Re-Grading the Most Hyped NBA Free-Agent Signings of the Last 5 Years | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

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    Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    NBA free company could be simply as thrilling as the Association’s video games themselves.

    If no more so.

    It’s straightforward to get caught up in the pleasure of all the wheeling and dealing, and analysts try to remain on prime of every thing with real-time reactions to the landscape-altering motion.

    Of course, real-time reactions are based mostly on perceptions and projections, which means they react to what might not occur what certainly will occur. Wait a 12 months or two or 5 for these assessments, although, and the profit of hindsight reveals precisely how these ballyhooed transactions formed up.

    Using hindsight to our benefit, then, we’ve got rounded up the most buzz-worthy signings from the previous 5 years—the 2017 to 2021 offseasons, evaluating solely signings through which a participant modified groups—to re-grade them now that we have seen them in motion.

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    Will Newton/Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $140.8 million

    The Miami Heat wanted path and star energy again in 2019, and Butler scratched the itch for each.

    The contract size appeared a tad worrisome at the time, as he turned 30 earlier than enjoying his first recreation on the pact and a ton of high-mileage minutes on his odometer. (Being the prized pupil of Tom Thibodeau could be exhausting.) It additionally wasn’t solely clear whether or not Butler might function a top-shelf star.

    Three seasons later, Miami’s brass would possibly nonetheless be doing victory laps by South Beach. Butler has been every thing the franchise might’ve hoped for and then some, delivering three playoff berths, 5 postseason sequence wins and an NBA Finals journey. He appears to be like as spry as ever, too, closing out the final playoff run with 82 factors, 18 rebounds, 9 assists and 5 steals over his remaining two contests.

    Grade: A

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Three years, $85 million

    The Bulls took a giant swing with DeRozan, and it wasn’t at all times solely clear why. The pay charge felt bloated, because it occurred late in free company and there wasn’t a lot of a market left by that time. The years have been (and nonetheless are) a contact dangerous for somebody who turned 32 earlier than the contract began. The match was wonky on paper, as Chicago already had a roster that skewed in direction of the offensive finish.

    Individually, although, it might be exhausting to script a greater first season for DeRozan in the Windy City. He improbably turned his age-32 season right into a profession marketing campaign, tallying a personal-best 27.9 factors per recreation and his second-highest participant effectivity ranking (23.1). He landed tenth in the MVP voting, which was solely his second top-10 end ever.

    For now, DeRozan has obliterated all sensible expectations, and his contract appears to be like higher than ever. However, hindsight would not change a possible misreading of the market—it wasn’t (and nonetheless is not) clear who Chicago thought it was bidding towards—and the defensive deficiencies of a DeRozan-Zach LaVine-Nikola Vucevic trio might make this core unsustainable.

    Grade: B

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $164.3 million

    The Brooklyn Nets knew they would not see an immediate return on their funding, since Durant was merely a couple of works faraway from tearing his Achilles when he signed the deal.

    What Brooklyn could not have identified, although, was all the twists and turns he would encounter upon his return. Like Durant enjoying simply 90 video games over the previous two seasons mixed. Or requesting a commerce and making an attempt to drive out coach Steve Nash and basic supervisor Sean Marks.

    The journey has been every kind of wild up to now, but when Durant is wholesome sufficient to hit the hardwood, he is nonetheless price all of the effort. His common recreation with the Nets options 28.7 factors on 52.5/40.9/90.0 capturing, 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 triples and 1.1 blocks.

    It hasn’t been easy crusing for Brooklyn (to say the least), but when the franchise had an opportunity to redo the deal, it might prolong the identical provide 11 occasions out of 10.

    Grade: C+

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    Lane Turner/The Boston Globe by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $128 million

    There was a lot to love about Hayward’s choice to hitch the Boston Celtics in 2017. He not solely reunited together with his school coach, Brad Stevens, Hayward additionally provided missing-piece potential to a Shamrocks squad that had simply completed three wins shy of an NBA Finals journey.

    Just 5 minutes into his Celtics tenure, although, every thing modified. He landed awkwardly on a botched alley-oop play and suffered a ugly ankle harm that derailed his first season in Boston earlier than it ever actually began. He recovered to play 72 video games the subsequent season, however by no means actually seemed like himself. His numbers perked up in 2019-20 (17.5 factors, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists), however he battled accidents in the common season and playoffs.

