Best upper tier free agent signings

The exploding cap this summer was bound to surface with the bandying of barrels of cash Walter White style, but the new landscape also caused apprehensiveness due to the unknown. The $24 million increase in the salary cap left the league in a fugue state, no longer abiding by the learned principles of financial management in a structured marketplace. Escalating things further is a possible lockout lurking on the horizion of next summer, when the league is projected to undergo another mini cap spike of about $14 million.

However, organizations, players and agents have been preparing for this summer for quite some time; it’s not blindsiding them. But there is a difference between devising a plan or strategy and actually being able to stay the course once cast into the fray. These teams stood firm and came out with the best deals in free agency for the league’s notable free agents.

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (Two years, $54.3 million- Player Option on second year)  

KD press

Durant’s decision to depart from Oklahoma City for Golden State almost renders the rest of the free agency period meaningless. A generational player just joined forces with a 73-win juggernaut who will be on a revenge tour after last year’s Finals loss.

Durant’s shooting meshes well with Golden State’s free flowing motion offense, where he can spot up and uncork 3s and jumpers off pin downs with canyons of space he was never afforded in OKC. Durant’s 63.4 true shooting percentage was the best in the NBA among small forwards last season, and he achieved the mark despite myriad isolations that usually sap efficiency. Durant will have to sacrifice some of the ball-stopping isolations he craved in OKC, but it’s also the antidote to switching defenses, which ailed the Warriors in the postseason against the Thunder and Cavs. Switching naturally slows down pass-heavy, movement-based offenses, essentially reducing the game to getting a favorable matchup, then attacking it. Durant imposes a mismatch simply by trotting down the court and demanding the basketball. Put him in a pick-and-roll with Curry, and Durant is working against a point guard 5-10 inches shorter if teams switch.

KD drive

Durant will always be renowned for his scoring and all-around offensive skill, but in Golden State, he may have more energy and devotion to the defensive end with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green supplanting him at times as the go-to scoring option. Durant was masterful during the postseason as a 7-footer who can switch onto guards, protect the rim and snare rebounds (a consistently overlooked strength of his game.) Durant’s gargantuan wingspan gives him creedance in terms of keeping pace with fleet-of-foot guards because even if he’s trailing by a step or two, when he unfurls his lanky limbs, he abruptly closes off the separation.

Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (Four years, $94 million)

Parsons is the type of wing contributor Memphis has starved for in its Grind-n-Grind era of glory, a spot up floor spacer who can attack close outs with a nifty off-the-bounce and provide shot creation for himself and others as a secondary playmaker in the pick-and-roll. Parsons posted career highs in FG percentage and 3-point percentage last season, which served him as well as a spot up option, where averaged 1.23 points per possession to rank in the league’s 94th percentile.

Parsons’ change of pace drive and superior size allowed him to thrive as a pick-and-roll threat with Dallas last season, and he’s undervalued in terms of setting up teammates as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joe Johnson?? were the only small forwards with a high-level usage rate (>15 percent) who posted a better assist rate.

parsons

However, Parsons won’t have the luxury of playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki in Memphis, whose shear presence neuters defensive schemes as defenders don’t dare linger far from the rangy 7-footer. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol shrink the paint, testing Parsons craft as a driver and his ability to finish in traffic.

Parsons may return the Grizz to its customary place as the fourth or fifth seed in the West, but his value depreciates greatly if he’s wearing street clothes by the time the NBA’s second season starts. Parsons missed 46 games combined during his two years in Dallas, including suiting up in just one of their 10 playoff games.

Nicolas Batum (Five years, $120 million) & Marvin Williams (Four years, $54.5 million), Charlotte Hornets

With the deluge of cap space across the league combined with a dearth of two-way wings, Batum was a candidate for a 5-year max deal. Batum, however, didn’t entertain or even flirt with any organization after praising his first season in Charlotte during the regular season, and he cut the Hornets a theoretical fat check of $33 million, taking $120 million over his 5-year deal as opposed to the record $153 million Mike Conley squeezed out of Memphis.

