Once LeBron James officially announced his decision to join the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday July 11th, the dust has begun to settle in NBA free agency. As I wrote last week, it seemed everyone was literally waiting to see what The King would do.
His decision to leave Miami made the Heat move on, deciding which players would help in their goal of achieving consistent championship caliber success. A bunch of Small Forwards now had a clearer idea of which teams would be in the market for them, and the ball started rolling almost immediately after LeBron’s (much less dramatic this time around) decision.
Here are the Winners/Losers, and the steals and head scratchers that have happened thus far in the Free Agency period.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The obvious winner this offseason is whoever landed the best player in the world. The Cavaliers did some really nice things this month, and still potentially could make another big splash in the coming days. It appears the Cavs and Timberwolves are at an impasse, with Cleveland looking to acquire double-double machine Kevin Love, without trying to surrender the first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins. ESPN had reported a few days ago that Wiggins’ people had been informed by the Cavs that he would not be traded. However, within the hour, a beat reporter for Cleveland, Bob Finnan (@BobCavsinsider), wrote that a league source said they now are willing to include Wiggins, which could intensify the trade talks rapidly. The Cavaliers apparently are willing to include Wiggins, last year’s first overall pick, Anthony Bennett, and a future first rounder, which to me is a lot. If Wiggins is not moved, there could be some issues over pride based on a tweet Dion Waiters sent the other day. A fan had asked if he’d be okay with coming off the bench next season, to which he responded with an emphatic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” Right now, unless new coach David Blatt decides to play small and play LeBron at the 4, either Wiggins or Waiters will have to come off the bench. We’ll see how all of this plays out, but regardless, any team with LeBron will be a title contender.
2. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs were able to retain everyone who was of value to them: Tim Duncan exercised his player option to return, and Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Matt Bonner all returned to the team where they excelled in their individual roles. Most importantly for the Spurs, their brilliant coach Greg Popovich has signed an extension to stay on, and has added the best international coach Ettore Messina to his bench as an assistant. For systematic basketball lovers like myself, that will make the Spurs even more fun to watch. Expect them to be atop the West again next year, as it seems as Duncan, Ginobili and Parker get older, they get better in some ways.
3. Dallas Mavericks: After struggling the last two years, the Mavericks are setting themselves up nicely to be back towards the top of the Western Conference this year. Dirk Nowitzki originally agreed to re-sign for 3 years and 30 million, but after the Mavericks put in an offer sheet for the hardworking, hustle wing Chandler Parsons, Dirk took 5 million less. The Rockets didn’t match the offer on their restricted free agent, so Dallas was able to pick up a nice, young piece in Parsons. They received Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in a deal with the Knicks, both of whom are looking to rebound after a rough stay in New York. The Mavs re-signed point guard Devin Harris at a great rate, landed Rashard Lewis for the veteran’s minimum (who showed up out of nowhere for the Heat in the finals after barely playing all year), and a nice veteran wing in Richard Jefferson. These pieces could prove valuable, as their depth has no doubt improved since last year.
4. Washington Wizards: After an impressive turnaround for Randy Wittman’s team last year, and then an even better run in the playoffs, the Wizards had something nice going for them. They had some key pieces up for free agency this summer. In my opinion, they improved in the offseason by re-signing veteran center Marcin Gortat to a nice deal, adding Paul Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza, who will instantaneously add more leadership to this young crew, and replacing Trevor Booker with Kris Humphries and DaJuan Blair. This team could be scary good for years to come with a nice balance of veterans who have won, and young pieces who are eager to do so.
5. Chicago Bulls: THE BULLS FINALLY AMNESTIED CARLOS BOOZER! Tom Thibodeau must be ecstatic! Boozer was a nice fit offensively, with him and Noah balancing well off each other’s game, but defensively he was a waste. They got rid of his ridiculous contract they’d given him a few years ago, and added Pau Gasol at a nice price. Gasol is a nice fit there, his defense might be an issue, but he can play in the high post and/or the low post and can take over a game by himself. Most importantly, and the main reason I picked them as a winner is that they didn’t overpay for the services of the oft-injured Dwayne Wade. I didn’t think Wade would be a good fit at all for Chicago, but they were high on him if they couldn’t get Carmelo Anthony. In my honest opinion, I think they need a healthy Derrick Rose and for Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler to take the next step and they will be in good shape to get back to the top of the East.
