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NBA Free Agency 2023: Best & Worst Moves So Far (July 2)

The free agency period is well underway in the NBA, and several moves stand out as especially sharp — and especially foolish — early on. For example, why on Earth did the Cleveland Cavaliers shell out a whopping $63 million ($16 million per year) for Max Strus? Let’s dive into the best and worse moves of the NBA free agency period thus far. Since I’m a numbers guy, this column will focus less on fit and more on overall player value relative to salary. Unsurprisingly, that means the Austin Reaves contract is one of my favorites so far.

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NBA Free Agency 2023: Best & Worst Moves So Far

Best NBA Free Agency Moves

Los Angeles Lakers: Austin Reaves
Reaves’ Contract: $56 million, 4-year deal

My favorite deal inked in free agency, the Austin Reaves contract will give the Lakers an electric scorer for the next several seasons. Reaves exploded to average 17.6 points, 5.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds on shooting splits of 58/44/86 after the All-Star Break. His excellent play helped power the Lakers to the playoffs and escape the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. With the Lakers developing players like Reaves and adding several others in free agency, they will hopefully be able to keep LeBron James and Anthony Davis fresher for the postseason next year.

This signing ultimately comes down to value. John Hollinger of the Athletic listed Reaves as the third-most valuable shooting guard with a BORD$ projection of $22,865,329. The Lakers will pay him an average of just $14 million per year, saving almost $9 million compared to what he is worth per season. This contract is a fantastic team-friendly deal that will allow the Lakers to pay up for other supporting pieces.

Houston Rockets: Fred VanVleet
VanVleet’s Contract: $129 million, 3-year deal

The Houston Rockets finally got a point guard capable of leading their young squad. Kevin Porter Jr. will slide onto the bench and can serve as a capable sixth man behind Fred VanVleet, who projects to start alongside the likes of Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Alperen Sengün — all of whom are 21 years old or younger. VanVleet may not turn this Rockets team into a winner in Year 1, but he’ll prove instrumental in player development.

The Rockets also signed FVV for less than what he is worth. According to John Hollinger’s BORD$ projections, FVV is worth just under $47 million per year. While that number is likely higher than it should be due to FVV’s massive workload in recent seasons, the Rockets will pay him only $43 million per year, enough to compensate for any unfair inflation.

Sacramento Kings: Sasha Vezenkov
Vezenkov’s Contract: $20 million, 3-year deal

The Kings traded the 49th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft for the rights to Sasha Vezenkov last season but couldn’t poach the European star immediately. In the 2022-23 EuroLeague campaign, Vezenkov went on to win MVP after averaging 17.6 points, 7 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game with shooting splits of 55/40/86. The volume may sound low, but remember that European games are shorter — Vezenkov averaged only 28.7 minutes per game.

The Kings get a high-upside player for a bargain-bin price. They’ll pay him $6.7 million per year, which is less than what they’ll pay Keegan Murray or Malik Monk next season. Vezenkov will draw many comparisons to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who took a similar path to Sacramento in 2017, but Bogdanovic is four inches shorter and recorded less impressive stats in his final European season. For comparison, Bogdanovic averaged 14.6 points (-3), 3.8 rebounds (-3.2), 3.6 assists (+1.5) with shooting splits of 50 (-5%)/43 (+3%)/86 (+0%).

Worst NBA Free Agency Moves

Indiana Pacers: Bruce Brown
Brown’s Contract: $45 million, 2-year deal

Bruce Brown inked a monster two-year contract with the rebuilding Indiana Pacers. Although he looked great last season and helped the Denver Nuggets win a title, this is a classic buy-high miscalculation. Let’s not forget that Brown averaged only 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season with shooting splits of 48/36/76. Those are worse numbers than what Austin Reaves recorded, yet Brown will make $8.5 million more per year.

Per John Hollinger’s BORD$ projections, a fair deal for Brown would’ve involved a team paying him around $18 million per year. The Pacers will pay $4.5 million more than that. Worse, Indiana has fallen into the trap of playing for a play-in tournament bid — their current projected starting five of Tyrese HaliburtonBuddy Hield-Brown-Jarace WalkerMyles Turner is going nowhere fast, so why pay up for Brown for two seasons?

Cleveland Cavaliers: Caris LeVert, Max Strus & Georges Niang
LeVert’s Contract: $32 million, 2-year deal
Strus’ Contract: $63 million, 4-year deal
Niang’s Contract: $26 million, 3-year deal

The Cleveland Cavaliers needed serious help at wing this offseason. They chose not to trade for one. They also chose not to pursue a higher-end option like Bruce Brown or Dillon Brooks. Instead, they chose to settle by overpaying three thoroughly mediocre options. They may end up having to stick with Isaac Okoro at the position after all.

Let’s compare these contracts to their players’ BORD$ projections. LeVert should make around $10.5 million per year but will receive $16 million from the Cavaliers. Strus should make around $11 million per year but will receive just under $16 million. Niang should make around $4.5 million but will receive $8.7 million. Woof.

Isaiah Sirois


Isaiah Sirois

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