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NBA Free Agency Grades: Mike Conley, Chris Paul, And Lonzo Ball Kickstart The Frenzy

NBA Free Agency Grades: Mike Conley, Chris Paul, And Lonzo Ball Kickstart The Frenzy

Once upon a time, the 2021 offseason was seen as historic. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, and Rudy Gobert, were all projected free agents, but they all resigned with their respective teams. Regardless, an offseason headlined by Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, and DeMar DeRozan still figured to have some sizzle.

The first day of NBA free agency didn’t disappoint. The Chicago Bulls got the ball rolling, no pun intended, with a deal within the first minute. The rest of the league got busy as well. Let’s give out our grades for the small, medium, and mega deals from the first day of the offseason.

Small Deals

Torrey Craig - Indiana Pacers

Torrey Craig

The Deal: Pacers sign Craig to two-year, $10 million deal

Craig averaged a career-high 7.2 points when was traded from the Bucks to the Suns. Craig shot 50% from the field as well. When you look at the deal Jeff Green signed with the Nuggets, the Pacers completely overspent. Good for Craig using a career 2020 to maximize his worth at 30 years old.

Grade: D+

Zach Collins - San Antonio Spurs

(via NBC Sports)

(via NBC Sports)

The Deal: Spurs sign Collins to three-year, $22 million deal

The Spurs could get lucky and get Zach Collins the Trail Blazers wished they were getting or waste $22 million on an injury-prone player. Collins missed all of last season due to injury. The year before that he played only 11 games. Collins’ best season was in 2018-2019 when he averaged 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. At 23 years old, there is a promise.

Grade: C

Sterling Brown - Dallas Mavericks

Sterling Brown

The Deal: Mavericks sign Brown to two-year, $6.2 million deal

Brown averaged a career-high 8.2 points per game and shot 42% from the three-point range. The Mavericks made this deal with the connection between Brown and head coach Jason Kidd. Brown was coached by Kidd when he first entered the league. Outside of his career 52% shooting from the line, it’s a low-cost, high-value deal.

Grade: B-

Reggie Bullock - Dallas Mavericks

reggie bullock

The Deal: Mavericks sign Bullock to three-year, $30.5 million deal

Bullock shot the ball extremely well this past year. His 41.0% shooting from outside was his best mark since 2017. Bullock was thrown into the starting lineup last year but is much suited to a bench role. With Bullock added, the Mavericks bring a career 39.2% shooter from three. This boosts the bench and puts Bullock in a better role.

Grade: B

Alec Burks - New York Knicks

alec burks

The Deal: Knicks sign Burks to three-year, $30 million deal

The Knicks could have chosen Bullock or Burks but were not going to bring back both. The team elected to bring back Burks, who averaged his best points per game (12.7) since 2015. His three-point shooting has been over 40% the last two seasons, while his 4.6 rebounds were a career-high. Burks was a cheap addition to the bench and didn’t take too much salary cap space.

Grade: B

Nerlens Noel - New York Knicks

Nerlens Noel Claims Rich Paul Didn’t Tell Him About Offers From Clippers, Rockets, And 76ers

The Deal: Knicks sign Noel to three-year, $32 million deal

For the last two years, Noel has had to redefine his career. This past year, Noel finally found a palace that he fits. His 24.2 minutes were his highest since 2015, while his 6.4 rebounds were the highest since 2016. The best stat is his 2.2 blocks, which was a career-high. Noel is a bona fide rim protector and a perfect fit in Tom Thibodeau’s system.

Grade: A-

Blake Griffin - Brooklyn Nets

Tyler Johnson On New Teammate Blake Griffin: "It Was Nice To Have More Light-Skins On The Team."

The Deal: Nets sign Griffin to one-year deal

In the grandest schemes, this could be the biggest of small deals. Griffin, a former All-Star, played his best basketball in the playoffs Griffin should figure to see big minutes off the bench. If healthy, he could start. All in all, Griffin came back because the Nets gave him the best chance to make the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference.

Grade: A

Jeff Green - Denver Nuggets

Jeff Green

The Deal: Nuggets sign Green to two-year, $10 million deal

This was a huge loss for the Nets. Green was the key sixth man for the Nets. He shot over 40% from the three-point range for the first time in his career. Green played his most minutes per game since 2015. The deal seemed very low for Green’s value last year, so joining a Western Conference contender for this price was great for both parties.

Grade: A+

Medium Deals

Daniel Theis - Houston Rockets

daniel theis

The Deal: Rockets sign Theis to four-year, $36 million deal

In 23 games with the Bulls, Theis played well by averaging 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds. However, is that worth nine million dollars? Also, the Rockets added a backup center to a team that already has Christian Wood. That doesn’t make a lot of sense because it has a huge issue in scoring and should be more focused on having financial flexibility for the future.

