Archive for July, 2012

Jeremy Lin’s time in New York is likely up. Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony think Lin’s new deal is ridiculous, but is it? All three should take a good, long look in the mirror.

We’re still waiting, officially, to see whether the Knicks match the Rockets’ backloaded offer sheet for the services of Jeremy Lin.  Lin, a Taiwanese-American Harvard product, got significant run as the New York Knicks’ starting point guard last season.  And, well, he had some success.  Let’s set the stage: the Knicks were 8-15 when Lin first saw burn at the point for New York.  With Amare out for four games, and Carmelo out for even longer, the Knicks went on a seven game win streak, powered almost completely by Lin.  During his first ten games, Lin averaged 24.6 points and 9.2 assists. 

As Carmelo and Amare leaked back into the system, Lin’s numbers declined, but he was still productive.  The next seven games, he averaged 16 points and 7.7 assists.  And finally, in the last nine games, he averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 assists.  Some of the decline is attributable to less pressure: other players returned to take care of the scoring load.  Some of it is attributable to a coaching change.  Mike Woodson ran many more ISO plays, whereas prior coach Mike D’Antoni favored pick-and-roll situations which highlighted Lin’s abilities.  The kid turned the ball over too much, but he also became the first NBA player to score twenty points and dish out seven assists in each of his first five starts.

If you take seven wins away from the Knicks last season (and at the time Lin started playing, they had lost 11 of 13), they are a really bad team.  29-37. If you take three wins away, they would have been 33-33.  So here are my responses to statements made by Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony.  Prefaced, of course, with “all due respect.”

An Open Letter to Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony

To Stephen A. Smith, who authored this article for ESPN: Really? Weren’t you the guy who asked what was wrong with players positing the eternal question: “Where’s mine?” Weren’t you also the guy who pointed out that neither Anthony nor Stoudemire had been to the conference finals in any conference without the help of an All-Star caliber point guard? Are Jason Kidd (he of the recent DWI and 6.2 ppg, 5.5 apg last season) and much-maligned Raymond Felton of that caliber? When you insist that Felton and Kidd make up for the Knicks loss of Lin, are you imagining a world where Felton and Kidd combine powers, making a player capable of producing the sum of both of their on-court contributions? Even at his worst last season, Lin was appreciably better than Felton or (sorry, Jason) Kidd.

Your article today conveniently focuses on the last year of Lin’s contract.  The first two years are fairly reasonable (especially against the background of current Knicks players).  You also manage to call Lin a swindler: “with a streaky jump shot, a limited left hand, who’s turnover-prone and eons away from being a capable defender, he should be called an astute businessman right now with the deal he swindled out of the Rockets.” I’m pretty sure the Rockets knew what they were doing.  Since when does anyone on the Knicks meet the qualifications you say Lin lacks? By my count, Carmelo Anthony is a streaky jump shooter who can’t play defense.  But the most irresponsible part of it all might be when you speculate that Lin has always been in it for the money (as if it were about anything else, ever) in a way that makes him seem like a selfish teammate. The irony, with the Knicks, is too rich.  If you are going to speculate as to Lin’s motivations for not playing injured, I’ll speculate as to your motivations for this article: your sole strength as a journalist is insider information.  Your career depends on access to stars, and if ‘Melo thinks the contract is ridiculous, you’re going to fall in line.  Unfair?

To J.R. Smith, who said: “‘I think some guys take it personal, because they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received any reward for it yet.”  That’s market value, bud. You don’t get paid like that because you’re not very good and you’re not compelling.  $5 million for the first two years is potentially a steal for the amount of money he will bring in, and at least reasonable.  During the last year of the deal, if Lin’s play isn’t at a high level, it’s a big expiring contract. Big, expiring contracts are historically useful trade assets.

To Carmelo, who said “It’s up to the organization to say that they want to match that ridiculous contract.”: If you’re receiving a max contract, you are, for better or worse, being compared to others who receive it.  For context, you are the fifth highest paid player in the NBA (sixth if you count amnesty victim Gilbert Arenas). At $19,450,000, you alone account for over 1/3 of your team’s salary cap space.  In fact, your .500 team has the distinction of being the only non-contender with two of the ten highest paid players in the league. The Lakers are the only other team with two top-ten salaried players, and it’s working for them.

Before trading for you, the Knicks were a .500 team.  After trading for you, they were a .500 team.  Your team’s flexibility is essentially crippled, and they are relegated to signing aging, veteran’s minimum players to “compete for a championship.” Which is of course laughable, because the Knicks aren’t competing for a championship.   As it stands, there are at least seven star-laden teams (MIA, LAL, BOS, SAS, OKC, BKN, LAC) that are more attractive for ring-chasing.

In case you missed it, you get paid more than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose.  You get paid significantly more than Josh Smith, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin (especially last season), Ty Lawson, and Danny Granger.  I’m not sure anyone can make a cogent argument that you are more valuable than any of the players from the first list, who are paid slightly less than you annually.  And as for the players listed above who are paid significantly less than you, yet make comparable contributions to teams far superior to your own? These are the players who should, in a vacuum, make your contract look “ridiculous.”

Of course, contracts don’t exist in a vacuum.  Part of Carmelo’s value is the star power, the additional revenue brought in by name recognition, jersey sales, corporate sponsorships, and television contracts.  And these non-basketball reasons are why Jeremy Lin’s contract seems even more acceptable.  He was #2 in jersey sales last season.  Whomever Lin plays for next season will find themselves the lucky epicenter of Asian fan focus.  The Rockets are familiar with the Asian market, and its value due to Yao Ming’s career with the team.  Who better to judge Lin’s “value” than a team familiar with the financial implications associated with television and jersey sales in Asia?

The NBA loves this market share, and has been nurturing it for years.  This preseason, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers will play two preseason games in China.  Games in which Jeremy Lin plays will air in China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  There is value in Lin outside of basketball reasons, outside of the vacuum.  And further, at $5 million for the next two years, for a team without (all of a sudden) a starting point guard, Lin is somewhere between reasonably priced and mildly overpaid.  That final, $14.8 million third season? At this point in his career, that is a lot of money. From a basketball standpoint, he probably won’t be worth it. From a revenue standpoint, he probably will be worth it.  And how else could the Rockets pry him away from the Knicks? This contract was designed to scare the Knicks off, and it worked.

