6. J.J. Hickson, Denver (3 years, $16.2 million): He was one of seven bigs to average a double-double last season while playing both spots in Portland; the other six are on their rookie contracts or make at least $8 million a year, so Hickson may look like a bargain. But it’s hard to determine where his minutes are going to come from. Ownership wants center JaVale McGee to play starter’s minutes and earn his $11 million annual salary, and the Nuggets also re-signed center Timofey Mozgov for three years. At power forward, Denver has budding star Kenneth Faried, traded for Darrell Arthur and still has Anthony Randolph in deep reserve. Unless there is an injury or a trade, Hickson’s minutes – and production – are going to take a serious dip.
5. Randy Foye, Denver (3 years, $9.1 million): Another head-scratcher by the Nuggets, who got left holding the bag on Andre Iguodala’s departure, had to scramble for a shooting guard and came up short – literally. Although he comes with a relatively fair price tag, Foye is nowhere near the player Iguodala is on either end, and that will become painfully evident fairly quickly. His 6-4 size isn’t enough to offset 5-9 Nate Robinson, 5-11 Ty Lawson or 6-2 Andre Miller, who will be alongside him in the backcourt. And his presence slows the development of youngsters Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier.
4. Brandan Wright, Dallas (2 years, $10 million): Rick Carlisle and his staff deserve credit for resurrecting Wright’s career and turning him into a serviceable big. But he didn’t generate much outside interest while waiting for the Mavs to exhaust their cap room and undoubtedly could have been brought back at a lower salary. We know centers get paid, but Wright is not a full-fledged center, nor is he a full-time player.
3. Jose Calderon, Dallas (4 years, $29 million): We have no doubt that Calderon will be an improvement over last season’s point guard mess, which saw journeyman Mike James outplay Darren Collison and Roddy Beaubois for the starting job. And we have no doubt that Calderon’s pass-first mentality and ability to run the pick-and-roll will be lauded by Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. But Calderon is an old 31 (remember, he plays internationally) and couldn’t guard a rose bush. By the time this contract ends, he will be 35 and a virtual onramp for opposing offenses.
2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta (4 years, $24 million): Perhaps the best thing about Korver’s deal is that it decreases annually to a somewhat manageable $5.24 million in 2016-17. But Korver turns 36 that season and will be much more of a defensive liability than he is now, which is saying a lot. There is no doubt that Korver is one of the top two or three pure shooters in the game, and we don’t expect that skill to disappear. But $6 million per year is way too much to pay for a one-dimensional player, no matter how good he may be at that dimension.
1. Josh Smith, Detroit (4 years, $54 million): The only player to change teams this summer and get a bigger deal than Smith was Dwight Howard, his former AAU teammate. And while Howard’s deal dwarfs Smith’s package, you have to wonder about Pistons GM Joe Dumars spending $13.5 million per year to play Smith out of position. Anyone associated with the Pistons envisions bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond playing next to each other for a long time. That relegates Smith to small forward, where he doesn’t shoot well enough and isn’t quick enough to guard wings such as Luol Deng, Paul Pierce and LeBron James – and that’s just in the Eastern Conference. Smith still is just 27 and may figure it out. But as he has shown during his first nine seasons, his learning curve is not exactly accelerated.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.
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