Winners and losers of the Great Free Agency of 2010
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The Great Free Agency of 2010 is pretty much history, so all that is left is America’s next favorite pastime—keeping score. So let’s take a look at the winners and losers.
New York: This would constitute the great metropolitan area, which basically drew Amar’e Stoudemire because no one else would pay him that much. See, as I always said, nobody wants to go there. Proof enough! As one executive suggested, Stoudemire will be Jermaine O’Neal or Tracy McGrady in two years, straining to find his lift. The Knicks added some decent pieces in that David Lee deal (yes, he’s a winner as well with that $80 million deal) in Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike. But I thought the deal was to break it up to get stars. How is that better than Jamal Crawford, Al Harrington, Zach Randolph and Jared Jeffries, which was where they started? As for the Nets, the Russian guy must be wondering what he got himself into. He couldn’t even get Tyrus Thomas.
David Stern: The commissioner was nowhere to be seen during the free agent mania, perhaps just closing his eyes as he faces a new collective bargaining agreement and almost certain shutdown of the league next summer. So just how is he going to continue to tell the players’ union the teams are going broke after they put out that kind of money for the likes of Amir Johnson. And if Orlando matches J.J. Redick as they’ve suggested, that’s a team closing in on a $30 million tax bill. Could you imagine what this free agency would have been like if there were no salary cap?
The NBA: Yes, the league got itself a Yankees/Cowboys team to love and hate. Those always are good. But the manner in which the main players arrogantly frittered about seeking better offers and acting like it was owed made many wince about what they were watching. Plus, the way the Heat combination came together and the bitterness between the Cavs and James put a nasty headline on it all with perhaps some fans feeling the deck was stacked against their teams. The NBA has some public relations to improve before next season.
Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz: Especially the Suns and Cavs, who were championship contenders and basically have become likely lottery teams with a long way back no matter what Cavs owner Dan Gilbert believes. The Jazz took a huge hit in losing Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver with Wesley Matthews having a big offer out. Their star, Deron Williams, could be a prime candidate to move on after the 2011-12 season. The Raptors, really, didn’t lose that much since Chris Bosh couldn’t get them to the playoffs anyway. They’ll probably be about in the same spot.
Erik Spoelstra: It’s likely when and not if when he gets moved aside for Pat Riley. Riley isn’t about to stay in the shadows with the chance to get another shot at Phil Jackson and the Lakers. Perhaps the best, albeit overlooked, part of the Boozer/Bulls press conference was when Boozer was asked about the Heat and talked about a Pat Riley team always playing tough defense. Had Riley already told Boozer, who was a fallback plan for the Heat?
Byron Scott: Could LeBron have told him something else? He was the obvious front runner to replace Phil Jackson and he gives that up to coach the Cavs without LeBron and work for Dan Gilbert? In Cleveland? There goes his single digit handicap.
Dallas, Houston, Portland, Clippers: They tried to get involved in free agency in some way and couldn’t make anything happen. Only the Clippers had the cap space, but no one bit on sign and trades and their money. It’s difficult to see how they will be much better, though Yao’s health could boost the Rockets. They seemed doomed to chase the Lakers like the West of the ‘80s until Kobe tires out.
Miami Heat and Pat Riley: Riley had been planning for the sweep and pulled it off with a lot of help from his friend, Dwyane. No matter how it got done, it was the envy of all. The Heat got LeBron James, the league’s best talent, and Chris Bosh, the perennial All-Star forward, to join Wade and form the league’s most intriguing team. They’ll be the story of next season no matter what else happens.
Did I mention the Miami Heat? Oh yeah.
Bulls: It wasn’t the catch the team and its fan base was hoping for with James and Bosh, and subsequent events suggested there probably was never much chance. Wade was always a tease and James was either joining his buddies or staying home. So the Bulls struck out on the stars. But they began to build a team with a low post threat in Carlos Boozer (if he is injured again, they go into the loser column…) who fits perfectly, no great disruption of the roster core, and the chance for Derrick Rose to blossom into one of the league’s best. It’s final now. He’s the star.
Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay: They had chances to go for winning, as it were, but there hardly was a guarantee with the fix in for the Miami Three. So Johnson ends up with the biggest contract of all the free agents (who saw that coming?) and Gay gets a $16 million average comes close to the Miami stars.
Kevin Durant: The Oklahoma City star quietly signed a maximum extension averaging about $17 million a year. It’s in the LeBron/Wade/Bosh range and in doing so quietly and with dignity and sticking with little Oklahoma City in contrast to the James show. Two GMs last week told me they now consider Durant to be the young face of the NBA instead of James given the events of the last week. As both said in virtually the same observation, “He gets it.”
Drew Gooden, Amir Johnson, Wesley Matthews, Tyrus Thomas, Darko Milicic, Channing Fyre, et al: There were some extraordinary contracts in the long term $30 million plus range given out to a bunch of journeymen and reserves. Bench guys who played sparingly like Dorell Wright got paydays. It was a good time to be an NBA free agent.
Atlanta Hawks: The two free agents most likely to leave were Bosh and Joe Johnson. The surprise was Johnson stayed and while the Hawks aren’t a championship contender, they remain a serious team in spending to hang onto their best player.
Kobe: None of the big stars went West, and West teams like the Suns and Jazz took a step back. The way is clearer for the Lakers to get to the Finals and for Kobe maybe to have a shot at beating the East Dream Team in Miami and Phil Jackson taking on Pat Riley. What, he’s not coach yet?
