July 9, 2012
The NBA free agency period began in earnest on July 1 with teams attempting to fill holes in their rotations by pursuing talent from other clubs, often throwing far more money at a player than they are actually worth. Contracts can be agreed to in principle but do not become official until July 11, the earliest day according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
Let’s take a look at a few of the teams and players looking to cash in during the free agent bonanza.
Teams Making Noise
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves have been proactive so far in the free agent market. A team that is based around Kevin Love and the rehabbing Ricky Rubio could use some pieces like a small forward cutting to the basket and some perimeter shooting. Minnesota is hopeful that Portland will not match the offer that they tendered to Nicolas Batum, worth $45 million over four years. They also added former Blazers point guard Brandon Roy to a two year deal worth $10.4 million. Roy retired in December 2011 after serious knee issues but is attempting to resurrect his once promising career.
Phoenix Suns: The Suns are in the headlines quite a bit so far in free agency, both on the addition and subtraction sides of the ledger. Phoenix dealt two-time MVP Steve Nash to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal that saw the Suns receive two first and two second round picks. To fill the void of Nash, Phoenix signed Goran Dragic from the Rockets and they have rookie Kendall Marshall from North Carolina to pick up the slack. Phoenix presented a max offer to Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon, though New Orleans does have the right to match. The Suns went aggressively after Michael Beasley and may still have interest in former 76ers reserve Lou Williams, who led the team in scoring last season.
New York Knicks: The Knicks were full of holes by the time the postseason rolled around, with a definitive lack of depth and no real point guard to distribute the basketball. After being spurned by Nash, the Knicks agreed to terms with aging veteran point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd is in the twilight of what is a Hall of Fame career and he could serve as a mentor to Jeremy Lin, should Lin re-sign with the club.
The Rockets offered Lin a contract which the Knicks have the ability to match. New York is in the mix for big man Marcus Camby, which would give them another viable post presence and quality low post defender. The Knicks seem poised to lose J.R. Smith, who opted out of his option and will become a free agent, while the team will need to decide whether to match Toronto’s offer sheet on Landry Fields.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have been proactive since free agency started but in a different manner. While they did re-sign small forward Gerald Wallace to a four year, $40 million deal and kept point guard Deron Williams with a five year, max offer contract, most of the rest of the Nets moves have been through the trade market. Brooklyn went out and got the shooting guard that they needed to stretch opposing defenses and to have a viable perimeter scoring threat when they acquired Joe Johnson from Atlanta.
The acquisition of Reggie Evans helps in the interior for the team. What happens regarding Dwight Howard and his potential acquisition or whether Brooklyn goes another route still remains to be seen. Ersan Ilyasova has been mentioned as a potential Plan B for the Nets should Howard not be dealt. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries still are unsigned at this time.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers had their most successful campaign in recent memory during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and hope to build on that success going forward. There are questions about the team though, especially with Chris Paul choosing not to sign a three year extension this offseason. Paul says not to worry, given that he can get a five year, max offer extension next year from the Clippers but given the franchise’s history of being spurned and toyed with by big name free agents, it is easy to see why there could be cause for alarm.
The Clips did re-sign Chauncey Billups to a new deal and added one of the most enigmatic players in the league, Lamar Odom, via trade. Odom returns to his roots in more ways than one: he was originally drafted by the Clippers and he spent several seasons in Los Angeles before being dealt to Dallas last season. Will a trip back to the west coast bring the best back out of Odom? Los Angeles also brought in talented reserve Jamal Crawford, who never really seemed to mess with the Blazers last season.
Swing and a Miss?
Houston Rockets: The Rockets may be trying to make plenty of noise in the marketplace but much like their moves around the NBA Draft, it’s been more misfires than connections for the team. The team tried to move up to the second or fifth pick in the draft in order to try and acquire better pieces to lure Dwight Howard but were unable to find a seller. In free agency so far, they have lost Goran Dragic to Phoenix and done little to replace him.