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“In the Desert” by Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.

I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”
                               

When the Denver Nuggets traded Nene to the Washington Wizards several months after signing him to a hefty, long-term deal, the word out of the Mile-High City was that the front office had “buyer’s remorse.”  They made the trade in exchange for young center JaVale McGee, he of the Gumby arms, French nickname, “limitless potential” and ultimate confusion in regards to the rules of basketball.  A report from last night claims that JaVale is mulling over a five year, $50 million offer from the Nuggets.  What is there to think about, Pierre? Oh wait, Brook Lopez just got a max contract.

“Epic Vale” is a great shot-blocker, and an equally great goaltender.  While some of his antics are overblown, the most maddening ones are those that don’t make the Manichean highlight/lowlight reel.  With Denver and Washington last season, McGee had one of the worst on/off differentials in the league.  He routinely moves out of the way of players driving to the basket in order to go for blocks.  He actually manages to block some of those attempts, but here’s the rub: McGee has a tendency to send blocked basketballs out of bounds instead of to a uniformed player on his team, or to himself.

As Mike Prada at Bullets Forever pointed out way back in March, McGee’s relatively high PER (player efficiency rating) doesn’t actually mean he has helped his team win if garnered through statistically misleading means.  McGee’s offer comes from a Denver team that has, since trading away Carmelo Anthony, been more about the sum of their parts than featuring specific players.  $10 million per year is a substantial amount of a team’s $58 million salary cap.  But my real question is this: how does a team who felt buyer’s remorse on a proven center’s $13 million per year contract (Nene) go all in on JaVale McGee (career 8.6 ppg, 6.0 reb)for $50 million over five years?

For the sake of disclosure, I watched every Washington Wizards game last season.  And the season before that, etc.  I’ve followed, with great interest and despair, the career of JaVale McGee.  I have seen so many “breakout” games by this guy that I was barely fazed by his “breakout” game versus the Los Angeles Lakers in this year’s playoffs (others agreed).  McGee spent 15% of his time with the Wizards dominating basketball games, 50% of the time not contributing one way or the other, and 35% being abjectly awful.  Although former Washington Wizards are known to have great careers in other cities, I think that this contract sets too high a bar for a guy who has very little drive to become great.  The level of vitriol written herein can perhaps be attributed to bitterness.  Watching a player move on after he was painstakingly nurtured on your team is frustrating, and although I objectively wish him well, the guy who watched him all those years will be laughing his ass off in a mixture of incredulity and relief as he signs his new deal. (C. Dirks)

My name is Kris Humphries.  Everything’s been coming up Millhouse for me lately.  I revitalized my brand through excellent play on the court of the basketball.  I married the most famous woman in the world if you don’t count women who are famous for a reason.  Then I realized that my marriage was a sham, which was a huge coup for me personally.  My wife, Kimberly Kardashian, married me, Kris Humphries, as a publicity stunt.  I am trying to say this plainly but I will try harder: I am so awesome that a celebrity used me as a stepping stone for her already wildly successful career.

As a member of the New Jersey Nets, I turned my middling career around.  I gave the great state of New Jersey two “contract years” in terms of production, even though you only need to do it once.  Now the team is moving to Brooklyn, and I’m moving somewhere too.  I don’t know where it will be just yet, but it doesn’t matter. This is my moment, you guys.  I have over 919,000 Twitter followers.  Some men leave their mark on the world through great societal deeds, or a severely offensive carbon footprint.  I’m somewhere in the middle: Kris Humphries exposed the Kardashian family. And now, Kris Humphries will break the Dwight Howard trade.

As cool as it is for my old team to throw me away like a piece of unwanted garbage while they give Gerald Wallace a huge contract, trade for one of the most overpaid players in the entire universe, and lust over Dwight Howard like tweens asking their older brother for the link to my ex-wife’s sex tape, I was a little annoyed when they asked me to do them a solid.  They said, “Hey, Kris, it’s been great, but we need you to agree to move to Cleveland so we can sign Dwight Howard.”  My first thought was: “LOL SORRY BRO.”  But then they told me they would get me a fat four-year deal and I was all: “OK I’m listening…” Apparently they didn’t bother to ask Cleveland about that four-year deal.  So they came back and said “Hey, Kris, we couldn’t get that four-year deal for you, so we got you a one-year deal instead.”

I don’t think you need me to tell you how that went.  This is my moment, you guys.  Dudes who have moments don’t just sign one-year deals to play for the Cavs after not one, but two contract years.  No, I will not go quietly into the good night.  I was listening to the Rebecca Black album the other day and I knew that I deserved better.  My girl was not hitting any of the notes but the lyrics resonated in the deepest parts of my soul.

Haters, said I’ll see you later
Can’t talk to you right now
I’m getting my paper
Said I’m doing big things
Things you never dreamed of
I hope you are happy cause I’m ’bout to blow up

This is my moment, my moment
It’s my time, flying high, lime, mine
Feels like my moment, my moment
I’ve waited for so long
But now everybody knows this is my moment, my moment

I’m so appreciative of everything everyone has done for me.  The women in my life have been amazing.  Kim, Kris, Dwight.  A special shout out to Dwight for putting me in the spotlight again.  My jawline and rugged good looks should get me far more airtime than I currently receive.  I just feel like I have tons of unfinished business in the public eye. I have my second chance.  This is my moment. This is my Excitable Boy.  I am Warren Zevon.  But I am mostly Kris Humphries, and this is my moment.  Thank you Rebecca Black, thank you Kim Kardashian, thank you Dwight Howard.  Thank you New Jersey, thank you Cleveland.  It’s time for me to shine; it’s time for me to get paid.  It’s time for me to break the Dwight Howard trade. (C.Dirks)*

*If you were surprised to not see (K. Humphries) at the end of this post, then I am deeply sorry.

