As we do each year when free agency winds down, we’re going to cover the 10 best value contracts teams signed this offseason. Full disclosure: It’s getting harder and harder to trim this list to just 10. Teams have gotten increasingly better about finding good value deals in recent years.
A few notes:
- You won’t see any max contracts on here, nor max extensions. Even if you think it’s fair to pay a player $100 million per season, that’s not allowed. So, no matter how good it looks that teams got some players to ink max deals, they won’t show up here.
- No 2022 Rookie Scale signees will appear here either. Like a max deal, it’s nearly impossible to do better than teams already do on these deals.
- This isn’t necessarily a “best contracts” list. That’s a different thing. We’re also limiting this to signings made during the 2022 offseason only.
Got it? On to the list!
- Rookie Scale Extensions: We’re going to break a rule here, but just slightly. The New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers signing Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and Darius Garland to full max extensions would be breaking the “no max contracts” rule, but there’s a wrinkle. None of these guys have a player option on their fifth year. That’s a massive win for their teams and that’s why they are included here. They now have their stars for the next five years and that’s enormous for three rapidly improving small market franchises.
- Otto Porter Jr. – Toronto Raptors: Porter’s deal is going to pay him just $6 million this season. But it’s functionally a one-year deal with Porter having a player option on Year 2. Great value, but it’s very short-term. That kept it off the list.
- Bruce Brown Jr. – Denver Nuggets: Basically, the same situation as Porter. Getting Brown for the Taxpayer MLE of roughly $6.5 million is a terrific signing for the Denver Nuggets. But it’s also functionally a one-year deal, because Brown has a player option on Year 2.
On to the 10 Best Free Agent Values of the 2022 Offseason!
- James Harden – Philadelphia 76ers – reportedly two years, $68 million:
The Sixers and Harden are reportedly putting the finishing touches on a deal worth roughly $68 million over two seasons. Yes, Year 2 will be a player option, but that’s all by design. Normally, a deal this short wouldn’t make the list, but Harden opted out $47.4 million to take considerably less from Philadelphia. He’ll then opt out next summer and go back up to a max or near-max deal. But it was that opt out this offseason that allowed the team to add P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. That’s basically three players for $50 million or so this season. That’s tremendous value for the Sixers.
- Keldon Johnson – San Antonio Spurs – reportedly four-year, $80 million extension:
When news of this one first dropped, some responses were “How much?”, but Johnson is worth every penny. $20 million average annual value (AAV) for Johnson is actually a great deal for San Antonio. Johnson averaged 17 points on 13.5 field goal attempts per game last season on 47/40/76 shooting splits. Next year, Johnson will be the face of the Spurs. Don’t be surprised when he’s a breakout player and putting up over 20 points per game on solid efficiency.
- Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – three years, $25.5 million:
Looney was just the starting center on a championship team. That alone would make you think a deal for the full Non-Taxpayer MLE starting around $10.5 million was coming for Looney. Instead, Golden State got him for three years and only $19.5 million guaranteed. Looney was one of only five players to appear in all 82 games last season. He’s a good rebounder and terrific defender. Getting him for under the MLE in AAV is tremendous value for the champs.
- Jae’Sean Tate – Houston Rockets – three years, $20.6 million:
Tate played well enough that Houston re-signed him a year earlier than they needed to. That’s a huge win for Tate. On the Rockets side, they got great value here, as they are paying their best defender well under the MLE in AAV. And Houston has a team option on Year 3, which is also big for them. The Rockets have a roster stacked with young talent, and more picks on the way. Having flexibility to trade or get out of a deal is important. This is a true win-win contract.
- Tie: Cody Martin – Charlotte Hornets – four years, $31.4 million:
It’s only fitting that the twins come in tied on our list. Cody gets the ever-so-slight nod, because his deal is really a three-year, $22.7 million contract, with a fully non-guaranteed fourth year. But that $7-8 million AAV for a good 3&D wing is terrific work by the Hornets.
- Tie: Caleb Martin – Miami Heat – three years, $20.4 million:
Caleb Martin gets nudged slightly behind his brother, because he has a player option on Year 3. That could put the Heat in a tough spot in a couple of years. But Miami still got great value for the Taxpayer MLE amount for a player who should have played more in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- Gary Payton II – Portland Trail Blazers – three years, $26.1 million:
Payton cashed in being a champion with the Golden State Warriors, but he also benefitted from the champs being a bit cost-conscience this summer. When the Warriors wouldn’t pay Payton, he headed north on a really solid contract for the Blazers. Year 3 is a player option, but for the next two years Portland gets an elite perimeter defender to put with a guard group that desperately needs a defender. Payton will fit in perfectly in the three-guard rotation with Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons. And if that 36% three-point shooting holds up, Portland will look even better here.
- Ricky Rubio – Cleveland Cavaliers – three years, $18.4 million:
The Cavs did well to get Rubio back. He was playing great for them before tearing his ACL. Cleveland’s guard-play behind Darius Garland really fell apart after Rubio got hurt. That was a big part in the Cavaliers slipping in the standings. Rubio might not be ready to go until mid-season, but that’s fine. The Cavs will get a boost ahead of the trade deadline with an “acquisition” of sorts, just as Darius Garland might need his minutes dialed back a bit. And if Rubio can’t make it all the way back, or can’t hold up, the final year is only partially guaranteed, giving Cleveland an easy out.
- Ivica Zubac – LA Clippers – three-year, $32.8 million extension:
The Clippers did well to get their starting center signed to a new deal before the league year changed over. Because LA was sort of an average team last season, many may have missed just how good Zubac was. He was a nightly double-double threat, while holding down the backline of the defense. And he did so in just 24 minute per game. Look for his playing time and stats to bump up slightly, which will be good news for this year’s Clippers as a title contender.
- Malik Monk – Sacramento Kings – two years, $19.4 million:
This contract was a win for the Kings. Not only did a quality free agent choose Sacramento, but the Kings didn’t have to give him a player option on the second year. Sacramento needed perimeter shooting and bench scoring, and they got it in Monk for slightly less than the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. That’ll be huge as they build their roster around De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis over the next two seasons.
- Isaiah Hartenstein – New York Knicks – two years, $16 million:
Hartenstein is really good. He might even be better than Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks paid over twice as much over the next two seasons. No matter what, New York locked down 48 quality minutes of center-play for the next two seasons. In Hartenstein, the Knicks got a big man who can defend, rebound, pass and finish. Hartenstein is also showing signs of extending his range too. For less than the Non-Taxpayer MLE, that’s tremendous value.