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2021 NBA free agency: Tracking the summer’s best bargain deals with Kemba Walker and Cameron Payne leading the pack

Teams such as the Heat and Lakers had empty roster spots with little cap space, so they were among the most active bargain shoppers.

Kemba Walker to the Knicks was one of the best bargain deals in free agency.
Kemba Walker to the Knicks was one of the best bargain deals in free agency.Read moreSarah Stier / MCT

The NBA free-agency spending spree is over. Most of the money dried up on Day One, so teams have done lots of bargain shopping in the interim.

Bargain shopping in the NBA is a simple concept. Teams seek veterans to sign for the minimum, mid-level exception, or some other form of deal that doesn’t harshly impact the salary cap.

Teams like the Heat and Lakers had empty roster spots with little cap space, so they’ve been the most active. However, several teams are getting a bang for their buck.

Here’s a look at some of the best bargain moves in NBA free agency:

First-Team all-pay cut

Kemba Walker, New York Knicks: The New York kid is returning home in the biggest deal during Day Three of free agency. Walker was bought out by the Thunder and swiftly scooped up by the New York Knicks.

Walker is New York through and through. He’s from the Bronx and went to Rice High School in Manhattan. He has a New York swag and has represented his hometown throughout his career.

While Walker didn’t play his best basketball last season in Boston, which traded him to the Thunder on June 18, it’s all about perspective for the Knicks. They’re adding a guy who averaged 19.3 points in a down season to replace Elfrid Payton. The Knicks only had about $8 million in cap space, so while the numbers haven’t been fully reported, Walker is giving New York a hometown discount.

Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns: If you watched Payne in the playoffs, you saw a player who was setting himself up for a career payday. Payne was the offensive spark off the Phoenix Suns bench, and he even carried them at times when Chris Paul was out. His biggest performance came in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, when he scored 29 points, dished nine assists and led the Suns to a big win over the Clippers without Paul.

Payne’s efficient 44% three-point shooting and 51.5% on twos led to a three-year, $19 million contract.

It was a good payday, but many people felt that Payne could’ve commanded more money. It looks like the Suns got the hometown discount.

Kendrick Nunn, Los Angeles Lakers: Leaving Miami didn’t seem too likely when Nunn was a restricted free agent, but then the Heat removed the hold and made him an unrestricted free agent. The Los Angeles Lakers quickly pounced.

Most of the Lakers’ other additions are role players who will need Russell Westbrook and LeBron James to create for them. Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony are the other two exceptions, but Nunn’s youth and consistent ability to score makes him a solid pickup on a two-year deal. He can get busy in the midrange, and he’s made more than two three-pointers per game in each of his first two seasons.

Nunn reportedly took less money with the Lakers. His value as a creator and shooter far outweighs his contract.

Otto Porter, Golden State Warriors: Otto Porter cashed out big in 2017 with a four-year, $106 million deal, so it wasn’t surprising to see him take a pay cut. Porter reportedly chose the Golden State Warriors over bigger deals.

Playing in Golden State is as easy as it gets when the band is healthy. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will run around with five eyes peaking at them while Draymond Green looks for a slither of space to get them the ball. That leaves other players with a simple job of knocking down open shots.

Porter has been a knockdown shooter most of his career. He topped 40% from behind the arc in three of his eight seasons. He shot 38.7% from three two seasons ago and 37.5% last year. If he shoots anywhere close to those numbers and stays healthy, it will be a successful season in the Bay.

Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat: It’s been three seasons since fans have seen much of Oladipo. He’s played a combined 88 games on three different teams. He’s battled injuries but the scoring potential hasn’t gone away. Miami is getting Oladipo back on a cheap deal, and he should give them a much-needed shot creator in late-game situations to go with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry.

Perfect fits

Patty Mills, Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant will have the ball most of the time in Brooklyn, so it’s good to surround them with shooters. Joe Harris is an elite option, but he struggled in the postseason. Patty Mills has been a great three-point shooter in the regular and postseason, and he has a championship to prove it. While most players’ shooting numbers fall off in the postseason, his 38% career playoff clip is right on line with his 38.8% regular-season number.

P.J. Tucker, Miami Heat: Speaking of championships, Tucker’s dirty work mentality got him over the hump in Milwaukee. He’s now teaming up with Lowry and Butler for a team that will undoubtedly lead the NBA in floor burns. Tucker will set the tone defensively, and like he did for the Bucks’ superstars, he can take Butler’s load on defense and allow him to focus on offense.

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers: All jokes about the Lakers’ ages aside, some of those old guys are still wildly athletic. Howard is one of them.

He’s two seasons removed from participating in a dunk contest, and he showed last season with the Sixers that his rebounding and explosiveness are still reliable. Those two traits are needed with the Lakers. Howard played a big role on the 2020 championship team, and he’s back to do so again.

JaVale McGee, Phoenix Suns: Another player from that Lakers 2020 championship team. While the Suns were loaded in the backcourt and had several options on the wing, it was DeAndre Ayton and prayers in the frontcourt.

A backup big man was Phoenix’s biggest need, and the Suns addressed it by signing McGee. He averaged 5.3 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game with the Nuggets last season.

As it turns out, Chris Paul did some recruiting during the playoffs to get McGee.