NBA Free Agency Analysis

I know I mentioned that I would steer clear of sports for the summer but this year’s NBA free agency needed me to write something on it. Why? Because some of the elite players in the league were free agents and decided they needed a change of scenery. Consequently, this leads to a situation where the NBA could see a change in the balance of power as the Eastern Conference has acquired some talent from the West. There are still some moves to be made because we still have some other quality free agents left on the market. Hence, if the finances add up properly, some teams might end up making some smart deals.

But then again, who are we kidding? This is after all the NBA. If there is one thing that we have learned in professional basketball, it’s that only a select few are capable of making smart decisions.  Look at the past 40 teams to play each other head to head in the Finals:
2010: Boston Celtics Vs Los Angeles Lakers
2009: Orlando Magic Vs Los Angeles Lakers
2008: Los Angeles Lakers Vs Boston Celtics
2007: Cleveland Cavaliers Vs. San Antonio Spurs
2006: Miami Heat Vs. Dallas Mavericks
2005: Detroit Pistons Vs. San Antonio Spurs
2004: Detroit Pistons Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
2003: New Jersey Nets Vs. San Antonio Spurs
2002: New Jersey Nets Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
2001: Philadelphia 76ers Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
2000: Indiana Pacers Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1999: New York Knicks Vs. San Antonio Spurs
1998: Chicago Bulls Vs. Utah Jazz
1997: Utah Jazz Vs. Chicago Bulls
1996: Seattle Supersonics Vs. Chicago Bulls
1995: Houston Rockets Vs. Orlando Magic
1994: New York Knicks Vs. Houston Rockets
1993: Chicago Bulls Vs. Phoenix Suns
1992: Portland Trail Blazers Vs. Chicago Bulls
1991: Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Chicago Bulls
1990: Portland Trail Blazers Vs. Detroit Pistons

Here’s a sum of the Finals appearances of the teams mentioned above.
Lakers final appearances: 7
Chicago Bulls: 6
San Antonio Spurs: 4
Detroit Pistons: 3
Boston Celtics: 2
Houston Rockets: 2
New Jersey Nets: 2
New York Knicks: 2
Orlando Magic: 2
Portland Trail Blazers: 2
Utah Jazz: 2
Dallas Mavericks: 1
Indiana Pacers: 1
Miami Heat: 1
Philadelphia 76ers: 1
Phoenix Suns: 1
Seattle Supersonics: 1

What was the point of making such a list? You’ll notice that the teams that made three or more appearances in the Finals all have good owners. By good owners, I mean an ownership group that does its due diligence when hiring their general managers; which in turn results in the acquisition of the right players for the right price.

Indeed, it’s one thing to have Kobe Bryant on your team, but you can’t overpay for your role players (as evidenced by the hard stance the Lakers took with Lamar Odom last year and Derek Fisher this year).  Doing so only results in complicating the process of adding quality talent to your roster (look at the Atlanta Hawks). Superstars are easy to pay; it’s the glorified role players of this world that screw up the market. Think of Rashard Lewis, Kenyon Martin and Leandro Barbosa for instance. Good solid role players, but wildly overpaid. And yet, look at the Los Angeles Lakers who last year signed Ron Artest for the midlevel exception. Artest was a huge component of the Lakers title run this year as he made life difficult for Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, scored the game winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals (Vs. Phoenix Suns) and was the best player on the court in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Ron Artest earned $5.9 million during the 2009-10 NBA season. That’s why free agency is so important: play your cards right and your team is a perennial contender; but if you miscalculate, your team’s future goes up in flames.

So let’s have a look at the biggest free agent signings (or re-signings) of this off-season so far:

GOLDEN STATE  WARRIORS acquire David Lee (five year, $80 million contract) by sign and trade with New York Knicks.

Look at the players that the Warriors lost in this sign and trade move:
Ronny Turiaf
Anthony Randolph
Kelenna Azubuike

Those three players are actually some very good bargain bench players and they are now Knicks property. So what does the Warriors big man situation look like now?

Power forward (salary for next year in parentheses)
David Lee ($16 million)
Brandan Wright ($3.4 million)
Vladimir Radmanovic ($6.9 million)

Andris Biedrins ($9 million)
Dan Gadzuric ($7.2 million)

The NBA’s salary cap for next season is $58.044 million. The Warriors have $42.5 million invested in their power forwards and centers for next season and yet only have one All-Star appearance combined from all those players (David Lee). This obviously begs the question: did the Warriors overpay to get David Lee? Considering that he will be making just about the same amount of money as the likes of Boozer, Gasol and Duncan (just a bit less than Gasol and Duncan) and also that the Warriors got rid of some good players to fit him in, I would have to say yes. Remember the good old days when you gave someone an $80 million contract and he would lead your team to the playoffs? Apparently those days are long gone. Further proof……

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES sign Rudy Gay to five year $80 million contract.

