Regret or Rejoice - A Look Back At Last Year's Big FA Signings
- By Michael Miller, Day 120, 2021
For the past few articles, we have spent time looking ahead into the upcoming draft. For now, however, let's look back to the most recent off-season. The JBL, flush with 10 new teams, also flushed the free agency market with cash. Players who would have only received $10 or $12 million per year were now offered close to the maximum allotted salary. Within this article, we take a quick look at the most expensive 12 free agency signings and make a knee-jerk reaction as to whether the signing was a good or bad move.
PG TYSON KUBERKA (Resigned with New Orleans Hurricanes for 4+1p at $23,500,000 per year) - REJOICE for now...
---Kuberka was the big fish in the pond and the Hurricanes did not wait long to offer him the best and possible deal possible. 60 games into his contract, we have seen both the best and worst of Tyson. On the one hand, Kuberka has averaged closed to his All-Pro offensive performance, putting up similar per game numbers in points, field goal efficiency and free throw attempts as he did in 2 of his last 3 years. On the other hand, Kuberka lived up to his injury-prone history by missing 23 games with a strained back. On a more concerning note, Kuberka may have slipped some on defense as his steals and rebounds are down. His assists are also down as well. Based on the market, and the quality of player he still is, the Hurricanes had few options but to sign him. Nevertheless, if his defense is slipping now, this contract may become a big concern by 2023.
PF COLIN STAFFORD (Resigned with Los Angeles Fireballs for 2+1p at $18,500,000) - REGRET
---We believe the Fireballs should regret this signing, not for the quality of player Stafford is, but for the opportunity cost they gave up when they locked so much of their free money into him instead of going hard for one of the other guards on the market. Stafford is a JBL Legend, likely to be a Hall of Famer at the end of his career. He also makes the Fireballs a different team. When he was healthy and starting, the Fireballs had a Top 5 defense based on efficiency and a 27-11 record. Conversely, the Fireballs have gone 7-12 since Stafford strained his knee. Additionally, the Stafford contract is not a killer as he will likely retire or remain serviceable for its duration. Still, what if the Fireballs had went all-in on retaining Wilkinson, or perhaps kept Carstenson instead of trading him and let Stafford walk? The Fireballs may have been in a better position with such a decision.
OC KAIAMA NYAMBI (Resigned with Austin Rockets for 1+1p at $28,000,000) - REGRET
---The Rockets resigned the legend Nyambi with hopes of making one more deep playoff run. Unfortunately for the team, however, it has not quite worked out that way. As of the All-Star break, the Rockets are potentially dangling from the 8th seed of the Western Conference and have publicly announced a firesale of all immediate players, including Nyambi. This signing, along with one or two other high cost moves, as put the Rockets dangerously close to the tax threshold which could cost a 1st round pick. Sometimes, it is better to blow it up and rebuild one year too early instead of one year too late. Unfortunately for the Rockets, and Nyambi's twlight, that theory may just be true. Austin probably would have been better served letting Nyambi go in free agency and building around SG Reggie Goodwin. Instead, Goodwin is the player that was shipped out to Baltimore and Austin does not appear to have an easy path towards a quick rebuild.
OC ANTOINE HALL (Resigned with Seattle Thunder for 4 at $24,000,000) - REJOICE
---While he has not put up the numbers he did for Miami prior to being traded to Seattle, Hall fits a very important cog within the Thunder machine. His rebounds are slightly down to 9.0 per year, but not significantly down from his peak in the prior few seasons. Indeed, Hall is more of a "glue" guy than a numbers guy. His value is can be seen in his low defensive efficiency and the production the team has a whole makes when he is on the Court. The Thunder have the second best defense in the league, behind only the Lightning, and Hall is a key reason why. At only 26 years old, Hall should continue this type of production throughout his contract. The only question is whether the Thunder will have an opportunity cost down the road when they try to resign some of their other players because of this Hall contract. Still, with his age and the impact he has had on the team, this contract can almost be considered a bargain.
SF REGGIE FORTIER (Signed with Miami Cyclones for 4 years at $28,000,000) - REJOICE
---Perhaps the most interesting bidding war from free agency was for the services of Reggie Fortier. For two seasons with the Tritons, Reggie was a somewhat underappreciated member of some strong Oakland teams, often in the shadow of PF Ivory. With the sudden departure of team management, other JBL teams sensed Fortier's value and quickly bid in excess of the anticipated $18 million dollar per year deal he was anticipated to receive. With the Cyclones, Fortier was to be the final piece of a lengthy rebuilding project. Fortier's impact has had an immediate impact on the Cyclone's defensive performance. At the end of 2020, the Cylcones were ranked 25th in team defensive efficiency. Through the All-Star break of this season, the Cyclones defensive efficacy is now ranked 18th. Fortier has the best defensive efficiency on the team and has added more average earned wins (12.8) than any other player on the roster. As a very hard worker with excellent work ethic, it seems that he will be able to keep up this level of defensive performance throughout the contract. This was a home run signing for the Cyclones.
