NBA free agency 2024: The 7 best contracts of the summer, starring Paul George

We brought you the NBA's seven worst contracts of the summer, so what would we be if we did not bring you the seven best? We would be the worst. And we obviously are not the worst. We are the best at this.

Listen: It is hard being right about every contract. It makes every general manager around the league uncomfortable how right we are. "Why do they have to be so right all the time?" they say. It is humbling.

Seriously, though, this is just, like, my opinion, man.

And I wanted to talk about some good deals. Not in the sense that these seven players just guaranteed themselves a combined $489.8 million. Good on them, but that is not what I am talking about. I want to talk about who changed his team's fortunes, how much and in what ways. Let us talk some basketball.

THE 2024 OFFSEASON'S 7 BEST CONTRACTS

1. Paul George, Philadelphia 76ers ($53M AAV)

Contract: 4 years, $212 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 35%

2023-24 (74 games): 22.6 PTS (47/41/91), 5.2 REB, 3.5 AST, 33.8 MIN

Advanced: 19.3 PER, 61.3 TS%, .140 WS/48, 3.2 BPM, 3.3 VORP

Cost Per Win: $7,246,059.59

No other move in free agency transformed a team from a pretender to a contender.

The Sixers created maximum salary cap space this summer, and then some, almost all of which was going to disappear once Tyrese Maxey signed his five-year, $204 million rookie-scale contract extension. They desperately needed another dimension, as their first-round playoff exit laid bare, and this was their only chance to find it. They did not have the assets to outbid other trade suitors for an All-Star-caliber player.

The presence of Maxey and Joel Embiid meant that player better be a wing — a two-way one at that. The question was not whether the Sixers should sign George. He fit their description exactly. It was what they would do if they could not sign him. There was DeMar DeRozan and Klay Thompson and ... who else exactly changed teams? The Sixers might have been left picking up the pieces of Tobias Harris, Nicolas Batum, Buddy Hield and De'Anthony Melton — the same guys who participated in that first-round playoff exit.

There was significant risk to whiffing with this cap space, chief of which was Embiid's unhappiness. Fail to land a paradigm-shifting talent — or even the veil of one, which may be all George is for Philadelphia —and the 76ers could easily have lost Embiid's confidence. This was a team on the precipice of dissolution.

Now, Philadelphia at least has hope. George is no superstar, but he does not need to be one, so long as Embiid stays healthy. And that is the way he likes it. George needs to complement Embiid and Maxey, and the entirety of his production — an efficient 23-5-4, plus stout defense — fits between them. He needs to make no sacrifices for them, and they need to make no sacrifices for him. He just has to be Paul George.

And that is pretty good, certainly better than any other option the Sixers had available to them. When the choice is between adding George — even a 34-year-old version who compounds injury concerns — or losing Embiid's faith in Philadelphia, it is clear: This signing swung fortunes, even before the games begin.

2. Isaiah Hartenstein, Oklahoma City Thunder ($29M AAV)

Contract: 3 years, $87 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 21.3%

2023-24 (75 games): 7.8 PTS (64/33/71), 8.3 REB, 2.5 AST, 25.3 MIN

Advanced: 18.9 PER, 67.0 TS%, .204 WS/48, 3.5 BPM, 2.6 VORP

Cost Per Win: $3,580,246.91

That is a lot of money for Isaiah Hartenstein — he of the eight points per game.

Then again, the Thunder had a lot of money to spend, and they needed only a center.

The swap of Josh Giddey for Alex Caruso shored up one problem. They had a 21-year-old, 6-foot-8 point forward whose shortcomings as a shooter made him an awkward fit on a team built for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. So they swapped him for a 30-year-old All-Defensive guard who shot 41% from 3 last season.

More than anything, that deal signaled the Thunder had officially graduated into win-now mode. And if they were serious about winning now, they had one more weakness to solve — optionality at center. Chet Holmgren was the only playoff-caliber big in the rotation, and he weighs 208 pounds. Holmgren is better suited as either a small-ball center or a roaming rim protector and floor spacer in lineups with more size.

The arrival of Hartenstein, the best center on the market, means the Thunder can play multiple ways. When they are getting pounded on the boards, as they were in their second-round playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks, they can play both Hartenstein and Holmgren. They can play five-out with Holmgren. They can play traditionally with Hartenstein. Either way, they have 48 minutes of high-level center play.

