Give And Go: Measuring the highs and lows of the 2013 offseason thus far
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: digging into the early returns of the 2013 offseason.
1. Which team has had your favorite offseason (draft, trades and free agency) so far?
Ben Golliver: It's not easy to put together a completely complete summer in the NBA, especially in a year where the draft talent pool isn't exceptionally deep. There's usually a lot of overlap between teams at the very top of the lottery and teams that struggle to land anyone meaningful in free agency. Conversely, there's usually a lot of overlap between teams that don't bother to show up to the draft and teams that are at the front of the line for premier free agents.
Among my favorite selections in this year's draft were Victor Oladipo to the Magic, Ben McLemore to the Kings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Pistons, Steven Adams to the Thunder and Dennis Schroeder to the Hawks. Since then, Orlando and Oklahoma City have been quiet, Sacramento has been perplexing and Detroit has been Dumars-ing its way into Josh Smith, another massive free-agency commitment that could easily wind up blowing up in the Pistons' face. I loved Atlanta's signing of Paul Millsap (see below) but Smith's departure reduces the net impact of that move.
Post-draft, I see the three biggest winners as the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets, in some order.
L.A. locked up Chris Paul; added two talented shooters in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley; cashed in the Eric Bledsoe chip while finding a capable replacement in Darren Collison; and snagged Reggie Bullock as a potential late-first-round sleeper. There's a lot to like there, even if their interior problems, which have existed for multiple seasons now, remain.
Houston's success is obvious: Adding a second All-Star to a flexible roster is a move that offers the rare combination of major, immediate impact and the potential for major, future impact. If a change of scenery with the Rockets makes for a rejuvenated Dwight Howard, we as an NBA society owe them one. The tertiary moves -- signing Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi, getting a collection of minor assets in exchange for Thomas Robinson, cutting ties with Royce White -- are all fine and dandy, too.
I think I saved my favorite for last, though. Under the NBA's luxury-tax system, it's going to be very costly for a team like Golden State to keep its productive role players -- Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry -- when they hit free agency immediately after a high-profile playoff run. There just wasn't any doubt those two would get paid. To their great credit, the Warriors didn't simply settle for picking one of the two to pay, or for letting both walk and finding budget-friendly replacements to plug into their place.
Instead, Golden State manufactured Andre Iguodala out of thin air, dumping the contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to Utah to make it happen. The exchange came with other costs -- Brandon Rush, picks -- but Golden State made sure it came out with a major net positive by signing Toney Douglas, Jermaine O'Neal and Marreese Speights to plug the Jack and Landry holes. Let's all pray to the hoops gods that Stephen Curry stays healthy so these guys can make a series of postseason runs. (PS: Bonus points for getting the Curry extension done last summer so they didn't need to max him out this summer. That will provide huge savings over the course of the four-year, $44 million deal.)
Rob Mahoney: Those three post-draft success stories that you detailed, Ben, are the definitive kings of the summer thus far. Each of those three teams pulled off something exceptional to reshape rosters for the better. This year's draft was short on potential star power to begin with, and while that doesn't totally invalidate some of the more impressive picks and moves made, it falls well short when stacked up next to the reshuffling of Howard and Iguodala or L.A.'s re-signing of Paul. The draft matters, and there are sure to be unexpected standouts from this year's class that we don't yet fully appreciate. But as it stands today, the teams that have done the best work this offseason are those that added (or secured) a star player via free agency or trade.
Between them, I've been most impressed (and surprised) by the Warriors. A strong playoff push would have compelled many general managers to choose complacent tinkering in lieu of more substantial change. Golden State, after all, could have relied largely on the continued development of Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Instead, the Warriors took a proactive approach that has vaulted them up through the Western Conference hierarchy.
It's tough to pin down where the best in the West rank exactly, given the pieces still in play, but in adding Iguodala, Douglas, Speights and O'Neal, the Warriors functionally replace both of their outgoing free agents (Jack and Landry) while setting themselves up to be a dramatically improved defensive team. That they were able to add Iguodala by selling the Jazz $24.1 million in expiring contracts for a few likely non-lottery picks and a solid 3-and-D wing (Brandon Rush) is even more impressive.
