agents a year from now, meaning both could commit to re-sign . . . or both could leave for nothing. Perhaps they’ll even choose to go play for the Los Angeles Lakers, George’s known preferred destination, together. But this is a risk the Thunder had to take – and one they should take every time.
The Pacers, meanwhile, found themselves in a jam, with virtually no leverage to move George anywhere and teams using that to their advantage. They did acquire a decent prospect in Sabonis and a youngish player in Oladipo, but both of them for George isn’t a great return. Also seems confusing that Indiana chose to make this deal when they did – it’s not as if Oklahoma City was going to pull its offer anytime between now and when Indiana moved on from George.
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Utah Jazz get: Ricky Rubio; Minnesota Timberwolves get: Oklahoma City’s lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick. Grades: Utah: B+, Minnesota:B-
Utah was unlikely to re-sign George Hill, and it also seems the Jazz will miss out on bringing back Gordon Hayward (and potentially Joe Ingles, as well). So getting Rubio, a solid starter who is also on a solid contract that pays him a combined $29 million over this year and next, is a good move for them to make. The hope now will be that Rubio can be a stopgap at the position until either Dante Exum or Donovan Mitchell is ready to become a full-time starter.
Minnesota’s grade here really should be an incomplete. The final mark for making this move will be influenced by what the team does with the $14 million in cap space for next season it just created. There are strong indications that the Timberwolves will end up with Jeff Teague, the Indiana Pacers free agent. If they do, how much they pay Teague – and what they do with the rest of their cap space – will determine how smart this move was in the long-term.
There’s also the uncertain future of Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City to consider. If the league MVP leaves the Thunder, this pick is likely to never convey to the Timberwolves as a first rounder (it’s lottery protected through 2020, then becomes a pair of seconds).
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Houston Rockets get: Chris Paul; Los Angeles Clippers get: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, several non-guaranteed contracts and a protected 2018 first-round pick. Grades: Houston: A, Los Angeles: A
Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and Chris Paul #3 of the LA Clippers look on during the second half of a game at Staples Center on April 10, 2017 in Los Angeles.
This is a rare win-win for both teams. The Rockets obviously are the headliners here, as General Manager Daryl Morey gets one of the NBA’s best players in Chris Paul, but also maintains enough flexibility to acquire another star – maybe Paul George? – in a subsequent trade. There will be some questions about fit in Houston alongside James Harden, and playing in Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. But Paul also could be devastatingly effective with all the spacing D’Antoni’s system provides, and he gives Houston a much-needed Plan B, as a ballhandler alongside Harden and for another offensive option when Harden goes to the bench.
The Clippers, on the other hand, maximized every ounce of value they could get out of Paul once he informed them he wanted to play for the Rockets. Beverley and Williams are on excellent contracts, Dekker and Harrell are cheap young players (the kinds Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ coach and team president, could never find to put around Paul) and they get a first-round pick out of the deal, as well. Whether the Clippers keep Blake Griffin, they will have ample cap room in 2018 and intriguing pieces to potentially offer to teams in other trades now – for someone like George, should Indiana choose to move him.