It’s been reported that the Magic, Nets, and Cavaliers may be nearing the completion of a proposed trade that would send Dwight Howard to Brooklyn.  The Nets have had quite a summer, pursuing big-money, big name free agents with reckless abandon.  They also locked up Gerald Wallace with a long-term, high-cost deal.  The Nets will push the salary cap to its limit with a Dwight Howard deal, or even if they simply re-sign Brook Lopez.   Widely criticized a month ago for risking too much without a commitment for Deron Williams, the Nets stayed the course, signed Williams, and now have a chance to pair him with Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Dwight Howard, and, well… no one else of note.  Unfortunately it has been proven that these kind of top-heavy teams can succeed, as offensive as they may be to fans of teams in smaller markets who patiently wait through protracted, usually unsuccessful, rebuilding attempts.  “For every Oklahoma City, there are several Torontos.”  Or something like that.

The salary cap, the NBA draft, and trade salary-match provisions are all in place to encourage balance.  Ideally, a team in Orlando or Oklahoma City should have access to enough incentives to retain their own players.  A top draft pick goes through a contract cycle of at least seven years with his first team.  After the first three years, a top draft pick can sign an extension with the team that drafted them, like LeBron James did.  In the alternative, that player could decide not to sign an extension, play through their fourth season, and become a restricted free agent (like Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert have done).  If the player is a clear top-tier talent, they will most likely sign an extension, because there is no question they will receive a max offer from the team that drafted them and they are free to negotiate the terms of that contract.  LeBron’s extension (four years tacked onto initial four-year contract; player can opt out after seventh year) effectively meant that the Cleveland Cavaliers had him, guaranteed, for the first seven years of his career.  If Indiana matches Hibbert’s offer four-year max offer from Portland, they will have him guaranteed for the first eight years of his NBA career.

This is the cycle of a young star in the NBA.  No matter which route the player decides is best, the provisions of their rookie contracts are built to keep young stars with the teams that selected them for either seven or eight years.  Unfortunately, this period of time has become more of a window than ever before: teams must demonstrate to their stars that they can build a winner, and that it is worth staying in their small market.  When players like Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and others tell their bosses to start looking for a trade despite a contract obliging them to play for their current team for a period of time specified therein, the effect is that the window is lessened by one year.  Although the player is still technically obligated to fulfill their contract, a team that knows their star player is not returning has a duty to try and salvage what they can from his departure, losing leverage with every day that passes.  Chris Paul was traded after six seasons when he informed New Orleans that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team.  His contract still had two years left on it. Carmelo Anthony also dangled a similar factoid to Denver brass, asking to be traded to the Knicks during his eighth season with Denver.  Because of how challenging it is to win an NBA championship and how far a team must come, teams attempting to win one during their star’s six to eight year window do not often meet with success.  It is far more likely that a team will, by rushing to win as early as possible, ruin their chances for long-term viability.

It is difficult for teams to break out of the cellar and into the NBA’s elite. A team with a top draft lottery pick is, most likely, a team without much in the way of talent.  Losing enough games to win the rights to a star prospect isn’t pretty.  As most stars who are drafted high quickly find out, it takes more than one player to experience NBA success.  Teams normally spend two to three years building talent around their young star (if they are lucky enough to acquire a “star” in the draft). If all goes well, they are eventually ready to compete in the playoffs.  After Dwight Howard was drafted, the Orlando Magic went 36-46 for two consecutive seasons as they stripped down their roster and rebuilt around their new star.  They suffered a significant setback when Fran Vasquez, their pick at #11 after Dwight’s rookie year, stayed in Europe for his girlfriend.  In his third season, the Magic went 40-42, locked up the eight seed in the East, and got swept by Detroit.  It wasn’t until Dwight’s fourth season that the team came together: they gave Rashard Lewis one of the biggest contracts in NBA history, signed Howard to an extension, went 52-30, beat the Bosh-led Raptors in the first round, and then lost to Detroit again, this time in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

And then they got their shot: 59-23 in Dwight’s fifth year.  They made it all the way to the NBA Finals, taking down LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers along the way. They lost to the Lakers in five games, and their desperate, short-sighted player acquisitions crippled them from making any further improvements.  Otis Smith, the ex-Magic GM, tried desperately to get the “right” pieces around Howard to get back to the promised land in much the same way that the Cavaliers scrambled with LeBron.  And, similarly, it never quite panned out.  The window closed for the Magic when, in December 2011, Dwight requested a trade.  In a sense, it is a courtesy to extend your team the opportunity to get something back for losing their star by informing them beforehand of your intention to sign elsewhere.  But Dwight not only wanted out, he also wanted to control the process.

Last season (2011-2012), as the trade deadline drew near, it became clear that the Magic planned to trade Dwight Howard.  However, they did not plan to trade him to the New Jersey Nets.  On March 15, 2012, Dwight waived his opt-out clause, essentially committing to playing in Orlando for the rest of the 2012 season, and the entirety of the 2012-2013 season. It is speculation, but many believed that Dwight wanted to be traded to the Nets last season in order to re-sign with Brooklyn in free agency and obtain the additional year under his Bird rights, a favorable contract that wouldn’t be available with Brooklyn if he were traded to any other team.  When no Nets trades were on the table, Dwight had a change of heart.  He “played” the rest of the season (actually he missed the playoffs with an injury!) and promptly requested a trade to the Nets after the season ended.  This time, he was far more blunt: he told the universe that if he was traded anywhere other than Brooklyn, he wouldn’t re-sign with the team that traded for him.  Circumstantial evidence points to Howard convincing Orlando to not trade him elsewhere last season so that he could be traded to the Nets this summer.