Two lower-key offseasons I've also liked: Portland and New Orleans. The Trail Blazers have picked up some nice pieces (C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez) at exceptionally little cost, moves that will earn them a place in the postseason hunt. To get better and deeper while still picking up young, developing assets typically requires a much greater trade-off in terms of assets or cap space, but Portland has managed to position itself well for this season and beyond.
New Orleans is more of a high-risk play, given the four-year, $44 million deal for Tyreke Evans. But I see real promise in a core that includes Evans, Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and the recently acquired Jrue Holiday, along with low-end pick-ups like Anthony Morrow and Greg Stiemsma.. There's a lot of talent to work with there, and the chemistry between Holiday, Evans and Davis, in particular, could be something special.
2. Which team has had your least favorite offseason (draft, trades and free agency) so far?
Golliver: I would guess there are approximately zero people in the world (outside of Bobcats employees and Michael Jordan's entourage) who approve of both drafting Cody Zeller with the No. 4 pick and handing $41 million over three years to Al Jefferson. That would seem to make Charlotte, always an easy punching bag, a strong contender for this category.
However, last place in line is reserved for the Lakers this year, no question about it. Losing Howard, in that manner, was crippling on the court and embarrassing off of it. The new luxury-tax system will reportedly cost them Metta World Peace, who started and played big minutes. Sayonara to Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison, too. Meanwhile, Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly are reportedly coming to the rescue. Oof. Lakers fans need a fast-forward button to get them through this season.
Mahoney: Fine choices both, but I'd like to add Denver to the mix for consideration. While it's not quite as painful as losing Howard at such a crucial juncture, Iguodala's decision to ditch the Nuggets damages the franchise's reputation just weeks after the firing of George Karl and the departure of one of the league's sharpest GMs in Masai Ujiri. Beyond that, Denver traded out of the first round; dealt a useful starting center/JaVale McGee insurance policy (Kostas Koufos); pulled J.J. Hickson into a strange fit with a three-year, $15 million deal; and positioned itself to be over the cap for the next two seasons with a core of McGee, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and an injured Danilo Gallinari.
Denver won't be horrible by any means, and there really aren't any contracts on the books so terrible that they can't be flipped at a later date. But this team has taken a step back, perhaps to the point of being on the wrong side of the playoff bubble after finishing last season as the No. 3 seed in the West.
New York also deserves a nomination. The decision to expend actual assets in order to acquire Andrea Bargnani isn't just short-sighted but also actively damaging. Bargnani stands to actually make the Knicks worse if he doesn't engage defensively, ramp up his rebounding and eclipse his 32.3 percent three-point shooting of the last three seasons. I'm not sure what the Knicks think they're getting in the former No. 1 pick, but the move to acquire him could well backfire as Mike Woodson tries to jostle Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony around in a way that makes the slightest bit of defensive sense.
In truth, though, you can find a silver lining for every team. For all that Denver has lost, the additions of Darrell Arthur and Randy Foye should still help, and McGee could well thrive in a bigger role. Charlotte, as Ben noted, has agreed to a far-too-massive deal with Jefferson but may be on the hook for only two years of overpayment (the third year is a player option). Even the Lakers did what they could to retain a prized free agent, but were ultimately the victim of a player's making a sensible decision. That's not at all the same as consenting to a lopsided trade or botching a draft pick, brutal though the outcome of Howard's free agency turned out to be. And, L.A.'s books remain wide open after next season when several key players could be free agents.
3. What's your favorite contract of the summer?
Golliver: It's got to be Millsap to the Hawks (two years, $19 million). As I wrote, this contract is almost too good to believe, especially with Jefferson and Smith as comparable deals.
I thought David West's re-signing with the Pacers (three years, $36 million) was the biggest win/win for both sides: They seemed to hit both the price and length right on the head while keeping open the championship window. Of the available shooters, who all mostly fell in the same general salary range, I thought the Bulls got the best bang for their buck with Mike Dunleavy (two years, $6 million). The return of Andray Blatche (Nets) and Ray Allen and Chris Andersen (Heat) to their teams with no drama or major added costs were all nice wins, too.
