Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NBA Free Agency 2010: Frequently Asked Questions

The ESPN hype machine broke out in full force for nearly two years in anticipation of the most talented free-agent class in the history of professional basketball.  Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were the headliners.  Chris Bosh was tabbed as the superwingman (but please don’t put him on James; or Wade’s level).  Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and David Lee rounded out a class of talented but flawed big men.  Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay were the other wing guys who did just enough to not excite you.  It was truly a sight to behold.

We should have expected that something crazy would happen.  Obviously, the decisions that these players made could shift the balance of power in the league for the next 5-10 years.  The future of the league was up for grabs.

We should have expected that some variation of the history of NBA free agency would play out.  GMs would make predictably dumb trades and handout outrageous contracts to players with enough red flags you would think Marvin Lewis was trying to challenge.  We should have expected that player’s egos would get in the way.  We should have expected that something would happen that would make us say: “Wow, that’s surprising.”

What we got instead was something that made us say: “HOLY MOTHER OF CLUSTERF**K”

The landscape of the NBA has completely changed.  We now have a superteam brewing on South Beach.  The legacies of so many players are now forever altered.  What has happened is completely unprecedented.   Basketball as we knew it is gone.  

To sort through it all, we have to make a Free Agency 2010: The FAQ.

Who was the Biggest Winner of Free Agency 2010?
Dwyane Wade.  And it’s not even close.  Wade was able to convince LeBron James, the guy with the potential to be the greatest player ever, to come with him to Miami and be his Scottie Pippen.  It’s one of the biggest upsets, and biggest heists, in the history of sports.

But beyond his John Calipari recruiting ability, this has major implications for his legacy.  He’s spent the last few years with a supporting cast that makes the 2001 Sixers look like Team USA.  His most consistent teammate since he won the title has been Udonis Haslem (ouch).  He’s had to deal with Skip to my Turnover, Carlos Arroyo, Jermaine O’neal’s corpse, Michael Take it Easy, Dorrell Wright, Chris Quinn, Mark Blount, Joel Anthony and the crap could continue forever.

Now?  He’s added top 25 player of all-time to his potential resting place in NBA lure.  He already threw up the best Finals performance by a guard since Jordan when he (with the help of the second best player in the league that year, Bennett Salvatore) carried the Heat on his back to a championship.  After two injury filled years after that, he’s finally recaptured that championship form, throwing up stupid-silly numbers (26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. last year, 30, 7.5 and 5 the year before).  With the chance to hog championships for the next 7 or so years barring injuries, he could end up with five total, while being the alpha-dog on every single one.

I think that his career has had a similar trajectory to Kobe: very early success, a mid-20s lull and now the opportunity to spend their primes in serious contention for championships.

If he can dutifully put up 25, 5 and 5, and end up with 4 total titles or more, you could conceivably be looking at a top-15 player of all-time.

Sounds like a winner to me.

Who was the Loser of Free Agency 2010?
I’m sorry Cleveland.  You guys have become the bizzaro version of that very annoying DJ Khaled song.

Who had the most underrated offseason move?
The Lakers signing Steve Blake to four years, $16 million, in the rare “team filling a need with a player who fits their system with a fair contract” move, something Minnesota GM David Kahn never wants to do.  The things Blake does on the floor fit perfectly with what the Lakers need him to do.  He’s played with a guy like Kobe in Brandon Roy, so he understands how to play point without the ball, he’s not a guy prone to take bad shots, he makes open ones out to the three-line.  He looks like a guy who would fit well in the triangle.  He can come off the bench or start.  He’s exactly what they needed.  You know the NBA is in bad shape when you have to commend a team for ACTUALLY filling needs with good players.

Who had the worst offseason move?
I thought watching last offseason’s Detroit debacle was bad (over $90 million for two bench players), but this was patently worse.  Joe Johnson made the most money this offseason for back-to-back playoff no-shows.  Darko got $20 million for having David Kahn as his GM.  Amir Johnson got $34 million, even though Amir Johnson has done nothing notable ever in the NBA.  Travis Outlaw got $35 million.  Drew Gooden got $32 million.  Brendan Haywood made $55 million for having one solid season in a contract year (Dallas apparently forgot their own mistake, because they did the same thing with Erick Dampier).  Rudy Gay got a max contract.  It doesn’t stop.

