John Hollinger runs down the big winners and big losers of a busy summer
Brooklyn didn't wait long to reap the benefits of its big market, netting two All-Stars this summer.
So after all that funny business last summer, it turns out that there's only so much you can do to make small markets competitive.
I know, Oklahoma City reached the NBA Finals and, in terms of market size, Miami is in the middle of the pack.
Nonetheless, this past offseason served to remind everyone how the game favors the glamour markets, and how good the flyover cities have to be to give themselves a legitimate chance at a championship.
In theory, the new CBA was supposed to change that. In reality, we still have maximum salaries that make it easy for superstars to collude and get to teams like the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, and rules on sign-and-trades and extensions that were supposed to prevent stars from jumping but instead only push them into free agency.
For example: No matter what Oklahoma City does, Kevin Durant would almost certainly choose unrestricted free agency in 2016 over signing an extension. Let that one sink in for a while.
And look at what happened this summer. Dwight Howard isn't clamoring for a trade to Indiana or Oklahoma City, just like Chris Paul wasn't a year ago. Toronto tried to throw all the money it could at Steve Nash, and then threw some more at Landry Fields just to block New York, and still couldn't get the point guard.
Meanwhile, the five big-market teams -- Miami, New York, Brooklyn and the two in L.A. -- waited with their arms opened for stars to show up. The Nets got Deron Williams to stay and nearly got Howard to join him. While Nash, Antawn Jamison, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Grant Hill, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer all took less money to play for those five markets. There is no way to legislate that.
I'm starting here because I want to remind everybody that when evaluating offseason results, geographic context matters. I'm taking a look at some of the biggest winners and losers from this summer, and certainly those marquee teams all made out well. But we also need to keep in mind that this task is infinitely more difficult for the Milwaukees and Utahs of the world, because Nash and LeBron James aren't riding in to save the day.
For this exercise, I've once again separated the league into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, partly because after all these decades it's still not possible to overhype the classic movie, but mostly because there was a lot of "Huh?" in between all the good and the bad that still has people scratching their heads.
Well, it worked.
That's the best place to start when analyzing the biggest winner this summer. The Nets might not have chosen the path you or I would have chosen, they might have spent more money to achieve their goals than needed, and we'll never know if they could have built just as good a team by more conventional means and been better positioned going forward.
But they had a mandate to bring a decent team with them for their first season in Brooklyn, regardless of what it cost, and now they have one. The Nets weren't a playoff team or anything close to it over the past few seasons, but may very well be a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference after an offseason spending spree that saw them trade for Johnson's behemoth contract, retain Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace at extravagant salaries, and get Williams to stay put in free agency.
They'll pay millions in luxury tax and won't have much of a bench, and defensively this team remains seriously suspect. Nonetheless, they accomplished Part I of their mission. This wasn't a destination team in East Rutherford, but as Howard and Williams showed, it now is in Brooklyn.
The primary restraint on the Lakers' offseason ambitions is how much money they feel like making. The past few seasons saw the team shed salary in hopes they could contend while keeping the luxury tax bill reasonable, but after one second-round playoff win in two years it's time to open the floodgates again. Nash may not be an ideal fit for this system, but he's Steve Nash. You were gonna go with C.J. Watson instead? Jamison signed for peanuts and it looks like C.J. Miles may be headed to L.A., too.
While their Howard pursuit still seems a long shot -- the biggest hold-up is the fact that Andrew Bynum has little incentive to sign an extension and get himself traded out of a marquee market -- the Lakers seem to have made notable improvements to their bench and obviously have massively upgraded at point guard. And, being L.A., it will likely be first in line for any minimum-salary veterans that pop up on the waiver wire during the course of the season.
Hey, a mid-sized market! Alas, the Hawks got on this list by shedding salary, and now will be playing the hopeful game that the likes of Houston, Portland and Phoenix tried this past summer: Luring a marquee free agent to a city that's not on the It List.
Atlanta has more advantages than some of its mid-sized brethren (it's popular with players and is Howard's hometown). But the real reason to be excited is that this offseason gives the Hawks the flexibility to go in a number of different directions, and they haven't harmed the product much. Johnson was a heck of a player, but Lou Williams, Kyle Korver and Devin Harris can offset his loss. Don't count out Anthony Morrow, either -- Atlanta led the NBA in corner 3-point attempts last season and Morrow is about as good as it gets from long range.
So they may not nab a big fish -- in fact the odds remain strongly against them. Nevertheless, turning the leaden contracts of Johnson and Marvin Williams into useful players (including Korver, via the trade exception from the Johnson deal) and cap space was a heck of a coup for general manager Danny Ferry's first month on the job.
Even though I hate the Jeff Green deal with every fiber of my being, Boston's offseason was so good in other respects that I have to put them here. For all the angst over Allen's departure, the Celtics' ability to put together a creative sign-and-trade for Courtney Lee effectively made it a moot point; Lee is younger, defends better, shoots 40 percent on 3-pointers and costs less than what they had offered Allen.
The Celtics also got some much-needed bench scoring by picking up Jason Terry with their midlevel exception -- something made possible by inking Kevin Garnett to a cap-friendly deal that will keep them below the tax apron -- and then rounded things out by keeping Brandon Bass and stocking the bench with some solid minimum deals (Jason Collins, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling). First-rounder Jared Sullinger looks like a keeper, too.
The one negative was the Green deal, which is believed to be four years, $32 million -- far too much for a player who has proven fairly replaceable in his first four seasons and missed the fifth with a heart problem. Nonetheless, Boston, against all odds, seems primed for yet one more run.
