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Grading biggest moves in NBA free agency

We take a look at some of the most notable moves in NBA free agency this offseason and dish out grades for some of the top signings.

Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics warms up before Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs on September 23, 2020 at the AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA free agency period opened on Friday at 6 p.m. ET and in a weak class of players looking for new contracts, we’ve come to a point where most of the big names have agreed to deals. Heading into Sunday at noon ET when players are allowed to sign, we’ll take a look at some of the top names that have been reported as striking deals with respective teams. Let’s hand out grades for the signings thus far.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

Reported Contract: Four years, $85 million

Grade: A-

This is the perfect contract for VanVleet and exactly what was being reported prior to the other report of the point guard signing. We heard that FVV was looking for Malcolm Brogdon money and that’s exactly what he got. It’s a good deal for the Raptors, who are trying to remain title contenders despite losing Kawhi Leonard after 2019. FVV helps them secure the PG position for the next three seasons after 2020-21. Kyle Lowry is on the final year of his contract. Depending on how this season goes for the Raptors, they could entertain the idea of dealing Lowry for some assets knowing that VanVleet is under contract long-term.

VanVleet really blossomed into a borderline All-Star this past season, helping the Raptors maintain their stock in the East despite losing Kawhi. He averaged 17.6 points over 54 starts in the regular season, way above his previous career high. FVV also averaged 6.6 assists while playing next to one of the better PGs in the NBA in Lowry. He shot the ball well from outside at a 39 percent clip and had a win shares of 5.8 acting as more of an off-the-ball guard. If FVV were given more usage, he could really thrive under Nick Nurse.

Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

Reported Contract: Four years, $120 million

Grade: B

The fact that the Hornets didn’t need to do a sign-and-trade with the Celtics is a win in of itself. Hayward had signed an offer sheet with Charlotte back in 2014, before he re-upped with the Jazz and later signed with the Celtics. It seemed like Hayward wanted out of Boston for a while and now he lands down South with the Hornets, who are looking to become more competitive after landing G LaMelo Ball at No. 3 in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Hayward should slot in nicely in the starting lineup for the Hornets. If Ball proves himself during training camp and in the preseason, he should also. That could mean Ball starts at PG with Terry Rozier or Devonte’ Graham in the backcourt. Rozier may be better served coming off the bench as a 6th man in this new-look roster. Miles Bridges gets buried a bit on the roster at SF with the addition of Hayward. PJ Washington’s role should be fine and the Hornets still need a center despite having Cody Zeller signed for this season.

Overall, Hayward should get the minutes and usage to thrive in Charlotte. He may not be surrounded by the type of talent he was in Boston, but he’ll have more of a role in the offense rather than being the 3rd or 4th option. When healthy, Hayward is a great all-around player — he can pass, shoot, rebound. FUNDAMENTALS. He’ll help the Hornets offense go. With Ball and Washington, Charlotte could crawl out of the territory of unwatchable and into the category of semi-exciting.

Serge Ibaka, Los Angeles Clippers

Reported Contract: Two years, $19 million

Grade: A+

Remember when everyone was freaking out on Friday after the Lakers stole Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers? I bet a lot of those people praising the Lakers are looking at this Clippers signing and going, “Hmmmm, not bad.” Ibaka is actually an upgrade over Harrell! If you can look back at the playoffs when the Clippers were failing at closing out the Denver Nuggets, where was Harrell? On the bench! He was a liability on defense and wasn’t doing anything on offense. Sure, Harrell was the 6th Man of the Year and played great during the regular season, but when push came to shove, he didn’t show up.

Ibaka is one of the more underrated bigs in the NBA and helped the Raptors win a championship in 2019. He also was one of the better players overall for Toronto in the playoffs this past season, when the team seemed flat in the second round. Ibaka can stretch the floor better than Harrell and can play the 4 and the 5. Kawhi knows him well from that lone season with the Raptors and maybe Ibaka will help solve some chemistry issues. Maybe Harrell was apart of those issues, who knows.

All I know is the Clippers can roll out Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris and Serge Ibaka in crunch time. All five players can shoot the 3. All five players can play defense. So the Ibaka signing was a great bounce back for the Clips after everyone seemingly counted them out after Harrell left.

Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta Hawks

Reported Contract: three years, $61.5 million

Grade: B+

The Hawks had been reported as trying to make a splash this offseason in free agency. We heard that Atlanta was going after a handful of free agents and ultimately the Hawks landed a few big names. Gallo was one of them and he makes the Hawks lineup very dangerous heading into 2020-21. Over the past two seasons, Gallinari has shot over 40 percent from 3-point range. It’s weird because if you look back, he had never shot over 40 percent from downtown in his career (unless you count 28 games as a rookie with the Knicks). So while Gallo is 32 and aging, it seems his shot is only getting better.