Grade: D-

Kelly Olynyk - Detroit Pistons

Kelly Olynyk

The Deal: Pistons sign Olynyk to three-year, $37 million deal

This was another questionable deal. In 27 games with the Rockets, Olynyk averaged 19.0 points and 8.4 rebounds. Olynyk’s career-high in points was 11.5 points in 2017. The Rockets were terrible last season, so of course, Olynyk would have inflated numbers. Hopefully, Cade Cunningham is ready for this rebuild because moves like this continue to set Detroit back.

Grade: D-

Doug McDermott - San Antonio Spurs

doug mcdermott

The Deal: Spurs sign McDermott to three-year, $42 million deal

Doug McDermott shoots over 50% from the field once and the Spurs thought to give him $14 million per year? McDermott’s 13.6 points were a career-high, but McDermott shot under 40% from three for the fifth time in seven seasons. This was a terrible job by the Spurs building around their young core.

Grade: D-

Gary Trent Jr. - Toronto Raptors

Gary Trent Jr.

The Deal: Raptors sign Trent to three-year, $54 million deal

The Raptors traded Norman Powell for Trent, who averaged 16.2 points and shot 35.5% from the three-point range. The Raptors rewarded Trent with the same annual salary as Powell, more on his numbers later. Powell was the better player and the team panicked because they didn’t want to lose him completely. For the year-per-year money, this deal looks bad over time.

Grade: D+

Alex Caruso - Chicago Bulls

The Alex Caruso Era Could Be Over In L.A.

The Deal: Bulls sign Caruso to four-year, $37 million deal

The Bulls have now committed to $122 million over the next four seasons to the point guard position. Caruso was a role player for the Lakers championship season in 2020 and a fan favorite in Los Angeles. For now, defense and 6.4 points per game don’t seem like it’s worth $9 million. Plus, this could hamper the Bulls from adding a big piece like DeMar DeRozan. At the time being, this move has its question marks.

Grade: C

Will Barton - Denver Nuggets

(via Will Barton)

(via Will Barton)

The Deal: Nuggets sign Barton to two-year, $32 million deal

Barton is a great fit for the Nuggets. He has averaged double-digits seven straight seasons in Denver. On the other side, spending $16 million for a player that has never averaged 40% or more from the three-point range is a little steep. The Nuggets wanted to keep a piece that fits but overpaid as well.

Grade: C+

Derrick Rose - New York Knicks

via Empire Sports Media

via Empire Sports Media

The Deal: Knicks sign Rose to three-year, $43 million deal

Chicago Bulls fans were hopeful that Rose would come back home. Rose hinted he had interest, but fans knew that Rose could command a salary around $14 million per season and the team couldn’t afford that. After all, Rose plays his best with Coach Thibodeau. He was the team’s second-best offensive player, and at times the best in the playoffs. Will Rose ever win a championship? Who knows, but for now, both parties move forward happily.

Grade: B+

TJ McConnell - Indiana Pacers

TJ McConnell

The Deal: Pacers sign McConnell to four-year, $35.2 million deal

At one point, McConnell was the league leader in steals. By the end of the year, he finished as the league runner-up (1.9), trailing the 2.1 led by Jimmy Butler. McConnell will back up MalcolmMalcolm Brogdon again but brings value offensively and defensively. For a fair cost of around $9 million a year, his 55.9% shooting also has to stick out. The Pacers struck gold here.

Grade: A+

Devonte’ Graham - New Orleans Pelicans

devonte graham

The Deal: Pelicans sign Graham to four-year, $47 million deal via sign and trade; Hornets receive 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick

What a steal by the Pelicans. The Pelicans brought back Garrett Temple, have potential cap space with Tomas Satoransky, and paid significantly less than the $85 million given to Lonzo Ball. Graham is a relatively decent defender as well and averaged 14.8 points last year, and 18.8 the year before. The Pelicans might have had the biggest steal of the day by pairing a true offensive scorer with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

Grade: A+

Mega Deals

Norman Powell - Portland Trail Blazers

Norman Powell Re-Signs With Blazers For 5-Years, $90 Million

The Deal: Trail Blazers sign Powell to five-year, $90 million deal

Powell averaged 19.6 points and shot 43.9% from outside range. In Portland, his three-point shooting dipped to 36%. You have to respect Powell for maximizing his money, but five years is a long time. There should be concerns about his fit in this offense. Portland is also on the cusp of a rebuild and you’re going to lock this up for five years? Decisions like these are why Portland can make an NBA Finals despite having Damian Lillard.

Grade: D-

Chris Paul - Phoenix Suns

Suns Owner Robert Sarver Says He Doesn't Know If Chris Paul Will Return Next Season- "We'll See Next Week..."

The Deal: Suns sign Paul to four-year, $120 million deal

Let’s get this straight, Paul is going to make $30 million at the age of 41? He has to be the best negotiator of all time, which is why he is a leader in the player’s union. The Suns struck gold by taking advantage of injuries to make the NBA Finals this year. Paul took less money, declined his $44 million player option, to free up $14 million this season, but in the long run, this deal with cash-strap the Suns. Paul was great this year, but nobody should be making $30 million in this league at age 41.

