The 2016 NBA free agency is virtually over with the big names (Kevin Durant, Al Horford) already snatched from the free agent market and with the big contracts handed out to make a new set of overpaid players in the NBA (Hello, Timofey Mozgov). The NBA rumors continue however with armchair and real experts arguing which teams have won this summer.
From the start, this summer was about a free agency that was top-heavy and decisions of those top players were highly anticipated as their choice could change the fate of both the franchise they are leaving and going to this summer.
Prime example is of course, Kevin Durant, who chose to join the super team of the Golden State Warriors, much to the chagrin of former NBA players, current NBA players and all NBA fans—except the Warriors backers.
Durant’s decision to join the Warriors made Golden State the team to beat next season (and beyond, if he stays longer) and also the league’s most hated group taking the mantle from the previously much despised LeBron James.
Durant also made the Oklahoma City Thunder an afterthought and possibly a lottery team in the next few years; although Russell Westbrook is still with the team and could triple-double his way to towing OKC to the playoffs.
Which free agent signings have moved the needle for their teams, either to make them legit title contenders or improve to playoff team status? Which teams had the best bang for their buck in this summer of splurge due to the meteoric rise in the salary cap?
Aside from Durant, here are the Top 5 free agent signings in the 2016 offseason, ranked from worst to best, with emphasis on how these players would have changed the fate of their respective teams if they signed elsewhere:
Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets, forward) – Re-signed for $120 million/5 years, $24M/season)
A minor risk for the Hornets considering Batum’s injury history and mileage (he’s also active playing for the French basketball national team). However, the Michael Jordan-owned franchise knows it’s difficult to convince top free agents to sign in Charlotte as they are a middling team that’s not really a lottery squad but not good enough to be title contenders.
Retaining Batum is the first step to becoming legit contenders in the East. He’s still in his prime even as other key players in the team like Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continue their development, possibly to being stars in the league.
NBA rumors had Batum interested in other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers but he ultimately decided the big money from Charlotte was the best possible deal for his career.
Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies, point guard) – Re-signed for $153 million, 5 years ($30.6M/season)
The biggest contract (total) handed out this summer and for good reasons; rivals were trying to poach their court general so Memphis had little choice but to give him the titantic deal– the biggest this summer. He’s not a scorer like Stephen Curry or as explosive as Russell Westbrook but Conley gets the job done on both ends of the floor.
By re-signing Conley, the Grizzlies also remain as major players in the uber-competitive Western Conference. With Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons in tow, Memphis looks like a dark horse contender out West.
Pau Gasol (San Antonio Spurs, center) – Signed for $30 million, 2 years ($15M/season)
Easily one one of the best signings in 2016 NBA free agency. The Spanish big man did not anticipate the Tim Duncan retirement but Gasol joining the Spurs this summer is perfect now as he gets the starting front court slot alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.
Gasol is not known for his defense but his offensive repertoire, especially from the post, fits Greg Popovich’s system like a glove; he can pass and he will make the right basketball plays owing to his high basketball IQ.
Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat, center) – Re-signed for $98.42 million/4 years ($24.6M/season)
Whiteside could have earned the same full max deal with any other team but chose to be loyal to Pat Riley and the Heat, the franchise who took the risk on him when he was a mere journeyman in the world of basketball (he also played in China).
NBA rumors had Whiteside linked to a number of teams but loyalty pays, in this case, in favor of the Heat.
This signing is crucial for a Heat team that lost Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in free agency; that could lose Chris Bosh to injury/retirement; and in a semi-rebuilding mode.
Without Whiteside, the Heat are on their way to the lottery. With the big man and his outstanding rim protection and defense plus rebounding, they will battle for a playoff spot in the East.
Al Horford (Boston Celtics, center) – Signed for $113 million/4 years ($28.5M/season)
Not only the Celtics added a legit starting center in Al Horford but they also stole him from one of their rivals out East. The veteran is expected to improve the front court of a Boston squad that is rich in the backcourt and wing department.
Horford may not be a superstar in the league but he gives the Celtics a legit option down low and can also stretch the floor. The Celtics are now considered at par at least with the Toronto Raptors, who made the East Finals last season.
Do you agree with our top impact players in 2016 NBA free agency? Which other free agents will have similar huge impact with their new or old teams? NBA rumors continue this offseason, but now more on trades than free agency targets.