NBA

2020 NBA free agency: Five under-the-radar signings that matter, including Wesley Matthews and Jae Crowder

There are still some role players without a team, and Anthony Davis is yet to finalize his re-signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, but for the most part, the whirlwind that was 2020 free agency has come to an end. 

While there weren’t any superstars on the move like last year, there was still plenty of excitement, and a number of surprises — most notably, Gordon Hayward opting out of the final year of his deal with the Celtics to sign a four-year, $120 million contract with the Hornets. 

Elsewhere, Fred VanVleet stayed with the Raptors, and Brandon Ingram got the max from the Pelicans. Bogdan Bogdanovic left the Kings for the Hawks, who also added Danilo Gallinari in their effort to chase the playoffs. There was plenty of movement in Los Angeles, as the Lakers added Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers and Marc Gasol from the Raptors, while the Clippers picked up a former Raptor themselves in Serge Ibaka. Plus, Jerami Grant cashed in with the Pistons, while former stars Dwight Howard (76ers) and DeMarcus Cousins (Rockets) found new homes. 

Those were the moves that got the most attention, and for good reason. But there were plenty of other transactions that it was easy to lose track of in all the excitement. Ahead of the season, here’s a look at five under-the-radar signings that matter. 

Baynes is right on the border of perhaps being too big of a name to count as an under-the-radar signing, but we’ll include him since he was such an important addition for the Raptors. After losing Marc Gasol to the Lakers and Serge Ibaka to the Clippers, the Raptors suddenly needed to replace the entire starting frontcourt from a team that finished No. 2 in the East last season. 

Considering their options, Baynes was about as good as they could have done. The obvious concern is that he’s only played 93 games in the last two seasons combined, but if he stays healthy he’ll fit right into their starting lineup. He’s turned himself into a solid 3-point shooter — 35.1 percent on four attempts per game last season — and is a smart defender who offers a presence in the paint. (He’ll also form the league’s best charge-drawing tandem with Kyle Lowry.) 

The Raptors are facing a lot of competition this season to maintain their status as one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, and Baynes will go a long way towards helping them do that. 

The Suns made the biggest splash this offseason, swinging a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul that made it abundantly clear they’re all-in on getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. But getting CP3 wasn’t the only move they made. Among other free agent signings, they brought in Crowder on a three-year, $30 million deal. 

As we saw last season when he helped the Heat make the Finals, Crowder is an ideal role player to have if you’re trying to be a successful team. He defends all over the floor, will knock down open 3s and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Along with Paul, he also has plenty of playoff experience, and will help raise the standards and expectations around the team — an important aspect for a young Suns bunch that has been something of a laughing stock at various points in the last few years. 

One of the most surprising moves of the free agency period was when Jerami Grant signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Besides the price tag, the first question everyone had was why didn’t the Nuggets try to keep Grant? Well, it turned out they did make an effort, and actually offered the same money as Detroit did. Grant just wanted a bigger role. 

While that was an obvious loss, the Nuggets recovered in impressive fashion by luring JaMychal Green away from the Clippers with a two-year, $15 million deal. It’s not a perfect like-for-like replacement, but it’s pretty close. Green isn’t quite as versatile, but he’s a reliable stretch big who will hit open 3s — he’ll get a lot of them playing alongside Nikola Jokic — and is able to guard multiple positions on the defensive side of the ball, which helps the Nuggets maintain some lineup flexibility. 

The Nuggets’ first option was clearly retaining Grant, as their big-money offer showed, but Green will supply enough of his production to keep things humming along in the Mile High City. 

4. Wes Matthews

The Lakers still haven’t re-signed Anthony Davis, but while they’ve been waiting on him to decide how long he wants to commit for, they’ve been busy making all sorts of other deals. They traded for Dennis Schroder, signed Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris. 

Lost in all of that activity was another important free agent acquisition they made: Wesley Matthews. The veteran swingman is not only exactly what they needed after trading Danny Green, but they signed him away from the Milwaukee Bucks, who will be one of their rivals in the title chase this season.

Matthews is one of the best in the league at what he does: guard anyone you ask him to guard, and hit open 3s. He’ll step right into the starting lineup, and will give the Lakers a versatile defender on the wing, and a spot-up shooter to space the floor around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He’s not the most exciting or well-known player they added in the last few weeks, but in terms of night-to-night production, Matthews is as important as anyone the Lakers brought in. 

Teague is perhaps the definition of a league-average point guard. He can capably run a team and isn’t going to hurt you, but, especially at this stage of his career, it’s also not clear how much he’s really going to move the needle. You might be wondering, then, why is he included on this list?

Well, it’s because of Kemba Walker’s knee. The Celtics’ star point guard wasn’t 100 percent in the bubble, and Brad Stevens said recently in an interview with Jeff Goodman and Bob Ryan that “it’ll be some time before he’s going full speed, that’s for sure.” Stevens declined to give a timeline or any specifics, so it’s still not entirely clear what’s going on with Walker, but even in a best case scenario the Celtics are going to have to be careful with him this season.

All of a sudden, Teague signing a one-year deal earlier this offseason looks a lot more important. There’s a good chance Teague ends up starting a bunch of games over the course of the season, and he’s proven over the past decade that he’s as reliable as they come. If Stevens has to turn to Teague on occasion, he won’t have to worry about standards slipping. 



 

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