Howard’s market value effectively plummeted.  The Nets realize that they have the leverage.  Teams are free to lowball the Magic, as if Howard were already a free agent and this was just a formality sign-and-trade (i.e. when LeBron was “traded” to Miami).  Will the Magic be able to recoup equal value for Howard? Of course not: a team never does with an All-NBA talent.  Will they get enough in return to validate the two seasons of being Howard’s hostage? Absolutely not.  Will they be able to get anything of value whatsoever from Brooklyn in a trade for Dwight Howard?  It seems like the answer is no here as well.  If their return haul is Brook Lopez, Damion James, Shelden Williams, Luke Walton, and three draft picks, then they would be better off making no trade at all.  Lopez will be grossly overpaid.  With all due respect to the rest of the aforementioned players, those are throwaway players who would do more harm than good going through the motions on Orlando’s roster.

As bad as “The Decision” was after seven years with the Cavaliers (and it was awful, lest you forget), at least fans in Cleveland never had to spend time watching their superstar take the court after he made it clear he wanted out.  I can’t imagine how conflicted fans in Orlando felt about cheering Dwight dunks during the post-lockout season.  If fans in Florida were half as passionate and/or hateful as those in Cleveland, he would have been booed out of the building.  As well he should have been.  Part of the blame, of course, is on the Magic for not being wise to Howard’s true intentions, but what Howard has done is manipulate his employment agreement in order to secure a more favorable outcome for himself, harming all other parties in the process.

In order to effectively circumvent his contract, Howard needs the Magic to trade him to the Nets.  Here is where, for the good of the Orlando Magic, and really the entirety of the NBA, I plead with the Magic front office: do not kowtow to Howard’s demand.  The proposed trade with the Nets will do nothing but secure Orlando’s mediocrity.  If Dwight isn’t traded to the Nets, they (most likely) won’t be able to sign him in free agency.  They simply don’t have the ability to do so without Orlando’s help under NBA salary cap rules.  And once it becomes clear that New Jersey is no longer an option, the Magic might actually have some leverage!  Although Howard would like to be in Brooklyn, he won’t be if the Magic refuse to trade him there.  So, why not refuse?  Two can play that game.  Now, Dwight might name a few more teams he would like to be traded to, so here’s a hint: refuse to trade him anywhere that doesn’t give you some modicum of value in return.  At the end of the day, only the team he is traded to, or the Magic if he isn’t traded, can re-sign him to a maximum contract, and go over the cap in doing so with their Bird rights.  This is important to Howard. It’s important to every player.

I’ll take it one step further.  Don’t trade him this offseason unless a killer offer comes across the table.  Most, if not all, of the offers you get will be there at the All-Star break.  And while you’re waiting to trade him, send him home.  Playing him at all will just make their first-rounder in the 2013 NBA Draft less valuable and stunt the growth of younger, more committed players.  His trade value won’t diminish with him sitting at home, and re-establishing the hierarchy in team decision-making to reflect the fact that Howard is not the GM can’t hurt either.  The landscape other than Brooklyn may look bleak now, but I’m betting that Dwight’s “list” expands after the Nets move on.  That is a good thing for the Magic, the NBA, and fans of both. (C. Dirks)

PG SG

SF

PF C
Jeff Teague Anthony Morrow Josh Smith Al Horford Zaza Pachulia
Devin Harris John Jenkins Jordan Williams Johan Petro
DeShawn Stevenson Ivan Johnson

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

                                                                     –  from T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

2012-2013 Salary: $53,910,017 (after trade with Nets and buyout of Jordan Farmar)

Expected Salary Cap Space: Around $4 million, with a traded player exception worth $5,702,645

RFAs: Ivan Johnson

UFAs: Jason Collins, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jerry Stackhouse

Note: Forgive the T.S. Eliot epigraph at the outset of this post.  Feel free to consider it an epitaph, both since it comes under the subtitle The Burial of the Dead in Eliot’s poem, and also because it is a fairly accurate, if unduly eloquent, paraphrase of the Atlanta Hawks cycle of mediocrity in recent years.  A healthy dose of regular season success, the institutional and commercial hope that comes with “being in the playoff picture” in April: these things help a team forget that they have no real hope, no real chance to compete for the sport’s ultimate prize.  Again, forgive the literary intrusion.  On with it.

Strengths: All of a sudden, the Atlanta Hawks strength is their future.  Right now, I’m trying desperately to create a mock-up of a Danny Ferry statue outside of Philips Arena on Microsoft Paint.  Some history to put this in perspective: in the summer of 2010, Joe Johnson was a free agent.  He had, somewhat nominally, become the #1 second-tier free agent behind James, Wade, and Bosh.  The Hawks were in a bind: they could retain their best player, but only if they gave him a max deal.  A deal that everyone, including the Hawks, knew he could not live up to, even operating under the most optimistic expectations.  If they had refused, they would have “risked” falling out of the Eastern Conference short-list of perennial playoff teams.  They would have lost their best player, and received nothing in return.  These things never end well.  Ask Washington, who gave Gilbert Arenas a similar contract for similar reasons: he was their best player, he made them competitive in the first round of the playoffs, and he was the face of the franchise.  Joe Johnson’s time in Atlanta after signing his deal has been much less tumultuous than that of Arenas in Washington, but the hold that Johnson’s contract had on Atlanta’s available cap was tightening, and quickly.  This year, he would have been owed $19,752,645.  It would have escalated each year until the end of the 2015-2016 season, a season in which Johnson will be 34 years old, peaking at $24,894,863.

Trading this contract (forget the player; unless it is LeBron James or Kevin Durant, it’s not worth it) was deemed impossible by almost every observer.  Deals can sometimes be made, but they resemble that of the Arenas/Rashard Lewis swap, trading one bloated, indefensible contract for another.  Atlanta just traded Joe Johnson’s contract for a smattering of below-average players that have extremely friendly, expiring contracts. As in “this is the only season you pay them” expiring.  It’s a borderline unprecedented move.  Not resting on his laurels, Ferry turned around and made a smaller, but nearly as surprising move: Marvin Williams (candidate for biggest rear end in the NBA) for Devin Harris (and his expiring contract).  Again, the Hawks don’t have any plans to retain Harris after this year.  Williams has a player option for 2013-2014 that he would be foolish to decline.  Again, Ferry painlessly sliced salary off of the books for 2013-2014.  Even if he does nothing else this season, Ferry should be in the running for Executive of the Year.  There’s not really any precedent for an executive winning the award for subtraction, and Ferry probably won’t be formally recognized by the league for his work. The NBA doesn’t want to glorify the devaluation of on-court product to fans that have to watch a suddenly sub-par team.  But unless someone pulls off a stunner, he absolutely should win it.

