2021 NBA free agency: The 10 best contracts, starring Lonzo Ball and title contenders

·8 min read

Most impactful players on the market have agreed to contracts in the opening days of 2021 NBA free agency, some more valuable than others, and we are here to sort out the best 10 signings of the week.

The league's power has only been consolidated more in big markets and warm climates. More than half of the 50 active players named to the last four All-Star Games will now play in either Miami or one of the six biggest media markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco). All nine teams in those cities feature at least two recent All-Stars, so it is not surprising to see many of the best available non-stars also flock to those locations for a chance to win a championship at a discounted rate.

Only four other teams — the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics — feature multiple recent All-Stars. All the more incredible that the Bucks and Suns met in this year's NBA Finals, and the Jazz submitted the league's best record last season. Only the Celtics, in an effort to keep their books clean for 2022 free agency, did not land at least one of the 20 best contracts in this year's free-agent class. 

Here are the top 10, followed by 10 more honorable mentions.

Lonzo Ball for less than $100 million in this NBA market is a win for the Chicago Bulls. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball for less than $100 million in this NBA market is a win for the Chicago Bulls. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls (4 years, $85 million)

  • Age: 23

  • Stats (31.8 MPG): 14.6 PPG (41/38/78), 5.7 APG (2.2 TO), 4.8 RPG, 2.1 S/BPG, 15.2 PER

The Bulls acquired Ball — a recent No. 2 overall pick who has shown significant promise and progress — for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick in a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Chicago could get more in return for Ball in the first year of his new deal, a testament to its value.

New Orleans stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram lauded Ball's contribution, lobbying for his return, and he is an even better fit as a fourth option whose top priority is facilitating for the Bulls' newfound wealth of stars. Why the Pelicans did not match Ball's contract is a mystery, considering it cost them more draft capital (a lottery-protected first-round pick) to acquire Devonte' Graham from the Charlotte Hornets.  

Reggie Bullock, Dallas Mavericks (3 years, $30.5 million)

  • Age: 30

  • Stats (30 MPG): 10.9 PPG (44/41/91), 3.4 RPG, 1.5 APG (0.7 TO), 1.0 S/BPG, 11.1 PER

The Mavericks whiffed on bigger-name free agents, but they needed 3-and-D wing help around rising superstar Luka Doncic, and Bullock fits that bill at a reasonable cost. Dallas ranked sixth in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season and 18th in efficacy. Bullock has bounced around five different teams, but he has maintained a 40.2% clip on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in an eight-year career, primarily playing alongside point guards Elfrid Payton, Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith — hardly Doncic-level facilitators.

Bullock is not an elite defensive player, but he is solid and was a mainstay in the best defensive lineups for the league's fourth-ranked outfit last season. You could do a lot worse at one of the league's most coveted positions. Guys like Gary Trent Jr. and Doug McDermott were paid far more to fill similar roles on balance.

Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns (3 years, $19 million)

  • Age: 26

  • Stats (18 MPG): 8.4 PPG (48/44/89), 3.6 APG (1.0 TO), 2.4 RPG, 0.9 S/BPG, 17.4 PER

Payne's backup point guard play was integral to the Suns' run to the NBA Finals. He even totaled 40 points on 34 shots and 18 assists against one turnover in two spot starts for the injured Chris Paul in consecutive wins to open the Western Conference finals. Payne was expected to garner significant interest on the open market. Instead, he accepted significantly lower than his projected market value to remain with the Suns.

Given their choice between Payne, Alex Caruso and T.J. McConnell, Phoenix surely sticks with Payne, and those other two reserve ball-handling options received a combined $72.2 million over the next four years.

Patty Mills, Brooklyn Nets (2 years, $12 million)

  • Age: 32

  • Stats (24.8 MPG): 10.8 PPG (41/38/91), 2.4 APG (1.0 TO), 1.7 RPG, 0.6 S/BPG, 11.8 PER

Every playoff team in the league could have used Mills, a champion with loads of big-game experience for the San Antonio Spurs and Australia's national team (19.6 points in 31.5 minutes per game at the Tokyo Olympics). There is no doubt some suitor would have offered him the full $9.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception. Instead, he took a discount in Brooklyn as a third guard behind Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

The rich get richer, especially when you consider the crosstown rival New York Knicks paid 32-year-old Derrick Rose more than twice as much annually as Mills and added a third year on the end of his contract.

Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks (2 years, $9 million)

  • Age: 26

  • Stats (20.8 MPG): 11.4 PPG (52/47/74), 7.1 RPG, 1.1 APG (0.8 TO), 1.2 S/BPG, 19.9 PER

Portis was a bargain last season, averaging 18 key playoff minutes per game on Milwaukee's championship run, and he declined a $3.8 million player option for the 2021-22 campaign. The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks reportedly offered significantly more to lure Portis away, but the Bucks retained him for little more than that original option, maintaining their $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception in the process.

Considering the Detroit Pistons paid $37 million over three years for Kelly Olynyk, the Bucks must feel relieved Portis took a third of that cost. Even Zach Collins, who has played 11 games since 2019, got more.

Bruce Brown, Brooklyn Nets (1 year, $4.7 million)

  • Age: 24

  • Stats (22.3 MPG): 8.8 PPG (56/29/74), 5.4 RPG, 1.6 APG (0.8 TO), 1.3 S/BPG, 16.1 PER

Brown was one of the more underrated players in free agency. He filled every gap Brooklyn needed around its three superstars last season, starting 37 games and even nominally playing center minutes at 6-foot-4. His restricted free agency may have tempered his market a bit, but someone should have made a multi-year offer to at least make his decision to return to the Nets harder. Instead, he just pads Brooklyn's depth.

Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets (1 year, $2.6 million)

  • Age: 32

  • Stats (25.8 MPG): 11 PPG (41/38/78), 4.9 RPG, 3.0 APG (1.2 TO), 1.2 S/BPG, 12.9 PER

Griffin is nowhere near the perennial All-Star level he maintained when healthy for much of last decade, but he was still a playoff rotational player for a Nets team that would have won the championship if healthy. The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz paid $17 and $12 million over the next two years to retain JaMychal Green and Rudy Gay for similar roles. A better chance to win a ring was apparently worth the difference for Griffin.

Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat (1 year, $2.4 million)

  • Age: 29

  • Stats (32.7 MPG): 19.8 PPG (41/33/75), 4.8 RPG, 4.6 APG (2.5 TO), 1.8 S/BPG, 14.3 PER

Oladipo has not been the same player since injuring his knee in January 2019, registering the two least efficient campaigns of his career while playing only 52 of 146 possible games over the past two seasons. He has shown signs of his former self in that span, including an 18-point performance on eight shots in 25 minutes before re-injury his right knee in his last appearance with the Heat. If Miami gets even one of those performances in the playoffs, Oladipo's contract will be worth it, and the potential is there for greater value.

Otto Porter Jr., Golden State Warriors (1 year, $2.4 million)

  • Age: 28

  • Stats (21.6 MPG): 9.7 PPG (43/38/86), 5.4 RPG, 2.0 APG (0.9 TO), 0.7 S/BPG, 14.5 PER

Porter was overpaid the moment he signed his $106.5 million max contract with the Washington Wizards in 2017 and remained that way on stops in Chicago and Orlando over the four years since. He is now severely underpaid at the veteran minimum. His length, versatility and shooting ability (40.2% from 3 for his career) are a perfect fit in an offense helmed by Stephen Curry, and Porter will only benefit from Warriors culture.

Malik Monk, Los Angeles Lakers (1 year, $1.8 million)

  • Age: 23

  • Stats (20.9 MPG): 11.7 PPG (43/40/82), 2.4 RPG, 2.1 APG (1.3 TO), 0.6 S/BPG, 13.6 PER

The Lakers surrounded superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a host of aging veterans, but lost in the news of Carmelo Anthony and company signing in L.A. was Monk's minimum deal. He is a 23-year-old University of Kentucky product and former lottery pick who shot 40.1% on five 3-point attempts per game for the Charlotte Hornets last season. His looks will only get better surrounded by Hall of Famers.

Honorable mentions

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks (4 years, $74 million)

Rudy Gay, Utah Jazz (2 years, $12 million)

Jeff Green, Denver Nuggets (2 years, $10 million)

Georges Niang, Philadelphia 76ers (2 years, $6.7 million)

Nicolas Batum, Los Angeles Clippers (2 years, $6.3 million)

Sterling Brown, Dallas Mavericks (2 years, $6.2 million)

JaVale McGee, Phoenix Suns (1 year, $5 million)

Ish Smith, Charlotte Hornets (1 year, $4.5 million)

Cody Zeller, Portland Trail Blazers (1 year, $2.4 million)

Nemanja Bjelica, Golden State Warriors (1 year, $2.1 million)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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