With Kawhi Leonard’s decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers (while stealing Paul George in the process), NBA free agency is finally coming down off of peak ridiculousness. Since our last update from the first 24 hours of free agency, several former Kentucky players have found new homes. A few of them didn’t even sign until shortly after Leonard announced his decision to join the Clippers.
Out of the gate, Julius Randle, Enes Kanter, and Nerlens Noel were all reported to have signed new deals. Since then, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, Darius Miller, and Willie Cauley-Stein have all agreed to new contracts. So let’s start with the two former teammates who are being reunited in Laker Land.
DeMarcus Cousins (1-year, $3.5 million) and Rajon Rondo (2-years, veteran minimum) – Los Angeles Lakers
These two signings were beginning to feel inevitable. The Rondo signing, in particular, could have been made official weeks ago. And once Leonard landed with the Clippers, Cousins arrival with the Lakers felt like the next step. And now here we are, reuniting the 2017 New Orleans Pelicans roster (with the addition of one LeBron James).
Both signings make sense and won’t complicate the Lakers future cap space. Rondo and Cousins will both likely come off the bench (or they should, at least) to lead the second unit. There are more than enough statistics that prove Rondo and James did not work well together on the court – especially on defense – and Cousins could dominate as the go-to scorer with the bench lineup.
The Lakers finally have shooters to surround James and Rondo (and Cousins, in a sense) with snipers such as Danny Green and Troy Daniels along with other above-average shooters such as Quinn Cook and Jared Dudley. The spacing those players bring should open things up a bit more for Rondo when he’s running without LeBron.
But the match is made in heaven, considering Anthony Davis, Cousins, and Rondo all have experience playing together in New Orleans. Cousins will once again have another shot in a big market to prove he’s worth a significant contract – and he won’t miss the first 50 games this year, either. Rondo is a proven locker room presence with experience on this team. Even if he isn’t a massively valuable player on the court, he’ll earn his worth through influencing off the court.
Darius Miller – New Orleans Pelicans (2-years, $14 million)
This one shocked the hell out of me and I couldn’t have been happier when the Twitter notification popped up on my phone. Miller didn’t have a poor season, per se, but his production took a sizable hit from the year before. After making 41.1 percent of his threes during the 2017-18 season, Miller converted on only 36.5 percent of his shots from deep this past year. But despite that, he provides a clear skill that has become so valuable in the NBA. Even at under 37 percent, Miller is still a well above-average shooter. I just didn’t expect the Pelicans to pay $7.5 million per year for it.
But shoutout to Miller. He got PAID. We all need to get in contact with his agent for any future job negotiations. And he won’t even have to deal with a tanking franchise after the David Griffin one-month rebuild he executed to perfection as the Pelicans President. Miller averaged 24-25 minutes over the course of the last two seasons and the added depth from the Davis trade may cost him some playing time. But one thing looks clear; Griffin loves Miller and was willing to overpay to keep him around. He’s still going to be a rotational NBA player. What a story Darius Miller has turned out to be in the NBA.
Willie Cauley-Stein – Golden State Warriors (1-year, salary not yet disclosed)
Following in the previous footsteps of Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein has side-stepped a potential long-term deal in favor of a one-year contract with the Golden State Warriors. The circumstances are quite different, however, from what Cousins went through. And far less dramatic.
Kevin Durant left. Klay Thompson could miss the entire regular season. The roster is limited around Steph Curry and Draymond Green. But adding in WCS will be a seamless transition for the former Kentucky big. Playing off the greatest shooter of all-time is going to open up so many open dunks for Cauley-Stein he’ll be shocked at how open he is at times. That pick-and-roll combo will be a regular threat. The Warriors were already thin at center (even after resigning Kevon Looney) and Cauley-Stein immediately plugs that hole.
The big question will be whether or not this gamble will pay off. It didn’t exactly work out for Cousins (although injuries derailed that) and we recently saw Nerlens Noel cost himself millions of dollars a few seasons ago by trying something similar. Cauley-Stein is only 25, though, with plenty of room to improve. Golden State has a knack for pulling the best out of its role players. Here’s hoping they can help earn some money for WCS in the future.
Only a few former Wildcats remain on the open market. Wenyen Gabriel (Summer League with Sacramento Kings), Jodie Meeks (unrestricted free agent), and Trey Lyles (restricted free agent) are all still available. Lyles will likely stay with Denver and Meeks has apparently drawn some interest from the Thunder. But who knows if that’s true after the whole George ordeal. Gabriel will look to earn another short term deal with the Kings, perhaps playing with their G League affiliate.