It’s like teams don’t learn lessons from previous years.  In the same offseason, the Sixers gave $80+ contracts to Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, two guys who can’t be your best player on a championship team, but they definitely could play a role.  How’s that working out for Philly?  27 wins last year.  If you pay a non-alpha dog, alpha-dog money, you are going to suck and suck for a long time

The worse move has to be a tie between every time David Kahn walks into the office and the Johnson contract.  Kahn made the afformentioned Darko signing, signed some second round pick no one has ever heard of to a $13 million deal, traded for Michael Beasley just to give Miami more cap room while adding another undersized power forward who can’t defend to further his quest of having the most undersized front line of guys who can’t defend in NBA history.  Oh, and he dealt a top-three low post scorer, for nothing, to a team desperately needing a low-post scorer.

Then, there was Johnson, who bless his heart, isn’t a number one guy nor is he a number two guy.  And they gave him $120+ million dollars.  On offense, he’s a midrange jumpshooter who doesn’t get to the rim or the line.  He has no athleticism, can’t be a playmaker for others, and a below-average defender.  And did I mention that in back-to-back years he no-showed in all four of his team’s playoff series as their best player.  Atlanta was apparently following the little known rule that you have to resign a player to a massive contract after consecutive playoff choke jobs.  It’s in the CBA (See: McGrady, Tracy).

(Sidenote: the league is in real trouble.  Even with a lockout looming because of contracts exactly like the ones given out this summer, they are still handed out.  It doesn’t even matter if they radically change the salary cap structure, limit contracts amount and length.  As long as there are frustratingly incompetent general managers, and they currently make-up at least half the league, they will always handout cap-crippling contracts, leaving there to only be 5 contenders max.  The only way this gets fixed is if David Stern personally negotiates contracts himself.  And I wouldn’t rule it out).

Hey, it’s LeBron’s Ego and I’m wondering why you haven’t asked a LBJ question yet?
No comment.

Is there anything positive to take away if I’m a Knicks, Bulls or Nets fan?
If you’re a Bulls fan, you’re great shape.  If you’re a Nets fan, you’re in so-so shape.  If you’re a Knicks fan, find Donnie Walsh and throw him into the Hudson River.

The Bulls maintained their flexibility for next summer, added a low post presence in Carlos Boozer, signed sharpshooter Kyle Korver and still have Luol Deng as a trade chip, and they could get J.J. Redick (J.J. is underrated.  He’s a fantastic shooter, better than you think defender, smart, and better than Vince Carter).  The only negative is that Carlos Boozer, while productive now, isn’t a guy who can be the best player on a title team and could be Elton Brand in 3 years: undersized with no vertical who gets swallowed up by height routinely.

The Nets got a little anxious before LeEgo signed, inking Travis Outlaw to a $35 million contract.  But they still have a ton of cap flexibility for the future.  And they have that big billboard right next door to MSG (awesome to see in person).  And they have the most interesting man in the world as their owner.

The Knicks are boned.  Absolutely and completely boned.  They sold away every asset for two straight years for this summer.  They have given up 4 trillion draft picks.  They dumped contract after contract for 11 cents on the dollar.  And all they came away with was Amare Stoudemire.  Ouch.

I like Amare (I actually really like him) but if he’s your best player, all those draft picks you traded away are going to be in the lottery.  They don’t have a point guard, center, bench or anything else besides Amare and kinda Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.  Because when I give away anyone and everything for 20 percent of their value, I want my team to be led by Chandler, Gallinari and Stoudemire.

Donnie Walsh completely screwed this up.  He geared everything for two years toward this summer, left the cupboard more naked than Eddy Curry, and put all of his eggs in the LeBron/Wade basket.  Obviously that didn’t work.

He didn’t hedge any of his bets.  Instead, he’s already gearing things toward free agency next year (possibly Carmelo) and the year after (possibly Chris Paul), completely ignoring the way you build is through smart drafting (the San Antonio/OKC model) or hoodwinking people in one-sided trades because someone formerly tied to your organization works for another team (Boston/LA model).  

I’m glad  you still haven’t figured that out Donnie.

