- Charlotte -
The Bobcats grew sick of trying to get better the traditional way, lose a lot and build through the draft, as they kept being submitted to the whims of Lady Luck each time the lottery rolled around. The cost of freedom is a hefty one however, and for Charlotte it took the form of 3 years, $40.5 million for Al Jefferson. Now, on the surface, that contract looks ridiculous and about $3-$4 million more a year than almost any other team would pay for him, but that is the extra tax a small and losing market like Charlotte has to pay for free agents.
Also, as bloated as the contract is, the length, with a player opt out after year two, is manageable. Even better it’s extremely movable. Al’s numbers will get inflated in Charlotte and could look very inciting on a potential expiring next year or after an opt-in in two years. Jefferson will break a cycle of perpetuating and unwatchable losing in Charlotte, but not so much so that they will shoot straight out of the lottery. And even if they do somehow, I can’t damn a team for trying to get better and give paying fans some competent basketball to watch as opposed to just shamelessly tanking for the fourth straight year.
- Memphis -
The hypothetical question of how far Memphis would have gone if Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook were fully healthy in the playoffs has hung over Memphis’ front office since they were bounced out by San Antonio. The answer of whether they would keep the faith with the current roster was answered, at least in part, with the 4 year $20 million contract Tony Allen is going to sign. It’s hard to say whether $5 million a year for Allen is the right price, his defensive prowess is close to unparalleled but you can’t escape from the fact that his lack of shooting made him borderline unplayable in the Spurs series. However, a smarter coach can mitigate the damage by playing Allen more in lineups with more shooting and Memphis is probably not done with their search to find greater amounts of offensive spacing.
In the end it may just be a fair price to pay for the Grindfather.
- Los Angeles (Clippers) -
Just a few days ago the Clippers could have very well been headed back toward that all too familiar place of basketball destitute. Now, one hefty Chris Paul contract later, they have been anointed champions of the West. The three way trade that shipped Eric Bledsoe to Phoenix and a second round pick to Milwaukee landed them JJ Redick and Jared Dudley, a combination that turns an already hyper efficient, Chris Paul run offense even more deadly. Both Redick and Dudley are solid defenders, despite reputations to the contrary, and with the resigning of Matt Barnes they have a competent defender to throw at bigger wings. They still need a backup big to serve as a safety valve for Jordan, one who can be relied upon to play the crunch time minutes that DAJ has yet to be trusted with and they only have $1.5 million left of their MLE to use on one.
That said these are a rich man’s problems and while they still need to get some things sorted defensively, they’ll have likely excited the most important offseason in Clipper history with a job well done.
In a move that will likely go down as the steal of free agency, and the one most likely to get a player’s agent fired, the Bulls landed Mike Dunleavy for the popper’s pittance of 2 years, $6 million. Dunleavy is a sharp-shooting forward who will thrive in the Kyle Korver role of two years ago with Derrick Rose’s drive-and-kick game and who’s capacity to play solid team defense will mesh perfectly with Tom Thibodeau’s scheme. The potential small-ball closing lineup of Rose-Butler-Dunleavy-Deng-Noah is a terrifying one and this move is a stroke of genius for a front office that has usually been allergic to them. Considering that comparable two-way shooters like JJ Redick and Kyle Korver received a combined $45 million more than Dunleavy, someone somewhere screwed up and the Bulls are just reaping the rewards.
The Wolves paid a hefty price to fix their three point shooting problem, to the tune of $44 million combined for Budinger and Kevin Martin, and it may just come at the cost of their defense. The Martin move especially is curious as they are handing a player exiting his prime four years (albeit with only a partially guaranteed fourth year), it will likely cost them Andre Kirilenko, and it makes resigning Pekovic all the more difficult. That said, these moves still make the team playoff caliber in the immediate and that’s really all the Wolves want or need at the moment.
As for their other moves, if one of the many teams with money to burn decides to throw their max amount at Pekovich things are going to get a little tricky for Minnesota.
- Portland -
How ironic is it that after years of futility, the time when free agency is finally flush with gettable, solid starting guards, Portland is set there? Anyway, their bench is far from set and with JJ Hickson most likely gone (or at least thats what Blazer fans are praying for) they also need another big to pair along with Aldridge. The trade to acquire the young Thomas Robinson is a start of the bench building but the Blazers were still absent a starting center. Then they got involved in the Pelicans-Kings deal for Tyreke Evans and received Robin Lopez for a second round pick and the venerable Jeff Withey.
Lopez is a nice center who is a sneakily above average defender on a manageable contract. In other words he is not JJ Hickson, which is a very good thing. This trade puts them near capacity with about $3 million left to toss around cheap bench upgrades (almost anyone would do).
