Bankrolled by ESPN and TNT in an attempt to preserve the cord from the cutters, teams around the league dished out money like they had a license to print money – giving incomprehensible amounts of cash to seemingly anyone who put his hand out like Mona-Lisa Saperstein
. Within the first two days, $1.8 billion in contract commitments were on the books. All that money cast a large shadow over the actual basketball. On October 25 – it will not be dollar bills or contracts jumping for the opening tip, but professional basketball players, a few of them wearing different clothes. This week and next I will introduce my favorite free agent signings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively – based solely on their fit on the court this season and possibly (almost certainly) my own biases (careful readers of my articles will recall that the Warriors big splash signing has taken “he who shall not be named” status
in these parts, so you will not find him below). Without further delay, my five favorite free agent signings for this season in the West.
| Memphis Grizzlies
This is one of my favorite moves of the offseason, period. Like an angel descending from the heavens, Chandler Parsons is the answer to the years long talent search to fill the Rudy Gay sized hole in the Grizzlies starting lineup. With this signing, Memphis is the toughest out in the West for the Warriors. Parsons is the knock down open threes, make plays, slide to the power forward if necessary type of guy that gives Memphis a much needed injection of offensive versatility without sacrificing too much on the defensive end. In order to compete with Golden State, you need to be able to control the pace, match Curry and Durant with great individual defense, have the flexibility to go small, and maintain the ability to punish them on the offensive glass and in the paint – check on all accounts for Memphis.
We will see how new head coach David Fizdale directs this team, but spending years in a defense first system under Erik Spoelstra in Miami a continuation of the grit and grind style Memphis has played to great success this half-decade. Conley is one of the best at guarding his position in the league and Tony Allen is quite possibly the most disruptive defensive force in the league, with all do respect to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. Adding Parsons finally gives Memphis a legitimate wing shooting threat who can handle the ball in pick and roll and slide to the four if they want to go small – Zach Randolph will be 35 this season. A career 38 percent three-point shooter, coming off a season in which he shot 41.4 percent from deep with a 59.8 true shooting percentage, Parsons is the best shooter they've had at small forward in the Gasol-Conley era – not to mention 14.7 career assist percentage, also the best they've seen at SF, cementing his potential as a playmaking four in small lineups. Finally, Gasol, Randolph, and the returning Brandon Wright give Memphis the big, bruising frontline that can punish Golden State inside.
The big question mark with the Grizzlies is also the biggest red flag with Chandler Parsons – health. It seems as though this team will be stuck together with scotch tape this year. Each of the Grizzlies top three players – Gasol, Conley, and Parsons – is coming off a major injury/surgery. Parsons chronic knee issues worry me, especially for a team with such limited depth at the wing position, but these are the costs of doing business in this league sometimes. Maybe the window has closed on this era of Grizzlies basketball – three of their presumed starters are on the wrong side of 30 – but if these guys are healthy and they can fend off father time for one more season, I can see them giving the Warriors all they can ask for come May.
| Portland Trail Blazers
For most, if I can be so bold, the Evan Turner signing was an odd fit both on the court and on the books – but we won't concern ourselves with his $75 million. Since entering the league as the number two overall pick in 2010, Turner has struggled to get his footing in the league – plagued by a shaky jumper and a proclivity to dribble holes into the floor. Despite his flaws and struggles, the Trail Blazers saw in him an opportunity to address its perimeter defense and increase its versatility – or rather I presume that's what they saw, why else would they roll out the Brinks truck for him?
Adding Turner should provide some much needed relief to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the playmaking department. Last year, with so much of the previous year's team gone, Dame and CJ had to stagger minutes in order to keep the bench units afloat – CJ was essentially starting shooting guard and backup point guard. No other backcourt in the NBA had both members in the top 25 in usage rate
. Turner as it turns out is most effective with the ball in his hands, flourishing last year as the de facto point guard for Boston's second units. Turner's playmaking gives Portland the flexibility to play more lineups with Dame and CJ off the ball, perhaps freeing them up for more catch and shoot opportunities from three – Lillard shot a smaller percentage of his threes off the catch than off the dribble, despite shooting nearly eight percent better in the former. Amongst forwards, Turner ranked sixth in assist rate last year
. Even more intriguing, recipients of his passes shot a higher percentage from three-point distance than those receiving passes from his teammate, All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
Taking some of the burden off Dame and CJ has the added benefit of potentially helping them expend more energy on defense – it is difficult to be the bell-cow on offense and defense, ask James Harden. Portland ranked second to last in points per possession allowed to ball handlers in pick and roll situations last year
, in part due to the defensive shortcomings of its backcourt. Even if Lillard and CJ don't improve given less responsibility on offense, Turner is a plus defender himself and an upgrade over the man he replaced in the lineup, Gerald Henderson. Amongst players who defended at least 100 pick and rolls, Turner was third in points per possession allowed
. Individual defense numbers are tricky, especially when talking about defending the pick and roll, but it would be hard to argue – given these numbers and his physical attributes – that Turner is not an upgrade for Portland on the defensive side of the ball.