Other than a liberated future, the Hawks have a few other strengths.  Al Horford has All-Star potential, and Jeff Teague exceeded expectations at point guard.  They are both young. Horford’s contract is substantial, but eminently manageable, even appropriate: $12 million per year, without increases.  The Hawks should resist the temptation to completely reboot. Don’t trade Horford.  See what happens with Teague.  Draft well.  Sign the right free agents, for the right price.  Show that you’ve learned from the contract disaster you were enveloped by, even if you ultimately wriggled free.  Trade Josh Smith during the season, when you have more leverage (via teams looking to contend this year), for good, young players whose deals you can control going forward. Or reach a reasonable deal with Smith, and move forward with him.

Weaknesses: As currently constructed, the Hawks are not in great shape.  They are hoping that Jenkins, who can shoot the lights out, will validate their choice to draft him.  But a team that trades away their franchise player and sixth man will likely experience a downturn.  Josh Smith is a really high quality player.  He should have been an All-Star this past season.  This panelist was in the stands this season at Philips when the Hawks took down the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Josh Smith was the best player on the floor.  But he can also be frustrating to watch.  Folks in the arena collectively moan “Nooooooo” when he pulls up for a jump shot anywhere outside of the elbow, and with some good reason.

Without Johnson, the Hawks will have to work much harder to create shots, and to score.  Even with Johnson this year, the Hawks too often looked out of sync. In the series with Boston, Atlanta went long stretches without being able to manufacture good shots.  Without Joe Johnson on the court during the first two games, the Hawks were -50.3, compared to +13.2 with him on the court.

The lack of a quality jump-shooter on this team (no disrespect to Jenkins, but I won’t count my chickens before they hatch) outside of the point guard will hurt them.

Also, the Hawks still don’t have a quality center.  Horford is a power forward, and has been playing out of position for too long.  He is a matchup nightmare for power forwards around the league, but can be backed down by some of the more physical centers.  The Hawks owe it to Al to stop rotating a carousel of bodies with fouls to give at the five, and to find a guy they are comfortable with as an everyday starter.

Potential Signings:

  • Chris Kaman (UFA, NOLA, C) – Kaman may well be the most hideous player in the NBA now that Calvin Booth and Michael Ruffin are out of the league (and Tyrone Hill, never forget).  But he’s a really good center in a league that lacks really good centers.  He also is coming off an awkward, down year.  In the course of 2011-2012, Kaman missed games due to injury and also, more uniquely, after he was sent home to sit on his duff while New Orleans attempted to find a trade partner for him.  No shame in NOLA’s tank game.  But Kaman’s insane year could allow the Hawks to reap some benefits in the form of a lower payout.  The Pacers have targeted Kaman as a backup plan to losing Roy Hibbert, but few other teams have showed genuine interest.
  • Spencer Hawes (UFA, PHI, C) – Careful, here.  Hawes could be a great pickup for the Hawks, a nice young player with good size to start at the center position alongside Horford for the next few years.  But Hawes doesn’t possess a ton of potential, and shouldn’t be paid as if he does.
  • Marco Bellinelli (UFA, NOLA, SG) – Bellinelli is a three-point shooter. He doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t get assists.  But a career .393 three-point shooter has lots of value.  Bellinelli, or “Belly” as he is colloquially known, should be available for a modest price, and will help the Hawks pick up some of the scoring slack. He is coming off of his best season, where he averaged almost twelve points per game.
  • Ersan Ilyasova (UFA, MIL, PF) – If you’re going to play Horford at center, you could do worse than to sign Ersan Ilyasova as your power forward.  He is a creative, and often prolific, scorer who has a knack for finding the ball on rebounds.  This space would be reserved for Ryan Anderson, but there is no way that he will be reasonably priced after winning the Most Improved award.
  • Gilbert Arenas (UFA, MEM, PG) – Hear me out! Don’t act like Atlanta is the one that has to write the massive check to him (that’s Orlando).  Gil will be available for the veteran’s minimum.  He wasn’t spectacular with Memphis last season.  Frankly, even his most ardent supporters (this panelist included) didn’t expect him to be.  He isn’t as fast, explosive, or nearly as confident on offense as he was in 2006-2007, before Gerald-Wallace/GunGate/Fingergunz/DepressionBeard happened.  But he showed improved defense, a capable shooting touch, and even maturity.  It’s a small sample size, but in 210 on-court minutes in 2012, he was +28.  Anyone worried about personality issues should note that Gil, albeit complicated emotionally, does not belong in the malcontent pile.  It’s a low risk, and probably low reward move that gives Atlanta an experienced combo guard to backup both positions. 

Potential Trades:

  • Dwight Howard (ORL, C) to Atlanta for Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Jordan Williams.  Going on the record here: the Hawks should not trade for Dwight Howard.  DH12 is one of the five best players in the league, and has more defensive impact than any other individual player.  But trading for him this offseason could be an absolute disaster.  Dwight will be a free agent next offseason, and could leave the Hawks high and dry.  Even if they can get him to “commit” to resigning in Atlanta after this year before making a trade, we’ve seen how much Dwight values these kinds of commitments. Compare these tragically oblivious t-shirts with Dwight’s recent reiteration of a trade request, even going so far as to hold Orlando hostage by specifically delineating the “only” (Brooklyn) team he would consider re-signing with following a trade.  Horford and Teague are talented, manageable, coachable young players, and shouldn’t be thrown away for a chance at an immature, increasingly divo star. 
  • Josh Smith – Now is not the time to make a Josh Smith trade.  As the season moves towards the trade deadline, Smith will look more and more valuable to teams looking to make a playoff push, and Atlanta, who won’t be looking for salary cap relief, can use their leverage for young, affordable assets.  Here’s looking at you, borderline contenders. 

