As we enter the final month of the 2017 calendar year, now is as good a time as any to perform a portfolio review on the substantial summer investments of our 30 NBA teams.
A lot of money was contracted out this offseason. If you want to know how your team’s investments are paying off in season, read on.
30. Chicago Bulls
After a prolonged contract stalemate, forward Nikola Mirotic was one of the last eight-figure earners to sign a free-agent deal this summer, re-upping with a two-year, $25 million deal carrying a one-year team option. Well, it is only fitting that it has taken even longer for the third-year Bull to get on the court after a preseason practice fight with teammate Bobby Portis. It is little wonder why the Bulls have only three wins when signings like this are coupled with bad trades (Jimmy Butler) and salary dumps (Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Taj Gibson).
Atlanta was in the business of shedding contracts this summer (see Dwight Howard), but in former Spur reserve center Dewayne Dedmon, they found themselves an athletic rim protector who is a plus defender and bargain at 2 years, $12 million, with the second year a player option. The starting center is averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes per game, with an 18 PER.
Center Nerlens Noel reportedly turned down a multi-season, $17.5 million-per-year deal with the Mavs, fired his agency and bet on himself that he could earn a bigger, long-term deal next summer after playing this season in Dallas on a 1-year, $4 million contract. The plus defender is playing well enough to earn backup minutes in Dallas (15 PER and -1.51 RPM). But did the 23-year-old big make a huge monetary mistake? It is beginning to look that way.
27. Sacramento Kings
The Kings organization invested heavily in veterans George Hill (3 years, $57 million, with third-year, $18 million not guaranteed), Zach Randolph (2 years, $24 million) and 25-year-old rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic (4 years, $38 million, with a qualifying offer on the fourth year). As essential tutors for the Kings other four rooks and five sophomores, they are surely valued. But as players, they aren’t really registering in the wins column, evidenced by Sacramento’s 5-14 record and the trio’s minus-2 Real Plus-Minus scores (that said, Randolph is sporting a strong 18 Player Efficiency Rating, so there is that).
26. Phoenix Suns
Power forward Alan Williams was a good, safe investment (3 years, $16 million, with only the first year guaranteed) to provide insurance for prospects Marquesse Chriss and Dragan Benders, should they be labeled unplayable by the franchise. But the 4-year, $46 million extension of T.J. Warren took more guts, and the 22-year-old forward has been delivering on the reward, sporting a 19 PER and -1.22 RPM, while averaging 19 points in 31 minutes per game.
25. Brooklyn Nets
By absorbing the remainders of the extravagant contracts given to Allen Crabbe (3 years, $56 million, with a player option on the third season), Timofey Mozgov (3 years, $48 million) and DeMarre Carroll (2 years, $30 million) by other organizations, the Nets were able to collect a prospect (D’Angelo Russell) and asset (Toronto’s first-round pick in 2018) that has been missing here in Brooklyn since the organization traded away a series of picks in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce acquisitions of 2013. Carroll is putting up the numbers of a good starter, while Crabbe and Mozgov are solid as overpaid backups. Their dividends truly will pay off as Russell and next year’s first-round pick develops.
By reallocating Serge Ibaka to Toronto last February, the Magic had enough resources to pay sub-level money to a player who had a good playoffs for a winning team in ex-Spurs wing Jonathon Simmons. The new Magic sixth man—after signing a bargain 3-year, $18 million deal (third year not guaranteed)—has been an offensive sparkplug, sporting a 15 PER and -0.97 RPM, while averaging 14 points in 25 minutes per game.
23. Los Angeles Lakers
By signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a generous 1-year, $17.7 million contract—and by acquiring Brook Lopez ($22.6 million) and Corey Brewer’s expiring deals ($17.6 million)—the Lakers leased out some good part-time mentors for their college-aged teammates, while also giving GM Magic Johnson the cap room to sign a superstar this summer, should one (or two) become available. In the meantime, however, the three three savvy vets are paying off in the meantime, leading L.A. to a top 6 defensive efficiency status more than a month into the 2017-18 season. Individually, Lopez sports a 17.6 PER and +0.71 RPM, while averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 24 minutes per game; KCP has a 12.9 PER and +0.02 RPM, while averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes per game; Brewer has a 9.6 PER and -1.54 RPM, while averaging 3 points in 14 minutes per game.