LeBron: I know the consensus is he blew up his brand, whatever that means, and his image with his decision and his chances to live peacefully back in Akron. And he’s forever changed peoples’ view on who he is by going to play a supporting role for the Heat behind Wade. He didn’t want his own team and doesn’t need to be, “the Man,” which perhaps should be celebrated more. There’s this notion he didn’t go for the money, but with no Florida income tax and some other benefits it comes out about the same given his sign-and-trade. But he got to move from Ohio in the winter to South Florida. He got to team with his best NBA friends and he gets to play as he’s really most suited, as a playmaker and setup guy. He always was loyal to his buddies, which no one fully appreciated meant he just wanted to be one of the guys. Because of his talents, the sports world demanded he be the next great thing and the next Jordan, and he didn’t want any part of it. But he had to play the role. Now, he doesn’t have to anymore. He gets to play like he wants and play with a team that’s going to be highly successful and more famous than any he’s played for. It doesn’t sound that bad.
Chet the Jet: Go easy on LeBron
-- I got a call Sunday from Chet Walker, the former Bulls and 76ers great. He said he was watching the World Cup final in his Los Angeles home and in the wake of the LeBron James episode, he said it all became just too much.
“They’re wheeling Nelson Mandela and his wife across the infield in the soccer stadium and I’m thinking, ‘Is South Africa, of all places, way ahead of the U.S. in terms of race?’ Here’s a country that’s had three black presidents. They never condemned one the way we condemn Obama. I don’t think they’d treat one of their star athletes the way LeBron James has been treated.
“The young man has never done anything wrong and to see the way people have turned on him makes me angry,” said Walker. “It’s sad. It’s almost like they want to destroy him, make sure he’s not successful. You are basically dealing with a nice guy who is following the rules. You are not dealing with Terrell Owens, Barry Bonds, some kind of troublemaker. This is a fun-loving guy. He decided to make his own decision, speak with his own voice and still people don’t like it.”
It’s an issue dear to Walker since he is one of the fathers, probably now grandfathers, of free agency in the NBA. Walker was one of the principal movers as the then Bulls player rep of the Oscar Robertson suit that created NBA free agency. It was costly to the prime movers as suddenly Walker couldn’t find a job after averaging 19.2 per game his last season with the Bulls and had to retire. Robertson, a highly successful businessman, never was offered an NBA coaching or executive position.
So this is a sensitive subject for Walker, who grew up in rural Mississippi and experienced his share of racism in the NBA when he arrived in the early 1960s and southern cities like St. Louis were in the league.
“It seems you still can’t talk about race in sports,” says Walker. “They talk about beating your wife or being drunk or involved with drugs, but you can’t say anything on race. But someone has to speak up. This thing with LeBron has a racial overtone about it.
“I’m listening to the L.A. station that carries the Lakers’ game and these guys are saying LeBron can’t read and can’t count because he didn’t go to college. What is that?” asked Walker.
“They are holding him responsible for everything that is wrong in Cleveland,” said Walker. “When he came that franchise was next to nothing. The owner is saying he can’t walk away after all he’s done for him. How about what LeBron did for them? How much money was he making his first years (on a rookie contract) and how much did they make? Now, he’s angry because he decided to become a free agent and go somewhere and play ball. That’s a right we all fought hard for.
“Are you angry when your kid grows up and leaves home?” asked Walker. “Do you hate your child for that? I don’t understand this mentality. And these are vicious, hateful criticisms. I hear it in L.A. I don’t know if it’s everywhere. He’s just a kid. He doesn’t deserve this.
“I’ve been through all this kind of crap, living in the south, in the ‘60s playing basketball,” said Walker. “I know what people are saying and why. But this is a great basketball player and a great kid and we ought to be ashamed.”
NBA news and notes
-- It’s still a ways off, but one Chicagoan could benefit from that LeBron signing. Jon Scheyer is getting a shot with the Heat summer league team and coach Erik Spoelstra had praise for Scheyer to local media: " He's been a pleasant surprise with other aspects of his game. He has an extremely high basketball IQ. He does a better job of putting the ball on the floor, making plays, than I anticipated." The way the Heat expects to play, James will probably play a sort of point guard position with Wade the slasher and Bosh the post guy. They’ll surround them with space the floor shooters, and Scheyer could get a big shot. … NBA owners are meeting in Las Vegas Monday and one of the topics expected to come up is player tampering in the wake of the James/Bosh/Wade coupling which seemed discussed for some time. Questions could be raised, like was that why Bosh sat out the last few games of the season and cost the Raptors a playoff spot? Did he not want to play against his future teammate? Mavs owner Mark Cuban said he’s going to raise the issue. … On the Bulls summer league team, John Lucas III, a backup point, and Derrick Byars, a shooter who almost made the team last year, could have a chance to stick. … Allen Iverson posted on his site he wants to play again this season, Wrote Iverson: "I want to return to the NBA this season, and help any team that wants me, in any capacity that they feel that I can help," Iverson posted. "I'm disappointed and I owe my fans more than what they have seen of me the last couple seasons."… From the Orlando summer league, No. 2 pick Evan Turner has struggled and been out of shape, while one executive called No. 3 pick Derrick Favors “a beast,” who’s going to be a star. … 76ers coach Doug Collins on James: "I've always said LeBron was more like Magic Johnson than he was like Michael Jordan. I think that he wants to pass more than he wants to score."… In the bashing of LeBron in Cleveland last week, a talk radio host found this James quote from 2006: "I don't want to go ring-chasing. I want to stay with the Cavs and build a champion."