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Best And Worst Of The 2010 NBA Free Agent Apocalypse

LeBron James' decision got all of the attention, but a few teams left a much worse taste in their fans' mouths with bad choices during the 2010 Free Agent Period From Hell. The Hook looks back, one year later.

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 21:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks walks over to hug LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat after the Hawks 98-89 win at Philips Arena on October 21 2010 in Atlanta Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - OCTOBER 21: Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks walks over to hug LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat after the Hawks 98-89 win at Philips Arena on October 21 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images

A year ago, we were embarking on a season replete with storylines in the wake of the craziest free agency period in NBA history. The two-time reigning MVP switched teams, joining two All-Stars in a major coup that put the rest of the league on defense. Other risers like the Chicago Bulls consolidated power; the New York Knicks struck out on the biggest prizes, but still thrust themselves back into the spotlight. Teams like the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks kept their cores together, all looking to knock off the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers.

That free agency period had it all. Teams started clearing cap space three years out, but only a few franchises were blessed with the opportunity to import a game-changer. After all was said and done, who turned out to be the best deals in free agency? Once again, we use Win Shares to ascertain which 2010 free agents were underpaid and overpaid, with the note that some players (like No. 1 on this list) have value deep beyond what they offer on the court.

Now, the 10 best deals in 2010 free agency.

1. LeBron James, Heat

Actual salary: $14.5 million
Worth: $22.9 million
Underpaid by: $8.4 million

Everyone knew on June 30, 2010, that LeBron James was the free agent most worth his salary and the clear prize of free agency. That he ended up being the most underpaid free agent of 2010 is absolutely no surprise.

2. Dorell Wright, Warriors

Actual salary: $3.5 million
Worth: $8.5 million
Underpaid by: $5 million

Wright blossomed as a sharp-shooting small forward in Golden State. His defense is lackluster (even by the Warriors' standards) and with a smaller role should G.S. upgrade the position, Wright could drop back down this list quickly. But he was a bargain on the first year of his deal. He's signed over two more seasons for about $8 million.

3. Wesley Matthews, Blazers

Actual salary: $5.7 million
Worth: $10.6 million
Underpaid by: $4.8 million

So much for a toxic offer sheet. The Blazers pried Matthews away from the Utah Jazz by frontloading a mid-level deal. Matthews was on the books for just $5.7 million, though, and he earned almost twice that according to Win Shares. So even if you switch this up to account for the actual money paid instead of the cap figure, Matthews was underpaid. Sweet deal.

4. Ray Allen, Celtics

Actual salary: $10 million
Worth: $14.7 million
Underpaid by: $4.7 million

The Celtics locked up Allen on a two-year deal to keep the championship run alive. Boston also re-signed Paul Pierce, but Shuttlesworth ended up as the better deal in 2010-11. If Allen continues to shoot the lights out, it looks like he'll be worth his $10 million salary again in 2011-12, if 2011-12 ever begins.

5. Gary Neal, Spurs

Actual salary: $525,000
Worth: $5.1 million
Underpaid by: $4.6 million

Neal was a ridiculous bargain as far as never-drafted free agents go -- basically, he was the 2010-11 version of 2009-10 Wesley Matthews. Here's the ridiculous part: San Antonio has him locked up for two more seasons at the minimum salary. A gift that will likely keep on giving, and one that can be dismissed at almost no cost if it stops giving.

6. Dwyane Wade, Heat

Actual salary: $14.2 million
Worth: $18.8 million
Underpaid by: $4.6 million

Wade's real value is obviously much more than that extrapolated by Win Shares, both because Wade helped recruit Chris Bosh and LeBron and also because as the face of the franchise and a wildly popular athlete, he helps the franchise's bottom line off the court. Barring injury, he figures to earn out his near-max contract over its term.

7. Kyle Lowry, Rockets

Actual salary: $5.8 million
Worth: $10.3 million
Underpaid by: $4.5 million

Lowry had his best season, ruined Aaron Brooks' free agency and made the Cavaliers look like geniuses, which was rather hard to do last season. Cleveland signed Lowry to a lucrative but reasonable offer sheet in July; Houston wisely matched despite the potential for a Brooks-Lowry logjam. An early injury to Brooks let Lowry bloom, and the rest is history. As the Rockets embark on their next stage under Kevin McHale, Lowry is either an affordable above-average starter or a great trade chip.

8. James Jones, Heat

Actual salary: $2.7 million
Worth: $6.9 million
Underpaid by: $4.2 million

One of the issues with Win Shares is that roleplayers on excellent teams might see inflated totals. That said, Jones did play 1,500 minutes over 81 games, and was deadly efficient (with an Offensive Rating of 128) throughout. Jones was Miami's sole "ringchaser" that worked out really well. (That definition isn't exactly fair to Jones, who was with the Heat before LeBron arrived. But the thought was that the Heat would get a slew of underpaid veterans chasing rings. Jones was the only one who outperformed his contract by any great measure. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was also deemed underpaid.)