This might be arguably the worst deal of the off-season. Have a quick look at the Grizzlies record for the past four seasons:
2006-07: 22-60
2007-08: 22-60
2008-09: 24-58
2009-10: 40-42

Now look at Rudy Gay’s contributions to the Grizzlies during those four seasons:

As you can see, Rudy Gay just cashed out for producing on a team that hasn’t once come close to making the playoffs in his career. His contract will average out to $16 million per season and yet the Grizzlies franchise can’t count on him to sell out their home arena or take them to the playoffs. I understand that Gay will turn a mere 24 years old later this year, but still, what were the Grizzlies thinking?

In contrast, look at what the Hawks did in the past four seasons:
2006-07: 30-52
2007-08: 37-45
2008-09: 47-35
2009-10: 53-29

Have a look at Josh Smith’s production in the past four years:

Why did I bring up Josh Smith? Because he does what Rudy Gay does for the Grizzlies, except he does in for the Atlanta Hawks. He does it better, and he does it for a playoff team. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to compare a player somewhat similar to Gay in order to figure out his market value?  Next season Josh Smith (he will turn 25 later this year) will make $11.6 million for a playoff contender while Gay will be making more and might not even make the playoffs. That make any sense to you?

NEW YORK KNICKS sign Amare Stoudemire to five year $99.7 million contract.

Amare Stoudemire is one of the best finishers in the NBA. I’m not sure there is a better big man at catching the ball in traffic and finishing with authority in the NBA. He’s added a jump shot to his game, which allows him to beat defenses in multiple ways. With that said though, Stoudemire is not a franchise player. Indeed, If he’s not too busy glancing at the hot women in the crowd, he might get you a few rebounds and maybe occasionally rotate on defense. In addition, if he’s gotten some action earlier in the day (or the night prior) that put him in a good mood, he might attempt to guard his man and do a decent job. But for the most part the new Knicks star seems allergic to defense (call me old fashioned, but I want a guy making max money to play defense; that’s like paying for a lapdance at the strip joint except she keeps her clothes on) and also his injury concerns (knees and eye) make it hard for me to call this a great signing.

The Knicks obviously had to get someone in free agency in order for Donnie Walsh to avoid walking the plank out in New York. However, if the Knicks had waited a bit, they could have played hard ball with Stoudemire’s camp and got him at a lesser dollar amount.

ATLANTA HAWKS re-sign Joe Johnson to a six year $119 million contract.

What were the Hawks thinking? This guy basically insulted the Hawks fan base and did all of nothing as the team got swept by an average of 25 points in the second round of the 2010 NBA playoffs against the Orlando Magic. And by the way, not that anyone is counting, but Atlanta needed seven games to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks (who were without Andrew Bogut) and were swept last year in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

My friend Money argued that Atlanta had to re-sign Joe Johnson to remain competitive and I get that; however giving him the max was a huge mistake when it’s clear that he’s not a max contract type player. Have a look at the players that are arguably the best shooting guards in the league today; and look at their playoff averages below:
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade
Brandon Roy
Joe Johnson

Now look at how their salaries breakdown for the upcoming season:
Kobe Bryant: $24.8 million
Dwyane Wade: $14.0 million
Brandon Roy: $13.5 million
Joe Johnson: around $19.8 million

Figured out yet which one is a little out of touch with reality? A bad GM strikes again it would seem. Former Onyx rap star Sticky Fingaz wants to share this with you: “BUT BUT BUT WAIT IT GETS WORSE!” Joe Johnson’s contract basically places the Hawks over the salary cap, which isn’t that big of deal since they have a decent team to compete with; however they still have to retain their core players.

In the NBA, good big men usually get contracts that average north of $10 million per year. Al Horford’s deal will have to be negotiated soon (they will most likely sign him to an extension), thus leaving the team strapped for cash in the next few years. This essentially means that this is the Hawks team that we will see for the next few years because they won’t be getting any lottery picks due to their playoff appearances and will have trouble signing free agents for cheap.

