The NBA offseason is just about over. In approximately two weeks teams will report to training camp. Preseason games are only three weeks or so away from tipping off. Yes, we’re still waiting to see if Damian Lillard and/or James Harden see their wishes fulfilled and they are traded. Just in case you spent the last couple of months off the grid or something.
With that in mind, we’re going to look back at the best contracts signed during the 2023 offseason. We’ll also have a companion piece for the worst deals of the 2023 offseason. Spoiler alert: It’s getting harder and harder to put together a worst deals list. Teams simply aren’t inking as many head-scratching contracts anymore.
These contracts are presented in no particular order. They are simply the ten best contracts of the summer, with a couple of smuggles (shout out to House of R on The Ringer!) factored in.
Desmond Bane – Memphis Grizzlies
Contract: five-years, $197 million rookie scale extension
Technically, Desmond Bane didn’t get a maximum extension from the Memphis Grizzlies. His first-year salary is set to come in just under the max. But Memphis used the new CBA and the ability to give Bane a five-year, non-max deal. In previous CBAs, non-max extensions were limited to four seasons.
Bane is terrific and only getting better. Of Memphis’ big three of him, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Bane is the most reliable player. Morant has off-court issues he has to figure out and Jackson has been injury-prone. Bane is also a very good on- and off-ball player on offense, a rugged defender and a burgeoning playmaker. A max deal would have been fine. Getting him for less than the max is a huge win for the Grizzlies.
Cameron Johnson – Brooklyn Nets
Contract: four-years, $94.5 million
Cam Johnson was putting together a breakout season when he got hurt with the Phoenix Suns in early-November. He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets after a handful games following his return from injury. With Brooklyn, Johnson really took off.
Johnson has always been a solid spot-up shooter, but he’s shown more off-the-dribble game over the past two seasons. With the Nets, he ticked his free throw attempts up to 3.5 per game. That’s a sign he’s creating more offense for himself. In addition, there are about $14 million in unlikely incentives in Johnson’s deal. The Nets also structured it to decline over the next two seasons, which will give the team some increased cap flexibility.
Kyrie Irving – Dallas Mavericks
Contract: three-years, $120 million
This one might surprise you, as your intrepid author here has been an outspoken critic of Irving’s over the years. But fair is fair, and this is a really solid contract. The Dallas Mavericks didn’t give Kyrie Irving the max in terms of dollars or years. For a player of his caliber, that’s a massive win.
Irving has had a lot of issues, both with injuries and off-court decisions, that have caused him to miss games. Dallas is more or less protected here if that happens again. The deal is short enough, and under the max salary-wise, that the Mavs can trade him fairly easily.
If we stick to on-court production, Irving remains an excellent player. He’s an annual 50/40/90 threat, and fills up the scoring column with ease. The defensive fit alongside Luka Doncic is messy, but that’s something for Jason Kidd and the front office to figure out by putting the right guys around the stars. Irving will deliver scoring and playmaking in droves…for however long he’s on the court.
Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks
Contract: two-years, $8 million
Let’s stay in Dallas for a minute… What happened here? The Dallas Mavericks stole Seth Curry in free agency. This is barely above a veteran minimum deal. Complete larceny by the Mavs.
Sure, Curry is 33 years old and he’s had some injury challenges over the last few years, but he’s one of the best shooters in the league. You know what you want around Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving? Shooting. OK…3&D guys ideally, but if you have to pick one way, grabbing an elite shooter never hurts. Since he became an NBA rotation regular in 2015-16, Curry has never shot 40% from behind the arc. A straight up theft for Dallas at $4 million per season. And the second year isn’t even fully guaranteed!
Austin Reaves – Los Angeles Lakers and Herb Jones – New Orleans Pelicans
Contract: four-years, $54 million
Our first smuggle! (Again, shouts to House of R and The RIngerverse for being outstanding fandom/genre shows!)
Austin Reaves and Herb Jones signed matching deals, with one minor exception. Reaves got a player option on his fourth season, while Jones is on a straight four-year deal. But both are tremendous values for what they bring their respective teams.
Reaves earned the player option by proving himself in the postseason. As rookie, there were signs that Reaves was going to be a good rotation player, but the Lakers were terrible. That meant it was all hand-waved away with “good stats, bad team” and “late-season success means nothing” claims. But as a sophomore, Reaves broke out. He’s equally as good on- or off-ball. He can make plays for others, while also creating his own offense. In the playoffs, Reaves proved capable of lifting his play. Getting him for an average salary just above the Non-Taxpayer MLE, is a ridiculous value.
Jones is already one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, if not the best. He’s the NBA version of a shutdown corner that the Pelicans can deploy on the opponent’s best offensive player and feel good about. Jones has added a little bit more to his offensive game too. He’s showing improved passing acumen, along with being a sneaky offensive rebounder. If the shot can nudge up to the mid- to high-30% range, then Jones will make considerably more on his next contract. For now, he’s a great value simply because of his defensive skills.
