This is admittedly a difficult column to write. Teams are hamstrung by their erratic spending in the summers of 2015 and 2016, working with very little cap space this summer so the overpays are a little less egregious than in the past. Where the comical bad contracts were large sums of cash thrown to below-league average players in 2016; 2018 is defined by poor fits for the player and our team, and a lack of clarity as to why they were signed.
Players still on the market like Marcus Smart and Clint Capela are engaged in an extremely awkward standoff between their respective teams, as their market has dried up considerably since July 1 leaving them with little leverage at the negotiating table. We’ll see how the market fairs for them, but this column is about those who’ve already signed since free agency began.
Let’s start off light: the Phoenix Suns, small-forward Trevor Ariza, one-year $15,000,000, and is set to be the highest paid player on the team for the 2018/19 season.
Love the contract. Love the player. Absolutely hate the team. Ariza is one of the few forwards that can conceivably guard Kevin Durant – and did so adequately in the famous West-Finals duel. It hurts the Houston Rockets to lose him and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Teams that could’ve used Ariza’s assistance more than the lowly Suns: Indiana, Golden State, Utah, Milwaukee… Since the Suns already have veteran forward Jared Dudley and 3-and-D prospect Josh Jackson, who’s shown flashes of a dynamic offensive game his rookie year, I just don’t see why (or where) Ariza fits on this Suns team. Unless the Suns can gain some value for Ariza on the trade market, I don’t see this as anything but a loss for Phoenix.
Doug McDermott, Indiana, three-years, $22,000,000; average salary $7,333,333
Oh, this is real bad. For one, who are the Pacers bidding against for McDermott? A fairly underwhelming offensive threat who’s primarily skills don’t fit what Nate McMillan has in mind for his team. I guess since LeBron is gone, the only other team that imposes a serious threat at the small-forward spot is Boston so the east teams can getaway with playing someone like McDermott for large stretches. But Indiana needed creators and athleticism, bypassing Shabazz Napier (still not signed) and sacrificing cap space that could’ve been used for Orlando Magic 24-year-old power forward/center Aaron Gordon.
The Pacers are a lot closer to the Raptors, Sixers tier than many expect. Them willingly bowing out on Smart and re-signing backup shooting guard Glenn Robinson (now of the Pistons) makes little sense to me. The only actual point guard on the roster is Darren Collison, Oladipo cannot play the role of floor general for long stretches.
To add to this, the Pacers recently signed New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn, a underachieving stretch big who’s primary motivation is to just score when given the ball. Seeing as the Pacers are better off playing Domantas Sabonis at center, O’Quinn only muddies the waters as he’s incapable of guarding power forwards and can play only one position like Sabonis.
I don’t see the fit and think the Pacers have squandered an opportunity to take full advantage of a LeBron-less conference.
Aron Baynes, Boston, two-years, $10,646,880; cap breakdown: first-year: $5,193,600, second-year: $5,543,280
Let me be clear: I love Aron Baynes. Arguably the best acquisition of Danny Ainge’s last summer whirlwind of remolding the team we have now. His defending of Sixers superstar Joel Embiid shifted the tides of the series, in which the Celtics were heavy underdogs. Re-signing Baynes was an absolute must for Ainge. But the stipulations aren’t ideal for a Boston team that lacks proper salary filler if they want to be active in trade talks.
In addition to a no-trade clause, Baynes was given a player-option for 2019/20 season. Okay. Why? I understand the Celtics are currently locked in an unsettling, murky dispute with Marcus Smart and can not afford to add Baynes to the mix given their lack of depth at center, but who else was going to offer a traditional, defensive-minded center more than one-year; Clint Capela is still on the market for Christs’ sake.
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee, three-years, $21,000,000; average salary: $7,000,000
Quite possibly, the most jarring signing, Ilyasova enjoyed some success in his brief stint in Philadelphia. His zenith was the Miami series, shooting 51.1%, averaging nine-shot attempts in the five-game series. The subsequent nadir was the Boston series, his shooting percentage fell to 33.3%.
Not that much of a defender, Ilyasova can’t provide much for Milwaukee on other end. It’s perplexing they prioritized signing a 31-year-old power forward over their own prospect Jabari Parker.
Since the Bucks recently signed Brook Lopez, this negates the Ilyasova contract even more. Lopez is a better floor spacer and scoring option. The two acquisitions basically finish Milwaukee’s off-season, they hope to be a cap space team next summer – though re-signing Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe will put a damper on that.
The Los Angeles Lakers:
JaVale McGee: 1-year, $2,393,887
Lance Stephenson: 1-year, $4,500,000
Rajon Rondo: 1-year, $9,000,000
Kentavious Cardwell-Pope: 1-year, $12,000,000
Total money spent: $27,893,887
In the two days since signing LeBron the Lakers spent nearly $28 million on players that likely wouldn’t be signed today if L.A didn’t. KCP is basically a good faith deal, his representation having strong connections to Lebron.
The saving grace here is the Lakers only willfully shot themselves in the foot for this season, the cap space will likely roll over to next summer where they’ll hope to be in on Klay Thompson or even Kevin Durant – unless Kawhi Leonard is traded to Los Angeles before the season starts.
This team lacks any real spacing, I mean for Gods sake, rookie Moe Wagner will probably be starting center by December because the shooting is nonexistent. Even if Brandon Ingram takes the leap, it’ll only moderately help. LeBron is set for the most difficult season of his career, a good chance we’ll see a drop in points per game and then mistake it for his decline.
Bottom line: I see a mass exodus of these clowns come January. The Lakers will miss the playoffs if otherwise.