CHICAGO BULLS sign Carlos Boozer to a five year contract in the $75-$80 million range.
One of the best free agent signings of the year. The deal made sense because Chicago’s been looking for a low post scorer ever since they traded away Eddy Curry (it felt weird to write that; people forget that Curry was once a serviceable center that easily scored on the low block; now he leads the league in kitchen appearances) and they finally got him. Not only did the Bulls land Boozer, they got him at a great figure. Look at what other players with comparable numbers will make during the 2010-11 season:
Chris Bosh: $14.5 million
Amare Stoudemire: five year $99.7 million contract, which averages out to about $19.9 million per season
Tim Duncan: $18.7 million
Pau Gasol: $17.8
Kevin Garnett: $18.8 million next season
Antawn Jamison: $13.4 million next season

Boozer’s deal is reportedly a five year contract in the $75 to $80 million range. So at best, the former Duke player’s contract will average to $16 million per season.  In a league in which general managers constantly overpay for players, it can at times be surprising to see a GM get it right. For instance, I prefer Quizznos subs over Subway because they taste better. Consequently, I am willing to spend a bit more when I go to Quizznos (Gasol and Duncan) because they have the best subs. Subway (Boozer) is still very good choice, but I wouldn’t spend as much there. That’s how NBA free agency should work, and yet only a few select GMs seem to understand the notion.

And by the way, expect the Bulls to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. Boozer paired up with Rose is like a tougher and more entertaining Utah Jazz team. Chicago is going to cause problems for teams and will contend with Boston, Orlando and Miami for the east’s crown.

MIAMI HEAT sign Dwyane Wade to six year $107.5 million contract, LeBron James to a six year $110.1 contract and Chris Bosh to a six year 110.1 million contract.

Several feel as though what the trio has done is unfair. Well have a look back into history to find some “unfair” moments:
-Los Angeles Lakers draft Magic Johnson 1st overall in the 1979 NBA Draft despite winning 47 games the previous season.
-Shaquille O’Neal packed his bags in the summer of 1996 and left behind the Orlando Magic in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers.
-Karl Malone and Gary Payton join Shaq and Kobe as free agents in an attempt to win an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers (2004).
-Detroit Pistons acquire Rasheed Wallace and Mike James in a trade in which they gave up Chucky Atkins, Bob Sura and Zelijko Rebreca. Wallace was the missing piece that led them to championship that year (2004).
-Los Angeles Lakers acquire Pau Gasol in a trade in which they gave up Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and the rights to Marc Gasol (2008).

Usually, players are at the mercy of GMs and owners who dictate their futures and their legacies; but these three instead chose to be the masters of their own fate. They decided to join each other in their primes with the hopes of doing something special. Several people have asked me what my opinion was on the trio teaming up and I have remained silent on the issue until now. The best way to explain or illustrate what these guys have done comes by way of Young Jeezy on Drake’s hit song Unforgettable:

Young Jeezy
“I’m just drivin’ around the city
With my hood on and my windows down,
Ask ya girl ,
I’m the realest n*gga she been around
When I pull up in somethin’
And park it by the haters
And when you get to talkin’ bout the greatest
I just really hope that.. “

“You think of me…
I’m tryin’ to be

When people refer to the golden era of NBA basketball and the way that the game was meant to be played, they always mention two specific teams: Magic’s Lakers and Larry’s Celtics. Those two teams fought some incredible wars head to head and are spoken about even today. They played basketball the right way: they played hard, they played smart, they played for each other and they played to win. Making the extra pass was not a luxury like it is today, it was expected. Coming in to defend your teammate when he went down was the norm; it wasn’t about street credibility, but rather about defending your brothers and never once letting anyone punk you (earlier this year Paul Pierce dunked on Chris Bosh and kicked him the stomach as it happened and stood over him defiantly in front of the Raptors bench, and all the Raptors players just stood there and watched) because ultimately it was a matter of respect.

The 80’s Lakers were composed of a great trio of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Those players helped create Showtime. They ran up and down the court, they made flashy plays in the flashiest city of them all and they won. They were and still are Unforgettable.

The 80’s Celtics had a great trio of their own in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. We remember that team for being gritty, tough and always coming through in the clutch. They did whatever it took to beat you because it was a matter of life and death. They were and still are Unforgettable.

We have yet to see anything that is close to comparing to those two teams, but this new version of the Miami Heat might one day be mentioned in the same breath as them. Given the fact that they have not yet even played one game together, it’s awfully premature for me to even compare them to those great teams, but the premise behind them all joining forces together was the same: they want to be Unforgettable….

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