Several Heat veterans got rewarded after the Heat closed the season on a 30-11 flourish, with James Johnson (4 years, $60 million), Dion Waiters (4 years, $48 million) and Josh Richardson (4 years, $42 million extension) re-upping, while former Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (4 years, $46 million) joined the party for similar money. Unfortunately, the troops reunion has only produced a .500 record thus far, with J-Rich and Waiters starting off slow, while Johnson and Olynyk have picked up where last season ended off.
Grizzlies management isn’t likely to be called “patient” this week, not after firing head coach David Fizdale 19 games into the 2017-18 season. But it was that deliberate approach to free agency that enabled the Grizzlies to sign JaMychal Green (2 years, $16 million) and Tyreke Evans (1 year, $3 million) late and get them both at bargain deals, while letting their own long-time veterans sign elsewhere (Zach Randolph and Tony Allen).
20. Charlotte Hornets
Rather than hitting up the free-agent market, GM Rich Cho sought to trade for Dwight Howard, who had $47 million over 2 years on the remainder of his contract with Atlanta. His genius was trading two lesser parts—Marco Belinelli (1 year, $6.6 million remaining on his contract) and Miles Plumlee (3 years, $37.5 million)—for similar total dollars in Summer 2017. Howard’s bargain—by comparision—acquisition has helped keep Charlotte near .500, even as wings Nicolas Batum was missing more than a half-dozen games and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist a half-dozen. Howard is sporting a 17.7 PER and -1.33 RPM, while averaging 15 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes per game.
One of the main reasons Utah management re-signed Joe Ingles to a declining 4-year, $50 million deal was because he was good friends with Jazz cornerstone Gordon Hayward, who ultimately was lured to leave via free agecy by the Boston Celtics. Nonetheless, Ingles has proven to be worth the money, with the forward sporting a 14.4 PER and +2.19 RPM, while averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes per game
Many are now questioning the decision to re-sign Blake Griffin to a middle-max contract (5 years, $171 million) this summer, not to mention signing free agents Danilo Gallinari (3 years, $65 million) and Milos Teodosic (3 years, $20 million), both of whom are now injured and expected back in early (Gallinari) and late December (Teodosic). Those same forces probably were reluctant to re-up Chris Paul, who has also been injured, to a senior-max deal. So it’s lose-lose no matter what choice you make. Who knows the fates of Griffin and CP3, but Paul’s exit and Griffin’s MCL injury now places the spotlight on DeAndre Jordan—at least until Griffin returns in February—with the Clippers asking themselves the question: Are they willing to trade their last remaining healthy piece before the All-Star break? Griffin, who has already shot more 3s than all of last season, was sporting a 21 PER and +1.28 RPM early into the season before the injury, while averaging 24 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in 34 minutes per game. If he can return and play the rest of the season on a healthy note, the Clippers may indeed finish strong for the playoffs. If not, who knows how patient Clippers ownership, management and coaching staff can remain before All-Star Weekend.
It wasn’t hard to pull the trigger on the recent Eric Bledsoe trade and absorb the 2 year, $30 million contract from the Suns, especially when Milwaukee traded a 2018 conditional first-rounder and got to unload Greg Monroe’s expiring $18 million deal. Even though the 27-year-old Bledsoe has been underperforming this season—15 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists in 30 minutes per game, while sporting a 15 PER and -2.06 RPM—he still is worth the investment, especially when you know his career numbers are so much better.
Ever since the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins last February to team up with young stalwart Anthony Davis, New Orleans management knows it forevermore will be judged by how they surround those towers with talent. In their initial foray in complementary pieces, the Pelicans invested in point guards, re-upping Jrue Holiday (5 years, $131 million) and landing Rajon Rondo (1 year, $3 million) in contrasting free-agent deals. There is no way Holiday can be worth the money thrown at him, but the long-time Pelican point guard has been solid, averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists in 36 minutes per game, with a 14 PER and -0.35 RPM. Rondo, who missed the season’s first 13 games, has been back a couple weeks to complement Holiday, playing 21 minutes per game.