As far as centers go, Hartenstein is good at everything but shooting, and that is harder to find than you think. He was one of the league's most underrated defenders this past season. He can kill you around the rim. And he can really pass — a skill that separates him from the brutish bigs that will earn less than him.

Is it a lot of money for Isaiah Hartenstein? Sure, but when you have it to spare, and he unlocks the final piece to serious championship contention, you do it every time. And it weakens another contender in the process. Do not think for a second the Knicks were glad to see him go. Hartenstein unlocked them, too.

3. DeMar DeRozan, Sacramento Kings ($25.3M AAV)

Contract: 3 years, $76 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 16.6%

2023-24 (79 games): 24 PTS (48/33/85), 5.3 AST, 4.3 REB, 37.8 MIN

Advanced: 19.7 PER, 58.4 TS%, .147 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 2.8 VORP

Cost Per Win: $2,753,623.15

I am a sucker for DeMar DeRozan. He is a professional scorer and just a cool basketball player. He is one of the rare players who continued to improve his game into his 30s, adding a playmaking element and perfecting his mid-range mastery, and at 34 years old he is still at his best, which is pretty damn good.

DeRozan might not be the greatest defender, and his 3-point shooting never evolved, even as he has given in to attempting a few per game. But he is a no-maintenance, six-time All-Star. When have we ever heard DeRozan disrupting a locker room? He just goes about his business, and that is scoring repeatedly.

I do not know what you were expecting from Sacramento this summer, but it sure was not the addition of the best remaining player a week into free agency. When the franchise's list of top free-agent signings begins and ends with Vlade Divac, you tend not to shoot for the stars, and yet they found a fading one.

The Kings survived a 16-year playoff drought to reach the first round in 2023, and from there — operating in the context of a small market — you just want to get incrementally better. They did that with DeRozan.

He does not elevate them into serious title contention. The absence of a 3-point threat makes his fit between De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis less than ideal, but finding room for DeRozan in an offense that fell from a top-10 outfit to the middle of the pack last season is better than the alternative. And it cost them a third of the commitment the Sixers made to George, who was never considering Sacramento.

Most people do not consider the Kings. DeRozan did. That is a win, however imperfect he may be.

4. Chris Paul, San Antonio Spurs ($11M AAV)

Contract: 1 year, $11 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 7.4%

2023-24 (58 games): 9.2 PTS (44/37/83), 6.8 AST, 3.9 REB, 26.4 MIN

Advanced: 14.7 PER, 54.4 TS%, .136 WS/48, 1.0 BPM, 1.2 VORP

Cost Per Win: $2,558,139.53

This move will not deliver a championship, but it should help Victor Wembanyama expedite his path to perennially competing for titles, and that may be priceless. It is certainly worth more than $11 million.

When the Spurs tried Jeremy Sochan as Wembanyama's point guard last season, they were outscored by 15.9 points per 100 meaningful possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. And when Tre Jones played point for Wembanyama, the Spurs outscored opponents by 5.2 points per 100 non-garbage possessions.

That is right. When San Antonio fielded as much as a competent point guard, they transformed from a team that operated something like the worst in NBA history to one that performed like a 56-win roster.

And now the Spurs have added one of, if not the most competent point guard of a generation: Paul, who at 38 years old still averaged 9.2 assists per 36 minutes. His assist-to-turnover ratio (5.17) for the Golden State Warriors ranked second among full-time point guards last season (behind Tre's brother Tyus Jones).

Paul will sort and find everyone in the right spots, and that is all Wembanyama needs to become a league-altering force. Just as important, Wembanyama will learn the value of an astute point guard and demand as much for his entire career. Paul is Yoda to Wembanyama's Skywalker in more ways than their simple contrast in size, and The Force should live on in the Frenchman long after this contract is up.

5. Monte Morris, Phoenix Suns ($2.8M AAV)

Contract: 1 year, $2.8 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 1.5%

2023-24 (33 games): 5 PTS (41/39/68), 2.1 AST, 1.7 REB, 14.4 MIN

Advanced: 13.2 PER, 50.8 TS%, .123 WS/48, 0.7 BPM, 0.3 VORP

Cost Per Win: $2,334,028.33

The Suns had no point guard. They tried Devin Booker and Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon, and they all could have used someone to set them up as scorers. Third-year undrafted free agent Jordan Goodwin was not the answer. They had none, because they had only minimum contracts to offer potential point guards, so for some reason last season they decided never to bother fielding any veteran floor general.

