A look at the winners and losers from the NBA's free agency period, with a few caveats:
- Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe remain on the market and until those situations are resolved, the Pistons and Suns' statuses are in pencil not ink.
- These assertions factor free agency and trades, not the draft (unless it's intrinsic to the evaluation).
- These will all look totally different in a year. The idea is to give an impression of what the moves look like
Cleveland Cavaliers: Well... they signed the best player on the planet, healing one of the biggest sports wounds in a town that constantly gnashes its teeth at the fact those wounds so often define it in the media. They rose their team from a lost rebuilding project with talent that may not necessarily be a good fit together and that disappointed last season to a title contender, and in some circles, favorite, by adding the most transcendent athlete to ever play in the city.
So yeah, pretty good first summer for David Griffin.
I've written on the Cavs' backwardness and the complicated politics involved with Dan Gilbert within the league, but let's be clear: The Cavs signed LeBron James. They won, they did things right, and maybe more importantly, they didn't do anything wrong. They didn't build obstacles to keep him from coming home. They kept themselves within range of James' reach, kept themselves within his vision, and then when they had their chance, they didn't blow it. That's not only commendable, it's really impressive.
Narratives change quickly. James knows this. The Cavaliers know this. And the story of who the Cavaliers are shifts forever with this acquisition, and could change the way they're viewed, from a woe begotten team that can't get out of its own way to a team that learned from its mistakes before the Decision and brought the King home to win a title.
Dallas Mavericks: They added a veteran rim protector in Tyson Chandler, even if he's expensive and not what he was. Chandler Parsons gives them their wing of the future, a youth infusion on the perimeter, and will somehow take an already great offense and push itinto hyperspeed.
They re-signed Dirk Nowitzki. Sources say he is pretty good.
They kept their good defensive point guard (Devin Harris) and got rid of their bad one (Jose Calderon), Richard Jefferson was surprisingly alive last season, and Jameer Nelson is really useful as reserve. They lost Vince Carter at the end of his career, Shane Larkin (who hasn't shown much), Wayne Ellington and Samuel Dalembert, and actually have balance.
Outside of Cleveland, Dallas had the best free agency of anyone.
San Antonio Spurs: They kept the greatest power forward of all time, they extended arguably the best coach of all time, they kept Boris Diaw on a reasonable, short-years deal, and they re-signed Matt Bonner for almost nothing.
I mean, they won the title, kept everyone, and should be the favorites to repeat. They won by being the Spurs. Smart, efficient, quiet, and elite.
Winners... But It's Complicated
Utah Jazz: Utah's biggest moves were in the draft. And their three moves were small. They added Trevor Booker on a small, two-year deal. They acquired Steve Novak for nothing, and they matched Gordon Hayward. The Booker and Novak moves give the young guys quality role players to play beside.
Hayward is complicated. I wasn't a fan of the move for this reason: Putting $28 million as they could be doing in 2017-2018 on two players, Hayward and Derrick Favors, neither of whom can be called a baseline star, is unwise. They committed big money to Hayward and Favors as a combo, and that pairing did not work last season when they were dropped into the deep end of the pool for the first time.
But in the summer of 2017, they have less than $30 million on the books if Hayward opts out and they take the options on Dante Exum and re-sign Trey Burke for something reasonable. And it's likely that if something came along that would make them demonstrably better right now they could move Hayward or Favors.
It's not prolific combination to get excited about... now. But if you had said in 2010 you could have Favors and Hayward along with the No. 5 pick as a potentially transcendent point guard... you'd feel great about it. They're winners, even if I'm skeptical that this is the actual core that's going to take them forward.
Charlotte Hornets: They're better than they were last year... on paper. That's hard to argue. They added Lance Stephenson, a multi-faceted weapon offensively who can also defend. You can make a significant argument that considering the style the Hornets play that they're better with Lance Stephenson than they would be with James Harden.