Sure, Houston has an offer sheet tendered to the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin but the Knicks hold his “Bird rights” and can offer more money to retain his services. Houston also tossed a truckload of cash in the direction of Bulls backup center Omer Asik but early reports there say that the Bulls will match that offer sheet as well. If Houston is unable to lure anyone of value, it may be another difficult season for the Rockets and their fans to swallow.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks may have won the title in 2010-11 but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the team that takes the floor in 2012-13 will bear little resemblance to that championship club. The Mavericks are a team in disarray and suddenly find themselves with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese when it comes to their starting lineup and their bench rotation. After winning the title, the Mavericks bid adieu to backup point guard J.J. Barea, center Tyson Chandler, forwards DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler, along with shooting guard Peja Stojakovic. They replaced those pieces with an aging Vince Carter, a disinterested Lamar Odom and Delonte West with a predictable result: they were wiped out in four straight games by the Thunder to end their season.
Things have not gone any better so far this offseason. Dallas lost a big scorer and perimeter shooter in Jason Terry, who signed with the Celtics. The Mavericks hoped to land Deron Williams but he opted for a max contract and stayed in Brooklyn with the Nets. Adding insult to injury, Dallas missed on Steve Nash (traded to the Lakers) and then watched Jason Kidd decide to leave town to sign with the Knicks. When Ramon Sessions is your main target on the radar screen and described as a “must get” for your team, there are red flags flying all over the place.
Portland Trail Blazers: Portland missed the playoffs for the first time in four years in 2011-12 and went through a fair amount of turmoil. They fired coach Nate McMillan and currently are without a head coach; Kaleb Canales was 8-15 in an interim role last season and still is part of the coaching staff. Portland is still trying to put the pieces back together of what was a team that won a combined 152 regular season games in the three years spanning 2008-09 and 2010-11.
Portland has tried to make a splash by offering big man Roy Hibbert a max contract offer, which would force the Pacers to match it and hamper themselves financially. The issue with the move is twofold: it’s a lot of money to throw at a player that averages 11.1 points a game for his career so far and should the Pacers decline to match, it will hamstring Portland’s attempts at future dealings. This may be a classic overpayment out of desperation move like Portland did when they snagged Wes Matthews from the Jazz. Yes, Matthews has been a good player but is he worth $34 million over five years? Probably not when you get right down to it but it’s what the Blazers chose to do in the moment.
Meanwhile, as Portland contemplated the offer to Hibbert, other teams began to make moves on the Blazers free agent crop. Jamal Crawford bolted and signed a deal with the Clippers. Brandon Roy, who Portland amnestied after he decided to retire due to chronic knee injuries, decided to unretire and give his career another change. He has signed a two year deal with the Timberwolves. The Greg Oden experiment came to an end near the conclusion of last season and leaves the lingering taste of Sam Bowie in the mouths of Portland fans.
Portland also has to contend with Minnesota offering Nicolas Batum a four year deal that could be worth up to $50 million. Should the Blazers acquire Hibbert and decide to match the offer on Batum, a huge chunk of cap space would be devoured by those two players. Meanwhile, Portland still has Raymond Felton, Jonny Flynn, Joel Przybilla and J.J. Hickson among their own free agents. With a thinning market on point guards, it is not out of the question to predict teams going after one or both of Felton and Flynn in the near future. The Blazers are in trouble on and off the floor if things stand the way they are right now.
Certainly, championships are won on the court during the season and not during a couple of weeks in late June and early July when the draft and free agency runs wild and visions of superstars float through the heads of fans everywhere. It can go a long way toward determining whether a team will be a contender or a pretender however. Not every free agent class will have the monumental impact that the Class of 2010 did, when LeBron James teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the Heat’s Big Three.
Who will turn out to be the big winners with the Class of 2012? We’ll have the definitive answer to that question next season, but for now, it seems to be pretty well explained.