Cohen: Effective Strategy

By Josh Cohen
August 6, 2012

ORLANDO -- I have said it a million times before and I will reiterate it another million times in the future.

Unless a team is presently a championship contender, it’s often best strategy to herald sufficient salary cap space to make a legitimate push for forthcoming prized free agents.

Sure, it makes more sense for big market teams to preserve this philosophy considering All-Star caliber players generally prefer the larger cities if they decide to switch teams.

This notion was verified in 2010 when Miami, New York and Chicago cleared up enough cap space to chase the esteemed free agent class that year, which included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer.

But even for smaller markets, particularly those positioned in utmost appealing locations, it’s sometimes just as beneficial to become “salary cap friendly.”

Orlando is the perfect example.

In every summer where the Magic have had ample salary cap space they have taken advantage of the opportunity.

In 1994, for instance, Orlando landed Horace Grant and formed one of the best starting lineups of the last 20 years. Grant had previously won three championships in Chicago and was considered one of the few elite free agents available that year. He would help lead the Magic to the NBA Finals in his first year with the team.

In 2000, the Magic negotiated sign-and-trades for both Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill and nearly persuaded Tim Duncan to relocate to Central Florida and form what would have rivaled Miami’s Big Three a decade later. T-Mac instantly evolved into a perennial All-Star, while Hill's injuries denied him from living up to the expectations.

Most recently, Orlando’s abundant cap space in 2007 allowed the Magic to essentially pick and choose which free agent they wanted. In what was a generally substandard free agent class, Rashard Lewis was the best player available and fit with the team’s blueprint. In just his second season in Orlando, Lewis was a catalyst in the Magic’s treasured trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.

Some Magic fans may have been a bit upset after the team decided to not re-sign Ryan Anderson this summer. However, it was a smart decision when you realize that this determination may permit the Magic to have enough salary cap space as early as next offseason.

Regardless of what ultimately happens with Dwight Howard, who is lined up to be an unrestricted free agent in 2013, the Magic have very few financial obligations after this upcoming season.

Hedo Turkoglu’s final year of his contract is only partially guaranteed and nobody else on the Magic has a contract that pays in excess of about $7 million a year.

It was very revealing that Rob Hennigan’s assessment to not re-sign Anderson suggests that the Magic believe they will be players in the free agent market in the near future.

Next summer, there will be a plethora of All-Star caliber talent available.

Milwaukee’s Monta Ellis and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala can both exercise player options and become unrestricted free agents.

Atlanta’s Josh Smith, who has repeatedly stated in the past he would prefer to leave the Hawks, will be an unrestricted free agent.

Oklahoma City’s James Harden and Serge Ibaka will both be restricted free agents. Though they can match offers from opposing teams, the Thunder would be in danger of crossing the stiff luxury tax line if they decided to retain both next year.

After deciding to not agree to an extension in Los Angeles this summer, Chris Paul will be a free agent. While there is no indication he desires to abscond L.A., if the Clippers fail to reach expectations it’s possible he could decide to alter his direction.

There are plenty of others, including Andrew Bynum, who of course has been in nearly all Howard trade discussions over the past year, David West, Manu Ginobili, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who will be unrestricted free agents in 2013 as well.

If you peak around the league, you will notice a few teams this summer that made a significant effort to clear up salary cap space.

The Hawks dealt Joe Johnson and his mammoth contract to the Nets for a bunch of expiring contracts and then sent Marvin Williams to the Jazz for Devin Harris and his expiring deal.

The Hornets traded Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to the Wizards for Lewis, who negotiated a buyout with New Orleans shortly after. This deal helped the Hornets work out a sign-and-trade with the Magic for Anderson.

While it may be difficult to replicate what Miami did in 2010, it’s not impractical. Sure, players like LeBron and Wade aren’t available every summer and no, another free agency frenzy will not happen again for at least another several years. But, being a “salary cap friendly” team is refreshing and gives teams a boost when needed.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by Josh Cohen are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.


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