But that's where you're basing your entire argument: Lance Stephenson will be great. If Stephenson's emotional issues cause complications on the court, off the court, or in the locker room, they are no longer winners. They signed Marvin Williams on a two-year deal for $14 million. That's not good value, even if Williams was what they're hoping he is: a crack shooter and quality defender. Williams has never done anything great. He's just done a lot of things "not badly."
Brian Roberts' two-year deal at $2.75 million is actually sneaky good and gives them just what they need: a firebug point guard off the bench.
But bear in mind that Charlotte gave up Josh McRoberts, who played a huge, multi-faceted role on both ends as a passer, scorer and defender last season, Luke Ridnour (a better backup point guard than Roberts), and Anthony Tolliver, who can spread the floor. They are hoping Noah Vonleh can eventually be a mix between McRoberts and Tolliver, a long, tall, rim-protecting and rebounding stretch shooter, and that Cody Zeller can help protect inside. But those aren't certain.
The Hornets won free agency because they added a big name on a non-painful contract to a playoff team. But whether this team will be as good as it was last year depends on more than if they had simply brought the band back.
Washington Wizards: Washington's psyched on two fronts. They landed a big name in Paul Pierce, kept Marcin Gortat, and added two rough-and-tumble bigs in DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries. So they feel they got better now.
They're also psyched because of the idea that Kevin Durant will sign with them and go "home" in 2016. Between now and then, the plan is to show they can contend to give Durant every reason to sign there.
Let's put aside the Durant dream. I don't know whether it's real or a fantasy, whether they should try and walk before they run, or what's going to happen between now and then. But for right now, the question of whether Pierce will be better, specifically, for the Wizards next year than Ariza is an interesting one. Pierce is a bigger name, and in reality, a more versatile player. If this was even 2012, it's a no-brainer.
But it's 2014, and that's going to be tougher. Pierce thrived in Brooklyn last season in a lower usage because he was playing a slowed-down, modified small-ball four. That won't be the case much in Washington with Nene in place. He needs to guard wings. And that's going to be problematic, even if Bradley Beal takes the tougher assignment.
And yet, Ariza would have been an overpay at the $8 million he got in Houston. He wouldn't have been an overpay in a vacuum, but next to John Wall's extension, the new Gortat contract, and Bradley Beal's inevitable extension... that gets rough. They let Trevor Booker go for far too little considering his value as a rebounder alone. Blair and Humphries have specific warts that can be problematic.
Overall, they won. They added players of value on good contracts. But again, whether this team will be better is very much still a question that needs answering, though their continuity should provide some level of inherent benefit.
New Orleans Pelicans: In short: Jimmer Fredette has not proven he can play so he and Austin Rivers will be buds. Darius Miller was a pretty solid re-sign just to see what he can do. Salmons, whatever, it's nothing worse than the standard veteran wing.
They are winners because they got Omer Asik. The key here, beyond Asik's considerable and necessary defensive impact, is twofold. One, Asik allows Anthony Davis to play power forward. That means a crunch with Ryan Anderson, but Davis is more important. Davis is thin-boned and has had injury issues the past two seasons. Playing center drags down his durability and carries a cost on the body. Asik absorbs that and allows Davis to save himself to be the omega playmaker on both ends.
Two, Asik is an expiring. Yes, the franchise cost is $15 million. But bigger than the $8 million cap hit that comes off the books is how that fits in. If Eric Gordon has a strong season and opts out, or if he's simply so unhappy in New Orleans (as he's seemed to be), and opts out of the last year at $15 million ... the Pelicans have less than $40 million on the books in the summer of 2016. They could make significant upgrades before signing Anthony Davis to the five-year max extension that fall. This is huge.
So yeah, the Pelicans lost perimeter shooting in Anthony Morrow and defense in Al-Farouq Aminu and rim protection in Jason Smith. But they've also kept their books open in case this formula they put together doesn't work. They have an escape hatch. So they're winners. The question is whether this experiment is really worth putting money behind to see if it works.
