There were plenty of good players looking for new contracts this summer, but with teams feeling the crunch brought on by the 2016 spending spree, there wasn’t much available money to spend big, or even spend at all. As a result, most free agents ended up taking one-year deals to try again next offseason. The market may have hurt players looking for long-term money, but it also allowed some teams to land some bargain deals. Here are six players who signed one-year contracts with new teams this offseason for less than $5 million, but could outperform their new deals.
Nerlens Noel, Thunder
One year, $1.7 million (player option for $1.9 million in second year)
The sixth overall pick in 2013 reportedly took less money to play in OKC after spending a year and a half in purgatory in Dallas. Noel, 24, hasn’t lived up to his billing or his draft selection. His lack of a consistent shot outside 10 feet, a thumb injury, and one suspension have all played a part in keeping him off the court over the past two seasons. But Noel’s still young and has the measurements (6-foot-11, 7-foot-4 wingspan) to at least provide key defensive minutes as a rim protector.
He won’t start, and even minutes off the bench will be hard to earn because of his lack of shooting and Jerami Grant’s ability to slide to the 5 in small lineups. But Noel has the raw talent to become a key rotation player for post-Melo OKC. If the Thunder’s second unit can space the floor enough, Noel will have a chance to become the defender and rim-runner the Mavs envisioned him becoming in Dallas.
Brook Lopez, Bucks
One year, $3.4 million
I might ask this once a week through the end of the season: Why didn’t the Lakers keep Lopez? Unless LeBron James did not want to play with him, it doesn’t add up. The Lakers were looking for one-year deals, they needed a center, let Julius Randle walk, and Lopez was on the team last season. Sure, he may not provide the same defensive potential that—welp—JaVale McGee may bring, but Lopez can shoot. It’s why he’s perfect for the Bucks.
Lopez has hovered around the 35 percent mark from deep for two seasons. He’s not a rebound hound or a stalwart rim protector, but he can still have an impact on offense. He should fit well on a Milwaukee team that had to give important minutes to John Henson last season. If the Bucks are not going to go small much with Giannis Antetokounmpo at center, Lopez could give them some added shooting without sacrificing any size in the frontcourt.
Isaiah Thomas, Nuggets
One year, $2 million
There were only two teams that made sense for Thomas’s #ComebackSZN: the Orlando Magic, who desperately needed shooting and a veteran ball handler; and the Denver Nuggets, who have been looking for an experienced point guard off the bench to replace Devin Harris. Since carrying the Celtics two seasons ago, IT has been tossed around as if inside a washing machine, tumbling from bad situation to bad situation and losing money all along the way. Now he has a chance to make back some of it on a likely playoff team in Denver.
While Jamal Murray is looking more and more like the star guard that was promised for the Nuggets, he’s still only 21. Thomas isn’t a threat to start, but if the Nuggets want to overwhelm teams with offense in crunch time, Thomas and Murray in the backcourt would fit that bill. Thomas won’t help Denver’s bottom-five defense, but, if healthy, he can still thrive as instant offense off the bench. Playing off both Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in certain lineups could help him reclaim some of the offensive magic that fueled his rise to the All-NBA second team just more than a year ago.
Greg Monroe, Raptors
One year, $2.2 million
When Monroe suits up for the Raptors this fall, it will be his fourth team of the calendar year. Though his production has diminished since leaving Detroit, Monroe’s size and skill allow him to score and rebound enough to be a serviceable bench piece on a contender. That’s what the Raptors need, especially at center; before this signing, Jonas Valanciunas was the only player listed at the position. Toronto will likely often use small lineups, either with Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam at the 5, but Monroe should be useful when the team needs to match up against another traditional big. Even if he isn’t, there’s not much to lose, considering the price at which they signed him.
Elfrid Payton, Pelicans
One year, $2.7 million
Payton never finished his fourth season with the team that drafted him. He was traded from Orlando to Phoenix at the trade deadline, and he didn’t stick with his new team this offseason, even though he’s still just 24 and the Suns are trying to build a fun, young team. So Payton took a prove-it deal with New Orleans instead. With Rajon Rondo leaving for Los Angeles, Payton has a great opportunity to take advantage of the Pelicans’ lack of backcourt depth to slide into a starting role next to Jrue Holiday. Payton’s game has its flaws, but he can at least provide more than six assists a game, double-digit scoring, and perhaps some strong perimeter defense. Anthony Davis has thrived with Tim Frazier and a 31-year-old Rondo as his point guard; he should be able to bring out the best in Payton.
Ed Davis, Nets
One year, $4.4 million
Davis is becoming the new Mike Conley, except not as talented and not as well-known. I’m convinced every team in the NBA could use Ed Davis, and I’m surprised the Blazers let him go. He is the perfect backup big, and, as evidenced by Damian Lillard’s reaction upon Davis’s departure, a great locker room guy. Brooklyn nabbing the 29-year-old is both a steal and a bummer. Davis could help a contending team. Instead, he’ll be backing up 23-year-old Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or playing alongside 20-year-old Jarrett Allen as the Nets continue their slow ascent from the bottom of the league.