NBA Free Agency is, for the most part, a crapshoot if you’ll pardon my French.
Many teams end up with buyers’ remorse, whether it’s from injury, badly structured contracts, or players just not living up to expectations. So many organizations try to use the free agent market as a way to boost themselves into contention and so many times it doesn’t work out. The summer of 2016 has changed the landscape for both better and worse, as the spending spree has effectively hamstrung the majority of teams in the league, forcing them to be stingy with their remaining cash.
All is not lost, however. For every bad contract signed, there is a good one too. A savvy signing that pays more dividends than the average pundit or fan expected. And I’m not talking about signing a bona fide superstar to a max contract. So players like LeBron James and Paul George are disqualified from this list.
This list is for more under the radar signings. The Other Guys. The guys who will do their part to improve their teams’ chances but probably won’t end up the All-Star roster or an All-NBA Team.
Anthony Tolliver, Minnesota Timberwolves
Tolliver does have some sneaky good potential as an impact player for the Wolves. He canned 43.6% of his three-pointers last year, which is a huge area of need for Minnesota. The Wolves were 30th in both three pointers attempted and three pointers made. In his second go around with Minnesota, Tolliver will look to continue the solid year he had with the Detroit Pistons, his shooting numbers, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares Contributed were all career highs.
Free agent forward Anthony Tolliver is nearing a one-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, league sources tell Yahoo.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2018
So why is Tolliver simply an Honorable Mention? It has more to do with his place on the team rather than anything else. The Wolves needed more help on the wing than they do at the 4, where Tolliver is most suited to. But because signing him hard-capped Minnesota, they are unable to add anyone to add to their depth on the wings and also had to rescind Nemanja Bjelica’s qualifying offer, losing him to the Sacramento Kings.
Tolliver can definitely contribute to the Timberwolves, but at what cost?
Trevor Ariza, Phoenix Suns
Trevor Ariza has become a do everything kind of player throughout the course of his NBA career. Need someone to help put up points? Ariza can do that. Need someone to spend most of the game switching between defensive assignments? Trevor’s got you covered. He fits the mold of an ideal role player perfectly and would be a welcome addition on any team, especially a playoff team.
The Phoenix Suns managed to lure Ariza away from the Rockets with a one year, $15 million contract. The move suggests that the Suns believe that their young core is ready to compete for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference. If that is the belief, signing Ariza makes sense for Phoenix. But Phoenix finished in the bottom half of the league in both offense and defense, and adding Ariza won’t completely fix that.
His presence also can take away from crucial development for Phoenix’s other wings like Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges. Ariza can serve as a mentor to the younger players, providing valuable insight. Or he could end up doing more harm than good by taking away important minutes. We’ll find out which scenario plays out.
Now, for the list.
3. James Ennis III, Houston Rockets
We start this off with a former Grizzly. Ennis is a grinder through and through. After being traded to the Detroit Pistons at last year’s deadline, Ennis signed a 2-year, $3.5 million contract with the Houston Rockets.
After losing the aforementioned Trevor Ariza to the Suns, the Rockets needed to add someone new. Now you probably shouldn’t go about expecting Ennis to be the new Trevor Ariza. But Ennis is a capable defender who won’t ever need the ball to be in his hands and can knock down open shots when his number is called. His three-point accuracy dipped after his trade to Motown, but in Houston he should be able to find loads of space with James Harden and Chris Paul.
Ennis represents a low-risk signing who is capable of providing solid contributions to a team with legitimate championship aspirations.
2. Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
Nerlens Noel is looking for a rebound, and not just the missed shot kind. After being traded to the Mavericks, Noel was supposed to step in and be the franchise center the Mavs have been searching for since Tyson Chandler left the lone star state. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Noel’s playing time went down the drain, he ate some hot dogs during games, and Dallas decided to let him hit the market.
Dallas’ loss could be Oklahoma City’s gain. The Thunder have had quite the offseason. Already considered winners for convincing Paul George to stay, OKC taking a flier on Noel seems like a smart move. Still only 24, Noel can be an impactful big coming off the bench when Steven Adams needs a break. He can clean the glass and serve as a lob/dump off target from Russell Westbrook or another ball-handler.
Getting him on a minimum deal could make this signing a real steal.
1. Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets
At first glance, one might look at Thomas signing a minimum deal with the Nuggets as a former All-Star trying to stay relevant. And that is partially true. But what this signing actually represents is a win-win scenario for both player and team.
For Denver, Thomas is a capable scorer who can keep the offense going with the second unit. Thomas can play alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic without disrupting the flow of the offense. A lineup featuring Thomas, Murray, Jokic, Paul Milsap and Will Barton won’t excel on defense, but has enough firepower to hang with anyone.
For Thomas, this is a classic rebound opportunity. A one-year minimum deal allows IT to focus on getting healthy and playing for a better contract in the summer of 2019. More teams are projected to have meaningful cap space and Thomas can use this chance to prove he still is capable of lighting it up like he did with Boston. He may never get the max contract he was hoping for a few seasons ago, but he can definitely parlay a successful season with the Nuggets into a much better deal than he’s slated to earn this year.
All free-agent signings have some inherent risk attached to them and these are no different. While there is the chance that some or none of these guys live up to expectations, there is also a chance that they end up being more valuable to their new teams than many may expect.