Losers, And It Matters
Miami Heat: They lost LeBron James. They got Chris Bosh back, that's great, but it was on a max contract for a guy who is not a title-contender max guy even if he's still underrated for all he does. They got Dwyane Wade back, which is less great, despite his regular season efficiency and the potential if he were to lose some weight this summer. Luol Deng at $10 million is terrific value, as is Josh McRoberts on his deal.
But they lost LeBron James. There's no such thing as a good summer after that.
Houston Rockets: Covered in-depth here, the Rockets got killed when Chris Bosh lost their chance at a superteam when he re-signed with Miami and then doubled up on the misery by not only watching Chandler Parsons walk to Dallas, but signing Trevor Ariza off a contract year for the second time, after the first time was disastrous.
That signing will likely be better this time, but they are not better on paper than they were last year.
However, I need to point out that their targeted acquisition of wing defenders (Ariza, Alonzo Gee) and dirty-work big men (Joey Dorsey, Jeff Adrien) could make a huge difference if just one of their multitude of young assets turns into something significant. They could be worse on paper and better in reality, despite losing Parsons. There's only so far offense can take you, no matter how efficient.
Detroit Pistons: I can have all the faith in the world that Stan Van Gundy will make the Pistons better next season through his coaching and look at this list, Caron Butler (2-years, $9 million), D.J. Augustin (2-years, $6 million), Jodie Meeks (3-year, $19.5 million!), Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray, and still want to throw up. The Pistons spent $14 million for next season on D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler, and Jodie Meeks.
I don't know how to spin that as a win.
Losers And It Doesn't Really Matter
Oklahoma City Thunder: This is more about expectations. The Thunder were trying to land Pau Gasol. They got Anthony Morrow. It's not a great summer for them. They didn't do anything to improve the team in a major way, though Morrow fills a need. But it doesn't really matter because the team as-is is good enough to make the Western Conference Playoffs. Really, they're just losers because Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich came back for another run.
Orlando Magic: The Magic aren't going anywhere, they're still rebuilding, and they didn't tie up long-term money with any signings. But Chandler Frye on a four-year deal, and especially the Ben Gordon signing, weren't good. I can argue they're not bad. I just can't argue they're particularly good, together. If the best case scenario happens, the Magic could be winners. But from right here, right now, not a great haul, but again, that wasn't the point.
I'M SO CONFLICTED
Phoenix Suns: Lost Channing Frye, signed Isaiah Thomas for a great-value contract at a position that wasn't a need, even if they need point guard depth with a multi-point-guard system. And the Eric Bledsoe situation is still, annoyingly, unresolved. Just don't know if they're better than they were last year, or really worse.
Portland Trail Blazers: They didn't lose anyone (Mo Williams is still undecided), and added two veterans. Is that enough? Can they improve defensively? Will Chris Kaman make an impact? Was another shooter in Steve Blake what they needed? Again, it's easy to argue either way.
Memphis Grizzlies: Vince Carter is a big plus. Not bringing back Mike Miller after how he played last year was a big minus, especially since he wanted to retire with the franchise. James Johnson was valuable last year, and he's gone. They may come out to a wash, and a lack of continuity can be a bad thing. Keeping Nick Calathes stuck on his contract despite a suspension and his wanting to go to Greece was not awesome.
Los Angeles Clippers: They finally got a big! ... It was Spencer Hawes. And they added another wing and a competent point guard!... Who's getting older and has a history of major injury issues (Jordan Farmar). Replacing Darren Collison with Farmar is probably an upgrade, and Hawes at least has size. They just didn't add a rim protector or a wing defender. So it's confusing.
Indiana Pacers: They lost Lance Stephenson but in doing so, managed to not overpay for a guy who was so divisive and can be so much trouble. And they go C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey on cheap, cheap deals. More than most teams, this one we have to see how it plays out, in Indiana and Charlotte, before knowing if mistakes were made.