2010 NBA Free Agency Movement, Part 1
July 2nd, 2010

It’s the first day of the 2010 free agent negotiation period, and already players are being overpaid. There follows news and opinions of all the signings so far.

– The first signing of the season didn’t involve a free agent, but a draft pick. Minnesota signed their 2008 second-round draft pick Nikola Pekovic to a deal worth three years and $13 million, according to Chad Ford. This is a decent price for Pekovic, who may well start straight away if and when Al Jefferson is traded. Pekovic is one hell of a paint scorer, able to get position on anyone and with terrific touch around the basket. Per 36 minutes in the EuroLeague, Pekovic averaged 24 points; per 36 in the Greek league, that went up to 28.3. Pekovic shot a ridiculous 73% from the field in the A1 league, alongside 75% from the line, and while those numbers dip to 59% and 71% in the higher standard EuroLeague, they were still pretty beastly.

Pekovic’s rebounding is a valid concern (grabbing a defensive rebound once every 11 minutes in EuroLeague play isn’t nearly good enough); to be sure, he’s a sub-par and disinterested defensive rebounder who does not cover ground well. Equally valid concerns are his average size and below-average speed for the centre spot at the NBA level – he won’t have the huge size advantages he often enjoyed against minnow opposition in Europe, and he’s a bit grounded regardless. But the offence, and that efficiency, is genuinely impressive. And that’s an interesting quality to have in any centre.

If it sounds like I just described Eddy Curry, be comforted that the two aren’t comparable beyond that. Pekovic isn’t nearly the athlete Eddy is (was), but nor is he as bad of a defender. Or passer. Or economist.


– Minnesota then followed this up by agreeing to re-sign Darko Milicic, reportedly to a four-year, $20 million deal with only part of the final year guaranteed. If you could fuse Milicic and Pekovic together, you’d have an awesome two-way centre whose only flaw was defensive rebounding; as it is, you now have a duo of backup bigs who don’t figure to co-exist very well.

(Minnesota are also said to be planning to use their final $5.1 million in cap space on Charlotte forward Tyrus Thomas, despite them already having Jefferson, Milicic, Pekovic and Kevin Love. It seems like overkill and a pretty bad idea. However, if Jefferson is traded for backcourt and/or wing players, it makes some sense; Tyrus would give Minnesota the athletic quality that their big man rotation otherwise lacks. These moves, though, all conspire to make the Ryan Hollins signing from last summer look even worse. And it doesn’t look good for Greg Stiemsma’s chances of making the team.)

The Timberwolves are paying Milicic based on the 25-game sample he played for them last season. Included in those 25 games were 18 starts, and in those 18 starts, Minnesota went 1-17. Now with seven years of NBA experience, Darko has just had the second contract season of his career, and the four years and $20 million looks less bad when you consider he’s just finishing up a three-year $21 million deal. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of money for a man who hasn’t strung together two good seasons in a row in his whole career, and who has played well for about 18 total months of a seven-year span. When he wants to, Darko can play interior defence as well as anyone. But he does about once every three weeks, and does so at the expense of any offence and with sub-par rebounding. What’s that worth? $20 million? Not for me it isn’t. But a lot depends on the specifics of that guarantee. If it’s nearer a three-year deal than a four-year one, it will be tolerable.

Assuming he makes it to the end of this contract, Darko will have acquired 11 years of NBA experience. Not even Sean Marks has that many.

Milwaukee also made two moves today. Needing a power forward, the Bucks agreed to sign Drew Gooden – previously with the L.A. Clippers – to a full Mid Level Exception contract that will be worth roughly five years and $32 million. They needed a power forward, but not that one. And not for that long.

The same team that let Charlie Villanueva walk last offseason without so much as a qualifying offer just dedicated their full MLE to Gooden. The two are not identical, but they’re similar; inconsistent jump shooters without true centre size, with bad defence and a tendency to change team every year. (Gooden has played for eight teams in eight seasons, including five in the last three. He was also briefly on the Wizards roster, but didn’t appear in a game. Milwaukee will be his ninth franchise played for; the record is 13, jointly held by Jim Jackson, Tony Massenburg and Chucky Brown. Kevin Ollie has also played for 13 if you count the Seattle Supersonics and Oklahoma City Thunder as two different franchises. Which you will if you have a soul.)

Scott Skiles never coached Drew Gooden when he was in Chicago; he was fired a few weeks before Drew got there. He wouldn’t have liked to do so, though. Gooden’s transition from selfish-if-talented post scorer to selfish-if-more-talented-than-Malik Allen mid-range jump shooter is almost complete, and while he can still rebound the ball, it’s at a price. Gooden’s poor defence has been on show his whole career, with his avoidance of contact and his startling ability to rotate in completely the wrong direction. It didn’t improve last year.

The price isn’t extortionate for a 6’10 player who can score and rebound, but there’s no way Gooden lasts the whole five years. As is often the case with the players who sign first, Gooden looks to have been overpaid. Good luck to them, but rather them than me. Milwaukee needed a power forward, but this wasn’t the one.