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Brandon Jennings Monta Ellis Luc Richard Mbah a Moute Drew Gooden Samuel Dalembert
Beno Udrih Mike Dunleavy Mike Dunleavy John Henson Larry Sanders
Doron Lamb Tobias Harris Ekpe Udoh

2012-2013 Salary: $46,801,325 (John Henson included)

Expected Salary Cap Space: Around $11 million

RFAs: (none)

UFAs: Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Kwame Brown

Strengths: Frontcourt depth. Backcourt talent.  Even facing the departure of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino, the Milwaukee Bucks have enviable depth in the frontcourt.  Unfortunately, none of their frontcourt players are of Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis caliber.  After the trade that brought Ellis to town, Milwaukee showcased a much more exciting offense and a reborn Mike Dunleavy.  The Bucks were good enough to challenge for the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but not good enough to secure it.  This is the most dangerous stage in team-building.  It is important to recognize your assets, and package redundant pieces for players that fit with your vision of the team.  Jennings and Ellis form a dangerous, if occasionally frustrating, duo in the backcourt, and both players are motivated scorers.  It will behoove Milwaukee to sort out their frontcourt, and decide which players they really like going forward.  Putting the right pieces around Jennings, Ellis, and Dalembert will be essential to this team’s success.  Trading for Dalembert was a step in the right direction. You can’t argue with the value of John Henson at #12, and Doron Lamb in the second round.  This team isn’t likely to be worse next year.  They are one “correct” piece away from moving up in the Eastern Conference hierarchy, and injecting themselves into the playoff picture.  If coach Scott Skiles can keep project his toughness onto this group of players, they could be a tough out.

Needs: Frontcourt talent. Backcourt depth. Quantity over quality can be intriguing if you have a synergistic mix of players like Denver has assembled. Unfortunately, if Ilyasova departs, many of Milwaukee’s big men are simply surplus.  It doesn’t help the team to have third-string players with limited potential getting ten minutes per game.  This team badly needs quality at the forward positions, especially the small forward position.  They will be hoping that John Henson can live up to his shot-blocking potential while also developing an offensive game.  But in order to compete with teams above .500, the Bucks will need to avoid stagnancy, and continue to be creative in re-shaping their roster.

Potential Signings:

  • Ersan Ilyasova (UFA, MIL, PF) – The guy had a monster (contract) year, and he’s going to make more than the $2.5 million Milwaukee shelled out to him last year.  That part’s unavoidable.  In this panelist’s opinion, the Bucks should re-sign Ilyasova unless the asking price exceeds a reasonable (read: in excess of $8 million) amount. He’s capable of scoring twenty points and grabbing ten boards per game, and he pushes Drew Gooden out of the starting lineup, which is essential for any respectable NBA team.  Signing Ilyasova means making a deal down the road, hopefully shipping out a few power forwards for depth elsewhere.
  • Antawn Jamison (UFA, CLE, PF) – A team that has way too many power forwards, and the first two free agents this panelist has listed are power forwards.  But this panelist is operating under the assumption that the Bucks are losing Ilyasova.  Antawn is still a threat, a creative player that can play both forward positions, rebounds fairly well, and scores in a variety of ways.  He was a big reason that the Cavs found any success at all outside of Kyrie Irving last season, and would be a cheaper alternative to re-signing Ilyasova, giving the Bucks room to make another significant signing this offseason.
  • Grant Hill (UFA, PHX, SF) – Very strong midrange jumper, smart defender, circumspect professional.  He won’t command a lot of money, and will make significant contributions.
  • George Hill (RFA, IND, PG/SG) – Can backup both guard positions and can score.  He would be a nice change of pace from the frenetic shot-jacking that is likely to occur when Ellis and Jennings are both on the floor.  Signing Hill also opens up the trade possibilities for Dunleavy and Udrih.
  • Nick Young (UFA, LAC, SG) – Scoring, and a little bit of defense.  Nick is streaky, stylish, and comfortable coming off of the bench. He just might not be comfortable in Milwaukee, as he has shown an unabashed predilection for teams located in Los Angeles, his hometown.
  • Rudy Fernandez (DEN, SG) – Denver didn’t make a qualifying offer to Fernandez, making him an unrestricted free agent. Rudy is a dynamic player who does a little bit of everything (and I do mean a little bit, unfortunately): three-point shooting, playmaking, driving, forcing turnovers.  He would give Milwaukee enviable depth, but would also push young players like Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb further back in the rotation than is prudent for their development.

Potential Trades:

  • Luol Deng (SF, CHI) to Milwaukee for Beno Udrih, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh: This trade is all about balance.  The Bucks, as currently constructed, have far too many power forwards.  Ersan Ilyasova may well leave in free agency, depending on his willingness to re-sign in Milwaukee and the veracity of rumors that his price tag will be far more than the Bucks would like to tender.  Drew Gooden, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, and Ersan Ilyasova all played power forward at times last year.  In this scenario, the Bucks ship Sanders and the newly acquired Udoh out of town in exchange for Luol Deng, who would be a big improvement over the talented, but limited, Mbah a  Moute.  This trade would also free up minutes at the center position, allowing Henson to get additional time backing up two positions.  Likewise, Doron Lamb could be asked to share in the backup point guard duties.  Gaining development minutes for your two draft picks is not a bad thing.  Dunleavy, who was an excellent sixth man last season, would continue in that role backing up the shooting guard and small forward positions.  Milwaukee’s starting lineup would be significantly better on both sides of the court.  After this trade, a backup point guard would become a necessary target, and Milwaukee would need to think about how much Ilyasova is worth to them.  Chicago gets depth at point guard, as well as a replacement for Omer Asik.
  • Andre Iguodala (SF, PHI) for Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy: Philadelphia has been looking for a partner for a deal involving Iguodala for some time. This might not be the deal they are looking for, but in dealing Iguodala for Udrih and Dunleavy, the 76ers pick up two players that can shoot.  They desperately need shooters.  They save money in the short-term (around $3 million) and the long-term (both Udrih and Dunleavy have a year less on their deals than Iguodala).  For Milwaukee, this deal provides them with the defensive stopper they have needed since becoming a more up-tempo team, and also a forward who can run alongside Jennings and Ellis.  Iguodala could be a really great fit for this team.

