The First Night of Free Agency

Paul George

Apr 23, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) points during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Cleveland defeats Indiana 106-102. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports


1.) Best deal on the first night of free agency?

Vivek Jacob: Shaun Livingston. It’s mind numbing that he isn’t earning eight figures in this market. Good on the Warriors for finding a value deal, and good on Livingston for showing how much he values winning. With Steph Curry now locked up, Dub Nation won’t have to worry about the point guard position for a few years yet.

Bryan Toporek: I’m cheating slightly here, but the best deal on the first night of free agency wasn’t a signing. Instead, the Oklahoma City Thunder hoodwinking the Indiana Pacers into giving them Paul George for only Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis will go up in the pantheon of Sam Presti’s best moves, regardless of whether George re-signs with the Thunder in 2018. If George’s arrival helps convince Russell Westbrook to sign a “supermax” extension this summer, Presti will dodge the impossible decision of whether to trade Westbrook this summer had he not. Even if George and Westbrook both leave OKC as free agents next summer, Presti shedding Oladipo’s bloated contract ensures the then-rebuilding Thunder would have a clean slate, as Enes Kanter can (and likely will) opt out following the 2017-18 season. Kudos to Presti for turning a capped-out middling playoff team into a legitimate threat in the West.

Brady Klopfer: Shaun Livingston. I’m not convinced Livingston deserves much more than he got, but he would have gotten at least $12 million a year had he chased the paper.

The win for Golden State isn’t the player or the price, it’s the fit. Livingston’s ability to guard three positions, buy into the offensive system and get his own shot is integral to how the Warriors play. They had no other backup point guard options and no one else provides the versatility and selflessness that makes Livingston so important to the Dubs’ success.

Of course, if we’re being technical, the Warriors re-signing Steph Curry is the best move of the day.

2.) Worst deal on the first night of free agency?

Vivek Jacob:  Christiano Felicio. He’s really making the same average salary as Livingston? Again, shocked by this, but it is the Bulls. This is nowhere near as bad as allowing themselves to get fleeced in the Jimmy Butler deal, but they’re obviously higher on Felicio than I am. The Griffin deal could come back to bite the Clippers based on his health, but it’s not unreasonable in terms of his talent level.

Bryan Toporek: To be honest, I’m disappointed in NBA general managers. Within the first hour of free agency last summer, Joakim Noah had signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Knicks while Timofey Mozgov inked a four-year, $64 million pact with the Los Angeles Lakers. You didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to know those contracts would quickly become albatrosses. This year, however, it appears as though GMs learned their lesson, as the only free agent to switch teams in the first few hours of free agency was Jeff Teague. His three-year, $57 million contract (with a third-year player option) is entirely reasonable, too.

Therefore, the worst deal goes to the Indiana Pacers, who panic-traded George before seeing how the free-agent dominos fell. The reports about what the Boston Celtics offered are likely bullshit—otherwise, Kevin Pritchard should be fired for negligence immediately—but had Boston gone into a free-agent meeting with Gordon Hayward promising the ability to trade for PG13 as well, Indiana would have an enormous amount of leverage in trade talks. The Pacers’ decision not to wait out free agency and see which teams became increasingly more desperate as they missed out on their top targets will come back to haunt them unless Oladipo and/or Sabonis turn into All-Star-caliber players.

Brady Klopfer: Cristiano Felicio. In a vacuum, this deal is justifiable; Felicio is a quality defensive player who offers versatility on that end of the floor and restraint on the other end. But Chicago is painfully lacking in talent, and throwing money—and four years—at low-ceiling players only digs their hole deeper.

I’d be okay with the Spurs signing Felicio to this deal, but a team the projects to win about 20 games has no business throwing $8 million a year at a low-upside role player.

3.) What does acquiring Paul George do for OKC? Where do you see them in the Western Conference assuming the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs retain their guys?

Vivek Jacob: I’d have to put them at sixth once again, but better. The Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Wolves, and Jazz (with Hayward) are ahead of them in my books. I love what PG13 brings to the table for them. As much as he’ll likely mesh with Russell Westbrook, it’s his ability to negate Andre Roberson’s offensive deficiencies that intrigue me. It was apparent in the series against the Rockets just how desperate they were to have Roberson on the court to guard Harden, but those efforts would go to waste on the other end where Roberson would either get fouled or force the Thunder to play 4-on-5. George is that rare elite level two-way talent that will allow Billy Donovan greater flexibility in managing those situations.

Of course, the other part of the equation George will likely resolve is the minutes when Westbrook is off the floor. The Thunder would crumble without the league’s MVP, and as long as Donovan can find an effective way to stagger their minutes, this will be an important step forward for the Thunder.

Bryan Toporek: I’m with Vivek: Assuming the Jazz retain Hayward, OKC is still behind Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Utah and Minnesota. That said, I likewise agree the Thunder are closer to title contention now than they were a season ago, as George is a massive upgrade over the marginalized Oladipo and underutilized Sabonis. While I’m bummed we won’t be treated to an encore onslaught of triple-doubles from Russell Westbrook, I’m thrilled the Thunder were able to give him a legitimate All-Star partner in crime again, as it should help takes some of the mammoth offensive burden off his shoulders. Depending on what else they do in free agency, the Thunder have the makings of a frisky No. 6 seed that no top-tier team will want to draw in the first round of the playoffs.

