The first day of NBA free agency surely did not fail.
We see Nikola Jokic, Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker sign deals worth at least $200 million to stay with their teams, while Ja Morant, Anfernee Simons, Bobby Portis, Lu Dort and Tyus Jones all re-upped with their franchises on hefty deals as well.
Some notable players have already switched teams, including P.J. Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers, Malik Monk to the Sacramento Kings, Gary Payton II to the Portland Trail Blazers and Isaiah Hartenstein to the New York Knicks, with more sure to follow as free agency forges on.
With Day 2 already off to a big start with news of what could be the third-largest contract in NBA history being agreed to, here are grades for the latest free-agent deals. The grades are from the perspective of the team, not the player.
Zion Williamson Gets $231Million Max from Pelicans
In spite of not playing a single game for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, Zion Williamson is being rewarded with a five-year max extension.
A report said “The deal is expected to include protections that both sides were sorting through overnight and will finalize, sources said.”
Williamson collecting the full $231 million is likely based on being named MVP or making All-NBA teams, as Spotrac lists his non-All-NBA max at $192.9 million over five years. In NBA history, only the new contract extensions handed out to Nikola Jokic ($264 million) and Bradley Beal ($251 million) contain more total money than the $231 million Williamson could now stand to make.
Both ways, this is a huge financial commitment to a player who just has not shown the ability to stay on the floor thus far in his young career. In addition to missing the entire 2021-22 season, he played in just 85 total games over his first two seasons.
A healthy Williamson is worth a max, period.
He is a physical force of nature who averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists and shot 61.1 percent over 61 games in 2020-21. If the 21-year-old can add in a reliable three-point shot, he has a chance to be one of the NBA’s truly elite players on both ends.
However, we have seen no evidence that Williamson will find an ideal playing weight (the team lists him at 6’6″ and 284 pounds), something that could help him avoid further knee and foot injuries.
This is a huge risk for the Pelicans, although perhaps one they had to make Williamson to agree to stay in New Orleans.
Ricky Rubio Returning to Cavs on 3-Year Contract
Rubio is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he began last season before tearing his ACL and being used as a salary-matcher in a trade to the Indiana Pacers for Caris LeVert.
While Rubio is expected to miss the beginning of the season, getting the 31-year-old for just over $6 million a year with an out in the third season is terrific value for Cleveland.
While playing backup to Darius Garland, Rubio tied his career high with 13.1 points per game to go along with 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.4 steals. The Cavs were 9.0 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor last season as well.
His $6.1 million annual average is well below fellow free-agent point guards like Tyus Jones ($15 million) and Delon Wright ($8 million), and still leaves the Cavs with part of their mid-level exception.
With Collin Sexton still unsigned and Rajon Rondo unlikely to return, the Cavaliers desperately needed another backcourt playmaker next to Garland. They now get someone who has proven he can thrive in the system and is on an extremely reasonable deal, even when factoring in his recovery from the torn ACL.
Mitchell Robinson Staying with Knicks for $60 million
After agreeing to a two-year, $16 million deal with Isaiah Hartenstein, the Knicks continued to beef up the center position by re-signing Robinson to a four-year contract.
While this is not terrible money at $15 million per year, it does seem a little rich given Robinson’s four years of production to this point. The eye test has always shown a huge, athletic, rim-running center who should be one of the league’s best rim protectors, yet the numbers have rarely backed it up.
Per report, Robinson’s offensive game is extremely limited, although playing alongside Jalen Brunson should help his pick-and-roll game. He’s shown little development the past few years, ranking in the 91st percentile (plus-8.8) in swing rating in 2019-20 compared to just the 28th and 36th percentiles (minus-4.8 and minus-2.9) in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Hartenstein was the flat-out better player last year with his overall offensive game, passing ability and rim protection, although it’s Robinson who will now be paid nearly twice as much and likely retain his starting job.
Keeping Robinson at this price point was better than letting him walk away, but there needs to be some real growth from the 24-year-old for him to live up to this new $60 million deal.
Zach LaVine Gets 5-Years, $215 Million from Bulls
LaVine is the latest star to be maxed.
With cap space drying up all over the NBA, this should come as no surprise.
LaVine has worked his way into All-Star status with the Bulls and proved he could still put up big numbers when sharing the floor with DeMar DeRozan this past season. He was one of just five players (along with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Kyrie Irving) to average at least 24 points, four rebounds, four assists and shoot 38.0 percent or better from three.