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Jarrett Jack Eric Gordon Al-Farouq Aminu Anthony Davis Gustavo Ayon
Greivis Vasquez Austin Rivers Jason Smith Jason Smith
Xavier Henry

2012-2013 Salary: $34,213,991

Expected Salary Cap Space: Approximately $24 Million

RFAs: Eric Gordon

UFAs: Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli

Strengths: The youth movement is in full swing in New Orleans. With Anthony Davis firmly slotted into the power forward position for the next decade, Austin Rivers on board as the confident, outspoken sidekick, and  possession of right of acceptance/refusal on any deal RFA Eric Gordon might sign elsewhere, New Orleans has three of the more attractive young building blocks in the NBA. Further, while a significant portion of the cap room listed above is like to go to Gordon, New Orleans is still in position to make a significant signing or two if it so chooses.

In Rivers and Gordon New Orleans undoubtedly has the shooting guard/high volume scoring guard position locked down. Both are capable of lighting it up from behind the arc (Gordon has a 37% career 3P%, Rivers had approx. 37% 3P% in his single season at Duke), and despite being slightly undersized, both have the attitude and toughness necessary to take the ball to the rim.

New Orleans, led by Davis, should also have some success protecting the rim. Davis’ shot blocking and defensive abilities have been widely hailed, and with good reason. He averaged 4.7 bpg in his sole season in Lexington. Beyond Davis, it is likely Jason Smith will get significant minutes down low at the center position. Smith, a natural power forward, has expressed willingness to make the move if not total confidence in his ability to do so.

Jarrett Jack and Grevis Vasquez should provide some veteran stability at the point guard position. While by no means outstanding, Jack and Vasquez were probably a bit more effective than most would have expected in 2011-2012. Jack averaged 15.6 ppg and 6.3 apg with a 17.97 PER while Vasquez averaged 8.9 ppg and 5.4 apg with a 14.27 PER.

Needs: Beyond Rivers, Davis, and-if re-signed-Gordon there isn’t a whole lot of untouchable, game-changing talent on New Orleans’ roster. They basically completely lack a natural center of note (assuming they, as expected, do not re-sign Kaman) or a starter-level athletic small forward. There are a few potentially exciting, younger pieces on the bench by way of Gustavo Ayon and Al-Farouq Aminu, but it should probably still be classified as “thin”.

Potential Free Agent Targets:

  • Nicolas Batum (RFA, POR, SF): Batum already has an offer sheet for approx. 4 yrs/$50 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Something similar from New Orleans could win him away from the T-Wolves. Its also entirely possible that Portland matches. It also may not be in New Orleans’ best interest to spend all of its newly acquired cap room in one place. Batum as a young, athletic small forward certainly meets a need and fits into the youth movement in New Orleans. But as anyone’s cool uncle will tell them, just because you have money doesn’t mean you should spend it. While Batum would certainly fit well in New Orleans there are likely others who might command big money in 2013 or 2014 that fit better or present more value. Two that come to mind are 2013 RFA’s Nikola Pecovic and Tiago Splitter, whose teams may not feel comfortable matching deals at dollars even less than what Batum is commanding.
  • Danny Green (RFA, SAS, SF): The upside to an offer to Green is that in 2011-2012 he did some of what Batum did and would likely cost much less than Batum to sign. Further, San Antonio may feel that Green was, to some extent, a product of their system and let him walk if the offer rises anywhere above a few million a year. The downside to an offer to Green is that, well, he may be a product of San Antonio’s system and could be incapable of repeating his success elsewhere. Green did shoot 43.6% from behind the arc in 2011-2012, and teamed with Gordon and Rivers New Orleans might start really raining 3’s on opponents. Still, nothing too long and nothing too large in the offer to Green or else it’s not worth it. 
  • Hamed Haddadi (UFA, MEM, C): Haddadi is likely nothing more than a backup center. However, he may be capable of being productive with more minutes than he currently gets in Memphis. (16.31 PER in 2012) On a short, low cost deal he could potentially bolster New Orleans’ rotation down low, and ultimately become a capable back up for whoever is tapped as the long term solution at center.
  • Jeff Green (UFA, BOS, SF): The potential drawbacks to a Green deal have already been covered in the Washington Wizards post. A deal similar to the one suggested in that post would also make sense in New Orleans. Green has also been through the talented youth movement scenario before in Oklahoma City and he may not be willing to be a part of it again. On the other hand, if no one else is offering him the money or years that New Orleans does he might be game. Still, like Green, New Orleans should keep things sane if offering.

Special Note: The key to New Orleans’ off-season plans should not be to build the entirety of its team of the future here and now. There are plenty of intriguing free agents coming down the pike in 2013 and 2014 (Tiago Splitter at center next to Davis at power forward is especially exciting), and many of the available free agents this offseason are asking and receiving more than they are worth. (Omer Asik everyone!) New Orleans’ top priority should be re-signing Gordon. He is a rare talent and a developing star in the league. New Orleans needs to stay calm and carefully let the youth movement unfold.