1. Brooklyn Nets: So, the promise that Russian Principal Owner Mikhail Prokhorov made to win a championship within 5 years doesn’t seem to be coming true. The Nets have made some crazy moves over the years to put together a winning roster, while spending crazy amounts of money. The biggest move was last year when they traded away 3 first rounders for the likes of “The Truth” Paul Pierce and “The Big Ticket” Kevin Garnett. Going into the season, Brooklyn’s starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez was one for the ages. It was all about cohesiveness, and it was already a big risk by GM Billy King to hire Jason Kidd, but now he had to find out a way to win now, with the new pieces being at the ends of their careers. After a rough start, the Nets finished in the middle of the East, and won a playoff series, before being eliminated 4-1 by the Heat. They preached and preached and preached sustainability, but after their head coach (Jason Kidd), versatile backup PG (Shaun Livingston), heart and soul of and the leader of the team (Paul Pierce), and backup big man (Andray Blatche) all have left, it seems they are almost starting over. New coach Lionel Hollins has a tough task at hand with no obvious choice of who to start at SF and the possibility of not having a PF if Garnett retires. Overall a bunch of huge losses and they have surrendered a future with lots of picks for a one year experiment that failed.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers went from a championship caliber team a few years ago, to now having to pay Steve Nash and Kobe crazy amounts of money to be injured as they get up there in age. They acquired Jeremy Lin in a trade earlier this week, and now, this afternoon @ESPNSteinLine has reported they have won the rights to Carlos Boozer by being the highest bidder. They only have to pay 3.25 million of his terrible contract according to Stein, which isn’t the worst, but who knows if this experiment will be a successful one. They now have Lin and Boozer to put alongside Kobe- which will bring a bigger crowd for sure, but not sure how it will work out basketball-skill wise. They lost their only consistent offensive piece from last year in Pau Gasol to the Bulls, and as of now, one of their best scoring options behind Kobe is (as I like to call him) “Chuckin!” Nick Young. They did land Ed Davis, who would be a decent fit on a playoff team, but instead, he will struggle in Los Angeles in a meaningful role. PS: They still don’t have a coach/system/anything. But in my honest opinion, the worst part of all of this is that Robert Sacre will actually have to play and can’t return to being the league’s best bench warmer since the wickedly talented, one and only Brian Scalabrine retired.
He makes a great cheerleader: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxVuySQT-eY
3. Miami Heat: They did add a nice piece with Josh McRoberts, I’ll give them that. But they also added the rapidly declining Danny Granger to their roster. They basically admitted they were done with Mario Chalmers after his struggles in the playoffs, but then re-signed him anyway. Chris Bosh was rumored to want to leave if LeBron left, but instead took the max contract they offered. I always liked his game in Toronto, he could do a little of everything, all on his own, but he has said he won’t return to that form, which is disappointing. Now, Miami is paying Bosh to be a decent stretch 4, a position he grew into during the 4 years with LeBron, but now he has lost his low post game he had in Toronto. Not sure if a stretch 4 who can’t create off the dribble is worth that kind of money, we’ll have to see if they move him back to the post at all. They added defensive specialist Luol Deng, but he won’t solve the big problem I think they’ll have on offense with all the pieces they’ve lost. They re-signed Dwayne Wade, which was practically inevitable, but that’s not a great thing. D-Wade can’t do it on his own anymore, and now Miami doesn’t have a creator on offense. They don’t have a center to work their offense through, and they don’t have someone with an explosive step to get into the lane and create havoc. Oh, and they lost the best player in the world- hard to have a good offseason when that happens.
4. Houston Rockets: The Rockets really missed out on a great opportunity with Chris Bosh returning to the Heat. With Harden, Howard, and Bosh as the big 3, I feel they would be much improved and would fit perfectly with each other. Instead, they lost out on Bosh and didn’t match the offer on the young, athletic restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. They replaced Parsons, a fan favorite, with Trevor Ariza a well-known veteran defender, which I think is a loss for them in terms of athleticism and offensive fluidity. They were able to dump Jeremy Lin’s contract to the Lakers, as well as Omir Asik to the Hornets, but these moves were made to clear cap room for Bosh and also to admit their mistake in giving these players lucrative contracts a few years ago.
5. Phoenix Suns: The Suns acquired Isaiah Thomas at a decent rate, but that just adds to an already crowded PG position. They have Goran Dragic, Thomas, and recently drafted Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis under contract, while negotiating to bring Eric Bledsoe back. They lost a key role player, Channing Frye, to the Magic and replaced him with Anthony Tolliver…(exactly my thoughts)… They didn’t address a need at the PF/C position but instead added to somewhere they had a surplus. “Bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.”
There are still plenty of good free agents out there, like Greg Monroe of the Pistons, Eric Bledsoe of the Suns, Evan Turner of the Pacers and Shawn Marion of the Mavericks. There are also some trades to watch, like the Kevin Love situation with Golden State and Cleveland interested, Josh Smith of Detroit and the Kings discussing possibilities, and I could see the Bucks moving Ersan Ilyasova to get younger and create cap room for new head coach Jason Kidd and the new management group. It should be interesting.
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