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NBA Free Agency Review: Lakers, Nets, Heat, Celtics, Blazers, Knicks and More
Although the NBA’s free agency period is not even a week old, a number of moves have already been made that are going to shape the league’s landscape for the upcoming 2012-13 season. Some moves were expected, but some have been just as big of a surprise so far.
1) Brooklyn re-signs Deron Williams, trades for Joe Johnson
This first deal came to surprise to some, but not so much to others. Williams decided Wednesday that he would not be leaving the Nets, and re-upped with the team for a five-year deal at the league’s maximum salary. Williams is definitely worth the deal as he is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Last season Williams averaged 21 ppg and 9 apg, and posted an All-Stat caliber PER of 20. At only 28 years old, Williams is in the middle of his prime and will be a key piece as the Nets look to add pieces in pursuit of becoming a contender.
On that note, and a factor in Williams’ decision to stay with the Nets, Brooklyn brokered a deal on Tuesday for the Hawks’ Joe Johnson, sending the expiring contracts of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, and DeShawn Stevenson alongside a 2013 lottery-protected first-round pick the Nets previously owned via the Houston Rockets in exchange for the 31-year old guard.
Although Johnson has not performed up to the massive contract he signed in 2010 for 6-years, $123 million, he is not a player that is as successful when he is the focal point of the offense as opposed to when he is a secondary option. In Brooklyn, as the secondary option alongside Williams, Johnson will thrive with his great shooting and scoring ability. For all the flak he receives due to the absurdity of his contract, he still scored 19 ppg and shot 45% from the field this past season. With Williams as his backcourt mate, his numbers could conceivably improve as he will not be the focus of the opposition’s defensive attention, and the two players now make up arguably the best 1- and 2-guard tandem in the Eastern Conference.
2) Steve Nash moves to Hollywood
The Lakers finally acquired an All-Star point guard without David Stern blocking the move. Although Laker fans would probably still rather have Chris Paul manning the point, the acquisition of Steve Nash will certainly make an impact on the Lakers’ title hopes this season, as well as Kobe’s chances of getting his sixth championship ring as his and the team’s championship window continues to close. Not to mention Nash helped his own case for his first ring by agreeing to the move.
Los Angeles’ acquisition of Nash is certainly the most surprising and unexpected move so far in the offseason, as Nash had spoken of his desire to steer clear of the Lakers. This deal is also surprising in that it is a rare occurrence for teams in the same division to do business with one another.
Nash was acquired on Wednesday in a sign-and-trade between the Suns and the Lakers. For Nash, the Lakers sent Phoenix a package of four draft picks—first-rounders in 2013 and 2015, second-rounders in 2013 and 2014—and utilized their $8.9 million trade exception gained in last year’s deal that sent Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks after the vetoed deal involving the Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets. That trade exception allowed the Lakers and Nash to come to an agreement on what is likely the final contract of Nash’s career, which will pay him $27 million over three years.
Nash’s impact on the Lakers arguably pushes them back into the conversation with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs as the Western Conference’s elite teams. Although Nash is 38, he was still the only point guard to average a double-double—13 ppg, 11apg—in the league last season besides Rajon Rondo and showed that he’s still got “it” by leading what should have been, by all accounts, a horrible Suns team to a 33-33 record. Nash also addresses the Lakers’ need for someone who can consistently shoot three-pointers and space the floor for Kobe Bryant on all his isolation plays. Unfortunately, defenses will probably still double him anyway since they know it is unlikely he will pass out of it…
3) Ray Allen signs with Miami
The run of the Big Three in Boston is officially over, as Ray Allen decided Friday to take his three-point shooting talents to South Beach and team up with LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh to chase another ring in the twilight of his career. Like Nash, Allen is another older player in the league at 36, but he, like Nash, still has “it” as well. Last season, Allen averaged 14 ppg and shot a career-high 45% from beyond the arc.
Allen, looking for a three-year, $27 million deal from Boston, accepted Miami’s available mid-level exception of $3.09 million when the Celtics offered him only two-years and $12 million. The contract with Miami could be worth a max value of $9.5 million if Allen plays out the three seasons on it, thereby proving that he really had zero desire to play in Boston anymore, especially after the reported rift between himself and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo because Rondo apparently did not pass Allen the ball enough.
