NBA: Grading the Free Agent Deals

September 8th, 2008

By: Preetom Bhattacharya




The smoke around the NBA has mostly cleared for free agents looking for a team and it's time to take a look back and grade the seven largest deals of the summer.

Gilbert Arenas (Washington Wizards: 6 years, $111 -million)
Grade: A

Although this seems like way too much money to give to a player returning from a pretty serious knee injury, the Washington Wizards sent a message to their fans, players, and the league at large by locking up their core of Arenas, Antawn Jamison (4-year, $50--million contract extension earlier this summer), and Caron Butler. That message? If healthy, the entire organization, from owner Abe Pollin down to head coach Eddie Jordan, believes this team is capable of a title run.

Arenas' contract is the sixth largest since the NBA instituted its collective bargaining agreement in 1999, but the dynamic scorer has rejuvenated the Beltway with his quirky personality and late-game heroics. He's the face of the Wizards franchise and is a legitimate superstar in the league, so his contract is right on line with his credentials when compared to other players of his caliber and status.

Elton Brand (Philadelphia 76ers: 5 years, $82 -million)
Grade: A+

The Philadelphia 76ers were pretty good last year, making a run into the playoffs behind the absolutely stellar play of Andre Miller and even scaring the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. But the Sixers sorely lacked an offensive presence in the paint, with their top four scorers all being perimeter players.

That all changes with the addition of Brand, who is coming off an injury himself but looked pretty good in the eight games he played at the end of last season. The Sixers didn't have to give up any of their depth to get Brand (which becomes more important now with Jason Smith out with a torn ACL) and get exactly what the team and picked up exactly what they needed in a proven veteran down low.

Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76er: 6 years, $80-million)
Grade: B

Iguodala gambled by not taking the five-year, $57.4-million the Sixers offered him last year, but things certainly worked out for him in the end and the Sixers locked him up for the long term. This is one of those deals that can turn out really great or could end up being a bit of a disappointment.

Iguodala is clearly a solid player and may even get better with Elton Brand beside him, but this was an awful lot of money to pay to a guy who has yet to develop a consistent outside jumper (especially from three-point range) or make an All-Star appearance. The Sixers are clearly banking on Iguodala's improvement and if he becomes a bit more versatile, this deal certainly will end up a great one.

Right now, it's just good.

Emeka Okafor (Charlotte Bobcats: 6 years, $72-million)
Grade: B+

At first glance, the Charlotte Bobcats gave Okafor a staggering figure because he largely goes unnoticed. Okafor lives in Dwight Howard's shadows not because he isn't a quality player, but because he isn't flashy in how he gets his business done.

You won't see Okafor flying around making your jaw-drop with his athleticism; instead, Okafor gets things done quietly as one of only four NBA players that have averaged double-doubles in each of the past four seasons. The other three are Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, and Howard – certainly not bad company by any means. He's been a dependable cornerstone for the Bobcats and will continue to give his consistency down low, but must fight the notion that he's injury-prone and stay healthy.

With Larry Brown coming into town, Charlotte will be getting a coach that can get the most of his players and having Okafor certainly gives Brown something great to start with .. even if he's not recognized as such.

Luol Deng (Chicago Bulls: 6 years, $71-million)
Grade: A-

You don't get paid to be a nice guy in the NBA, but Deng is by far one of the best teammates anyone could ask for. He's an assuming kind of guy who helps his team in whatever way he can. That makes him sound like a role player – which he isn't – but Deng's commitment to teamwork is what makes him a special player for the Chicago Bulls.

With the talent and athleticism to do just about whatever he wants on the court, Deng's going to keep getting better now that there is some semblance of stability in Chicago (his numbers were clearly down last year because of  the initial Kobe Bryant trade talk to start the season and the midseason firing of Scott Skiles). Look for Deng to have a tremendous year – he was, after all, excited for next season and started to train way back in June.

Monta Ellis (Golden State Warriors: 6 years, $67-million)
Grade: B+

Ellis certainly cashed in this offseason after two years of very solid play for the Golden State Warriors. Although he has yet to prove himself as the point guard that head coach Don Nelson is going to ask him to be this season (he won't be carrying the ball so much, but the role is different nonetheless), Ellis has gotten better every year he's been in the league.

He's always been quick, but Ellis now counters that with one of the league's best mid-range jumpers – defenders have to pick their poison with him now and if they crowd him too much on the jumper, Ellis will blow by them and use his creativity and finishing ability around the basket. He's going to have to be a better defender, but Ellis has already shown his work ethic and is certainly is on the right track to league-wide recognition as a star.

Baron Davis (Los Angeles Clippers: 5 years, $65-million)
Grade: C+

There's a couple big questions when it comes to Baron Davis and the Los Angeles Clippers: can he stay healthy? Can he get along with Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy? When one looks at track histories, the answers to these questions don't exactly bode well for the Clippers.

Davis was indeed healthy for the first time in a long time last season, playing in all 82 games in what ended up being the last year of his contract. The last time Davis played in all of his team's games was in the 2001-2002 season, which coincidentally was also a contract year for him. After signing his big contract with the Hornets, Davis missed an average of 26 games per season over the next five seasons with both the Hornets and Warriors. Recalling Davis' injuries was like reading an anatomy book: out 13 games with a calf injury, out 3 games with a strained rib muscle, out 19 games with a sprained right ankle, out 17 games with an Achilles injury, out 18 games with a herniated disc.

As for getting along with Dunleavy, the coach has alienated a player in the past (see Corey Maggette) and Davis has had issues with past coaches (see Byron Scott). Before unloading Davis to the Warriors, Davis clashed with Scott and was accused of being out of shape. Things got so bad that Hornets' owner George Shinn called Davis a "poison." Maggette and Dunleavy clashed over playing time, among other things, before Clippers' owner Donald Sterling got involved to squelch their feud.

All that being said, if Davis is healthy and if Dunleavy can get the most out of him, the Clippers will be getting one of the premier guards in the league and will address their glaring need for a quality point guard. Davis can score (20 points per game in the past two seasons), set up his teammates (about 8 assists per game in the past four years), and has the variety of skills on offense that will excite fans.

Those are some big ifs, though...

How would you grade these deals... drop your comments below.