Surprisingly enough, the Pacers have been able to rebuild themselves by absorbing the contracts of other teams’ misfits. Who’d have thought the 42-40 Pacers of a year ago would be able to trade away their All-Star forward Paul George, keep costs at a minimum and improve back into a playoff team. Thankfully, high-paid acquisition Victor Oladipo (4 years, $84 million remaining), along with bargains Domantas Sabonis and Cory Joseph have paid off, as have free agents Darren Collison (2 years, $20 million with second season not guaranteed), Bojan Bogdanovic (2 years, $21 million with second season not guaranteed) and Lance Stephenson (2 years, $8.5 million, with second season not guaranteed). As well as all are playing, none have resurrected their careers like point guard Collison (17.4 PER and +2.73 RPM), shooting guard Oladipo (21.8 PER and +2.36 RPM), small forward Bogdanovic (15.3 PER and -0.16 RPM) and sophomore center Sabonis (20.5 PER and +0.01 RPM). If you said you could see this coming, your name must be Kevin Pritchard, Pacers GM.
14. New York Knicks
With the firing of GM Phil Jackson this summer, the Knicks are having to rebuild on the fly and have done so mainly by entrusting the franchise to third-year sensation Kristaps Porzingis, while replacing veterans Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose with trade acquisition Enes Kanter (2 years, $39 million, with a player option on the second year) and free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. (4 years, $71 million). Both are having career years, with Kanter averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes, while sporting a 24 PER and +0.58 RPM. Hardaway is averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 34 minutes per game, with a 16 PER and +1.68 RPM.
13. Denver Nuggets
Unfortunately, Denver’s biggest investment—power forward Paul Millsap at 3 years, $91 million—went down with a wrist injury last week and will need three months to heal since surgery. He was playing well, +1.36 RPM, while averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes per game. Hopefully, he can provide that when he returns in March. The Nuggets’ other investment—shooting guard Gary Harris at 4 years and $74 million—has been delivering as promised, sporting a 15.8 PER and +2.89 RPM, along with 14 points in 32 minutes per game at a .616 true shooting percentage.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
As deliberate as former GM Sam Hinkie was about drafting players, often waiting a year(s) for injured prospects or overseas talents to arrive, current GM Bryan Colangelo is patient with the pocket strings, only recently paying exorbitant one-year contract to mentoring vets (J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson), or rewarding a worthy prospect with a big-time deal, as was the case with Robert Covington last month when their do-it-all, undrafted forward signed a 5-year, $63 million deal. Considering Covington has a top 5 RPM (+5.51) and ranks atop his small forward position, even that big-time contract was a bargain. Chalk it up as just another smart move for the Philly organization, which also supposedly covered its backside well in October when the 76ers signed center Joel Embiid to a 4-year, $113 million deal, with the contract laden with incentives to get the figure that high.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota realigned its investments when it signed free agent Jeff Teague (3 years, $57 million), re-signed T-Wolf Andrew Wiggins to a 4-year, $113 million extension, while acquiring eight-figure vets Jimmy Butler (3 years, $60 million) and Taj Gibson (2 years, $28 million) at the expense of shipping off prospects. These four Timberwolves, also known as Karl-Anthony Towns’ complementary pieces, has Minnesota finally headed in the right direction, with the 12-9 Timberwolves now on a playoff pace. Butler is sporting a 17.7 PER and +1.80 RPM; Teague, 15.5 PER and +1.03 RPM; Gibson, 15.4 PER and +1.01 RPM; Wiggins, 14.4 PER and -0.51 RPM.
With a $122 million payroll going right up to the luxury-tax line, the Trail Blazers have been more about trimming salaries—see Allen Crabbe trade to Brooklyn and Jusuf Nurkic acquisition from Denver—than about adding investments. One would have to think the two cost-saving moves (current Nugget/ex-Blazer Mason Plumlee was about to become free agent) have, in a way, helped Portland become a better team. Nurkic (15.01 PER and -0.98 RPM) now serves as a cheaper upgrade from Plumlee, while reserve guard Pat Connaughton (11.4 PER and -0.29 RPM) has been better than expected in his jump from third to second string.
From re-signing Russell Westbrook (5 years, $187 million) to landing big-money stars coming off long-term deals, like Paul George (2 years, $40 million remaining on contract, with a player opt-out in the second season) and Carmelo Anthony (2 years, $54 million remaining on contract, with a player opt-out in the second season), OKC proves it can go all-in with the best of them, going $10 million over the luxury tax to build a contender squad again. Though the Thunder’s No. 2 defense shows it is instantly gelling on one side of the court, their individual decline in efficiency explains why they also are having problems collectively on offense (Westbrook, from 30.6 PER last season to 21.3 PER this season), George (from 20.2 PER to 18.1); Anthony (from 17.9 PER to 17.2).