9. Kwame Brown, Bobcats

Actual salary: $1.2 million
Worth: $5.1 million
Underpaid by: $3.9 million

Well well well ... Kwame Brown finally found a salary level he could earn out. The Bobcats signed Brown for the minimum; Brown played like someone who should be paid close to the mid-level. I look forward to someone now signing Brown to the mid-level. Unsurprisingly, Brown derives nearly all of his value on the defensive end, where he's a solid rebounder and pretty good team defender. He's also hidden his shortcomings on offense rather well; his turnovers are fewer these days.

10. Tony Allen, Grizzlies

Actual salary: $3 million
Worth: $6.9 million
Underpaid by: $3.9 million

While Boston made good decisions to keep Allen and Pierce for another run, letting go of Allen turned out to be a mistake. The Celtics needed help up front more than in the backcourt given the ages of Jermaine O'Neal, Shaq and Kevin Garnett, but Allen was so good a defender and an effective offensive roleplayer for Memphis.


You'll notice that a large number of big names from the 2010 Free Agent Apocalypse haven't big mentioned. Since I know your heart won't rest until you see them ...

Amir Johnson, Raptors: Johnson signed a five-year, $30 million deal, drawing a number of LOLs. He was underpaid $3.3 million last season, according to Win Shares. Who's laughing now? (Probably Amir Johnson, crashing a ballet in Kiev.)

Paul Pierce, Celtics: Pierce did indeed earn out his $13.8 million salary, with $3.1 million to spare.

Raymond Felton, Knicks/Nuggets: The point guard who started hot for the Knicks but was shipped to Denver was underpaid by about $900,000.

Chris Bosh, Heat: You were, no doubt, wondering where the third member of the Heatles was on the underpaid list. As it turns out, his drop in production coincided with a drop in Win Shares. But he was still worth his near-max contract, overearning by about $600,000.

Luis Scola, Rockets: Scola signed a rich deal with Houston, and managed to earn out in Year 1. (He was underpaid by $300,000.) But he's exiting his "prime age," so the back end of the deal in 2012-13 could be dicey, though not catastrophic.

Richard Jefferson, Spurs: Jefferson remains a stain on R.C. Buford's record -- that deal is ugly -- but San Antonio broke even, per Win Shares, in the first season. Again: roleplayers on excellent teams may have inflated Win Shares totals. Keep that in mind.

Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Dirk signed a four-year, $80 million in free agency, and earned $17 million last season. But Win Shares only offered him $16 million in earned salary. I'm guessing Mark Cuban won't complain.

John Salmons, Bucks: Salmons made Milwaukee instantly regret its contract, underperforming his $8 million salary to the tune of $1.7 million. And he's only likely to get worse as a player in his 30s. But wait! Milwaukee was able to trade him a year into the contract. Lucky Sacramento. /drowns self in cheap wine

David Lee, Warriors: Lee made $10.8 million, played 73 games and came in just $2 million overpaid. Considering how much the elbow injury seemed to bother him all season, it's not clear why things seem so doom and gloom in the Bay Area.

Mike Miller, Heat: Miller was paid more than twice of what his production was worth. Given that he missed exactly half of the season, this works out OK!

Brendan Haywood, Mavericks: Haywood wasn't as big a disaster as we think: he ought to have been paid $4.2 million, but made $6.9 million. Eh. Mark Cuban was just going to use those bills to steam his tamales with anyways.

Drew Gooden, Bucks: The first man signed in the 2010 free agency rush was one of the more overpaid. He should have made $2.6 million, but took home $5.8 million. Ah well. He's only signed for four more seasons.

Darko Milicic, Timberwolves: Manna From Heaven was worth $294,000. David Kahn signed him for four years, $20 million, with a starting salary of $4.3 million. I absolutely do not hate to say, "I told you so."

Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks: New York tossed $99 million over five years for STAT; Win Shares say Amar'e should have earned $11.8 million, not the $16.5 million he took home.

Travis Outlaw, Nets: Outlaw was the biggest threat to Manna From Heaven and Joe Johnson as "worst free agent signing" of 2010; he came out overpaid by $5.8 million last season. That's a problem when he only made $7 million.

Carlos Boozer, Bulls: Boozer missed 23 games, and as such, was overpaid by $5.8 million. He'd have been close to properly compensated without the injury.

Joe Johnson, Hawks: There he is! Silent Joe had 4.2 Win Shares for a good team. At the average rate of $1.47 million per Win Share, J.J. was "worth" $6.1 million. The problem: he made $16.3 million. Johnson was by far the most overpaid free agent of 2010 -- the closest contender was Boozer, overpaid by $5.8 million; J.J. was overpaid by $10.2 million, nearly twice as much. Even worse, only four players in the entire league who played at least 50 games were more overpaid than Johnson: Andrei Kirilenko, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas. Two of those players will be much cheaper free agents when the season starts. The other two are the biggest albatrosses in the sport. Welcome to the club, Joe. Good job, Hawks.


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