Three wings who were somewhat linked together all came off the market early during free agency. Shoot-happy swingman Will Barton is reportedly returning to the Nuggets on a four-year, $54 million deal, while Doug McDermott will head to the Pacers (three years, $22 million) and Joe Harris (two years, $16 million) will remain with the Nets.
Barton averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game for Denver last season, playing in 81 games, including 40 starts. McDermott has played on four teams the previous two seasons, most recently finishing a stint with Dallas. He is a career 40.3% shooter from three. And Harris has been a steady player for the Nets the last two seasons, acting mainly as a three-point specialist. Let’s grade the deal for each team.
(For constant updates on signings all over the league, check out The Crossover’s free agency live blog.)
Will Barton, Nuggets
Barton was an integral piece for Denver last season. Amid stretches of injuries to Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris, Barton provided much needed doses of offense, and his game was consistent whether he was in the starting lineup or coming off the bench. Barton figured to be a decently coveted name on the market this summer. The Pacers reportedly had interest, and he would have been a nice addition to any number of contenders. The contract is maybe the slightest bit of an overpay for Denver, but locking in Barton also keeps the Nuggets true core together. And Barton’s value only increases if the team stays healthy. The Barton, Harris, Millsap, Jokic and Jamal Murray lineup only played in 13 games together last year. That group, which is projected to start this fall, had a 32.7 net rating.
The biggest issue with Barton’s contract is Denver is soaring into the luxury tax for a group that hasn’t proven it can be in the top half of the West. The Nuggets do seem confident about cutting salary moving forward, so maybe they already have some subsequent moves in mind.
Doug McDermott, Pacers
The Pacers seemingly pivoted to McDermott once Barton committed to Denver. The player the Pacers signed is not your older brother’s Doug McDermott, however. The same guy who was a defensive liability for the Thunder and Bulls was actually a slight positive on that end for the Knicks and Mavs last season. Both of those teams had a better defensive rating with McDermott on the court, though it’s not quite time to call him a 3-and-D specialist. This isn’t a home-run signing for Indiana. The Pacers could still use more athleticism on the wing, and particularly after letting go of Lance Stephenson, Indy needs a secondary ball-handler to relieve pressure on Victor Oladipo. McBuckets should slide in nicely next to Oladipo in some lineups, providing good spacing alongside Bojan Bogdanovic. But those groups could eventually have a tough time defending consistently. Ultimately, McDermott won’t move the needle significantly in Indy, but his contract is manageable and the Pacers still have some cap space to play with.
Joe Harris, Nets
I really like this move for Brooklyn. Harris is an extremely reliable three-point shooter who won’t destroy you defensively. Two years is a small commitment, and the money is in line with guys like McDermott and Marco Bellinelli. The best part about this deal is its flexibility. Harris could have some value as part of a larger trade. If the Nets strike it big in free agency next summer, Harris could slot in well next to some superstars. And in the unlikely case Harris is an outright disaster, he won’t clog up the books for a long time. The Nets aren’t out of the woods yet. But they’ve made some shrewd moves the last two summers, and they’re in position to turn the ship around as early as next year if any stars do decide to join. Having someone like Harris around certainly won’t slow down the process.