Max Strus – Cleveland Cavaliers
four-years, $62 million (after sign-and-trade from Miami)
The Cleveland Cavaliers fell short for a couple of reasons in the first round of the 2023 playoffs. They got bullied on the boards, but the Cavs also couldn’t make three-pointers. Enter Max Strus.
Over the past few years, Strus has become one of the preeminent movement shooters in the NBA. There may be no better player in the league at running hard into a pass, catching, turning and shooting all in one motion. The Miami Heat had great success with running Strus on baseline and wing sets where he’d sprint into his shots and get square from ridiculous angle. He’s not a great defender, but Strus holds his own. Mostly, his shooting should help open up the floor for Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland on drives, and for Evan Mobley to work from the mid-post area. For roughly $15.5 million a season, that’s well worth it for Cleveland.
Orlando Robinson – Miami Heat
Contract: two-years, minimum
The rules are pretty loose when you do a “best and worst contracts” series, but one general rule is to skip over minimum deals. Unless they provide tremendous value, either in immediacy or upside. Orlando Robinson returning to the Miami Heat on a two-year, minimum deal represents the latter for sure, and possibly the former.
We have to do a heavy dose of projecting here, but let’s get a little reckless! Robinson has a total of 47 professional games on his ledger, 31 in the NBA and 16 in the G League. The NBA games show us a snippet of a guy who could be a high-end rebounder and finisher, with some defensive potential. The G League games expand on that, while also adding a glimpse of some outside shooting potential. Combine that with some encouraging college production and some really encouraging Summer League production and, whew boy, do we have a player!
And, lest we forget, we need to factor in the Heat of it all. How many players need to come through their G League, two-way, end-of-roster spots before we just buy in from the start? Grab your Robinson stock now and thank us later.
Gabe Vincent – Los Angeles Lakers
Contract: three-years, $33 million
Hey! Look at that! Another Miami Heat success story! (That’s how you do a transition, my friends!)
Gabe Vincent, like Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin and we’re betting Orlando Robinson, was a find by Miami. With the Heat looking in a northwesterly direction for the future of their point guard position, Vincent slipped off to the Los Angeles Lakers for less than the full Non-Taxpayer MLE.
After flashing in his first meaningful minutes in 2020-21, Vincent stepped up in his third season in 2021-22. Last year, he took the starting point guard spot from Kyle Lowry. Yes, even before Lowry started missing time midseason. Nothing jumps off the page for Vincent stat-wise, but you have to watch him play to get the full picture. He can create his own shot; he’s a solid on-ball defender and we’re betting there’s more playmaking ability in there too. $11 million per season is a terrific value for a high-minute backup guard, and there’s a good chance he’ll start plenty too.
Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez – Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton Contract: three-years, $95 million
Lopez Contract: two-years, $48 million
Another smuggle! These two are hard to pull apart, but there’s really no reason to either. Both Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez were strongly rumored to be considering deals that would have seen them leave the Milwaukee Bucks. That usually results in a situation where their team has to overpay them to stay. Didn’t happen here for either player.
Middleton took considerably less than he could have gotten as a free agent. Heck, he took less in first-year salary than his player option was worth for next season. Yes, age and injuries are starting to become concerns. But when he’s on the court, Middleton is Milwaukee’s second-best offensive weapon. He’s good as a spot-up guy, and he’s good off the bounce. He also excels at secondary creation. His defense has slipped a bit, but he can still hold his own against the vast majority of wings. That’s all worth a deal that averages about $33 million or so.
Lopez has been awesome since signing with Milwaukee. He’s been a top-tier rim protector and his offensive game fits perfectly with the other Bucks. Maybe last year was one final contract push, but we’ll bet that Lopez continues to give Milwaukee high-end starting center production. For $25 million and then $23 million, that’s a bargain.
Oh, and because this is reportedly a thing now, these are the kind of re-signings it might take to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to stick around in Milwaukee for a while longer.
Jevon Carter – Chicago Bulls
Contract: three years, $19.5 million
We’re generally used to the Chicago Bulls showing up on the other side of “best and worst” contract lists. And they’ll feature in the companion piece, to be sure. But signing Jevon Carter to this contract was one of the steals of the summer.
There’s no reason Carter should have bounced around as much as he has. He had a solid rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies, two good years with the Phoenix Suns, and then was productive for both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. Carter is arguably one of the best on-ball pests in the NBA. He doesn’t do some of the flashy stuff that others do, but he’s just always there. A consistent nuisance, akin to that just-quick-enough-to-avoid-getting-swatted mosquito at the July barbecue.
In addition to his defense, Carter has become a very good shooter. He’s a bit better on spot-up shots, but he’s pretty dangerous off-the-dribble too. That’s a nice mix of skills to have, considering he’ll play a lot with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. For $6.5 million a year, or roughly half of the Non-Taxpayer MLE, that’s a great value for the Bulls.