SF LUCAS RUSH (Signed with Charlotte Drones for 4 years at $17,000,000) - REGRET
---Rush was likely the most direct beneficiary of the gold rush caused by the mass entrance of expansion teams. Long considered a spot starter for his 6 year career, the Drones gave Rush all of the money burning in their pocket. In return, Rush has turned in a solid performance for a Charlotte team without significant talent. As expected, Rush's immediate impact has been on the defensive end. He has the third best defensive efficiency rating on the team, is second on the team in EWA, and second in rebounds and assists. On the other hand, Rush has been a significant disappointment on offense. He has shot 35% from 3 and has not put up consistent performance as the anticipated #1 scorer on the team. Most likely, Rush would improve with a point guard who can generate some space and offense. Nevertheless, we put this contract in the regret category because, even in this inflated market, this contract does seem like an overpay for a relatively average player.
SG JAMAL WILKINSON (Signed with St. Louis Skyhawks for 1+1t at $18,200,000) - REJOICE
---While the $18,200,000 price tag is quite high for a reserve player, the contract is very palatable and Wilkinson has fit in very well in his role on a talented Skyhawks team. Indeed, Jamal is quite clearly almost a 6th starter, as he has average 27.6 minutes per game through the All-Star Break. He is shooting over 39% from beyond the arc and has been a net positive during his time on the court. As the option is held by the team, St. Louis can let Wilkinson walk next year without penalty. This was a very nice addition which has helped the Skyhawks keep within striking distance of the surging Houston Lightning.
SG/SF LAMAR CLAXTON (Signed with Minneapolis Blizzards for 3 at $20,500,000) - REGRET
---Much like the Rush contract with Charlotte, this deal was made under similar circumstances to a game of "musical chairs" where there are 2 participants left and only one chair. It seems that the Blizzards "won" that game and Claxton's services, but what exactly did they win? Sure, Minneapolis is sure getting their money's worth in counting stats. Claxton has put up more shots than any other player on any other expansion team this year. Unfortunately, Claxton is not really hitting most of those shots. He is barely above 30% from beyond the arc and does not really add that much else in the way of assists or steals. Although he has contributed a significant amount of the team's wins, he has been very inefficient when he has the ball. His 2.7 turnovers per game leads the team significantly. Claxton may be an average, and perhaps above average, player in this league but he has not shown that he is a player that a team can build around. The Blizzards may regret this contract once other, better players become available in the open market who may be worth this type of contract.
SF/PF DEVAN CARROLL - (Signed with Seattle Thunder for 3 at $20,000,000) - REJOICE...for now.
---Similar to the Hall deal, we understand the preliminary motivation for the Thunder to resign Carroll at his max value. Unlike the Hall deal, however, we sense this contract is more likely to cause an issue because it has lesser value. Simply stated, Hall appears to be a more important part of the overall team success for the Thunder. Hall is more efficient, both on offense and defense, and fits very nicely with PF Tucker. Conversely, Carroll seems to be somewhat duplicative of Pfiefer. An argument can be made that the Thunder would have been better served letting Carroll walk in free agency and saving themselves room and space for the upcoming contracts for Tucker and Pfiefer. Instead, Oakland is trying to keep everyone, which may severely hamstring their flexibility down the road. Still, if Oakland can win a few championships over the next few years, I doubt their team management will care about a few lost draft picks.
PG KEITH HUMPHRIES - (Signed with Portland Lumberjacks for 3+1p at $20,000,000) - REJOICE
---This is my favorite free agent signing. Humphries is a young 23 years old and still has room to grow. He may never be an All Pro type talent, but it appears he can be a very good starter on a winning team. Since signing the contract and being tossed the keys by the Jacks, Humphries has put up career highs in points and rebounds. His assists are down, but that's because the expansion Jacks have significantly less talent than the Oakland team which he left in free agency. There are some long term concerns about Keith, specifically his height and wingspan, each at only 6'0". Indeed, although he profiles as a "defense first" guard, his defensive efficiency is the worst on the team. Still, once the Jacks put some talent around him, we think Portland will be very happy with their starting point guard for years to come.
PG DEVANTE PARKER - (Signed with the Las Vegas Scorpions for 3+1p at $16,550,000) - REGRET?
---Parker is the only player on this list is who not with the original team who signed them, as the Scorpions dealt Parker to the Philadelphia Warriors for PG Tyler Davis and PG Cassius Tyson. The Scorpions were at first very excited about the signing, as there was a thought that it lifted their ceiling to be competitive in the Western Conference. According to media reports, the Scorpions were not actively shopping Parker, but during trade discussions for Tyson, a Parker for Davis swap was proposed and accepted between the teams. Parker is a playmaker and he did well getting performance out of key players on the Scorpions. Since being traded to Philadelphia, he has helped unlock stud #1 pick SF Weaver and appears to be a nice immediate building block for the team going forward. The concern is whether this contract, with Parker at 31 years old and undersized, will age well over time. As for the Scorpions, Davis is a free agent at the conclusion of this season, and we may be right back here a year from now, evaluating that contract regardless of whether Las Vegas or another team is the offering party.