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Teams Celebrate Independence by Shackling Themselves to Contracts

Free agency has been a stunner thus far. I have been surprised by the amount of action with second and third tier free agents. Teams aren't waiting for dominoes to fall, and some* will be rewarded for that. The market is only bound to heat up, as teams, flush with cash and exceptions, feel compelled to pick up weaker and weaker pieces.

What does that mean for the Pistons? It means they should be very cautious with their MLE. Remember, an MLE contract can represent a $30+ million commitment over as many as five years. A player like Brendan Haywood would be an obvious choice in any other year, but now looks to be in good shape to get a deal in the $50 million range.

Frankly, it reminds me of 2000, when teams fell over themselves to offer huge contracts to the likes of Jalen Rose and Tim Thomas (the Pistons were one of those teams, as you might recall... Dodged a bullet).

With reports of signings and verbal agreements coming in, I'll be grading individual deals as they come into focus.

Here's where we are at to date.

Joe Johnson - SG
Hawks: 6 yrs. $119 million
Grade: F

Apparently, Johnson has yet to take the offer, but it's more than any other team can (or would) offer. At this point he's probably angling for a sign and trade, but I can't see Johnson turning down that kind of scratch.

As for the signing itself, we knew before the off-season began that whichever team threw big money at Johnson would be stuck with one of the worst contracts in the league. This contract will pay him until he is 34 years old, and he is already a pretty lousy defender.

Some team is going to get Josh Childress, who is a better player and two years younger, for half the cost at fewer years. That's how bad this signing is.

Rudy Gay - SF
Grizzlies: 5 yrs. $82 million
Grade: D

Again, we knew someone was going to get stuck with the Gay boobie prize. I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised that team is the Grizzlies. Didn't they give up Pau Gasol in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history in order to cut salary?

Gay has been consistently average since joining the league. His value is driven by the misperception that he is likely to bud into a bigger star. At age 23, that is pretty unlikely, especially since he is staying put.

The best thing you can say for this contract is that, for what it's worth, the Grizz will be getting the Rudy Gay in his prime years.

Steve Blake - PG
Lakers: 4 yrs. $16 Million
Grade: C+

The Lakers obviously want to upgrade at the point guard position, but I'm not sure they have done so. Mostly, they have just traded defense (Derek Fisher) for offense (Blake). At 30, Blake is hardly a likely candidate for a defensive renaissance, though if he shoots 43% from the three point line, that might not matter.

I question the contract length here, but it's probably reasonable to assume Blake was going to receive multiple offers. I just wonder if they wouldn't have been better off sticking with Fisher for one more year and exploring greener pastures next summer. But with other teams looking to siphon his (apocryphal) championship mojo, that might not have been an option.

Channing Frye - FC
Suns: 5 yrs. $30 million
Grade: B

Frye was a revelation last year for the Suns, who need someone to step into a full time frount court role. Frye has been uneven throughout his career, but his price seems to reflect that. Any guy who can play center and can hit 40% from three point range is going to get $6 million per, and at 26, Frye should provide maximum value throughout the life of the contract.

Hakim Warrick - PF
Suns: 4 yrs. $16-18 million
Grade: A-

The other shoe to drop in the Amare departure. Warrick is a great pickup at this price, and should be a great fit in the Suns upscale system. Warrick must get under the skin of coaches, because he has been almost criminally underutilized while playing for mediocre teams. He'll fight Robin Lopez and Channing Frye for minutes, but there should be enough to go around.

John Salmons - SG
Bucks: 5 yrs. $39 million
Grade: C-

Salmons parlayed a very solid 30 game stint with the Bucks into a nice fat contract that should take him into retirement. Obvously, the Bucks are in "win now" mode, and Salmons was a crucial part of their surprising season. Still, Salmons has been a remarkably average player for most of his career, and will turn 31 next season. This strikes me as an example of a player getting paid based on points scored, and not on overall contribution.

Drew Gooden - PF
Bucks: 5 yrs. $32 million
Grade: B

Everyone seems to hate this one, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Drew Gooden is an odd cat, but he has been consistently above average for several years now. He is a good rebounder and mid-range shooter. Further, the Bucks will like play it very cautious with Andrew Bogut, and Gooden can step in and play big minutes in the front court.

Combined with the Maggette trade, it is clear that the Bucks are thinking they can sneak into the Eastern Conference mix. They might be right. Any team that hits the free agency jackpot may well need a year to build a functioning roster around their newly acquired stars.

Nikolas Pekovic - F
Timberwolves: 3 yrs. $13 million
Grade: B-

Apparently, they guy is a quality player, but this still seems like $2-3 million too much. That said, this is easily the least stupid of the Timberwolves' two offseason moves. If the Timberwolves are intent on moving Al Jefferson, Pekovic might give them an insurance policy.

Darko Milicic - FC
Timberwolves: 4 yrs. $20 million
Grade: F

This might be a forgivable offense if the T-Wolves were over the cap, and only able to resign their own players. Why Darko? Why now? Who was bidding for his services? How does this help Minnesota win games? KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN!

Paul Pierce - SF
Celtics: 4 yrs. $61 million
Grade: B-

This is more than Pierce is worth in a vacuum, but his departure would throw the Celtics into a rebuilding period just one year after they made game seven of the championship series. Pierce held all the strings, and will almost certainly retire a life-long Celtic.

Amir Johnson - FC
Raptors: 5 yrs. $34 million
Grade: C

The most snicker-inducing contract this offseason is far from the worse. On a per-minute basis, this represents outstanding value. The problem is that fouls limit the number of minutes Amir can play.

Still, he's 22, and he only fouled out once last season in 82 games. The Raptors are almost certainly hoping he can stay on the court long enough to replace Bosh's minutes. If he can, this contract might look like a steal. Still, it's tough to discern why the Raps felt compelled to put forward such a generous offer.