| Houston Rockets
If you were to create a power forward to play alongside James Harden for a team coached by Mike D'Antoni that sought to shoot only threes, layups, and free throws, you might very well get Ryan Anderson. For a team that has shot the most three pointers over the last three seasons, it sure seems like it was missing an important ingredient – good three point shooters. Anderson certainly fits that bill. Since entering the league in 2008, Anderson has ranked in the top five amongst power forwards in terms of three-point percentage – up at 37.7 percent. His last two season in New Orleans saw dips in both his three-point percentage and volume, thanks in large part to the lack of creators on the Pelicans roster. Over 96 percent of Anderson's three-point shots have come from an assist in his career
. As it happens, James Harden is perhaps the best in the NBA at creating three-point shots for his teammates. In 2016, Harden assisted on 37.8 percent of his teammates' three-point makes and they shot three percentage points better than on average. With D'Antoni once again manning the sidelines, Harden-Anderson could be the new Nash-Stoudemire – a match made in heaven for the three-point happy, modern NBA. The comparison holds on the other side of the ball as well, as neither Harden or Anderson would receive favorable reviews as defenders. But who cares about defense? The league office isn't changing rules to see less points, are they? Personally, I'm excited to see what a run and gun James Harden-led offense, free from 12 grumpy, old men
, and equipped with a shooting partner like Anderson, can do – Houston is counting on quite the firework show.
| New Orleans Pelicans
No one is going to mistake E'Twaun Moore for the star player or the go-to guy. Instead, what you see is a guy who is difficult to take off the floor – thanks to his effort and defensive intensity – and an easy guy to cheer. He has scrapped and earned his way into an eight figure deal entering his sixth season in the NBA, the last man standing of the big three out of Purdue – himself, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. The Pelicans have been starving for reliable backcourt depth with the walking infirmary they've dealt with the last few seasons. Moore is capable of playing both point guard and shooting guard on both ends – an invaluable versatility that the Bulls will surely miss. If the Pelicans are going to make noise in the West and capitalize on having Anthony Davis under contract, they need to sure up their defense which finished fourth to last in 2016. Injuries certainly played a factor, but many penciled in a defensive improvement last season with Tom Thibodeau disciple, Darren Erman, manning the defense on Alvin Gentry's staff. Adding a player with experience in the Erman-style defensive scheme is a step in the right direction if the Pelicans are going to turn the ship around this season – Moore played under Thibodeau in Chicago for one season. What really makes Moore valuable is the hope that the shooting touch he found last season is for real. Moore finished in the top ten amongst guards in overall and catch and shoot three-point percentage, while also flashing touch, finishing top five in field goal percentage in the five-to-nine-foot range
. Whether or not he can sustain his shooters touch doesn't really matter, it's just a bonus. His versatility, reliability and defensive gusto put him on this list and should have Pelicans fans excited.
| Sacramento Kings
In the bizarro world, the Sacramento Kings are a model organization with a disciplined, well-coached, high-character team. Unfortunately, in the real world, the Kings have been the laughing stock of the West – the standard bearer of chaos and drama. Anthony Tolliver is the exact opposite type of player and person the Kings have grown accustomed to acquiring. Tolliver is the consummate pro, doing what he's asked to the best of his ability day in and day out – he was voted best teammate by his former teammates in Detroit
for this past season. In tandem with the hiring of former Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger – a man with a reputation of extracting the most out of his players – Tolliver should make an immediate impact on the team without even stepping on the court. Don't let my gushing fool you, the man can also play. As a matter of fact, his game has aged nicely as the league has been shaping so that he fits as an ideal small-ball four man. What he lacks in size and athleticism, he makes up for in shooting (career 36 percent from behind the arc), a hard-nosed attitude, and experience. It's unclear exactly what role Tolliver will play for the Kings this season as they have a full house of centers – much to the chagrin of DeMarcus Cousins. But, if Joerger is willing to play a little more small-ball like he did at times last year in Memphis – as opposed to the behemoth lineups he customarily trots out – Tolliver could be a nice role player off the bench for a team missing a true power forward last season. Regardless of how much or whether he plays, convincing Tolliver to sign is a win for the Sacramento organization and should give Kings fans some confidence their team is putting it together.