By Matt Citak
Over the last few weeks, we have seen some serious money get tossed around the NBA. James Harden signed an extension with the Rockets, and is set to earn $228 million over the next six years. Steph Curry became the first player to get the super max, agreeing to a five-year, $201 million contract with the Warriors. Even the oft-injured Blake Griffin will receive $173 million from the Clippers over the next five seasons. While these contracts garnered all of the headlines this summer, it is the smaller contracts given out to role players that could end up making a difference in the playoffs. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest bargain deals handed out thus far during free agency.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder (Three years, $30 million)
2016-17 stats: 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks per game
This was a huge signing for the Thunder. While Roberson, the former CU Buffaloes star, may not provide much on offense, he more than makes up for it on the defensive end of the court. Oklahoma City now has two of the league’s most athletic, shutdown wings in Roberson and Paul George, which will be significant when they take on the Warriors. Those two, along with Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and newly-signed Patrick Peterson, provide the Thunder with one of the best defensive lineups in the entire NBA. Although he shot 41.2 percent from long range in the Conference Quarterfinals against the Rockets last season, Roberson’s three-point shooting is quite bad (he’s a career 26.0 percent shooter from deep). The addition of George will reduce some of Roberson’s offensive burden, and will allow the Second Team All-Defensive player to focus on what he does best: shutting down the opposing team’s best player.
CJ Miles, Toronto Raptors (Three years, $25 million w/ 3rd-year a player option)
2016-17 stats: 10.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists per game
Despite having a very solid 12 years in the NBA, Miles has managed to find a way to fly under the radar. That is about to change though, as the 30-year old joins a Toronto roster likely to finish the season as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Miles is known for being one of the NBA’s better 3-and-D players, which showed last season as the 6-foot-6 Miles shot a career-best 41.3 percent from the three-point line, and will be a perfect fit playing alongside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Miles did most of his damage last season as a spot-up shooter, finishing the year 15th in the NBA in catch-and-shoot points per game. With Lowry and DeRozan handling most of the offense, the Raptors knew they needed to surround their two stars with guys who can help space the floor by knocking down open shots. Miles fits the bill perfectly, and will serve as one of the best shooters Toronto has had over the last few seasons.
Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs (Two years, $17.2 million w/ 2nd-year a player option)
2016-17 stats: 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks per game
Although he appeared in only 30 games before tearing his Achilles, Gay was having one of the strongest and most efficient seasons of his career last year. The 30-year old forward was shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from long range, and added an impressive 85.5 percent from the free throw line. Gay easily could have signed for more money elsewhere, but after being in the league for 11 seasons, the small forward wanted the chance to win a championship. By joining Greg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard, and the rest of the Spurs, Gay provides San Antonio another legitimate scoring threat. Health has certainly been an issue for the 6-foot-8 forward in the past, as he has played in 70 or more games only five times in his 11-year NBA career. But Gay recently shared that he has been fully cleared for all basketball activities, and will definitely be ready for the start of training camp. If Gay can remain healthy, then the Spurs will have another scorer to help Kawhi out come playoff time.
Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors (Three years, $24 million w/ $2 million guaranteed in 3rd year)
2016-17 stats: 5.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game
While Golden State’s roster is filled with stars and high-profile guys, Livingston has quietly been one of the most consistent role players on the team over the last three years. The 12-year veteran is the perfect backup point guard for the Warriors- he has a very reliable mid-range game (54.7 percent from the field last season), he rarely makes mistakes (0.8 turnovers per game), and is incredibly versatile on defense with his 6-foot-7 frame and 7-foot wingspan. Livingston is constantly moving without the ball, making cuts and backdoor screens that help set up countless easy baskets for himself and his teammates. He does not shoot threes, but with the number of players on their roster that are capable of hitting from downtown, the Warriors don’t need him to. Livingston likely would have signed for more than $8 million per season had he chose to test the open market, but instead decided (rather quickly) to re-sign with the Warriors. Overall, Livingston is the perfect role player for this Warriors team.
Nene, Houston Rockets (Three years, $11 million)
2016-17 stats: 9.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 blocks per game
Some might balk at his age (35 in September), but Nene proved last season that he isn’t done with the NBA quite yet. The big man averaged 17.9 minutes off the bench, and was able to shoot a career-high 61.7 percent from the field. The 6-foot-11 center is known for his physical intensity, and has done a tremendous job of keeping himself in great shape. This has allowed Nene the ability to continue to switch onto guards on the defensive end of the court, something he has done well his entire career. The veteran center provides a big boost on offense as well, as evidenced by his performance in the Conference Quarterfinals last season. In those five games against the Thunder, Nene averaged 13.6 points on a jaw-dropping 84.8 percent from the field. The Brazilian showed he can still catch and shoot, a skill that can help open up the floor for his teammates. The Rockets are lucky to have Nene back, especially on such an affordable contract.