- San Antonio -
When it comes to two-way big men, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. The 4 year, $36 million it took to keep Splitter a Spur seems pretty drastic on the surface but if you consider what the market is for big men of his caliber (that is to say one that can play competently on both ends) it’s a fair and, more importantly, movable deal. Duncan seems ageless but that only happens with a decreased minutes burden and the Spurs need someone who can keep things afloat during those growingly frequent respites. And, say what you will about him, Splitter showed he could keep them above water (and at times actually improve them, as Splitter was sometimes called upon to play crunch time minutes over Duncan) and that alone makes him very valuable.
Manu may have come back at a discount at two years, $14 million but its still a big price to pay for someone who may have already lapped his prime, and if this deal cost them a chance at signing Kirilenko then it becomes all the more regrettable. But Manu is still prone to flashes of his old brilliance, the deal still leaves them with their MLE, and this may just be the price it takes to give a legend the farewell tour he deserves.
- Indiana -
Indiana deserves all the praise it gets for building this team’s young core through high upside late first round draft picks and the level headed approach they took in free agency. However it cannot be forgotten how badly they messed up when it came to building their bench and it is not too hyperbolic to say that those mistakes cost them a trip to the Finals. To right the wrong that was DJ Augustin and Gerald Green, Indiana started by signing CJ Watson and Donald Sloan, a pairing that should keep DJ far away from any meaningful minutes. Watson is a nice pickup who will immediately be placed among the (very) select few Pacers who can actually dribble and his reliability from behind the line should lend them some much needed floor spacing.
Their resigning of David West at the fair rate of three years, $36 million comes almost as a reward for the two years of discounted play West put in, showing the Pacers he was worth the investment. An argument could be made Indiana might have been better served dividing up that money elsewhere and trusting in the core of Hibbert and George, but the cost isn’t so egregious that the Pacers should scrap a core that played so well together last year. With the (very nice) pickup of Chris Copeland, this all but spells an end to Danny Grangers time in Indiana, but the Pacers may have their hands full trying to ship him off for no long term salary in return.
- New York -
Not to be outdone by their new neighbors, the Knicks dove headfirst into the offseason by relinquishing all the remaining assets they had for a player who gives them nothing they need and who’s best year was five years ago. Now Bargnani could very well be salvageable, he remains a very skilled player and a new environment may be just what he needs. But, he brings nothing to the table defensively other than moderate post defense and he is so allergic to rebounding that he is historically bad for someone of his size (both things are big needs for New York). His only marketable skill is three point shooting, and that has been on a steady decline for some time now, plateauing at somewhere around 30 percent these past two years.
The next move for them appears to be resigning JR Smith and the reported 4 years, $24 million is a fair if not a tad high price to pay for him. Ideally, you don’t want to rely on JR Smith as the main scoring threat in your backcourt but the Knicks made their bed of cringe-worthy step backs and YOLO threes a long time ago (with almost literally no other options due to cap inflexibility) and now they have to lay in it.
- Brooklyn -
Its hard to say a team is tinkering when they add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce but when you have Prokhorov money, everyone is but a plaything. It’s funny how people are criticizing the Nets going so far into the luxury tax, if the owner doesn’t care how much money he’s wasting, why should we? This team was going to be cap strapped for a while anyway and while giving away all your picks is unwise it’s hard to blame a team trying to go all in on winning now (and doing it much more competently than some teams *cough* Knicks *cough*) as opposed to intentionally trying to lose games, which is a strategy that is sometimes (ironically) more lauded.
This team is truly set in stone, so much so that Korver balked at how little he would have been paid and bailed, and it’s unclear how healthy this aging team can stay. Assuming everyone stays relatively healthy (which is a big assumption) they will probably be right there with Indiana for second in the east. It’s not enough to eclipse Miami but, as the Pacers learned last year, the Heat are not infallible and if you can get it to a game seven then who knows? As KG once so wisely pontificated, anything is possible.
- Washington -
The inevitable max extension Wall will receive sometime this offseason, along with the move to lock up Martell Webster for 4/$22 million will lock in this roster for at least the next couple of years. Webster’s contract is a solid one if you go off just this past year alone, but his injury history, age, and potential for a regression to the mean is a little worrying. Eric Maynor, another recent signee, is an upgrade for the simple fact that he is not AJ Price and while not providing the spot up shooting the Wizards ideally need from this position, he at least brings a competency not seen under the erratic hands of one Mr Price.
Washington is now flirting with the tax and this roster has yet to prove they can remain healthy and playoff-competitive for the duration of a season. But the late season run last year, fueled by John Wall’s return, at least gave them something tangible to build off and there are much worse places to be (just look at all the other recent Wizards teams).