The Magic have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent forward/center Channing Frye to a four-year contract worth $32 million, according to Yahoo Sports and CBSSports.com.
Frye, 31, averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Suns last season. The 6-foot-11 Arizona product started all 82 games for Phoenix, marking an impressive recovery after he missed the entire 2012-13 season with a heart condition. A 2005 first-round pick, Frye has spent his eight-year career with the Knicks, Blazers and Suns, carving a niche for himself as a floor-spacing big man thanks to his willingness to hoist three-pointers.
The deal marks a nice pay increase for Frye, who opted out of the final year of a five-year, $30 million contract that was set to pay him $6.4 million in 2014-15. His new contract delivers the highest annual salary of his career and will carry him through his 35th birthday.
Orlando continues to reshape its roster during a busy summer that has also seen the release of Jameer Nelson, the departure of Arron Afflalo via trade, the acquisition of Evan Fournier via trade, the signing of Ben Gordon and the draft additions of lottery picks Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. The Magic's frontcourt has been decidedly lacking in proven bodies since the 2012 blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, and Frye represents an outside option to pair with the 6-foot-10 Nikola Vucevic, who does most of his work in the basket area.
Coming off back-to-back sub-25 win seasons and without a clear-cut superstar in its developmental pipeline, Orlando was always going to struggle to keep up in free agency this summer. The A-list stars had no reason to give it the time of day, and its pitch to B-list players was focused on the ability to spend well above the mid-level exception rather than any shot at winning big in the near future.
After quickly and drastically overpaying Gordon for no apparent reason, the Magic have now paid Frye, a good player, as if he was a very good player. So far, Frye's agreement ties him with Avery Bradley's contract as the third-largest expenditure of this summer, trailing only the contracts given to Marcin Gortat ($60 million over five years) and Kyle Lowry ($48 million over four years). By comparison, a similarly skilled player -- Spencer Hawes -- signed with the Clippers for nearly 30 percent cheaper. Ditto for Josh McRoberts and the Heat. Last summer, the Hawks added 2014 All-Star forward Paul Millsap for just $19 million over two years.
Orlando will justify its spending -- call it the "perennial loser's tax" -- by first pointing to Frye's reputation as a shooter. The Magic ranked No. 29 in offensive efficiency and No. 19 in three-point percentage last season, and their young guards, Elfrid Payton and 2013 lottery pick Victor Oladipo, will benefit from extra room to work in the paint. The Suns' offensive rating soared from 102.5 when Frye was off the court to 110.4 when he was on the court last season, clear evidence of his team-wide impact.
Although Frye has a soft touch for a player his size, he shot 37 percent from deep last season, which is closer to average than it is elite. His 13.2 Player Efficiency Rating is, as it happens, below-average, placing him between the likes of Luis Scola (paid $4.5 million by the Pacers last season) and Glen Davis (paid millions to go away by the Magic, who bought him out). Frye has never been known as a physical presence; last season, he averaged less than one offensive rebound per game while taking more than 80 percent of his shots outside the basket area. Put that together, and his overall offensive game shades toward one-dimensional. He's nice as a complementary fourth or fifth option, like he was last season, but he is now set to be Orlando's highest-paid player in 2014-15. Perhaps this would make more sense if he was an impact defender, but he isn't.
This stands as an overpay, one cushioned a bit by Frye's sterling off-court reputation, the likelihood that he will age gracefully because of the nature of his game, Orlando's need for a veteran leader, and its need to pay someone this summer given its minuscule salary commitments. Yes, Frye should make the Magic better in the short term, but his new compensation suggests that he is a core building block, and that's simply expecting too much if meaningful postseason success is the objective.