Which team stands to lose the most because of Miami?
Orlando.  Look, I may bag on Dwight Howard for looking awkward in the post or missing free throws, but he is a superstar.  And Miami doesn’t have anyone who can guard him.  The problem is, he doesn’t have anyone around him.  Jameer Nelson won’t get it done.  Rashard Lewis is the most expensive spot-up jumpshooter in the history of the league.  And then they have Vince Carter, a guy who would shrink in a WNBA playoff game.  It also doesn’t help that his GM is an idiot who decides that cap space is best spent on backups who play 10 minutes a game instead of trying to get a crunch time scorer.

The Magic’s best chance is to kidnap Carter, Gortat and Bass to get them off their cap and then try to convince Carmleo to try and create the best rivalry basketball has seen in 20 years.  In the unlikely event that doesn’t happen, Magic fans will be left to wonder how 2009 would have played out if Nelson would have closed out on that Derek Fisher three or Courtney Lee converted that tough alley-oop.

Is Chris Bosh the luckiest guy on the planet?
Well, put it this way.  This guy has never won a playoff series, only been to the playoffs twice, missed the playoffs in back to back seasons, has only won three career playoff games in seven seasons, while spending his entire career in the dilapidated East with enough talent around him (Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani etc.) to be able to at least make it to the playoffs more often than that, while not playing well in said playoff games (43% shooting, only 9 rebounds per game).

He’s a porous rebounder (only 9.4 for his career when he should be able to grab more considering Bargnani rebounds worse than Jennifer Aniston) and atrocious post defender defender (the numbers say he’s worse than Amare, although, to be fair, some that has to do with the crimes against basketball committed by the Toronto defense).

Offensively he’s talented, but limited. He’s essentially a midrange jumpshooter. Everyone likes to make the comparison to Pau Gasol, but doesn’t have nearly the passing ability or the skill and variety of low post moves.

Of course, this is conveniently not mentioned when we talk about Bosh because no one has ever seen a Raptors game (unfortunately, I have, being the poor schlep I am who still watches Sixers basketball), then all of a sudden he’s considered in the same class of player as Wade and LBJ while never having won a big game in college or the pros.

So yes, he is pretty lucky.

I have been on record as saying I would prefer to have Amare over Chris Bosh, given past playoff performances (it seems like everyone forgets that he always abused a still-in-his-prime Greatest Power Forward of All-Time routinely when the Suns and Spurs matched up) because if I’m forced to decide between no-defense power forwards, poor rebounding power forwards, at least give me the one who’s won a playoff series.

Now, does this mean that Bosh can’t develop into the quality player the perception has him being?  Absolutely not.  He’s got the talent to be one of the 10-15 best players in the league.  Gasol went through the growing pains and learning curves to get where he is.  But let’s not anoint something that hasn’t happened yet.

What does this all mean for LeBron?
There are two ways to examine everything that’s happening with LeBron: on-court and off.

On-Court: If we could consider any part of LeBron’s highly contrived, ego-maniacal move from Cleveland to Miami smart, the fit on the floor would be the only candidate.  It showed that above all, LeBron knew exactly how he fit into the basketball world.

Questions were starting to develop whether or not LeBron was really a crunch-time guy.  Every once in a while, he made you say ‘what the hell was that.’  (I really was getting nervous about how he acted in the big moments this year, especially after his duel with Carmleo when he couldn’t guard him and couldn’t make anything happen on offense and that very weird three he took against Boston late in the regular season.  Did these moments stop me from picking Cleveland?  Of course not.)

Even with those questions, we still held out hope that he was what we thought he was: a guy with an unlimited ceiling of potential and a guy who could eventually be one of the five best players ever.  At every sign of trouble, we pointed back to the flashes of brilliance that made us remember exactly why we thought what we did.

But as we saw in the Boston series, where he unequivocally quit, he couldn’t handle that pressure of all those expectations.  He didn’t have it in him to be the man.  He didn’t have the killer mentality that a Jordan or Kobe have.  He didn’t have the crunch time chops.  He didn’t have the special “it” to go with the unnatural physical gifts he possessed.

The only thing is he realized this way before we did.  He realized that he couldn’t bear the weight of a franchise, be the guy in the last four minutes who won or lost the game or withstand the blame when he eventually came up short.  He realized that his ultimate destiny was, is and will be as the greatest wingman in the history.