Grade: D+

Jarrett Allen - Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Trade Rumors- Cleveland Cavaliers Could Trade Jarrett Allen

The Deal: Cavaliers sign Allen to five-year, $100 million deal

The Cavaliers had to make this deal happen after losing Andre Drummond for nothing and completing their trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Allen is 23 years old and averaged 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds last year. He could be a younger version of Drummond by the end of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great deal. Playing $20 million to a player that has never made the first round of the playoffs, and no All-Star appearances is very steep.

Grade: C-

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The Deal: Thunder sign Gilgeous-Alexander to five-year, $172 million deal

Gilgeous-Alexander, like Young, was not a free agent but was entering the final year of his rookie deal. Gilgeous-Alexander was the prized piece of the Paul George trade two years ago and the Thunder have made their commitment to building their franchise around him. In his first season without Chris Paul, SGA averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. The 23-year old played in only 35 games, so the sample size is small. For the Thunder to commit close over $30 million to a player that has never sniffed an All-Star appearance, it seems like a risk.

Grade: C

Evan Fournier - New York Knicks

Evan Fournier Says It Feels Like He's Had A Concussion Since Returning From COVID-19

The Deal: Knicks sign Fournier to four-year, $78 million deal

The New York Knicks found a good option in Evan Fournier this offseason. The New Yorkers acquired the inspired Fournier after keeping key free agents Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and re-signing veteran Derrick Rose. Unlike his performances with France in the 2021 Olympics, Fournier showed his true colors by averaging 13.0 points with the Boston Celtics last season. That’s a steep decline from the 19.5 he had in Orlando. Fournier has never made an All-Star and is a career 14.5 points per game scorer. It's unclear if this move will make the Knicks reach the next level or if they'll make it to the playoff again, only to lose in the first round. 

Grade: C

Tim Hardaway Jr. - Dallas Mavericks

Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Deal: Mavericks sign Hardaway Jr. to four-year, $72 million deal

When you look at the deals for Gary Trent Jr. and Norman Powell, it appears that shooters that can score about 15.0 points per game and shoot close to 40% from three can earn $18 million per year. The only difference between Hardaway and the other two is that his three-point shooting has consistently improved the last two seasons. Hardaway has always been able to contribute offensively. It’s just consistently that Dallas needs and for $18 million a year, they better get it.

Grade: C+

Lonzo Ball - Chicago Bulls

NBA Rumors- New York Knicks Could Sign Lonzo Ball In 2021 Free Agency

The Deal: Bulls sign Ball to four-year, $85 million deal via sign-and-trade; New Orleans receives Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, and a future second-round pick

The Bulls finally found their point guard. Ball had his best offensive season, shooting a career-high in points (14.6), and three-point percentage (37.8%). Ball also brings strong rebounding and playmaking, while he is an elite on-the-ball defender. Seeing the Pelicans get Graham for half the cost hurts. Plus, Ball now makes more money than All-Star Zach LaVine, who will make $19.5 million in the final year of his deal.

Grade: B-

Duncan Robinson - Miami Heat

Duncan Robinson

The Deal: Heat sign Robinson to five-year, $90 million deal

How about Duncan Robinson becoming the highest-paid undrafted free agent of all time? Robinson showed his worth in 2019-2020 when he shot 47% from three-point range. While that number dipped to 43% this year, he is a clear fit in this Miami rotation. With Jimmy Butler locked in for the next five years potentially, the Heat have built this core into annual contenders.

Grade: B+

Mike Conley Jr. - Utah Jazz



The Deal: Jazz sign Conley to three-year, $72.5 million deal

There were doubts that the Jazz was going to be able to keep Conley. Despite making an All-Star team for the first time this season, the Jazz knew he was essential to their regime. Just like Jrue Holiday for the Bucks, Conley is the glue man for the Jazz. The Jazz was the No. 1 team in the NBA last season. For about $24 million per season, this is a solid deal for both parties given what Conley brings as a point guard and on the defensive front.

Grade: A

Kyle Lowry - Miami Heat

Kyle Lowry

The Deal: Heat sign Lowry to three-year, $90 million deal via sign-and-trade; Raptors receive Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa

The Heat potentially took the two hardest-working players in the league and paired them together. Not to mention, they took two of the best locker room leaders in the game and paired them. Lowry owns a ring and will bring some much-needed assistance to this team that has young pieces. If Butler can have a season like Kawhi Leonard in 2019 or something close to it this year, the Heat are a dark horse team in the East.

Grade: A

Trae Young

Nate McMillan On Trae Young- "You Have To Put Him With The Top Guys In The League..."

The Deal: Hawks sign Young to five-year, $207 million deal

Young wasn’t a free agent, but we can still acknowledge the mega-deal that took place at 11:03 p.m. Young led the Hawks to their first Conference Finals win since the days of Bob Pettit. The way that Young played in the playoffs he was getting comparisons to Steph Curry. With a yearly salary average of $41 million per season, this is not too bad given the future All-Star status of Young. The Hawks got to keep their franchise player. Now, look out for the contract of Luka Doncic.

Grade: A