Potential Trades:

  • All of the truly tradable assets on New Orleans should be kept. The Okafor/Ariza deal was a serious coup by General Manager Dell Demps, but beyond Davis, Rivers, and Gordon there isn’t much left on New Orleans’ roster that could bring you back anything noteworthy in return. If Rivers proves capable of the majority of the point guard duties as the season unfolds then Jack could become an attractive playoff team in need of a backup point guard. Depending on Derrick Rose’s status and Marquis Teague’s development New Orleans could initiate talks with Chicago down the road.  (A. MacMullan)

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

John Wall Bradley Beal Trevor Ariza Nene Emeka Okafor
Shelvin Mack Jordan Crawford Chris Singleton Trevor Booker Kevin Seraphin
Jan Vesely Andray Blatche

2012-2013 Salary: $59,364,062 (including Beal and Blatche)

2012-2013 Expected Salary: $52,245,560 (including Beal, excluding amnesty candidate Blatche)

Expected Salary Cap Space: Around $6 million

RFAs: (none)

UFAs: Roger Mason, Jr., Cartier Martin, Maurice Evans, James Singleton, Morris Almond, Brian Cook

Strengths: After trading away Rashard Lewis, Nick Young, and JaVale McGee for Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, and Nene, the Wizards have shown their commitment to being a good defensive team: a refreshing change for fans in Washington who, even under the marginally successful Eddie Jordan-era Wizards, haven’t seen a good defensive team in many, many years.  McGee (a.k.a. “Epic Vale”) was among the top shot-blockers in the league, and boasted the highest PER (player efficiency rating) on the team, but the poor souls who watched the Wizards on a consistent basis (this panelist included) know that McGee’s stats were not an indicator of his effectiveness on defense.

All of the players in Washington’s “new” roster are extremely athletic and a few have the reputation (Ariza, Okafor, Vesely, Singleton) for being tough defensive players.  Wall and Beal both have the potential to be great defensively, but Wall was often burned by opposing teams in his second year, and Beal is, until further notice, unproven.  Still, this team should terrorize opposing offenses with their length, speed, and athleticism.  Washignton’s real strength last year was their effectiveness on the fast break (third in the NBA at 17.9 ppg).  Look for this to be further improved, now that they’ve added a sharpshooter in Beal, and get a full season with Nene, Vesely, and Ariza running the floor with the “one-man fastbreak,” John Wall.  With more competent teammates, Wall will be more effective in the fast break and the open court.  Mike Prada of Bullets Forever made an appropriate tool to measure the detriment Wall’s teammates were having on his assist total last season, and the need for such a tool was evident to anyone who watched how frustratingly often Wall’s 2011-2012 teammates flubbed open shots after a bit of playmaking from Wall.  Despite these hardships, Wall averaged eight assists per game, and that number should rise this season.

Washington’s frontcourt has been significantly upgraded, and starters Ariza, Nene, and Okafor should provide a huge rebounding boost over incumbent starters Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, and Kevin Seraphin.  Booker and Seraphin should be excellent role players on this team, and this panelist believes that Seraphin, who showed significant polish and effort once McGee was sent out of town, could wrestle significant minutes, and maybe even the starting job, from Okafor (if minutes aren’t computed by salary).

Needs: The Wizards addressed their need for rebounding (see above) in their trade with New Orleans.  But they still have one glaring weakness: shooting.  The only players on Washington’s roster with any ability to shoot from beyond the three-point line are Jordan Crawford (29%), Ariza (33%), Singleton (35%), and presumably, Bradley Beal.  Those numbers aren’t exactly encouraging.  Ariza should benefit from playing alongside a playmaking backcourt, and may perhaps return to the form of his best season with the Lakers in a best-case scenario.  Put simply, the Wizards are one of the worst jump-shooting teams in the NBA, and desperately need another shooter to take the scoring pressure off of Bradley Beal, and the defensive pressure off of John Wall.  Wall suffers the most from Washington’s shooting woes, as defenses feel free to converge on him in the driving lane, not fearing kick-outs to shooters who are more likely to miss a shot than make it.

Potential Free Agent Targets:

  • Roger Mason, Jr. (UFA, WAS, SG) and Cartier Martin (UFA, WAS, SG/SF) – Both of these players were serviceable shooters last season for the Wizards.  Mason is a well-liked, well-respected veteran who can hit from deep, especially when he’s on a hot streak.  Cartier Martin is a high-character guy with an excellent haircut who has an outside shot, and shows some ability to make cuts to the basket.  Neither of these players are long-term answers, but could likely be signed for the veteran’s minimum, and fill a significant need.
  • Jeff Green (UFA, BOS, SF) – “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Green isn’t the best three-point shooter available, but he is a solid midrange jump-shooter, a smart player, and a competent rebounder at the SF position.  He’s also a Georgetown alumnus (he graduated this year, after sitting out the NBA season due to a heart ailment), and by all accounts a bright, professional human being.  But to make this a valuable signing, the Wizards would have to hope his heart ailment: a) hasn’t atrophied his game; b) won’t cause him to miss any more time; and c) keeps his price low.  Signing Green for between $3 million and the mid-level per year would be an intriguing pickup for the Wizards
  • Carlos Delfino (UFA, MIL, SF) – Carlos Delfino isn’t going to radically restructure your team, but he provides dependable three-point shooting (career 36%) at the small forward position, something that Washington will need.  Chris Singleton, touted as a defensive specialist, and developed as a three-and-D prospect, hasn’t shown that he can excel at either aspect of that player tagline, and shouldn’t necessarily be tolerated on the court when better options are available.  Delfino and Ariza sharing time at the small forward position in Washington seems like a good plan of action going forward, if Washington can nab Delfino for an affordable price on a short-term deal.
  • Mickael Pietrus (UFA, BOS, SF) – Decent three-point shooter, mean on defense. Pietrus would be a relatively good fit on this Wizards team, but is overvalued due to his contributions with Orlando and Boston in recent years, and will likely sign with a more established contender.
  • Jodie Meeks (UFA, PHI, SG) – Philadelphia is likely to re-sign the inexpensive Meeks, as he is one of their only players who can hit jump shots outside of Louis Williams.  But he could be an excellent fit in limited minutes with the Wizards, and is a career 37% three-point shooter.

Potential Trades:

  • Dwight Howard (ORL) to Washington for Emeka Okafor, Jan Vesely, and Trevor Booker – Dream on.  Orlando wouldn’t do it.  Dwight would bitch endlessly before faking a back injury and leaving the following summer.
  • The Wizards have very few tradable assets, and since they’ve just acquired Ariza and Okafor in positions of need, they are unlikely to make any other trades.  Another issue with the Wizards is that most of their second-string talent is still playing on rookie contracts, making salary matches difficult.  Look for the Wizards to make one or two minor signings in free agency, and let the great experiment begin!