Brady Klopfer: First thing’s first: this was a brilliant trade for the Thunder. They entered the offseason with three massive contracts attached to three mediocre players (Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter), and managed to shed one for an elite player. Best case scenario, George extends, and they build around two top-15 players. Worst case scenario, they gained much needed cap space.

That said, it doesn’t really move the needle. George helps a bit on offense (though he and Russell Westbrook will likely just play a game of revolving isolations), and gives an already stellar defense another upgrade. But San Antonio is still the elite West team that doesn’t reside in the Bay Area, and Houston should be close behind. Utah is dramatically overlooked – when healthy last year, they were one of the five best teams in the league. Assuming Hayward stays, I peg them as the third seed.

That puts the Thunder at the five seed, at best. Given a huge improvement for Minnesota, and steady growth for Denver, Portland and New Orleans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oklahoma City as far back as the seven seed.

4.) Thoughts on Ricky Rubio’s fit with the Jazz? Teague for the Timberwolves?

Vivek Jacob: The thought of Rubio playing defense in Utah’s system got me excited at first, but he’s not a significant upgrade over George Hill in that area. His shooting, though, is much weaker and they could take a huge step backward on offense if Hayward doesn’t return. His injury history will always be a concern, so I struggle to see the Jazz being much better than they were last year.

With Teague, I’m surprised the Wolves didn’t want to take a crack at Lowry and Hill first. Maybe they did and realized Teague was the better option, especially at three years and $57 million. If they can make the moves necessary to facilitate a Paul Millsap acquisition, this will all be validated. At they very least, they need a solid role player to complement this signing to validate not making a harder push for Lowry or Hill.

Bryan Toporek: For what the Jazz gave up to acquire Rubio—a 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder, which now looks even worse in the wake of the PG13 deal—this was a no-brainer for them. I like George Hill there conceptually more than Rubio, but if the Jazz weren’t willing to match his asking price, it was smart to ensure they have a starting-caliber PG at a reasonable price. Though he’s not as strong of a shooter as Hill, he’s a defensive pest, so the combination of him and Rudy Gobert should be nightmarish for opponents.

I was nervous at first when I heard Teague was the Timberwolves’ target, but his three-year, $57 million price tag is more than reasonable. The spacing concerns about a Rubio-Butler-Wiggins backcourt were legitimate, and while Teague isn’t a Stephen Curry-esque shooter—he’s a career 35.5 percent shooter from deep—he’ll be better than Rubio on that front. He’s also better suited to operate off the ball at times, so the Bulls can run some Point Jimmy looks.

Brady Klopfer: Rubio is an excellent fit. Given Utah’s spacing and shooting, a creative and willing passer is just what the doctor ordered. Add in Rubio’s exceptional defense and wingspan, and Quin Snyder must be positively giddy. The best part of the trade, however, is that Rubio is only 26 and has been steadily improving. There’s a real chance his jump shot becomes serviceable, in which case Utah has a building block for years to come.

The Teague signing is both bizarre and hard to judge. On the one hand, a defensively-challenged point guard, alongside an already suspect wing defender in Andrew Wiggins, is a nonsense fit for a defensive-minded coach. On the other hand, Teague is a quality shooter who doesn’t need the ball, which is an ideal fit with Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, or George Hill would have made more sense, by at a much higher cost. If Minnesota uses the money they saved to shore up their bench or acquire Paul Millsap, then Teague is a great signing. But if this is it for the summer, color me unsold.

5.) How would you rebuild around the Blake Griffin if you ran the Clippers?

Vivek Jacob: Feature Blake Griffin as the point forward. The problem right now is that they have Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers on the same team, so I’d probably be looking to move two of the three in favor of catch-and-shoot/movement guys that can operate around Griffin’s distribution. Crawford’s contract is likely the most difficult to move, and since Rivers isn’t my son, I’m gladly entertaining offers for him. The need to address their issues at small forward; that’s been an issue and shooting is also a concern with the departures of Redick and Paul. They have meetings scheduled with Gallinari, Ingles, and Simmons, and Gallo would clearly be the best option.

Bryan Toporek: POINT BLAKE. Patrick Beverley is used to playing off the ball, so the Clippers should tap into Griffin’s facilitation skills as much as possible. Beyond that, I’d start shopping DeAndre Jordan, as he’s able to opt out of his contract following the 2017-18 season and could perhaps fetch at least a decent first-round pick or young prospect. (Milwaukee seems like a logical option.) Beyond that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clippers re-signed Griffin to flip him later, so I wouldn’t consider him untouchable in trade talks.

Brady Klopfer: Thankfully for the Clippers, Jerry West will help make these decisions, not me. That said, my first move would be to trade Deandre Jordan. Jordan is a fine, if highly overrated, asset, but the fit alongside Griffin is bizarre, and that much money on a front court pairing is a poor move in the modern NBA.

From there, the Clippers should work on providing shooters on short-term value contracts. The biggest key is to avoid overpaying (coughcough Austin Rivers coughcough Jamal Crawford), so they have cap room to chase after big name free agents in coming years. Paul Heorge and LeBron James are upcoming free agents with an interest in Los Angeles, and it would behoove the Clippers to begin watering their pastures immediately.


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