I still have no idea what they were trying to do. One envisions the Sixers' brass sitting around one day and saying, "Hey, Nick Young is still available. Should we use our amnesty clause on Elton Brand to get him?"
If the goal was to take a free-agency plunge, they should have waived Brand immediately and pushed for some of the better free agents. If the goal was to take a step backward, they should have traded Andre Iguodala while they were at it. If the goal was to replace genuinely valuable players with mediocre players and still lack 2013 cap space? Then they did a fine job.
Philly was a great defensive team that struggled to score, but somehow became obsessed with "toughness" as its biggest need and signed Kwame Brown as the savior. Replacing Brand with Brown actually cost more money. It's still paying Brand $16.06 million this season to compete against them -- and Brown is, by any standard, a monumental downgrade.
Philadelphia did this so it could basically swap Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks for Young and Dorell Wright. The Sixers will be better at shooting, at least, with Young and Wright on the floor. Unfortunately, they'll be worse at everything else.
Yes, I'm back for another round. (See Round 1 here.) I'll make it brief: Now that we know the end-game for the other free agents, the pre-draft trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza looks even worse. Given that the Wizards waived Andray Blatche with their amnesty, they would have had enough cap room to sign a wing stopper/shooter such as Brandon Rush or Courtney Lee, bid on a real power forward such as Elton Brand or Luis Scola in their amnesty auctions, and have somewhere close to max cap space next summer. Instead, they'll win a similar number of games with a much more limited future, thanks to the two cap-clogging deals they acquired in June.
I don't get what the Knicks did at all. They opened free agency spending like drunken sailors, using some creativity from their front office (in the form of non-guaranteed contracts to bit players) to create the salary ballast to execute three sign-and-trade deals. Unfortunately, they used it to sign a pair of geriatric vets to three-year deals. Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby will likely help them some this season, but this was classic New York shoot-money-out-the-firehouse stuff.
It wouldn't have hurt them except New York suddenly got money-conscious and declined to match offer sheets for Fields and Jeremy Lin. Kudos to the new CBA here, as it seemed to be a genuine deterrent, but the Knicks also wrong-footed themselves by making the Kidd and Camby moves first -- they're paying just as much for Kidd and Raymond Felton as they would have for Lin, for instance.
Fortunately, as noted above, the free-agent game remains slanted in New York's favor. Brewer signed for the minimum, giving them a stopper to replace the injured Iman Shumpert. He'll likely provide more value than Camby, Kidd or Felton this season.
Nonetheless, the Knicks are left with a half-baked strategy of spending whatever it takes until they abruptly decided to stop. It's not clear how they'll fix their backcourt until some other veteran free agent agrees to a below-market deal next summer.
In the small picture, they were big winners: The Mavs got O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Delonte West on low-risk deals, picked up Elton Brand cheaply via an amnesty auction, and somehow parlayed Ian Mahinmi into Darren Collison. Fine moves, all of them, and the Mavs' front office once again deserves applause for finding some creative solutions to fill what appeared to be gaping roster holes.
In the big picture, however, they lost: Williams and Nash spurned them, so the Mavs are again killing time -- and another season of Dirk Nowitzki's prime -- while trying to lure another star to play with him. It's a nice, deep team, but it's hard to call it a championship roster. Dallas took a rain-check on its title defense and opted to let Tyson Chandler go, partly because it thought it could do better by luring Howard or another star. So far the Mavs have come up empty, and unlike their partners in this quixotic pursuit, Houston, they're burning up some of the last good seasons of the star they do have while they wait.
Their fans hate this, and I get it. Chicago's bench was a hugely underrated factor in its recent dominant regular seasons, but it's mostly been torn to shreds. The Bulls cut Watson and Brewer, didn't match Omer Asik's offer sheet, traded Korver, and let John Lucas III leave as a free agent. Replacing them will be the downgraded (but dramatically less expensive) ensemble of Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed, and the lone holdover: Taj Gibson.
There is going to be a dropoff, no doubt about it. But it was also the right decision. Chicago wasn't contending with Derrick Rose out for most of 2012-13, especially since he's not going to suddenly return from an ACL tear as the old Rose in his first game out of the chute.
Instead, Chicago will get under the tax threshold this season -- trading Richard Hamilton, if need be, to save the last few dollars -- and set itself up for a three-year run after this, when it can pay tax more justifiably with a title contender and avoid incurring repeater penalties. The Bulls may also consider using their amnesty on Carlos Boozer at some point, although such a move has almost no chance of creating cap space, because they'd merely be side-stepping the tax again.
This is the opposite of Dallas' plan in some ways: The small picture doesn't look as good -- in a vacuum, you would never just flat-out let Brewer and Watson go -- but the big picture is more generous. Chicago will keep all its exceptions and sign-and-trade capability next summer as a non-tax team, can use them to replenish the roster, pay Gibson, and hopefully ride a healthy Rose back into contention.
Let's call this grade an incomplete for the both of them. It seems inevitable that at some point this summer Howard will be traded, and that his most likely destination is Houston. In the meantime, Houston left itself with an intriguing roster that has plenty of options and plenty of potential and, by the way, a real risk of going something like 25-57 if Lin doesn't excel and a Howard deal doesn't happen.
Similarly, Orlando seems focused on a full post-Howard rebuild -- with locker-room leader Jameer Nelson the lone vet the Magic seem interested in keeping -- but we can't really say where they stand on this project until we see the haul they get for Howard.
All we know so far is that they seem intent on emulating the Spurs' model, with San Antonio exiles (general manager Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn) now in charge of the front office and the sideline. That's never a bad place to start.
原文标题: Good, bad, ugly of NBA offseason
原文作者: John Hollinger