    He opted without spending a dime company as an alternative of a $34.2 million participant choice and wound up ditching the Celtics for a four-year, $120 million pact from the Charlotte Hornets. He hasn’t performed 50 video games in a season since, and the Hornets have tried to dump his contract.

    Grade: D

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    Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $136.5 million

    Evaluating Irving in a vacuum is difficult, since he and Kevin Durant—and, for some purpose, DeAndre Jordan—arrived in Brooklyn as a bundle deal. Irving is a prime expertise on his personal, however his connection to Durant is the purpose the Nets’ strikes reverberated throughout the basketball panorama that summer time.

    It’s been a wierd three seasons in Brooklyn ever since, and nobody embodies that greater than Irving. He has suited up simply 103 occasions over that stretch—dropping time to each accidents and private choices—and his identify might have bounced round the rumor mill earlier than he put himself on the block.

    And but, when he hoops he is superior. He performs with defenders like he is filming one other Uncle Drew installment, and his stats are as environment friendly as they arrive: 27.1 factors on 49.0/40.6/92.0 capturing and 6.0 assists towards 2.5 turnovers. While the Nets would certainly want to have the basketball brilliance with out the baggage, they’d most likely slightly have each than neither, however it might be a prolonged debate.

    Grade: C-

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $153.3 million

    Prior to LeBron James’ arrival in 2018, the Los Angeles Lakers have been trudging by their post-Kobe Bryant rebuild and enduring a five-year playoff drought. In James’ second season in Hollywood, the Purple and Gold grew to become world champions.

    It nearly would not matter what else has gone down throughout James’ 4 seasons, since that title without end stamped this group as a juggernaut. Saying that, there have been extra downs than ups, as James has battled some nagging illnesses and the relaxation of the roster has struggled with out him.

    Beyond that title, the Lakers have just one different playoff look and a pair of postseason victories. Still, it is exhausting to connect any of these shortcomings to James, since he has delivered the 14th-most win shares (30.2) whereas enjoying the second-fewest video games of anybody who ranks inside the prime 20 (223).

    Grade: A

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    Rocky Widner/NBAE by way of Getty Images

    Contract: Three years, $103.1 million

    Back in 2019, the Clippers have been making an attempt to plot their path away from the Lob City period, whereas Kawhi Leonard was using excessive following his championship run with the Toronto Raptors. Leonard’s choice to decide on LA over different suitors legitimized the franchise as a real vacation spot group, and he even satisfied fellow All-Star Paul George to make the trek with him.

    “They wish to win. I wish to win once more,” Leonard instructed reporters at the time. “It’s a chance to simply construct our personal. To make historical past. … That was one thing massive and thrilling for me to make my choice.”

    The Clippers have not fairly crested but, though they did make the 2021 Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Leonard suffered a knee harm in that playoff run that wound up costing him the whole 2021-22 marketing campaign, which makes it tempting to tag this signing with an incomplete grade.

    Ultimately, although, LA added a participant who elements prominently into the Association’s best-two-way participant debate, and Leonard has lived as much as the billing when wholesome, averaging 26 factors, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists whereas posting a 48.8/38.7/88.5 slash line throughout 109 contests with the Clippers.

    Grade: A-

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $141 million

    Kemba Walker’s star was hovering when he hit the open market in 2019. He had simply made his third consecutive All-Star roster, however the Charlotte Hornets wanted extra assist than he might present. They lacked the supporting solid wanted to justify showering the scoring guard with cash, which pressured him to look elsewhere and ultimately choose Boston.

    “It was tough. I could not see myself simply being on one other group,” he instructed The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “It was simply exhausting. That’s all I’ve identified was Charlotte. … I had a sense that I wasn’t going to get the provide that I needed, and perhaps not near it, as a result of of cap house. I needed to get my head wrapped round the feeling and selecting one other group.”

    The Celtics noticed Walker as a stabilizing presence who might assist them stand up to the loss of Irving. For a time, Walker supplied simply that, averaging 20.4 factors and 4.8 assists whereas serving to Boston attain the Eastern Conference finals in his first marketing campaign.

    However, a knee harm delayed the begin of his second season, and he hasn’t been the identical since. His manufacturing has plummeted over the previous two seasons, and he was salary-dumped twice in simply greater than a calendar 12 months: first traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in June 2021, then later dealt to the Detroit Pistons in 2022.

    Grade: D


    Statistics and wage info used courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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