Sam Smith on NBA free agency
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There weren’t that many difficult decisions this time as it turned out. Though it wasn’t the greatest of free agent classes. The NBA signing moratorium period ended at midnight Tuesday, and the biggest free agents of the Summer of '13 are spoken for, Chris Paul back to the Los Angeles Clippers, as expected with the addition of coach/general manager Doc Rivers, Josh Smith to the Detroit Pistons, Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors and, oh yeah, in case you missed it, Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets.
Howard, of course, was the big one, sigh, again, and while perhaps there’ll be more drama this season in Houston, at least there was no TV show for his announced destination.
It’s not clear if it’s a big signing anymore, but Andrew Bynum still is somewhat uncommitted with an apparent short term offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers. And Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis still are trying to close in on new homes, or deals. But the big stories are mostly told. So let’s take a look at the summer award winners.
Smartest guy in the room
Dwight Howard for the first time in his life. Finally, someone left the money on the table — no, Lebon, Bosh and Wade really didn’t with the slight total under maximum and lack of state taxes — to go where his life would be better. Plus, at 27 Howard will get another big contract after this one unless he’s hit by a truck. And then he won’t need the fifth year, anyway. L.A. was a disaster for Howard and he figured it out this time. Most everyone, including the fans, didn’t much care for him or his antics. He’s more clown than competitor, though a great talent, still. Don’t be fooled not thinking that. Houston is an ideal place for him where the small media contingent is laudatory and supportive and the history isn’t all that great. Sure, there’s the world’s biggest mosquitoes, but the Rockets play inside. The Rockets still probably need a point guard and another perimeter shooter, but consider poor Oklahoma City, who probably still will be among the favorites with Russell Westbrook’s return. They give James Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades ever as Kevin Martin is now in Minnesota, and Howard never would have gone to Houston if Harden weren’t there. Dwight Howard runs a classy, timely, professional free agency. Go figure.
Too close to Silicon Valley
The Warriors must have gotten a hold of some bad saber metrics and not realized Andre Iguodala probably has missed more game winners than anyone in history. They broke up a heck of a second round team. The Warriors look like they out thought themselves going after Iguodala after the Kings wouldn’t allow him to shop their offer and pulled it. So now they bench Harrison Barnes for Iguodala, who is not as good a shooter. I understand the concept. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they felt they needed sort of a point/small forward. That’s not Iguodala. But to clear the space, they had to let go Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, two players who made a huge difference last season. And with Curry’s balky ankle, you need a high level backup point. That was Jack. Big loss. Plus, they also apparently tried to move David Lee and Andrew Bogut to make a run at Howard, and we’ll see how those two guys respond. Plus, they gave the Jazz a pair of No. 1’s to get them to take salary. Wait until they get a look at Iguodala taking another team out of the playoffs after one round. The only time he ever was in the second round was when Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both got hurt.
This is the guy you wanted as your owner?
Wasn’t he the owner every fan wanted to save their franchise? Mark Cuban can’t get anyone to take his money. Free agents mostly won’t even come and visit and Cuban after breaking up his 2011 title team for his big free agency push added at huge salaries Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, who by the way, can’t play together. Wayne Ellington, too, whoever he is. They might still go for Bynum, who won’t even work out for teams. It seems obvious it’s time to trade Dirk Nowitzki before it’s too late like Boston did with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce because no one seems to want to play with him, either. You sure you want this guy as your owner?
Can we still invest with Bernie Madoff?
So far it looks like Monta Ellis and Andrei Kirilenko. Ellis apparently has a few bad teams on the hook, but he opted out of $11 million next season with the Bucks and turned down three years at more than $30 million. Good luck getting close to that. Same with Kirilenko, who opted out of $10 million next season. How do you walk away from eight figure annual salaries? And people say the U.S. is in decline. In what other country can you make decisions like that and stay out of prison? By the way, the Bucks didn’t do all that badly patching together a makeshift roster with O.J. Mayo (another guy running from Cuban), Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia to go with Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova. Now if they can dump Brandon Jennings on Atlanta for Jeff Teague they can still at least play for the playoffs. And how did they dump that awful Luc Mbah a Moute deal on the Kings? Maybe there’s an Ellis sign and trade to come. Though the Landry pickup was a good one.
No, it’s Larry Bird, back with the Pacers after putting together that unheralded conference finals team and quietly coming out of free agency with some of the best subtle moves. They let go Tyler Hansbrough, who may have regressed more than any former college player of the year ever as he apparently was forced to even leave the country. They quietly — like everything there — got back David West and added some shooting with former Bull C.J. Watson and the Knicks’ Chris Copeland. They perhaps could use a better distributing point guard, but their bench is deeper and they get back Danny Granger. They’ll be very good.