Williams was smart to attain security down the line with a 4-year deal as he’s already 30, but Williams added to the sumptuary agreements the Hornets negotiated this summer by agreeing to terms on the maximum salary allowed under the restrictions of his Early Bird Rights, which amounted to 175 percent of his previous $7 million salary, and allowed Charlotte to exceed the cap to resign him. It’s nebulous if Williams’ $15 million payout in his age 34 season will match his production, but keeping Williams on the books with modest cap hits the next two seasons is a bargain for a player who was rumored as a prime candidate to sacrifice long-term security for massive myopic financial gains in the realm of $18-$20+ million per year.

Batum’s 3-point shot has oscillated during his career, but he’s always displayed a playmaking savvy off the catch and weaved through defenses in pick-and-rolls to set up teammates. Batum had the second best assist rate of all 2 guards last season according to espn.com. In fact, Evan Turner and a trio of Warriors (Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut) were the only non-point guards with a better assist rate than Batum.

NBA: Playoffs-Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat

Defensively, Batum’s length compensates for lacking lateral agility, molding him into an above average defender, but not one with elite physical tools. Fortunately, if Michel Kidd Gilchrist remains healthy, Batum will draw the weaker matchup on the wing, and, due to his size, he’s capable of holding his ground when he switches onto a big.

Following the league’s paradigm shift, Williams has shifted down a position to the 4, where his value has emerged after flaming out as a top pick, Now 30, Williams returns to Charlotte with a clearly sketched role as a frontcourt bomber, whose time at the wing still flashes with a wiggly drive game and the ability to switch and temporarily redirect perimeter dudes away from the paint.

Williams chucked away last season, averaging 4.5 catch and shoot 3-point attempts per game, converting at a 41.3 percent rate. The vast majority of such attempts were considered “open” to “wide open” according to SportVU tracking data, slicing open the pondering idea of how much gravity Williams holds and, thus how much his stretchy shooting carves out space for his teammates. But when Williams was on the court last season, the Hornets posted an offensive rating of 107.2, and when he plopped onto the bench, the team’s scoring efficiency dropped to 101.1—no player on Charlotte was more diversified when it came to on/off offensive marks.

Joe Johnson, Utah Jazz (Two years, $22 million)

As a bulky wing at the tail end of his career, Johnson still possesses value, especially when factoring in the terms of his deal (two years, $22 million) with the Jazz. Johnson can start if needed and when paired with Gordon Hayward relieve Hayward of having to guard bigger wing threats. He can also slide down to the 4 in small lineups, but with five bigs capable of cracking an NBA rotation in Utah, there don’t seem to be many minutes available.

joe johnson.jpg

Johnson is an effective floor spacer and will can open Js in catch and shoot in situations. In Miami, Johnson posted an eFG percentage of 61.4, a few ticks better than the chaotic mess he left in Brooklyn. As a multi-dimensional scorer the majority of his career, Johnson isn’t delegated to spotting up. He’s never been quick twitch, but in Miami he rarely attacked in isolation off the dribble, instead pummeling smaller wings in the post with his stoutness and girth, as he scored 1.15 PPP on his post ups in Miami that ended in a shot, turnover or foul. It dipped to 1.03 in the postseason, but Johnson’s 30 possessions in 14 games speaks to his block dominance. Just ask Charlotte.

Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets (Three years, $36 million)

Acquiring Lin for $12 million per year in this cap environment is a tasty treat for a franchise that’s been gnawing on old, leftover candy. Lin’s not going to make Brooklyn basketball hip again, but he’s a solid pick-and-roll player who can dart around picks, get downhill and scoot past bigs for layups. He can also play off the ball as a respectable spot up option, which he displayed last season when playing alongside Kemba Walker with the Hornets.

Lin’s probably better suited as a jolt off the bench, a point guard who forces the issue and pick-and-rolls backup bigs to death. As a starting point guard, Lin’s passing is probably below average, and his defense will get exposed as he’s neither stout nor particularly quick with his feet. However, at an average salary of just $12 million, Lin will still be properly valued for a high-end backup if he plays well in the big minutes he’ll receive in Brooklyn. The Nets did well not to overpay Lin with starter money, suggesting they carefully considered at what point Lin becomes a negative trade asset if Brooklyn looks to eventually move him for a future pick.

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