Early Returns On Big Free Agent Contracts

November 15 2012 at 3:50pm CDT By Luke Adams

Over the summer, eight free agents signed contracts that were worth a guaranteed $40MM or more – in some cases, such as Deron Williams' $98.77MM deal, they were worth a lot more.

Since all these contracts were for either four or five years, it will be a while yet before we can determine whether they'll be bargains, busts, or something in between. Still, with the season well underway, it's not too early to look at how these eight guys are handling the pressures of their big new deals so far.

Because Ersan Ilyasova's $40MM contract with the Bucks isn't fully guaranteed in its last year, he isn't included here. Extended players like Blake Griffin, James Harden, and others aren't on our list either, since their new contracts won't officially kick in until next season. Here's a look at the early returns on this summer's top eight free agents:

  • Deron Williams, Nets (Five years, $98.77MM): Williams has helped lead the Nets to a 4-2 start in Brooklyn, averaging 17.7 PPG and 7.7 APG to date. The Nets' wins have come against some mediocre competition in the Raptors, Cavaliers, and Magic, and Williams' numbers across the board are slightly below his career averages, including an ugly .258 3PT% on over five three-pointers per game. But as D-Will continues to adjust to all his new teammates, I expect those numbers to improve.
  • Brook Lopez, Nets (Four years, $60.83MM): Like his aforementioned Nets teammate, Lopez has taken advantage of a few early-season contests against Eastern Conference lottery teams to get off to a good start, including a 24.0 PER. Even more encouraging than Lopez's stats though is his health — after a lost 2011/12 season, Lopez will have a much easier time living up to his maximum-salary contract if he returns to the 82-game form he displayed in his first three years.
  • Eric Gordon, Hornets (Four years, $58.37MM): While Lopez has started strong after injuries wiped out his 2011/12 campaign, Gordon hasn't bounced back quite so nicely from an injury-plagued '11/12. After a summer in which he essentially urged New Orleans not to match his offer sheet with the Suns, Gordon didn't seem to be on the same page as the Hornets when it came to his health. There's still plenty of time for this contract to work out, but when it's newsworthy that Gordon is expressing a commitment to the Hornets and hasn't requested a trade, that's not a great sign.
  • Roy Hibbert, Pacers (Four years, $58.37MM): With Danny Granger out of action, the Pacers have struggled as a team, getting off to a 3-6 start. Hibbert hasn't exactly stepped up in Granger's absence, shooting 38.6% from the floor in his first nine games, with his PPG, RPG, and PER all well below last year's marks. For his part, Hibbert says his contract isn't weighing on his mind, and figures his shots will start falling eventually.
  • Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers (Four years, $46.12MM): My pick for 2012/13's Most Improved Player, Batum is making me, and the Blazers, look good through eight games. On Portland's new-look roster, Batum is playing more minutes (38.8 to 30.4), taking more shots (14.6 to 10.9), and shooting more threes (7.3 to 4.6) than he did a year ago, and his overall numbers reflect that, with career-high averages virtually across the board so far.
  • JaVale McGee, Nuggets (Four years, $44MM): The Nuggets are off to a bit of a slow start, winning just four of their first eight games, and they'll likely need more of a contribution from McGee to become an elite team. The former Wizard is coming off the bench and averaging less than 20 minutes per contests so far, which isn't something you want to see from a guy making an eight-digit salary. McGee has been productive in limited action, so we'll see if his minutes increase as he gets more comfortable in George Karl's system.
  • George Hill, Pacers (Five years, $40MM): Like Batum in Portland, Hill is earning more minutes and taking way more shots after signing a lucrative new contract. Part of that can be attributed to Granger's injury, but the Pacers are leaning on Hill heavily with Darren Collison playing in Dallas, and he's been handling the extra pressure in Indiana better than Hibbert has so far.
  • Gerald Wallace, Nets (Four years, $40MM): Wallace has appeared in just one game this season for the Nets, having been forced out of action with a sprained ankle. The 30-year-old forward misses a few games every season with various ailments, so hopefully he's just getting that out of the way early this year. If he's plagued by injuries for much of 2012/13, this four-year contract will be off to an ominous start.
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