5 Sneaky Good Deals From Day 1 of NBA Free Agency

As expected, the first day of NBA free agency brought a frenzy of deals, with more than 60 deals announced leaked to the media. Some of the biggest names in this year’s free agent class found homes, both new and familiar, but there are still some significant dominoes left to fall.

NBA free agency brings with it several days where teams and players are allowed to negotiate, but deals aren’t finalized until the moratorium on transactions is lifted. That date this year is Aug. 6. Then we’ll see a flurry of not-exactly-news stories about previously agreed-to trades. The flurry of free agent deals is part of that package.

The high-profile moves are the ones that get all the attention. But championships are often won and lost in the shadows of those moves. Here are five free agents who are sneaky good additions or retentions for their teams.

Golden State Warriors take a cheap flier in NBA free agency

According to tweets from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Otto Porter turned down midlevel exception offers from other teams and agreed to a veteran’s minimum contract with the Golden State Warriors in NBA free agency. That allows Golden State to add an experienced combo forward with shooting skills for $2.39 million.

Porter is something of a risk. He’s missed most of the last two seasons with foot and back problems. The offers Porter received were a massive step down from his last experience in free agency. In 2017, he signed a four-year, $106.5 million contract to remain with the Washington Wizards. The Wizards matched an offer sheet Porter had received from the Brooklyn Nets.

That means Porter is going from a $28.5 million salary to a little less than $2.4 million. It’s the classic one-year, prove-it deal for a veteran who is a 40.2% shooter from 3-point range and can play the stretch 4 spot in small-ball lineups. If it works, the Warriors are big winners. If Porter proves to still be damaged goods, it’s not a huge financial bath for Golden State.

JaVale McGee brings needed size to Phoenix Suns

Olympian JaVale McGee (yes, those are words one never expected to string together) agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal to join the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns. Haynes tweeted the agreement for McGee, who is in Tokyo with Team USA.

At 7-feet and 270 pounds, McGee brings something to the Suns in NBA free agency that was a problem in the NBA Finals loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. When Deandre Ayton wasn’t on the floor, Phoenix had no one equipped to be more than a speed bump in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s runs to the rim. McGee isn’t going to star, or even start, but he’s an experienced NBA big with length and bulk.

Lest we forget, McGee also brings the experience of three NBA championships to the Suns. He was primarily a backup with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 and was the starter for the 2020 champion Los Angeles Lakers.

NBA free agency creates an LA Lakers reunion party

After the Lakers added (or at least will add) Russell Westbrook, critics looked at the lack of shooting as the Achilles’ heel of the Westbrook-LeBron James-Anthony Davis combination. NBA free agency delivered Trevor Ariza and Wayne Ellington to address the problem.

Both are former Lakers, so they are familiar with the LA landscape. Ellington has made his career as a shooter, hitting 38.2% from long range over his 12 NBA seasons. He knocked down 42.2% of his attempts for the Detroit Pistons last season, just off his career high. Haynes tweeted news of his agreement.

The well-traveled Ariza, entering his 17th season, last played with the Lakers in 2009, so he’s won a ring in LA. He’s a career 35.2% 3-point shooter and made 35% last season with the Miami Heat. At 36, he still a solid defender on the wing and can buy a team a few minutes as a small-ball 4. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN had the report.

With Ariza and Ellington, the Lakers addressed the shooting question. They still have more work to do with their roster, but they have at least added what they needed after getting Westbrook.

Taking less to stay with Milwaukee Bucks an easy choice for Bobby Portis

Bobby Portis had bigger NBA free agency offers but opted to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks
Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates with fans during the second half in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum on July 20, 2021. | Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Bobby Portis was a key reserve for the champion Milwaukee Bucks last season. When he declined his $3.8 million option, many assumed Portis was leaving the Bucks. Instead, according to tweets from Shams Charania of The Athletic, Portis turned down larger NBA free agency offers to take a two-year, $9 million deal that includes a player option for 2022–23.

Portis was extremely popular in Milwaukee. He expressed his appreciation for that in a Players Tribune piece during the NBA Finals. After agreeing to terms to remain with the Bucks, Portis tweeted in a way uniquely his.

While he’s had seasons with bigger numbers, Portis had a career year in 2020–21 as a stretch big. He averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes per game. Portis was also third in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 47.1%. That number likely regresses to the mean next season; his previous career best from deep was 39.3%.

Miami Heat address the gaping hole in their rotation with P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker was obviously blindsided by the Milwaukee Bucks not making a stronger push to keep him. Tucker came over from the Houston Rockets near the trade deadline in March. He did exactly what the Bucks got him to do. Tucker defended and he knocked down an occasional 3.

After the trade, Tucker hit 39.4% of his deep attempts. In the playoffs, he didn’t shoot well. But his defense was key to the Bucks’ title run. He defends 1 through 5 as well as anyone in the NBA, and how he’s never made an All-Defense team is worthy of an investigation. (The downside of playing for some of the bad Suns teams before going to Houston, which isn’t exactly notorious for defending.)

Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Milwaukee was scared off by the luxury-tax impact of keeping Tucker. Tax implications often are a significant part of the NBA free agency puzzle.

“An offer that started at, say, $7 million would have cost the Bucks approximately $23 million in tax and, this, would mean a $30 million bill. That, above all else, is why he’s not coming back to the Bucks.”

Sam Amick, The Athletic

After the Heat reached an agreement to add Kyle Lowry and are close to an extension for Jimmy Butler, there were questions about the gigantic hole at the 4. Tucker answers those questions, with the added advantage of never having to run a play for him.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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