Later in the day, it was announced that the Bucks have also tentatively re-signed swingman John Salmons to a five-year, $39 million deal, that may increase in value with incentives.

Salmons was always likely to re-sign, and now – although no deal can be completely finalised, for we are in the July Moratorium – it seems as though he will. The $39 million figure means a contract of about $1.4 million annually more than the value of the mid-level exception, which is a significant pay check for a decent but not great player. It does mean, however, that Salmons made the right decision to opt out.

Milwaukee needs a scorer more than ever, particularly from the perimeter. Michael Redd will never play for Milwaukee again, and the only consistent half-court scorer is centre Andrew Bogut. Even then, Bogut is better defensively. (Note: Drew Gooden doesn’t count as a consistent half-court scorer.) In this regard, Salmons carried the Bucks down the stretch of last season, when Bogut was injured and Brandon Jennings was stuck in reverse. He saved their season.

Now, they’ll be hoping he can carry them in a similar fashion for the next five years.


The first really really really really ridiculously big contract of the offseason so far belongs not to LeBron James or Steve Novak, but to Memphis forward Rudy Gay. Reportedly, the team intend to re-sign him to a four-year maximum salary contract, with a fifth player option/ETO year at the end.

Gay is a restricted free agent, who was no serious threat to accept his qualifying offer. This is partly because it was small ($4,422,784), partly because of the very real threat of a far less player-friendly CBA coming into force next summer, and partly because this is the summer where everyone is willing and able to spend. Memphis could have played the long game, waited it out, made a fair offer to Rudy (i.e. about $11 million a year) and let the market dictate his ultimate value. Matching rights were their friend. However, they’ve not done that, jumping out early and overpaying a second stringer to a maximum salary contract. Has that ever worked well, ever?

Memphis’s supposed logic behind the move is to avoid having a team sign Gay to a frontloaded contract which they will not be able to afford next season (20% of the money of any non-minimum salary contract can be paid up front, which is what Portland tried to do to Utah with the Paul Millsap deal). Yet their way to offset that risk seems to have been to pay him a deal that they can’t afford in any season. That logic is entirely counter-intuitive, and will sting the team for a while. It was a never a case of max-him-or-lose-him, yet the Grizzlies seem to have treated it as such.

At times like this, you wish you had that 2011 first-rounder you traded for Ronnie Brewer, whom you are now letting walk as an unrestricted free agent. But sadly not.

(Note: Seemingly involved in everything, Minnesota were said to have targeted Gay this summer, apparently unaware that they just drafted three small forwards, traded for Martell Webster and already have Corey Brewer. Despite the bad fit, I was all for the move, as it would have meant a trio of Gay-Love-Sessions in Minnesota. Alas, it is not to be.)


– Lastly, Marc Spears of Yahoo just broke the story that Toronto have agreed to terms with backup forward Amir Johnson to a five-year, $34 million deal, which is about two years and $16 million too much.

Amir Johnson is very useful in his role as a backup big off the bench or as a spot starter, and has been for the last three years. He thrives in that role and should have been retained to get keep doing. However, in his five NBA seasons, Johnson has a career-high minutes per game average of 17.7. That came last year, and he managed to average more than three fouls per game in that time. Johnson can’t stay on the court for fouling, and while it’s nice to project that he will improve at this, he simply hasn’t done so.

Johnson produces on the court, playing energetic and athletic defence, rebounding very well and making the occasional jump shot. He is one of the league’s best backup big men, and an asset to the team. Or rather, he was an asset to the team. Now that he’s going to be earning $7 million a year, Johnson might have just become a burden. Bryan Colangelo’s history of salary cap management is a matter of record, and once again, he looks to have overpaid a player when re-signing them. It is now essential than an extremely-rich Amir Johnson keeps working as hard as the competitively-priced one did. And even then, it won’t be enough.

Malik Rose got a long term contract like this once, to play a very similar role. He was ostensibly to be the Spurs’ long-term third big man and possible power forward starter upon David Robinson’s retirement, grabbing some boards, making open shots and giving forth everything he had on defence (having the same problem with foul rates). That didn’t work out, as Rose never lived up to the size of the deal. Johnson will have to make significant strides to avoid the same fate.

And I bet he’ll have a trade kicker, too.

Posted by at 11:47 AM

3 Comments about 2010 NBA Free Agency Movement, Part 1

  1. Der K2 July, 2010, 3:03 am

    Playing Devil's advocate: Rose was five years older than Johnson at the time of the signing – it's not unreasonable to think that Johnson has yet to reach his peak. (Though I don't see the fouls diminishing enough to be that helpful.)

  2. Sham2 July, 2010, 3:07 am

    I agree, and Rose also signed for 7 years to Amir's five. It remains a comparable situation, however. They play the same role and the same style, and while Amir does it better than Rose did, he hasn't done it for such a good team as Rose did when he got paid. The move is ambitious and requires a lot of improvement from the paid player to live up to the deal. But then, the same is true of most big Colangelo signings.

  3. Rashidi2 July, 2010, 9:59 am

    I'm guessing Memphis has no interest in paying Randolph, Gasol, or Conley? They're 2011 free agents. Mayo's up next in 2012.