Assessing This Year’s Free Agent Acquisitions

They lacked the sizzle of the LeBron James-led summer of 2010 group, but the 2011 class of free agents still included some accomplished veterans capable of making an impact. With a week left before the All-Star break, let’s take a look at some of the top free agents to change addresses and evaluate the initial returns for their new teams.

  • Power forward David West signed a two-year, $20MM deal with the Pacers after tearing the ACL in his left knee late last season with the Hornets. The injury allowed Indiana to snap up the two-time All-Star at a relative bargain, considering he’s averaged at least 18 PPG and 7.5 RPG for five years straight. They’ve been judicious in his use, giving him about 30 minutes a night, the least amount of playing time he’s seen since he became a full-time starter in 2005/06. He’s also getting about two fewer shots per 36 minutes, which helps explain his anemic 12.5 PPG this year. He’s making up for it in other areas. His rebounding per 36 minutes (8.2) is as high as it’s been since ‘07/’08, and he’s been more aggressive on defense, coming away with a steal every 36 minutes, as high a rate as he’s ever posted. The most significant endorsement of the signing is seen in the standings, where the Pacers, who sneaked into the playoffs at 37-45 last year, are 18-12 despite losing six of their last eight.
  • When the Knicks signed center Tyson Chandler to a four-year, $55.4MM deal, they envisioned him turning around their defense just as he had done in leading the Mavericks to the 2011 title. New York is giving up just 93.9 points a night after surrendering 105.7 per game last season, but that could be attributed as much to their slowed pace as to Chandler’s presence. Still, he’s averaging a steal per game, which he’s never done, and 1.3 blocks, his most since ‘06/’07. The surprise has been Chandler’s offense. He’s leading the league with a 70.3% field goal percentage, and averaging 11.7 PPG, a tick away from his career high. His greatest contribution may be his health on an otherwise banged-up Knicks team. He has started all 31 games New York has played this season, an auspicious sign for someone whose failed physical scuttled a trade to Oklahoma City three years ago. 
  • The Blazers were looking for offensive punch in the wake of Brandon Roy’s untimely retirement, and so they turned to Jamal Crawford, signing him to a two-year deal worth more than $10MM that includes a player option for next year. Crawford remade himself into an instant-offense bench player in Atlanta the last two seasons after several years spent mostly as a starter on lottery teams in Chicago, New York and Golden State. He won the sixth-man award in 2010, averaging 18.0 PPG, but that average dropped to 14.2 PPG last year. He’s shot more often in fewer minutes in Portland this season, but a paltry 38.6% field goal percentage is keeping him at 14.5 PPG. He’s giving them some minutes at backup point guard, though he’s primarily a shooting guard, and most of his value can be measured in his scoring numbers. His salary is roughly half of what he was making in Atlanta, but unless he can return to his 2010 form, he won’t be able to claim he’s underpaid.
  • The Clippers’ signing of Caron Butler took a backseat to the more ballyhooed trade for Chris Paul and defiant waiver claim of Chauncey Billups, but it’s had a major impact on the sudden rise of L.A.’s “other team.” He’s giving the Clippers a level of production that’s similar to what he was giving Dallas last season before going down with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. That helps justify the three-year, $24MM deal they gave him that approaches what he was making on his last contract. He’s averaging 15.0 PPG and 3.9 rebounds, and kicking in 1.2 steals every night. The major change in his game has been three-point shooting. He’s taking 5.5 three-pointers every night, almost three times his career average. He’s shooting 37.5% on those bombs, trailing the 43.1% rate he made in much fewer attempts last season, but it still gives the Clippers an outside threat that’s even more valuable now that Chauncey Billups is done for the year. Moving him away from the basket has led to his career-low rebounding numbers, but with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Evans and now Kenyon Martin around, the Clippers shouldn’t hurt for boards.
  • Coming off a season in which he averaged career lows in points, rebounds and assists (14.0/3.8/2.0), Vince Carter’s value was greatly reduced. Due to be paid $18MM this year, the Suns exercised their right to buy him out for $4MM shortly after the lockout ended. Carter wound up latching on with Dallas for the taxpayer mid-level exception at $3MM a year. If you assess him based on the value of his current contract, and not the 25-points-a-game star he was in Toronto and New Jersey, he’s been a worthwhile bargain so far. He’s taken over as the starting two-guard and provided a much needed scoring threat as Dirk Nowitzki has rounded into shape. He’s not asked to carry too much of a load, but since he returned after missing five games with a sprained left foot, he’s scored in double figures in nine of 12 games, including back-to-back 21-point efforts against the Spurs and Suns.
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