In spite of getting ready to start his ninth NBA season, LaVine is still just 27 years old, meaning this new deal should take him through his prime years. With DeRozan set to turn 33 in August, keeping LaVine around to help carry the offensive load was necessary.
Even if LaVine is not viewed in the upper echelon of stars and could still make some major defensive improvements, he was worth maxing out for Chicago now. Losing LaVine would have been devastating for a team that is already in danger of topping out as a middle-tier playoff team in the East.
LaVine is perhaps a little overpaid on this new deal, but it was the right move for the Bulls to keep him happy.
Jusuf Nurkic Stays with Portland
On a previous report, Nurkic would be back with the Blazers on a four-year deal, and sure enough, that is what happened.
The 27-year-old center survived a trade deadline that sent CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Larry Nance Jr. packing and now gets to run it back with Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, who agreed to a new four-year, $100 million deal on the first day of free agency.
While he may never make an All-Star team, Nurkic is a rock-solid center who can do a little bit of everything to help a team. He is extremely physical on both ends of the floor, an elite rebounder and talented passer. His swing rating of plus 15.2 ranked in the 98th percentile among all NBA players last season.
In addition to filling the team’s potential hole at center, re-signing Nurkic likely keeps Lillard happy. With the additions of Jerami Grant and No. 7 overall pick Shaedon Sharpe, the Blazers could see a return to the postseason as early as this year if Lillard is healthy.
Getting Nurkic for an average of $17.5 million a year looks especially good after Mitchell Robinson received $15 million per season from the New York Knicks. Both Nurkic and the Blazers should feel really good about this deal.
John Wall Joins the Clippers
After locking his buyout from the Houston Rockets, Wall is joining Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and company with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Point guard was an area of need for L.A., who did not get good play from Reggie Jackson last year. The 32-year-old shot just 39.2 percent overall with a swing rating of minus-2.9. Wall should be an upgrade over Jackson in the starting lineup or could serve as the team’s sixth man.
Although we have not seen much of Wall lately (he has played 40 total games since 2018), he still had some burst during his time with the Rockets in 2020-21. The 31-year-old will not need to replicate his averages of 20.6 points and 6.9 assists with this loaded Clippers team, who could be the championship favorites by the time the season starts.
Wall just needs to get the offense into position, play adequate defense and continue. Assuming Leonard returns at full strength, Wall may only need to average 10 points a game or so with George, Norman Powell, Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Robert Covington and company by his side.
The Clippers did not have the cap space to sign a point guard like Tyus Jones or even Delon Wright in free agency and would have needed to give up some rotation players to trade for a floor general like Malcolm Brogdon.
Getting Wall for the taxpayer mid-level exception was a best-case scenario for a team that was already in luxury tax hell. Head coach Tyronn Lue will get the best out of Wall, who should be well rested from sitting all of last season.
Bruce Brown Lands with Denver
The Nuggets continue to plug in quality pieces around Nikola Jokic, with Brown checking many boxes as a position less two-way threat.
Learning to play off of stars the past two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets should have the 25-year-old primed for his time in Denver now, as the Nuggets can use him as a spot-up shooter, roll man, cutter or any other number of ways.
If his shooting numbers from last year are sustainable, this contract looks even better. During his first three seasons, Brown shot just 29.8 percent overall from outside the arc. Last year, however, he upped his accuracy to 40.4 percent, primarily on catch-and-shoot attempts (40.7 percent).
At 6’4″ and 202 pounds with a 6’9″ wingspan, Brown can guard multiple positions, giving the Nuggets another talented defender after trading for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
This was a terrific use of the taxpayer mid-level exception for Denver, who should have plenty of offensive firepower with a healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., and need high-level role players to fill in the gaps.
Kevin Looney Gets a Raise with Warriors
After losing key role players in Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. in free agency, the Warriors were able to bring back Looney on a three-year deal.
Looney started 80 of his 82 games for Golden State, including 13 of 22 playoff contests. He was extremely durable and proved to be a quality defender and rebounder for a team that already had plenty of offensive firepower.
This is also a very reasonable deal, as it starts at $7 million in 2022-23 and only carries a $3 million guarantee in Year 3, when Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will be up for new contracts.