Enter Morris, an assist-to-turnover god (9.86 in an injury-plagued 2023-24 regular season), who accepted a veteran minimum deal to facilitate for Booker, Beal and Kevin Durant. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

I cannot stress this enough: The Suns had no alternatives. The list of point guards who signed for the minimum this offseason included Jordan McLaughlin and PJ Dozier and was not long. To nab a table-setter of Morris' caliber — complete with a 39% career clip from 3 — is a prayer answered in Phoenix.

Is Morris transforming the Suns into a title contender? Probably not. But the presence of a point guard could mean the Suns' 10th-rated offense inches closer to where it should be as a top-five unit, and that is a start. You could do a lot worse than a playoff rotation point guard for the minimum. Just ask the Suns.

6. Caleb Martin, Philadelphia 76ers ($8.8M AAV)

Contract: 4 years, $35 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 5.8%

2023-24 (64 games): 10 PTS (43/35/78), 4.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 27.4 MIN

Advanced: 10.8 PER, 53.1 TS%, .066 WS/48, -2.0 BPM, 0.0 VORP

Cost Per Win: $3,645,833.33

You know you have made a good signing when the Miami Heat are "dumbfounded" by it.

The Heat reportedly offered Martin a five-year, $65 million extension prior to free agency. He turned it down, believing he could score more in an open market, and then settled for $35 million over four years. However they got him, the Sixers found themselves a bargain, at least in relation to how badly Miami wanted to retain him, and they weakened a conference rival in the process. A real two-for-one special.

Martin nearly won 2023 Eastern Conference finals MVP honors, averaging 19.3 points on 60/49/88 shooting splits in a seven-game win over the Boston Celtics on Miami's way to the NBA Finals. He never replicated that effort, but he proved, at the very least, he is a Playoff Guy, and those do not come easy.

Creating max cap space meant Philadelphia had to relinquish its rights to just about everyone, and spending big on Embiid, Maxey and George — $136 million between them in 2024-25 — meant the Sixers did not have much left for the rest of the roster. They retained Kelly Oubre Jr. and signed Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon for a combined $16.2 million, but adding Martin was the pièce de résistance.

7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Orlando Magic ($22M AAV)

Contract: 3 years, $66 million

Percentage of the 2024-25 salary cap: 16.2%

2023-24 (76 games): 10.1 PTS (46/41/89), 2.4 AST, 2.4 REB, 31.6 MIN

Advanced: 10.7 PER, 60.2 TS%, .096 WS/48, -1.4 BPM, 0.4 VORP

Cost Per Win: $4,583,333.33

I am not as sold as some on Caldwell-Pope's hand-in-glove fit for the Magic. He won championships with the Lakers and Nuggets, but how important is he if LeBron James and Nikola Jokić are not feeding him? Caldwell-Pope will be there if Paolo Banchero transforms into an apex predator in the near future, which he well could. That is worth $22 million in this market. (Who else was moving to Orlando this offseason?)

The Magic needed complementary 3-and-D help on the wing, and they got one of the best in the business. Caldwell-Pope belongs on the fringes of the All-Defensive conversation every year, and over the past five seasons, he has shot 40.3% on 4.3 3-point attempts per game. And, again, he won two titles.

Caldwell-Pope and Jalen Suggs form a dynamic defensive duo in Orlando's backcourt. The Magic have options at center. They need forwards Banchero and Franz Wagner to anchor a contender. Whether or not they can be cornerstones of a contender, their salaries will make it difficult to add talent around them. So add it while you still can.

And if you can weaken one of the NBA's title favorites in the process, all the better.

We have seen what Caldwell-Pope can be at his best — the fifth member of one of the league's best lineups, and it is on everyone else on the Magic to meet him at his level. If they cannot, Orlando's worst-case scenario would be flipping him to another contender convinced Caldwell-Pope is the missing piece. Barring injury, no cent will be lost on the value of this deal, whether he finishes it with the Magic or not.

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