Jeff Phelps: Who’s Gotten It Right In NBA Free Agency? Let’s Take A Look

Every year when NBA free agency rolls around, I think of Drew Gooden.
In the Summer of 2010, the always affable Gooden was a 28-year-old free agent, who had already played eight NBA seasons with eight different teams. Jeff Phelps
Within minutes after the start of free agency in 2010, news broke that Gooden had agreed to a 5-year, $32-million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. It was a pretty good contract in 2010. I smiled when I heard the news.
When I saw Drew for the first time in the 2010-11 season, I told him that I was really happy for him — no messing around, just accept the money right away and go. His response, accompanied by a huge grin — “I know, right!?!?!”
Gooden got it.
NBA teams throw money around in free agency like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. Star players usually end up with more than their fair share of the beads. That’s not always the case for the journeymen players, like Gooden in 2010. Thus, the smile and the grin.  Gooden was smart enough to pull a Steve Miller Band — take the money and run. Good for him.
Again this summer, the beads have been flying, with some players getting mind-boggling contracts, and some teams getting interesting deals with players who wish they were Drew Gooden.
Nikola Jokic — Denver
Jokic turns back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards into the richest contract in NBA history. Hard to argue with that. 
Zion Williamson – New Orleans
If Pelicans head honcho David Griffin doesn’t give Zion a rookie max extension, and Zion gets healthy, plays great, and leaves New Orleans as soon as possible, chances are Griff is out of a job. And if Griff gives Zion the extension, and he doesn’t get healthy and into better shape, and doesn’t play as well or as often as planned, well … Griff is out of a job.  Griffin and the Pelicans had little choice, and even with protections built into the contract, this one is boom or bust. Here’s hoping for boom, because Zion is such a unique talent and good for the league. And I like Griff.
Ja Morant – Memphis
A max rookie extension for perhaps the most exciting young player in the game today?  No brainer. Still love that he went to Murray State, and not some blue blood basketball factory. 
Darius Garland – Cleveland
As a rookie, Garland was ranked as the NBA’s worst player, according to a bunch of fancy analytical stuff. Now after his third season, he gets a rookie max extension. Wow. As Garland tweeted after his deal became public, “From worst to…. “ Good for Garland. Also good for the Cavaliers, as long as Garland continues to develop his game, which he should.
Zach LaVine – Chicago
Oh, he’s really good. He’s also hoping to stay relatively healthy for only the second time in his last seven seasons. Gulp. Did we mention he’s really good?
Bradley Beal – Washington
Has been spectacular since taking over for John Wall as “The Man” in Washington. Averaged over 30 points a game twice in the last four seasons. But the Wizards made the playoffs just once in those four seasons, and were knocked out in the first round. So there’s that.
Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota
Now gets to play power forward and jack-up as many threes as he wants, with Rudy Gobert now in Minnesota to rebound and protect the rim. KAT is a nice player, and seems like a good guy. Perhaps this team makes him happy and unleashes his full-potential. Hope so.
Jalen Brunson – New York
The Knicks had four guards average 10+ points per game last season, although two of them — Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker — didn’t play a whole lot. Evan Fournier led the way with 14.1 points per game. But the Knicks wanted more in the backcourt to help out forwards Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. Makes sense. Jalen Brunson became a starter in his fourth season in Dallas, and averaged a spiffy 16.3 points per game. He was even better in the Mavericks run to the Western Conference Finals at 21.6. Is that worth a four year, $104-million contract? It is to the Knicks. It’s a lot of commitment for a guy who had a nice breakout in his fourth NBA season.
Mitchell Robinson – New York
Sure, Robinson is a nice young 7-footer.  One of these seasons he may even average double-digits in something, but it hasn’t happened yet, and he’s going into his 5th season in New York.  Is that kind of guy worth a four-year, $60-million deal?  He is to the Knicks.  We’re seeing pattern here that better pay off for New York.
Marvin Bagley III – Detroit
How long can a guy continue to earn money based on his potential? Apparently through 2025 for the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 draft. Bagley was pretty solid in 18 games for the Pistons last season – 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. But is solid in 18 games worth 3-years and $37.5 million?  The Pistons better be banking on more. Bagley’s still only 23, has loads of ability, and returns to a nice young core in Detroit. Now let’s see it Marvin.
Luguentz Dort – Oklahoma City
There’s a lot to like with Lu Dort — only 23, plays bigger than his 6’3, 17.2 points per game last season, one of the most fun names in NBA history. But five years and $87.5 million to stay in OKC? Well, if you’re GM Sam Presti and the Thunder, sitting there with about 30 draft picks over the next five seasons (no exaggeration), why not. Lu Dort it is!
Andre Drummond – Chicago
Four-time NBA rebounding leader, physically imposing big body, and poor shooter. That sums up Andre. Or at least it did. NBA fans were giddy when he finally made it to 60% from the free throw line. Drummond has earned upwards of $135-million in his 10-year NBA career, and he’s still only 29-years-old. But that big-body may be a little too big these days, and it’s been a while since he looked like a dominating presence on the court. Thus, a two-year, $6.6 million deal with the Bulls. If Andre gets motivated — and this ought to do it — could be a great signing for Chicago. The likelihood of that? Well, we’ll see.
Joe Ingles – Milwaukee
The runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2021 tore his ACL in 2022.  Otherwise, there’s no way Milwaukee gets him on a one-year, $6.5 million deal. Ingles is 34 and says his NBA career is not finished. If he returns sometime in early 2023, and resembles his usual self, he’ll be a great addition for Milwaukee.
Danny Ainge – Utah
In 2013, as GM of the Celtics, Danny Ainge traded aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in a huge deal that brought back players and plenty of picks to Boston — three first rounders and a first round pick swap. The deal eventually led to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown being drafted by Boston. So that worked. Now running the Utah Jazz, Ainge sends three-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year to Minnesota for players and…  uhhum… four, count ‘em, FOUR, first round picks. The Ainge Rebuild in Utah will be entertaining, to say the least.

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