If there were any doubters out there, Otto Porter has already proven them wrong, showing he is well worth the 4-year, $106 million junior-max contract he signed this summer. Porter is sporting a 20.5 PER and a stellar +5.15 RPM, while averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Pistons management, always quick to pounce on talent when a team is trying to shed salary for various reasons, jumped at the chance to get starter Avery Bradley’s $8 million expiring contract, trading Marcus Morris’ valued 2 year, $10 million deal to make it happen. Detroit then was able to lure underrated guard Langston Galloway at 3 years and $21 million, thus giving itself one of the nicest 1-2-3-4 guard combos in the game (starting point guard Reggie Jackson, Bradley, Galloway and backup guard Ish Smith)
The Raptors answered all offseason questions about who was this team’s third banana—behind All-Star backcourt DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry—by surprisingly signing Serge Ibaka to a 3-year, $65 million contract this summer, shaking off past investments throughout 2017 to avoid going over the 2017-18 luxury tax (Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson). The 28-year-old Ibaka is sporting a 13.7 PER and -0.23 RPM, while averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes per game.
After paying $54 million in luxury taxes last season, bringing their total 2016-17 payroll to $167 million, the Cavs have been all about shedding salary in 2017-18, which is why Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green got no more than $1.5 million when they signed on as free agents. So when we look at the Cavs’ biggest investments, they have been more about gaining future assets (Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick via Boston and 20-year-old center Ante Zizic) to appeal to LeBron’s pending free agency than taking on more luxury taxes.
4. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs shocked many this summer when they invested in their aging giants, adding extensions to both LaMarcus Aldridge (4 years, $94 million, with the fourth season not guaranteed) and Pau Gasol (3 years, $49 million, with the third season not guaranteed). The All-Star-worthy duo has rewarded the franchise handsomely, especially in light of Kawhi Leonard’s injury, which has kept him from playing thus far. The 32-year-old Aldridge is sporting a 25.6 PER and +1.43 RPM, while the 37-year-old Gasol has a +21.7 PER and +2.54 RPM.
3. Boston Celtics
Boston’s biggest price-tag went to Utah Jazz All-Star wing Gordon Hayward, who suffered a season-ending leg injury only months after signing a 4-year, $128 million, with a player option on the fourth season. But its biggest acquisition, no doubt, was four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who came over from Cleveland with 3 years, $60 million remaining on his contract (with a player opt-out in the third season). Irving has been simply sensational and worth every penny, sporting a 24.7 PER and +4.47 RPM, while averaging 23 points and 5 assists in 32 minutes per game.
Many people questioned the pairing of Chris Paul with James Harden, which is ridiculous since anyone who saw them together on the 2012 Olympic team (like USA Basketball assistant coach Mike D’Antoni) could easily see they were unstoppable as a duo. Well, after trading four good role players for Paul and the remaining year on his $25 million contract, GM Daryl Morey is looking like a genius, once again, sporting a lineup that is great whether they play together or apart. Now healthy after playing six of Houston’s 20 games thus far, Paul has a 24.6 PER and +1.23 RPM, while averaging 11 points and 11 assists in 28 minutes per game. But perhaps the two most unsung signings of the offseason were forwards and plus-defenders Luc Mbah a Moute (1 year, $1.5 million) and P.J. Tucker (4 years, $32 million, with the fourth season not guaranteed), whose +2.02 and +0.70 RPMs give Houston a defensive backbone they were lacking beforehand (Mbah a Moute has a +2.48 defensive RPM; Tucker, +1.40 DRPM).
1. Golden State Warriors
By holding off on his senior-max payday, Kevin Durant enabled the Warriors to have the cap room to re-sign both Andre Iguodala (3 years, $48 million) and Shaun Livingston (3 years, $24 million, with the third season not guaranteed). Durant instead signed for 2 years, $51 million, with a player opt-out this summer. KD obviously is worth every cent, sporting a 24.5 PER and +2.96 RPM, while averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks in 35 minutes per game. The 33-year-old Iguodala has a 12.1 PER and -0.97 RPM, while the 32-year-old Livingston has a 12.0 PER and -0.17 RPM.