NBA free agency: Assessing latest signings and potential moves
As expected, LeBron James' signing has sparked a flurry of free-agent activity. The gears within the league are turning – players are relocating, teams are adjusting on the fly and the NBA power structures are hanging in the balance. Below are scattered reflections on some of the latest developments from that scene, which becomes increasingly unpredictable with every degree removed from James' decision to return to Cleveland.
• Trevor Ariza's departure for Houston left the Wizards without their starting small forward and any financially comparable means to replace him. Ariza's Bird rights would have allowed Washington to go further over the cap to re-sign him, preserving the continuity of a playoff roster and locking up a 29-year-old wing who was effective on both sides of the ball last season. Instead, Ariza agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets.
Washington's response, however, was both immediate and improbable. With only the mid-level exception as their biggest chip, the Wizards somehow compelled 36-year-old small forward Paul Pierce to accept a two-year contract for just $11 million. The short, affordable deal -- which starts at $5.3 million and includes a player option in the second year -- is a wonderful arrangement for the Wizards, who will benefit from Pierce's versatility on offense and defense.
• A question while we're on the subject: What team wouldn't want Pierce for mid-level money?
• The Heat are pushing to sign Luol Deng to a two-year contract worth just $20 million. That's…incredibly reasonable in every way. Such a move would be a rallying point for a franchise in full-on salvage mode, particularly when the market for small forwards threatened explosion earlier in the week. Ariza ultimately landed a deal for a smaller total salary than he was said to be seeking. Pierce was had for the mid-level when he potentially could have demanded more elsewhere. Maybe Deng is the third small forward in line to undershoot his expected market? It's too early to say, with Dallas and Atlanta still in pursuit, but the reported framework for Miami's offer would be remarkably team-friendly if consummated.
UPDATE: The Heat have reportedly agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract with Deng, who will have a player option in 2015-16.
• The pain and peril of restricted free agency: Charlotte went from signing up-and-comer Gordon Hayward to a max offer sheet (which was subsequently matched by Utah) to agreeing to a two-year, $14 million contract with Hayward's former Jazz teammate Marvin Williams. I don't mind Williams, really, but the downgrade in the Hornets' Plan B is brutal.
• Chicago picked up Greg Smith – an NBA-worthy big man who can finish, rebound and block shots -- late last season merely by being at the right place at the right time. Dallas will reportedly do the same soon, giving the Bulls a landing spot for Smith's outgoing minimum salary. Opportunism in action.
• Unless they trade him by Wednesday's deadline, the Bulls are set to amnesty power forward Carlos Boozer as they prepare for the acquisition of Pau Gasol and the pending signing of Real Madrid's Nikola Mirotic, the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft and a top big man in Europe. Boozer, 32, may be flawed, but he'd be an interesting late addition to the market for teams with cap space. Those clubs would get first crack at Boozer during the waiver process, in which the team with the highest bid would acquire him and assume that portion of his $16.8 million salary while Chicago pays the balance.
• Boozer, incidentally is one of only nine amnesty-eligible players. The others: Atlanta's Al Horford, Boston's Rajon Rondo, Chicago's Joakim Noah, Memphis' Mike Conley, Oklahoma City's Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins, and San Antonio's Tony Parker.
• Related trivia: Of the 20 players amnestied already, only five (Chauncey Billups, Elton Brand, Luis Scola, Brendan Haywood and Travis Outlaw) were claimed through waivers. The rest cleared waivers and became unrestricted free agents.
• I'll say this as the Mavericks seem to be slowly talking themselves into bidding for free agent Lance Stephenson: The idea of playing the 23-year-old shooting guard as a full-time small forward alongside Monta Ellis is daring but not all that crazy. Stephenson's tenacity and strength allow him to play bigger than his 6-5 height would suggest, to say nothing of the interchangeable nature of wing positions for Dallas and across the modern NBA. Paying big money for Stephenson should terrify teams for many reasons, but positional fit isn't a significant concern.
• It seemed only a matter of time before Anthony Morrow found his way to a contender. If Caron Butler can make 44.1 percent from three-point range while playing off Durant and Russell Westbrook, what ridiculous percentage might the No. 8 deep shooter in NBA history hit?