4) Celtics sign Jason Terry, re-sign Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green
Although Boston was unable to retain the league’s all-time leading three-point shooter, Celtics management moved quickly to replace Allen by coming to an agreement Friday with former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry on a three-year deal paying him their full mid-level exception of $5 million each year. Terry is no Allen, of course, but he will offset the loss of Allen’s scoring and will be able to do the same things Allen did for Boston. Last season, Terry averaged 15 ppg and shot 38% from three-point range.
Little-known fact about Terry; he is actually the league’s fourth-leading all-time three-point shooter. So ideally, the Celtics will not see too much of a drop-off in production between Allen last year and Terry this upcoming season.
Also on the perimeter, the Celtics have reportedly come to an agreement with Jeff Green on a three-year deal after he missed all of the 2011-12 season as a result of an operation on an aortic aneurysm. But Green still has a lot of promise as the No. 5 overall selection by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007 NBA Draft, and performed well in a Celtics uniform after Boston acquired him from the Thunder in 2010.
Green brings career averages of 14 ppg and 6 rpg to the fold, and is a versatile player who can play any position from the two-guard to the power forward. His speed and length allows him to guard nearly any position, and Green also poses a scoring threat on the perimeter. At only 25-years old, his youth is also a big factor in the Celtics’ desire to re-sign him in their efforts to inuse more youthful talent in their roster as key players age.
Conversely to Allen, the Celtics were able to retain their other veteran free agent priority, Kevin Garnett. There was never really a doubt that Garnett would go to another team, only whether he would decide to retire or not. As he did not opt for retirement, the 36-year old power forward re-upped with the Celtics for another three years at $12 million a year.
Garnett will still contribute, after averaging 16 ppg and 9 rpg while anchoring the paint for the Celtics defense at the center position due to the injury to Jermaine O’Neal last season. Garnett’s workload will hopefully be lessened this year as a result of the young talent the Celtics gained in the frontcourt in the past two NBA Drafts. JaJuan Johnson, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph should be able to take some weight off the Big Ticket’s shoulders and eat up some minutes at the power forward and center positions. With Garnett’s mentorship and influence, these players could turn out to be quality options off the bench and maybe even a starter or two.
5) Restricted Free Agent Round-Up
Keeping with the theme of the unexpected moves in this free agency period, the moves made in the restricted pool have been just as surprising as those in the unrestricted area. First off, the Portland Trail Blazers offered the market’s best big man, Roy Hibbert, an offer sheet featuring a maximum deal at four-years, $58million and some believe the Pacers do not have an interest in matching that money. That may be a huge mistake to make as Hibbert appears to be the next young big man to take the leap into becoming one of the league’s best centers alongside Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, and if the Trail Blazers are able to pair him with LaMarcus Aldridge, that post combination would be arguably the most fearsome in the league.
As for guards, Eric Gordon and Jeremy Lin are looking to leave their current cities of New Orleans and New York, respectively. Gordon was offered a maximum deal over four years by the Phoenix Suns via an offer sheet, and is unhappy with the Hornets’ intention to match that deal as he reportedly feels more “wanted” in Phoenix. Gordon is arguably the best young shooting guard in the league, and the Hornets are making the right move in attempting to retain him. Although he has struggled with injuries, Gordon is still only 23-years old and has already proven he can score, averaging 18 ppg in his four years in the league so far.
Jeremy Lin, the one of the many banes of my existence, has been offered and agreed to a four-year $28.8 million offer sheet from the Houston Rockets. Like Gordon’ prior team, the Knicks intend to match any offer made to Lin as they already missed out on a chance to acquire Steve Nash who they openly coveted, and do not want to lose the player they were certain to re-sign no more than a week ago.
In my honest opinion, Jeremy Lin isn’t worth more than $1.5 million, and I’m only giving him that based on what he could turn out to be. He turns the ball over too much, his scoring was a product of Mike D’Antoni’s system—I think I could score 15 points if I got as many shots as he did in the time he played while Amare and Carmelo were hurt—and that was proven with his astronomical usage rate in those games when Stoudemire and Anthony were sidelined. Performance in only 35 games and then sitting out in the postseason when he could have played is not nearly enough to convince me to give this kid $10 million a year. It’s like buying a 16-year old a Formula One racing car because he just got his learner’s permit. I consider Daryl Morey to be one of the most intelligent executives in the league, but if he and Rockets are willing to give Lin this much money, that perception will change.
Either way, we will see how things truly turn out once restricted free agents are able to physically sign offer sheets and teams are forced to make decisions on what to do, especially New Orleans and Indiana, who could lose players that are rounding nicely into franchise cornerstones.