By Ross Kelly
With the NBA Finals over and the draft wrapped up, the focus of basketball fans now shifts to free agency which begins July 1. Teams can begin negotiating at 12:01 AM ET on that date but can’t officially sign players until July 8. During the week in between the NBA’s revenue audit of the previous season will be completed so the league can set the salary cap for the upcoming season. With the salary cap set to increase dramatically over the next couple of seasons due to the new television deals, free agents will reap the benefits and be handsomely compensated. You could make the case that every pro athlete is overpaid, but here is my list of the NBA free agents whose performance won’t match their pending paychecks and will be the most overpaid:
8. Brandon Knight – According to reports, the Suns have already extended him a qualifying offer of 5 yr., $70m. With Knight being a restricted free agent, another team would have to offer a larger contract to pry him away from Phoenix but the Suns would still have the opportunity to match that offer. Bottom line is that Brandon Knight is going to make at least $70 million over the next five years despite not even being the best point guard on his own team. He showed improvement last year in Milwaukee but struggled when sharing the backcourt with Bledsoe in Phoenix. Knowing how the Suns operate, they will likely look to trade Knight by 2016 as we’ve seen, this, before. However, if Bledsoe does stick around then the Suns only need to grab a former Kentucky big man to field a starting five of all UK Wildcats (Bledsoe, Knight, Goodwin, Devin Booker).
7. Danny Green – Danny Green is the perfect role player that just does his job to little fanfare. He is also the prototypical 3-and-D player who has value on both ends of the court. However; some team is sure to see him as more than just that and pay him to be a playmaker and creator on offense. He reminds me of Trevor Ariza who had a similar role on the Lakers, Wizards, and now Rockets. But remember Ariza on his first go-around in Houston or when he was in New Orleans? They tried to make him into something that he’s not and he was terribly inefficient in those seasons. The Spurs want Green back, but they want Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge more and that will likely come at Green’s expense. Green may be the only player on this list who’s not overrated but if he lands on the wrong team/system then the perception of him is likely to change.
6. DeMarre Carroll – See Green, Danny.
5. Monta Ellis – Ellis is a nice player who puts up decent numbers (18.9 ppg, 4.1 apg) but who seemingly operates in a vacuum. He led the Mavs in scoring last season but the team’s offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) was actually better when he was on the bench. In fact Rondo was the only Mav who had a worse offensive rating than Ellis did last year. In this era of 3-and-D wings, the 6’3” Ellis is a sieve defensively who can’t check bigger wings and hit just 28.5% on three-pointers last season. The Mavs don’t want him back but some team still stuck in the 1990s philosophy of looking at the stats on the back of the player card rather than analytics is sure to shell out a big contract to Ellis.
4. Brook Lopez – Clearly the better of the Lopez twins, Brook is the ultimate risk vs. reward player. When healthy he is an All-Star caliber center who plays both ends of the court. However, you’re taking a huge risk by offering Lopez a long-term contract due to his injury history. He’s had two season-ending injuries over the last four years and his minutes will have to be monitored for the rest of his career. He just opted out of a contract that would have paid him $16.7 million next season so he is likely looking for close to $20 million per season. Will a team feel comfortable handing him $80m/4yr or $100m/5yr? He’s 7’0” and competent, so yes.
3. DeAndre Jordan – If DJ stays with the Clippers he will just be overpaid; if he goes somewhere else then he will be grossly overpaid. The Clippers offense, and specifically Chris Paul, makes Jordan a quasi-star due to his scoring opportunities near the basket which are about 90% dunks. You think the Raymond Felton/Devin Harris combo in Dallas will set up Jordan like CP3 does? He is a solid, but overrated, defensive player who’s more sizzle (i.e. stats) than steak (i.e. value). There are many players out there who can give you 75% of the value of Jordan at a fraction of the cost (Brandan Wright, Mason Plumlee, Chris Andersen to name a few).
2. Dwyane Wade – On Monday Wade declined his player option with the Heat that would have paid him $16.1 million. Despite the back-and-forth over the last few weeks between Wade and the Heat, I ultimately think he will end up back in Miami. His worth to Miami is dramatically greater than his worth anywhere else and I think he will find that out once he hits the open market. Wade thinks he’s worth more than $16 million which is laughable when you consider he only plays about three-fourths of a season these days so that $16 million is actually more like $21.3 million. Eventually he and Riles will reach a compromise, D-Wade returns to South Beach (overpaid), and Hassan Whiteside is forced to leave in 2016 due to the team having no money left over.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge – Aldridge may get the biggest free agent contract this offseason and it will likely be in the $120 million range. He is the best free agent out there, a bona-fide All-Star, and one of the top 15 players in the league. But he also is not a superstar as I think there’s only 7-8 of those players in a given season. Aldridge is similar to Chris Bosh or Pau Gasol in that their talent alone can get a team to the playoffs but they’re going to need some help in order to get you a championship. He could find that help in San Antonio but I don’t think that type of player should be getting the max contract. Apart from his contract situation, Aldridge’s on-court value is a tad overrated because he lacks efficiency. His favorite shot is the worst shot in the basketball – the long two-pointer. That shot works for guys like Dirk and David West because they are elite mid-range shooters but LMA is just middle-of-the-pack in that regard. He’s made just 46% of his shots over his past two seasons which is good for a 6’4” guard but below average for a near seven-footer. But someone will look past that and pony up the cash as he’s the best available player. However, simply being the best player available doesn’t necessarily mean he’s worth the value of the contract.