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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Press pause on your post-NBA draft takes. Free agency is now beckoning, and it promises to be wild.
If the start of the Association’s transaction period is any indication, free agency is actually going to be wilder than wild. Cap space is in short supply, but teams are already flexing their trade muscles, and a smattering of unexpected scenarios continue to bubble toward the surface.
Keeping up with the frantic chain of events yet to come can be overwhelming. Don’t sweat it. We’re going to be here every step of the way, offering the latest updates and dropping takes galore, all in real time.
So strap in and find your favorite source of caffeine. Free agency is here, and a tumult of surprises, small and seismic, are coming with it.
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Alonzo Adams/Associated Press
Patrick Patterson will return to the Clippers for a second season after agreeing to a one-year deal, according ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Expect him to fetch no more than the veteran’s minimum.
Keeping Patterson won’t make headlines but is a borderline necessity under the circumstances. The Clippers have three key players currently wandering around the open market: JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris Sr. Chances are they’ll keep at least two of them, if not all of them, but bringing back Patterson safegaurds them against absolute disaster. Mfiondu Kabengele and Ivica Zubac are the only other frontline options under contract if you exclude Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Granted, the Clippers don’t want to be in a position where they’re actually counting on Patterson. The idea of him has long been better than his productivity. He drilled 39 percent of his threes last season but is no longer as matchup-proof on defense.
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Rusty Costanza/Associated Press
Derrick Favors’ departure from the Jazz didn’t last long. He’s returning to Utah on a three-year, $27 million deal, with a player option on the final season, according to The Athletic’s Tony Jones.
Spending what amounts to most of the mid-level exception on a backup center wouldn’t sit right in every situation. Utah, in theory, should be one of them. It has Rudy Gobert to sponge up 30 to 35 minutes a night at the 5.
But backup center was a sore spot all last season. Ed Davis, now of the Knicks, didn’t pan out, and Tony Bradley wasn’t ready. The Jazz’s defense cratered without Gobert as a result; opponents scored 8.2 points per 100 possessions more while shooting a preposterously high 65.7 percent at the rim when he was on the bench.
Favors completely neutralizes those minutes. He is an elite rebounder and dependable rim protector, the type of big who can steady an entire defense as the starter. His job gets even easier as a backup, and he has enough experience playing beside Gobert that Utah can steal dual-big minutes when matchups permit it.
The Jazz only need to be concerned with Favors’ health. Lower back issues hindered his availability and, at times, mobility in New Orleans last season. But he’s still on the right side of 30 and won’t be burdened with too much responsibility. And when he was healthy, he had a hugely positive impact on the Pelicans’ interior defense. This reunion is a smart one.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Jordan Clarkson is re-upping with the Jazz on a four-year, $52 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. That is…a great deal of money to invest in a sixth man.
Utah has just cause for going this high. Clarkson injected life into an otherwise comatose bench after coming over in a trade from Cleveland. Through 42 appearances with the Jazz, he put up 15.6 points while downing 54.7 percent of his twos and 39.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes. His efficiency also held up during the playoffs in the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic. He averaged 16.7 points in Utah’s seven postseason tilts on 58.3 shooting inside the arc.
This number still feels a touch high in the aggregate. It is noticeably more than the non-taxpayer’s mid-level at a time when few, if any teams, have the flexibility to offer him more. The Jazz need reliable scorers to continue optimizing Donovan Mitchell, but Clarkson’s off-the-bounce creation is erratic, and he doesn’t generate a ton of trips to the free-throw line.
Maybe Utah envisions him shouldering more of the backup point guard duties. Clarkson isn’t a dependable table-setter, but the Jazz outscored opponents by 18.4 points per 100 possessions in the sparse time he spent as the de facto floor general. If he can’t be saddled with more of those reps or increase the pressure he puts on the rim in the half-court, this deal feels like it has a ceiling of net neutral.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
De’Aaron Fox has agreed to a five-year, $163 million extension with the Kings, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. His max scale is based off a $112.4 million projected salary cap in 2021-22, when his deal kicks in, and the value could change depending on how much revenue the league generates in the upcoming season.
Sacramento had no decision to make here. Maxing out Fox was the only move. The Kings don’t project to be a cap-space team in the 2021 offseason, and more than that, he is, without question, the polestar around which they’ll build.
Certain people outside Sacramento might see this as an overpay. Fox isn’t yet a consensus top-30 player. But this is akin to the Suns extending Devin Booker before he reached that level. It is an investment on what yet’s to come, and a worthwhile one at that.
Fox is the vessel through which the Kings run their offense. They don’t have someone who puts consistent pressure on the rim without him—only five players averaged more drives per game last season—and his probing is mission critical to the team’s outside shooting.
While a left ankle injury hobbled Fox to start the year, he was all the way back long before the hiatus. From Jan. 1 onward, he averaged 23.0 points and 6.9 assists while nailing 54.2 percent of his twos.
Shooting remains his swing skill. He hit only 29.2 percent of his threes after converting 37.1 percent in 2018-19 and wasn’t especially efficient on catch-and-shoot triples (33.3 percent). Sacramento needs more bankable shooting from him at the charity stripe as well (70.5 percent), given how many trips he now generates.
Few max rookie extensions are without risks. Fox’s is no exception. The Kings must also reconcile the $72.9 million combined they currently owe him, Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield in 2021-22—plus whatever they might possibly pay to keep Bogdan Bogdanovic now (restricted). But a questionable cap sheet only means the opportunity cost of signing Fox now is lower. Sacramento made the right call.