Insert the Hawks insanely talented young lineup and Gallinari is looking like one of the better signings of the offseason. That may not be saying much in 2020 since the free agency class was weak, but the Hawks used up their cap space and didn’t commit to too much long-term. Trae Young will get paid. John Collins will get paid. Atlanta has a slew of young, promising prospects. Really, the Hawks remind me of the Mavericks before Luka Doncic’s breakout last season. Young could lead the NBA in scoring and have a supporting cast to reach the playoffs, particularly with Gallo at SF.

Tristan Thompson, Boston Celtics

Reported Contract: two years, $19 million

Grade: B

The Boston Celtics have had an odd couple of seasons. The Celtics had a shot at advancing to the NBA Finals in 2020 but failed to get past Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. If there were ever a season for the Celtics to surprise anyone and win a title it was last season. The issue? Not nearly enough 3-point shooting and a lack of depth at center. The Celtics had to run smaller lineups and really they’re at their best with a legit center. Thompson sort of gives Boston that on a short-term deal. He’s won before and he’s a solid rebounder. Thompson kind of got left behind on the Cavaliers after LeBron James bolted again, so perhaps moving to a contender will light a fire under him.

The Celtics can now run a rotation with two actual centers with Thompson and Daniel Theis. If you ask me, the Celtics would also be better served if Jayson Tatum wasn’t playing the 4 but really it’s tough to keep one of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Tatum off the floor. So Brown at the 3 and Smart at the 2 makes sense. Thompson has the size to matchup (somewhat) with the elite bigs in the East — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis. Before, the Celtics were trying to get by without size. It sucks that Gordon Hayward left for nothing but Thompson is exactly what the Celtics need and he doesn’t really carry much risk. If things don’t work out, you can ship Thompson out for assets next season.

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards

Reported Contract: five years, $80 million

Grade: C

Finally, a poor grade for a contract this offseason! There wasn’t much depth in this free agent class so a lot of players are going on the cheap. Plus, the salary cap didn’t go up from last season, so it’s tough to overpay. This feels a bit like an overpayment for Bertans, who was one of the better 3-point shooters last season on a very bad team. A lot of what the Wizards are basing this contract on is in a season in which Bertans performed well on an awful Wizards team. Sure, the is only 28 years old and likely entering his prime. He could break out. Do I think he will? Probably not.

The Wizards are trying to ship out John Wall’s miserable contract. I once thought that it was possible but now I just don’t see it. Wall will be stuck in Washington and the Wizards may need to trade two-time All-Star SG Bradley Beal. Wall wants out, so that doesn’t make anything any easier. The Wizards may have a decent front court locked in with Bertans, Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura, but without the guard play they won’t compete. I mean, realistically it’ll be hard to compete in the East anyway for the Wiz.

Let’s get back to Bertans though. Before this past season, Bertans hadn’t sniffed 30 minutes per game. He came off the bench all season, but was playing starters minutes, mostly because the Wizards didn’t have Wall and were struggling to stay afloat. Beal basically carried the team and Bertans shot at an insane clip from 3-point range. He shot 42.4 percent from 3-point range in 2019-20 and shot around the same the season before with San Antonio. It’s encouraging that he kept that percentage up while increasing his attempts by a wide margin. Can he sustain it over the course of this contract? I’m not sure. To pay this much for — at best — a solid 6th man, seems like a bad move.

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

Reported Contract: three years, $41 million

Grade: A

The Rockets are hard to figure out at this point. They want to keep both James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and ultimately I think that’s what will happen. If they don’t? I mean, signing Wood could be the steal of free agency. It also could end up being a moot point. Wood is only on a three-year deal and basically was a flash-in-the-pan for the Pistons after Blake Griffin was injured and Andre Drummond was traded. There’s no doubt Wood has upside. Can he perform on a team that is competing and playing meaningful games? We don’t know.

The thing is, the Rockets needed to make a move like this. If Harden and Westbrook are forced to play out the season in Houston, it’s not like they’re going to mail it in. The Rockets don’t have Robert Covington, but P.J. Tucker is still kicking it along with Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers. Houston has been getting by with not much on the roster outside of the studs and its led to playoff berths. As long as Harden and Westbrook are on the roster, the Rockets will be in the playoff hunt. If Wood can feed off of that, it may work to his advantage.

Wood doesn’t need to be anything more than a solid presence down low. The fact that he went to a situation that could end up being just him is also appealing, more so for fantasy basketball purposes. But like I said above, I still think Harden and Westbrook will most likely stay put. That the reports were more of an overreaction than anything. If that’s the case, Wood slots in at PF or even C on an offense that should be miles better than what he played on in Detroit.