Analyzing the Best and Worst Deals of NBA Free Agency

NBA rosters are getting full after a busy weekend. What deals were worth it, and which ones were head-scratchers?
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BOSTON — Is it over?

Three days into the most accelerated free-agent period in NBA history, more than 89% of roster spots are filled, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Gordon Hayward is a Hornet, Montrezl Harrell is a Laker and Oklahoma City has collected draft picks like teenagers once did baseball cards.

So what do we think?

I like Hayward’s four-year, $120 million deal with Charlotte … for Gordon Hayward. Any list of free-agent winners has to be topped by Hayward and his agent, Mark Bartelstein. Hayward opted out of a $34.2 million salary for next season in Boston, only to turn around and land a monster deal with the Hornets. After three injury-plagued years with the Celtics, Hayward will earn $30 million over the next four in Charlotte. Incredible.

Gordon Hayward dribbles up the court in the NBA bubble

I don’t like the deal for the Hornets … because I don’t really get it. Charlotte got some badly needed star power when they drafted LaMelo Ball, a dynamic playmaking point guard. The 30-year-old Hayward gives Ball a proven scorer to pass to, but at what price? A sign-and-trade with Boston is still possible, but if not the Buzz will waive Nicolas Batum and stretch the $27 million Batum is owed next season over three years, per the Charlotte Observer. That would effectively make Hayward a $39 million per year player on the team books over the next three seasons—the same team that drew a hard line on franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker a year ago.

And for what? To squeeze out a few more wins? To finish 10th in the conference standings instead of 12th? Batum’s expiring contract could have been a valuable trade chip in the coming months. Teams are loading up for the summer of 2021, when Giannis Antetokounmpo will (for now) lead a strong free-agent class. Instead, after years of bellyaching about Batum’s contract, the Hornets inked another player to a new one. Said an NBA source, “Signing Hayward is like signing Batum to a four-year extension.”

I don’t know what to make of the Celtics' end of this, for two reasons: We don’t know what Indiana was really offering in a sign-and-trade and we don’t know whether the Pacers were willing to pony up the kind of contract Charlotte did. If Myles Turner was on the table, as reports suggested, Boston should have taken it. Full stop. Turner struggled some in Indiana last season, where the Turner–Domantas Sabonis frontcourt didn’t really work. But he’s a floor-spacing, shot-blocking center with a reasonable contract ($18 million per year over the next three seasons), and if you can get that kind of player in exchange for one who had no interest in in playing for you, you do it.

I like what the Celtics did after that, though, snatching up Tristan Thompson to shore up the front line and signing Jeff Teague to back up Walker. Thompson is exactly what Boston needs: a physical, rebounding big man to tangle with the conference's big bodies. Teague was so-so splitting last season between Minnesota and Atlanta, but he’s a capable backup who made nearly 37% of his threes last season.

Montrezl Harrell protects the ball

I like what the Lakers did, and is any executive having a better run than Rob Pelinka? Pelinka was proactive early, flipping Danny Green for Dennis Schröder, anticipating the defection of Rajon Rondo and adding a playmaker who can catch and shoot to the fold. The Lakers then stunned everyone by signing reigning Sixth Man Montrezl Harrell to a two-year deal, weakening their Staples Center cotenants in the process. I’m not exactly sure how Harrell fits with Anthony Davis—Davis, as has been noted many times, prefers to play alongside traditional centers, like Dwight Howard, to save himself the wear and tear—but the addition of Marc Gasol will help with that. And L.A.’s offense just got a lot stronger.

(Speaking of Howard, the process of thinking he had an offer and tweeting about accepting the offer, only to find out he didn’t have an offer and was forced to take one from Philadelphia, which will plug Howard in behind Joel Embiid, as Yahoo Sports reported, is the kind of bizarre offseason drama only Howard could be involved in.)