Maybe Billy Crystal is a better actor
It’s Jack Who? now as the Lakers are about to embark on probably the worst season in their franchise history, and probably many more to come. Many in the Hooterville-like hometown media there are applauding the loss of Howard as not up to L.A. standards. But Howard’s leaving may be their tipping point. LeBron? No way. Carmelo? Sure, that would work with Kobe. Kobe isn’t rushing back to play with Chris Kaman, another in that great line of Lakers centers who have included Dave Robisch, Soumaila Samake, Chuck Nevitt, Travis Knight, Darrall Imohoff, Mel Counts and Walter Dukes. Howard never did understand Lakers’ history. Meanwhile, watch out for the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro did a nice job, but this is Doc Rivers, and Blake Griffin will pay more attention. They made a nice pickup of Darren Collison, another player crossing the red sea out of Dallas, along with Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick for shooting. Consider them the perennial contenders for the next decade while the Lakers try to draw more fans with a statue unveiling of Elden Campbell and Campbell to pose next to the statue to see which one is more lifelike.
Yeah, this should work
Rasheed Wallace being hired as an assistant coach to work with Josh Smith. It doesn’t look like the Pistons learned with that Charlie Villanueva signing. Basketball wise it doesn’t make much sense as Smith doesn’t spread the floor as likely the league’s worst mid range shooter. So much for playing off their two, young big guys. But now comes ‘Sheed, who at his best didn’t much care for post play in favor of the ill-timed 30 footer. Their shooting guard rookie looks good and they added some shooter from overseas. But ‘Sheed. The league’s alltime greatest coach kill. A coach? C’mon.
Auld Lang Syne
It’s the Spurs with a chance for big time cap room — but as we’ve seen it wasn’t the greatest free agent class — opting instead to bring back their poorest Finals performers, Manu Ginoboli and Tiago Splitter. I’m in. They figure Tim Duncan’s got two more years, and stuff does happen. If Westbrook doesn’t get hurt, who knows. But they got within too-close-to-call in Game 6, and maybe they have two more shots now even as the Thunder and Clippers look stronger. But they did last season as well. Adding Marco Belinelli was a nice move to take the pressure off Ginobili, which adds to excellent depth. We’re not calling them too old anymore. As for the other end of that, there’s not much to say for the Bulls giving up Belinelli for Mike Dunleavy. While Belinelli was well regarded for playing pick and roll and hitting three game-winning shots, the taller Dunleavy is considered to have a better overall so called 'skill set,' is regarded as a more consistent player, and generally thought of as an upgrade for the Bulls. So the Bulls should be fine as well with more a Kyle Korver type shooter to play off Rose or Kirk Hinrich. There was some question how far into the luxury tax the Bulls would go. It was unexpected to some that they would be able to retain a player in Belinelli's slot, which gives them one of the highest pay rolls in the league.
Well, that trade deadline strategy didn’t work
Remember when everyone was screaming the Utah Jazz had to do something with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap? So they miss the playoffs, basically get nothing for Jefferson, who goes to Charlotte, and maneuver around to get picks as Millsap goes to the Hawks. The thinking a year ago was they’d cash in Jefferson and Millsap for young players and picks and go with their young guys. So they’ll do it now having lost out on the chance to give them some help.
Is it really that bad a city?
Yes, the Nuggets lost Andre Iguodala, who was supposed to be their star to replace Carmelo Anthony. Which he did and continued the first round playoff elimination tradition. But their coach, general manager and assistant general manager all bolted/were fired in the biggest executive exodus since Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre when almost half the administration’s legal apparatus resigned or was fired. So Brian Shaw finally gets a job and we’d love to see JaVale McGee running the triangle. Free agent pickup J.J. Hickson, too, for that matter.
LeBron left this?
The Cavs made a terrific addition with Jarrett Jack to play with Kyrie Irving and for Irving with his inevitable injuries. They’ve got a big offer out to Bynum for short term, added Earl Clark, another guy who doesn’t understand why anyone wants to be a Laker, and if Bynum signs maybe they make another move with Anderson Varejao. Anyway, the idea is make the playoffs and then LeBron will be the final piece in the ultimate homecoming. Hey, who knows.
How many balls do they use?
Pelicans are known for scooping up things, and the New Orleans Pelicans are scooping up guards as they added Tyreke Evans to go with Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday. So whatever happened to Austin Rivers? Could be a Clippers deal coming?
Defense, ah the heck with that
That’s the new look Knicks with Carmelo, J.R. and Bargnani firing away, baby. They’re probably best when they shoot, and now they really could use Mike D’Antoni. Just stifle the laughs when Mike Woodson talks about defense. No one on his team will be listening, either.
Don’t call dem bums
That’s what they used to say about the Brooklyn Dodgers with the famous accents, and while it preceded free agency, the Nets big deal with Boston for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is going to play a big part in the East. There will be the age jokes, but the Nets have likely made themselves a top four team in the East — OK, better top four team than last season — and with one act to play out we all can’t wait for. In the Kardashian Diva award race, Deron Williams edges out Dwyane Wade. And everyone can’t wait until Kevin Garnett gets a look at Williams’ diva, finger-pointing-at-teammates act. That locker room discussion would be the YouTube sensation of the year. It’s all starting to look like another can’t-make-this-stuff-up season.