The Warriors were already staring down a $68.8 million tax bill, however, one that will grow exponentially with Looney back. Golden State may have been better off using this money to keep Payton and look for a veteran-minimum center, a position that typically carries a lot of them.
Looney is a good player, and this is a good deal, but given the luxury-tax implications and whom the Warriors let walk instead, money would have been better spent elsewhere.
Donte DiVincenzo Joins the Champs
After losing Gary Payton II (Portland) and Otto Porter Jr. (Toronto) to other teams, the Warriors have stumbled into some much-needed wing depth with Donte DiVincenzo.
According to a report, the 25-year-old is joining the reigning champions on a two-year, $9.3 million deal, with a player option on the final season.
DiVincenzo’s price point reflects what has been a stark fall since he suffered a left ankle injury in May 2021. He went from a key cog in Milwaukee’s two-way machine and the primary asset in a scuttled Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade to being flipped for spare parts to the Sacramento Kings to not even having his qualifying offer tendered ahead of what was supposed to be restricted free agency this summer.
The Warriors, of course, should be ecstatic to capitalize on his descent into the bargain bin. He is not even costing them the full taxpayer’s mid-level exception. That is absurd value relative to his best-case outcome.
Peak DiVincenzo can shape-shift depending on the lineup. He will spearhead fast breaks after grabbing defensive rebounds, dart in for passes from the corners and skedaddle around longer defenders when attacking the basket. Milwaukee even used to buy spot minutes with him at point guard. He has best served playing off others, but he has more pick-and-roll orchestration ingrained into his game than GP2.
Golden State’s defense still would have been better off bringing back the latter. However, DiVincenzo, while less of an eclipse, provides plenty of functional optionality. His hands are agents of disorder; he contests routine passes and busts up possessions from behind while shuttling between both guard spots and some wing assignments.
If DV both stays healthy and hits enough of his catch-and-shoot triples, which he drilled at 42.2 percent clip after being traded to Sacramento—the Warriors just scooped up one of free agencies biggest steals.
Jalen Smiths Sticks with Indiana
Jalen Smith played well enough after the trade deadline to warrant further exploration by the Indiana Pacers. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what he’ll get. Indiana is bringing him back on a two-year deal, per a report.
Over 22 appearances, he averaged 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while connecting on 63.1 percent of his twos and 37.3 percent of his triples—the latter of which he launched with real volume.
It is not hard to see Smith’s offensive game scaling to a larger, more consistent role. Nothing about his three-point clip is anomalous, even if he could face tougher closeouts. His pump-and-drive game is unpolished—and perhaps a permanent non-starter. With Indy, though, he flashed some nice touch around the basket, a presence on the offensive glass and the wherewithal to slip through and behind defenses on duck-ins and in transition.
Smith’s defensive utility is more of a mystery. He should probably be an every-possession 5, but he is not the most imposing big man. He has, however, displayed some real physicality contesting shots around the basket, as well as a handful of nice vertical stops on help rotations.
Floor-spacing rim protectors are all the rage, and though Smith has not cemented himself within that archetype, he is still just 22. This is a great flier by the Pacers, even without knowing the exact contract terms, since they cannot pay him more than the value of the team option Phoenix declined on him anyway ($4.7 million).
Bryn Forbes Takes His Microwave Scoring to Minnesota
According to a report, Bryn Forbes is headed to the Timberwolves on a one-year deal. He is slated to get the veteran’s minimum.
Scooping up a career expert shooter makes all the sense in the world for Minnesota after it traded so much of the roster’s shooting as part of the Rudy Gobert trade. Malik Beasely, specifically, led the Timberwolves in total three-point makes last season. Forbes can replace most of his volume, sans the physical defensive tools, but with a dab more off-the-dribble pizazz.
Only six active players have downed more than 500 total treys at a 41 percent or better clip since 2016-17: Forbes, Seth Curry, Stephen Curry, Joe Harris, Luke Kennard and Klay Thompson. Forbes has also routinely ranked at the top of the NBA in points per touch. Most recently, he led the league in that category during the 2020-21 campaign from a field of 325 players who matched or exceeded his total touches.
Select teams can find it difficult to survive on defense when Forbes soaks up serious court time. The Timberwolves should not be one of them. Gobert alone assures a top-10 defense and the addition of Kyle Anderson to a perimeter rotation that already includes Jaden McDaniels and the getting-better Anthony Edwards arms Minnesota with a tidy outfit of playmakers at the less glamorous end.