I like the Nets' decision to lock up Joe Harris to a four-year, $75 million deal, keeping Brooklyn’s best shooter around to space the floor for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. I understand Washington’s decision commit $80 million over the next five years to Davis Bertans, but man—what a contract. The Wizards have been adamant they would bring back Bertans, turning down multiple first round picks for him before the trade deadline. But it’s a risk, especially with some uncertainty about John Wall’s future.

Meanwhile, what’s Duncan Robinson thinking right now? $75 million for Harris and $80 million for Bertans. Robinson is a better shooter than both of them, and he did it last season on a team that reached the Finals. Two years ago, Robinson was jacking up threes in quiet G League gyms. Next summer, when Robinson will hit free agency, he could be a $100 million player.

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet drives to the rim

I like the four-year, $75 million deal Fred VanVleet signed with Toronto, which gets VanVleet, an undrafted free agent signee four years ago, well paid and keeps a 26-year old homegrown talent in the Raptors fold. I don’t like Toronto’s inability to re-sign Serge Ibaka, which creates a gaping hole in the Raptors' front line (flipping Marc Gasol for Aron Baynes feels like close to a wash). I do like Ibaka’s fit in Los Angeles, where he will swing between both frontcourt spots while rejoining Kawhi Leonard, a close friend. The Clippers are still in the hunt for point guard help—Charlotte’s Terry Rozier remains in play—but the Ibaka signing mitigates the Harrell loss.

I don’t like the three-year, $41 million contract Houston handed Christian Wood, in part because it rewards Wood for one full season putting up good numbers on a bad team, in part because I don’t exactly know what the Rockets' long term plan is. Part of the machinations of acquiring Wood was the Robert Covington–Trevor Ariza swap, which ended with Houston attaching the No. 16 pick in last Wednesday’s draft to get Detroit to absorb Ariza. Wood is a solid offensive player. He’s mobile and can make plays off the dribble, and he shot 38.6% from three last season. He struggles defensively, but is 25 and will play for a head coach, Stephen Silas, who excels in player development.

He’s better than Ariza, but could Ariza’s expiring contract have been used for something more in a couple of months? Could that No. 16 pick, which the Pistons spent on Washington big man Isaiah Stewart, have been more valuable? These are questions worth asking as the Rockets inch toward what feels like an inevitable rebuild.

I like what Milwaukee did, even after the failed deal to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Bucks upgraded the backcourt with the trade for Jrue Holiday and then replenished the bench with Bryn Forbes, D.J. Augustin, Torrey Craig and Bobby Portis, while resigning valuable reserve Pat Connaughton. Will it be enough to convince Antetokounmpo to sign an extension? Who knows, though it’s hard to see how the Bucks could have done more.

Robert Covington

I like what Portland did, shoring up key weaknesses. After watching LeBron James run roughshod on the Blazers in the bubble, Portland picked up a pair of wing defenders in Covington and Derrick Jones and re-signed Rodney Hood. They effectively swapped Hassan Whiteside for Enes Kanter, a cheaper, familiar alternative, and beefed up the frontcourt with Harry Giles, a once-promising prospect whose career has been slowed by a knee injury. Oh, and Carmelo Anthony is back. Not a bad offseason for Blazers GM Neil Olshey.

I like the Hawks' signing Danilo Gallinari, reinforcing Trae Young with Rondo while adding a strong perimeter defender in Kris Dunn. It’s playoffs or bust this season in Atlanta. I’ll reserve judgement on Oklahoma City, because draft picks and cap flexibility are nice, until you have to use them. Same with the Pelicans, who forked over one of the first-round picks in David Griffin’s war chest to acquire Steven Adams. I like Miami's bringing the band back, plus Maurice Harkless, while keeping cap flexibility for the summer of 2021. I even like New York, after years of lavishing lousy contracts on mediocre players, showing restraint.

The NBA evolved over the weekend.

Now we wait … to see if Sacramento will match Atlanta’s offer on Bogdanovic