Mahoney: I can't help but concur -- Millsap's deal is outstanding for a Hawks team with an open future, and a clear outlier in a market where the mid-tier free agents have been getting paid handsomely. Among the lower-profile signings, I thought the teams involved got great value on deals for Dunleavy, Collison (essentially a one-year, $1.9 million contract with the Clippers), Devin Harris (three years, $9 million with the Mavs), Wright (two years, $6 million with the Blazers), Garcia (two years, veteran minimum with the Rockets), Jon Leuer (three years, $3 million with Grizzlies) and Douglas (one year, $1.6 million with the Warriors).
4. What's your least favorite contract of the summer?
Golliver: The Bobcats' deal for Jefferson ($41 million over three years) and the Pistons' deal for Smith ($54 million over four years) are tough to swallow, but both have extenuating circumstances worth acknowledging. There's the possibility that Jefferson's deal goes only two years if he opts out, as Rob noted above, an eventuality that would lessen the damage. With Smith, $14 million annually for four years is a lot but it definitely could have been worse had a true bidding war erupted. So that's something.
I guess my cop-out answer is this: My least favorite deal has yet to come. I'm willing to strongly wager that it will be either Andrew Bynum's or Monta Ellis', depending on how many years Bynum receives.
Mahoney: I'll take Jefferson's, if only because his contract value is so bloated relative to what he offers on the court. The length of the deal really isn't much of a problem, though, and with him the Bobcats stand to be more respectable while still being bad enough to maintain good lottery position. It's a horribly expensive contract in a general sense, but the damage done there is mainly financial.
Other than Jefferson, though, there really haven't been many deals that reek of instant regret. Point guard Jose Calderon's four-year, $28 million contract with the Mavs is at least a season longer than it should optimally be, but he is a good enough fit in Dallas and the team's cap sheet is so bare that at the moment it's not a pressing issue. Smith might be a weird match with the Pistons, but his deal ultimately seemed pretty reasonable. Some of the mid-tier players might eventually turn problematic as they age into annual salaries of $7 million to $10 million, but for now most seem tolerable enough.
5. Any parting thoughts on how the last three weeks have shaken out?
Golliver: One recurring thought I had over the last few weeks was: "Oh, I'm glad he's going back!" There's a long list of fairly important guys who, rather than bolt, opted to re-sign with their incumbent teams. A few of these moves, some of which were mentioned above: Paul (Clippers), Matt Barnes (Clippers), West (Pacers), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Tony Allen (Grizzlies), Ray Allen (Heat), Andersen (Heat), Blatche (Nets), Kyle Korver (Hawks), J.R. Smith (Knicks) and Pablo Prigioni (Knicks).
Some went back on great deals, some good deals, some mediocre deals. Without a doubt, player movement is always more fun and dramatic than the status quo, but all of those guys made sense where they were. In many of those cases, the re-signing meant that a contending-type team will get another crack next season, and that's a nice added bonus.
Mahoney: There has been exceedingly little reported action on two of the available players I found most interesting at the start of free agency -- Andrei Kirilenko and Gerald Henderson -- and I'm fascinated to see what becomes of them with so little cap space remaining around the league. Kirilenko declined a $10.2 million option to test the market, but thus far the Spurs have been the only team with a hard reported link to Kirilenko and even they seem to be moving on. His options for deals worth greater than the full mid-level are drying up quickly, which could lead to a favorable scenario in which the 32-year-old forward agrees to a lesser salary for a chance to join a contender. I would have been content enough with Kirilenko as a contributor to a healthy Timberwolves team, but with that looking less likely, it would be nice to see such a versatile veteran land with a team that could best utilize his wide range of skills. As for Henderson, I thought there might be an opportunity for another team to snatch him away through restricted free agency, but there's been incredibly little chatter regarding him and the bulk of the restricted free agents available overall. It's understandable that the parties involved would want to keep mum even if different scenarios were being discussed, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the 25-year-old guard might either serve out his final season in Charlotte on tender or simply re-up with the Bobcats long term. I think he could very much benefit from a change of scenery (and a more talented team that could use him more effectively), but the system of restricted free agency is designed to give the incumbent team the upper hand and may well chase away suitors that would otherwise be interested in picking up a growing all-around contributor.