Coach: Worst NBA Free Agent Signings of 2010
With the up-and-down roller coaster ride that is the CBA negotiations, the likelihood is if there is a resolution and any free agency period, it will be short and extremely active. Now is as good a time as any to look back at last year’s free agent signings and give some quick analysis as teams continue to prepare for this year’s crop.
This analysis is not about the player’s overall talent level, but rather a look at if they already have or are likely to produce at least to their level of compensation. In other words, this is the bottom three free agent signings of 2010 in terms of value. Without further ado…
Joe Johnson (6 years, $123m) with Atlanta
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Bosh all found a home, the best of the rest was listed by many as Joe Johnson. With as many as eight teams working to relieve themselves of the cap space to get into the LeBron sweepstakes, there was little doubt Johnson would find a home at a near max-level deal.
However, like a second-tier running back at auction in a fantasy football league, Johnson’s price climbed too high too fast, and he has become the poster child for why the owners want a new collective bargaining agreement.
This past season Johnson posted his lowest numbers since he came to Atlanta from Phoenix. He was down in scoring, overall shooting percentage, three-point percentage, and nearly every other category. His PER came in at a mediocre 16.4, placing him in roughly the same group as Marcus Thornton and James Harden – not exactly max contract players.
The worst part for Atlanta Hawks fans is that Johnson received a six-year contract, making him 35 in the final season of his deal. Sometimes, you sign a player with the hope and expectation that he can grow into his deal. With Johnson, there is no guarantee he will rebound to the stronger production of the last few years, and many might doubt even those numbers were worth the contract he received last summer.
Travis Outlaw (5 years, $35m) with New Jersey
One has to wonder if, after being on the wrong end of the LeBron decision, the Nets brass decided to throw caution to the wind and go after the only other young small forward not named Rudy Gay at all costs. Outlaw was an intriguing player back in 2007-08 and 2008-09 when it looked like he could be a solid multi-dimensional bench player who could hit open jump shots and defend both inside and out.
His 2009-10 campaign left a lot to be desired, however, and questions loomed about whether he had the ability to mature and develop as a player. The Nets rewarded him for a lackluster season with a five-year deal, making him nearly impossible to move until he is an expiring contract. Outlaw had an abomination of a season in 2010-11, managing the dubious feat of averaging a career-high in minutes while posting the lowest PER of his career (8.8).
Consider this: the Nets could have scooped up a player like Matt Barnes, who does many of the same kinds of things that Outlaw is supposed to do but better, and at a much lower cost. Barnes ended up signing a two-year deal with the Lakers for about $4 million and change total. With only an outside chance that Outlaw returns to the production he put up a few years back, this deal feels bad from every angle.
Drew Gooden (5 years, $32m) with Milwaukee
The quintessential journeyman, Drew Gooden has at least been on the roster for no less than nine franchises in eight seasons. He elected to continue his journey to play for every NBA team by signing in Milwaukee for five years at $32 million total.
Gooden actually had a reasonably decent season in 2010-11. His PER was a respectable (though not overwhelming) 15.9, and his scoring and rebounding were in the same rough neighborhood as his career (down slightly, but not too much so). However, the problem with his deal in Milwaukee is the length. At 29 during last season, Gooden seems unlikely to maintain his current level of production (or improve) over the length of the deal. He becomes much harder move in years three and four, if not impossible to move.
There seems no reason to think Gooden could shed the journeyman image and be worth a five-year contract. At his age and limited ceiling, it is hard to imagine Milwaukee is really happy to have him locked up. Maybe the most difficult part is looking to their neighbor to the northeast, where the Toronto Raptors grabbed the younger and infinitely more intriguing Amir Johnson for nearly the same deal as the Bucks got Gooden. Coming up with a reason to like Gooden more than Johnson is a difficult proposition indeed.
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.