The NBA offseason is packed with entertaining events.
In a matter of three or so months, the league undergoes free agency
and trade season – and that’s almost immediately after the Finals
and the draft. And while everyone gets to experience all that is
great about the NBA in a relatively short amount of time, it makes
for a busy and pressure-filled time for NBA front offices – that
can result in miscalculations.
The 2021 offseason had some abnormalities to contend with. The
uncertain financial impact of COVID-19 and the free agent signings
in the months leading up to free agency resulted in an
Still, free agent signings and trades happened, even if it was
on a smaller scale than normal. And what must surely result from
NBA transactions? Regrettable transactions.
After seeing more than 40% of the season we can realistically
judge the offseason’s transactions with a modicum of accuracy.
Sure, multi-year deals can’t be graded in their entirety after less
than half of a season, but slumps rarely persist for almost half a
season, too. That leaves us in a gray area of sorts. Still, the
impact of adding a player to a team’s present and near-future
salary cap is very real. So, after observing approximately half of
a season, let’s identify the worst deals of the 2021 offseason.
Evan Fournier Sign-and-Trade to the New York
Entering this season, Fournier was widely seen as an
above-average scorer and playmaker. He represented a relatively big
upgrade from Reggie Bullock for the Knicks, providing much needed
offensive versatility. So, while the pairing felt a bit off (given
the Knicks defensive-mindedness), the four-year, $73 million
contract seemed like only a minor overpayment.
Fournier kicked off his time as a Knick with a bang, scoring 32
points in an opening night win against the Boston Celtics – but the
honeymoon was short-lived. Through 38 games, Fournier is averaging
just 13.5 points with an Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG%) of
52.5%. Comparatively, he averaged 17.1 points in 2020-21 and 18.5
in 2019-19 with eFG% of 56 and 56.5 respectively. He’s also
shooting a near-career worst 38.1% on threes attempts.
The fact that the Knicks are in such hot water indicates a
degree of buyer’s remorse. So, while their future is still quite
bright thanks to their younger players, their salary cap optimism
has probably been muted. The fact that Bullock was lured away by
the Dallas Mavericks for a three-year, $30.5 million contract only
adds to the team's frustrations. And while that’s a hefty contract,
too, considering it’s netted just 6.0 points per game on 28.7%
shooting from deep, it’s quite a bit less than the Knicks are
paying Fournier. But Bullock aside, the Knicks might wish they
could get a redo on this one (although maybe not quite as much,
after Thursday night's career-high scoring effort from
Russell Westbrook trade to the Los Angeles
Did anyone outside the Lakers’ front office really think this
was a good idea? Westbrook is a dynamic, albeit polarizing, player
who’s produced some of the most amazing individual seasons we’ve
ever witnessed. But he was never a fit for the Lakers – and,
namely, not a good fit alongside LeBron James.
On a positive note, Westbrook's contract is up after next
season. So, the long-term impact is limited, even if he is
still owed more than $90 million between this season and
But there is significant downside, too. Let's start with
Westbook's play – it's not great. Westbrook's scoring (19.5 points
per game), assists (8.1) and rebounds (8.1) are all down. So is his
PER (15.9), which is the second-worst of his career. His turnovers
(4.6) are still up and he's still struggling on threes
There's also the fact that the Washington Wizards are in the
playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and their depth has a
lot to do with that. Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and
Montrezl Harrell are averaging at least 25.4 minutes per game.
Harrell is actually posting a career-best 25.1 PER. The Lakers
could use that depth. Just look at their top minute getters: James
(36.9 per game), Westbrook (35.8) and Anthony Davis (35.4) lead the
way. After the Big Three, it gets messy thanks in part to COVID.
Talen Horton-Tucker gets 28.2 per game, Carmelo Anthony receives
27.1 and Stanley Johnson – who was just signed last week –
is averaging 25.2. Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington
and Austin Reaves are all averaging more than 20 minutes per game,
too. Now imagine if they had a more talented rotation of role
Next, there are the rumors that the Lakers were in advanced
talks with the Sacramento Kings about swapping Kuzma for Kings
sharpshooter Buddy Hield instead. Hield-to-Los Angeles makes
so much more sense. He’s the type of player who does well
in a catch-and-shoot role. Hield is shooting better than 40% on
threes across his 424 game career. Plus, the Lakers would have kept
Harrell and Pope, meaning that the 15th best long-range
shooting team could have added a top shooter (while subtracting a
seriously subpar shooter in Westbrook ). Not to mention, they could
have hung on to two quality role players.
And finally, there’s the reality of James’ age and career
trajectory. James is still playing insanely well, especially for a
37-year-old. But let’s be honest, it won’t be that way forever. In
all likelihood, he will show more signs of aging over the next
season or so. Unfortunately, Westbrook being signed through the end
of 2022-23 eliminates cap flexibility, meaning that additional help
will be hard to find until 2023-24, at which point James will turn
39. That's not a great outcome for a team hoping to win at least
one more championship with their current core.
Duncan Robinson re-signs with the Miami
As the NBA season approaches its midway point, the Heat are
pretty much exactly where we thought they would be. They’re
currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, boasting the
seventh-best defensive and offensive ratings. And Kyle
Lowry has fit perfectly with Miami’s culture. But one thing isn’t
working, Robinson – and it’s surpassingly due to a lack
Robinson signed his first big deal this past offseason to the
tune of five-years and $90 million. And while that’s a lot of
money, Robison’s shooting touch nearly warranted it. He shot 40.8
percent on 8.5 long-range attempts last season and 44.6% on 8.3
attempts per game in 2019-20.
But Robinson has struggled to replicate such performances. He’s
shooting just 34.6% on threes this season, and he hasn’t made up
for his slump elsewhere. He's down to 79.3% on free throws after
shooting 82.7% last season and 93.1% in 2019-20. And he’s
connecting on just 52.2% of two-point attempts, after shooting
61.4% last season and 66.7% in 2019-20.
Ultimately, the bounce back performance of Tyler Herro is
overshadowing Robinson’s poor play, and the law of large numbers
will probably win out with Robinson bouncing back at some point. In
fact, there is a glimmer of hope in that he shot 37.6% on threes in
December, which is less than ideal but better than he did in
October and November.
A five-year, $90 million contract sounds like a lot, but to be
fair Joe Harris signed a four-year, $75 million deal in late 2020,
and Davis Bertans signed for five years and $80 million.
Ironically, both players have been mentioned as being available
this season, but Robinson signed at the going rate for a great
knock-down shooter. If Robinson can get his shot back, this deal
becomes infinitely more bearable.
The fact that players are assets is an unfortunate truth of
professional sports. Love them or hate them, if players
underperform for long enough it will inevitably draw the ire of
their teams. What happens from there varies from team to team, but
the business of basketball wins out more than not.