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Another free-agent big man is off the board, and he’s headed to…the Pistons!
Jahlil Okafor has agreed to a two-year deal with Detroit, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. We don’t yet have the net-value details, but we don’t really need them. Okafor won’t be making a whole lot.
That doesn’t make this move any less of a head-scratcher. The Pistons have Blake Griffin, drafted Isaiah Stewart, traded for Dewayne Dedmon and already locked up Mason Plumlee. They’re apparently loading up on all the non-shooting bigs while Christian Wood remains on the market, which makes total sense*.
The sheer low-risk nature of signing Okafor spares Detroit from the absolute lowest grade. He shouldn’t earn enough money or command enough minutes to materially impact what the team is doing. But it says a whole lot when that’s the silver lining.
(*It makes zero sense.)
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Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press
Drew Eubanks will be sticking with the Spurs on a three-year deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski. The full value of the contract is worth just under $5.3 million, per HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto.
This is a really shrewd signing by San Antonio. Its center depth isn’t the greatest even if Jakob Poeltl (restricted) stays put, and it becomes flimsier if a LaMarcus Aldridge trade is ever on the table.
Eubanks flashed a lot of upside after assuming an expanded role in the bubble. Most notably, he moves his feet well enough on the defensive end and shoots a high enough clip from the foul line to be in late-game lineups.
Bagging someone who may be more than just a viable backup center for under $2 million annually is a straight-up bargain.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Mason Plumlee is inking a three-year, $25 million deal with Detroit, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. We’re still awaiting word whether the Pistons made this move on purpose.
Look, Plumlee is a quality big man. He hits the glass on both sides of the floor, can finish strongly on rolls to the basket and remains an underrated passer. But the Pistons have Blake Griffin, just traded for Dewayne Dedmon, drafted Isaiah Stewart and retain the ability to re-sign Christian Wood, a combo big who is waaay better than Plumlee.
Adding another center isn’t absurd. It also shouldn’t be costing more than $8 million per year on average. And if it does, he should be more matchup-proof on defense. (To be clear: Good on Plumlee for getting his money.) It’d be different if the Pistons view him as their starting center. That’s problematic in itself if they do.
A 30-year-old Plumlee doesn’t fit the tenor of a rebuilding squad with veteran bigs already in place, and this signing will look much worse if it contributes in any way to Christian Wood landing somewhere else. The latter scenario remains to be seen, but even if you remove that from the equation, Detroit’s line of thinking here makes little sense unless it’s participating in some sort of sign-a-Plumlee-or-Zeller bingo tournament on the side.
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Morry Gash/Associated Press
Wesley Matthews is heading to the Lakers on a one-year, $3.6 million deal, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. This is a huge win for a team that just traded away Danny Green (and a first-rounder) to get Dennis Schroder.
Starting-caliber wings who knock down threes and assume some of the tougher perimeter covers don’t typically run bi-annual-exception money. The value here is off the charts. Matthews will inexplicably freelance in the half-court far more than Green, but he reinforced his defensive value while matching up with Jimmy Butler as a member of the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.
Though landing Matthews definitely makes the Schroder trade easier to celebrate—people continue to underestimate how important a three-and-D wing like Green remains, wild shooting swings and all—the Lakers still need another stopper-type on the perimeter at this writing.
They currently forecast to have Matthews, a likely re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James as their primary wing defenders. That’s a little too sparse, even if Avery Bradley sticks around.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Meyers Leonard will be sticking with the Heat on a two-year, $20 million contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The latter season will be a team option, per the Associate Press’ Tim Reynolds.
Treating this as a one-year deal definitely improves the optics, but a level of WTF-ness still lingers. Leonard hit more than 41 percent of his treys while starting in all except two of his 51 regular-season appearances, but he barely played during Miami’s push to the Finals.
Shifting circumstances dictated some of his absence. He suffered a sprained left ankle in early February, and by the time he returned, when the NBA began its Disney World restart, the Heat had traded for Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala and favored playing more one-big lineups.
Bringing back Leonard could signal Miami doesn’t plan to stick with that model all year. And again: The team hasn’t jeopardized any of its 2021 spending power with this deal.
It is nevertheless bizarre to spend so much on someone who doesn’t project to have a consistent role and at the very least probably becomes less of a factor in the postseason. This stands to change if the Heat move Kelly Olynyk and don’t re-sign Crowder or Derrick Jones Jr., but for now, it’s mostly curious.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Goran Dragic cares not for your league sources. He announced his return to the Heat on Twitter.
Miami is signing him to a two-year, $37.4 million deal, with a team option on the second season, according to Shams Charania of the The Athletic and Stadium. This move, right down the contract structure, felt inevitable, but that doesn’t render it any less of a win.
Dragic was excellent during the regular season and turned it up a notch during the playoffs, averaging 19.1 points while dropping in 50.9 percent of his two-pointers. Paying him carries some risk going into his age-34 campaign, given his injury history and that he’s coming off a left plantar fascia issue, but the Heat exited the Finals needing another shot creator even when factoring in Dragic’s likely return. Keeping him around was a must without a viable contingency.
That this is a one-plus-one with a team option makes it a no-brainer from Miami’s perspective. It retains the chance to maximize 2021 cap flexibility but can also bring back Dragic should Giannis Antetokounmpo and other prospective free agents appear to be off limits.