And in that sense, this move makes all the sense in the world.  He can have the best of both worlds: put up great stats (he’s got triple-double average potential this year), get all the glory and love from the fair-weather Miami fans (I don’t think a fan base is least dersving of what just happened to it then Miami.  Their fans haven’t trekked to American Airlines Arena in four years, but now they are selling out welcoming parties for three free agency signings?  I like to give Lakers fans crap, but they know basketball and they always fill Staples Center.  Heat fans are a joke.), but not have to deal with being the guy in the last minutes or it being his team (having transferred those responsibilities to Wade).

The sad part of the story is we did not realize this, at least not in time.  Our hope in LeBron in all that we thought he was.  But in fact, he was none of those things.  LeBron has a second fiddle mentality with alpha-dog talent.

All of this has to be factored in when we look back on his career.  Yeah, he may average a triple-double this year, while doubling as point guard for the most fascinating team since the 2004 Lakers and one of the most interesting ever.  He may have a few rings.  He may have banged some of the hottest women on the world down on South Beach.  But he never, ever, EVER deserves to be mentioned in the pantheon of basketball players.  None of the greats would ever decide that they had to go to another superstars city, watch him take all the clutch shots, just for a chance at a ring.  I imagine that Bird would have rather retired title-less, rip his eyeballs out and stick a Red Auerbach cigar up his rectum than slum his way to LA to join Magic and Kareem to win some rings.

And that’s all we really need to know.  Yes, LeBron needed help to win a title, and yes every great player has needed another top-25 player in the league at the time to win a championship.  But, that doesn’t mean LeBron should go and be the help.  You don’t go and be someone’s wingman.  And because of that, LeBron’s ceiling went from evolutionary Magic/Jordan to evolutionary Pippen (And I love Scottie).  And that’s not a good thing.

Off-Court: This whole spectacle was a bigger disaster then Transformers 2: Revenge of the Extremely Racist and Offensive Twin Robots.  And it has nothing to do with leaving Cleveland, only the way he left Cleveland.

It appears clear now, once you break down all the signs that he was leaving.  And he knew he was going to Miami, at least going back to when he lost to the Celtics.  He strung out a decision so contrived in fake drama that he’s turned an entire populace of fans against him over the course of two weeks.

I don’t want to talk about the ‘Decision’ because there is nothing I could say about the one hour that hasn’t already been said.  It was a narcissistic, ego-fest where someone thought they were more important than they actually were.

But the ramifications of such a bad decision are astounding.  LeBron is no longer adored like he once was, treated like a King or anything like that outside of Miami.  The country has unified under one movement: Down With the King.

It’s just the way he strung along Cleveland only to treat them like ragged dogs.  It’s the way he thought he is, was and always will be the greatest thing on earth.  It’s the way he quit.

I was a LeBron guy, even after the Boston series.  I was captivated watching him.  I thought he was the best guy in the league and as such, defended all of the signs described above.

Now? I hate the guy.  I want him to lose like I haven’t wanted a guy to lose before.  I hate him more than I hate Kobe.  I hate him more than I hate Glenn Beck.

Even sadder, it ends the Kobe/LeBron argument.  Kobe won.  Now, I don’t want to make Kobe about to be some hero of basketball.  We had to suffer through Kobe’s own selfishness in destroying the early 2000s Lakers, drawn out free agency courtship and repeated trade demands.  But the one thing we have to give Kobe is that he did not quit on his team and city, say it was too hard and join Tim Duncan in San Antonio.  For better or worse, Kobe wanted to be the man, wanted to be the best, and wanted to be the best.  LeBron has given me even more respect for Kobe.

And he was able that in a mere two weeks.  Even Tiger Woods thinks that pretty fast to turn a whole country against you.

The Miami Heat will be the most disliked team next year and a lot of that is LeBron.  Even so, this is the most captivated and excited I’ve been for an NBA season ever.  I want Heat season tickets and the 29 jerseys of the teams they will play just so I can root against them.  I want to see if LeBron can successfully play point guard full-time, if the Heat can actually guard someone, if Chris Bosh can step up on the big stage, if the Heat are good enough to get past the Lakers and Celtics (having only added Mike Miller, Big Z and Udonis Haslem makes me say no, at least for this year, barring other additions), if Erik Spoelstra has the coaching chops to deal with all the ego (when you have a welcome party that has the slogan “Yes. We Did It,” like they won the presidency or the very least a championship you know ego’s are raging uncontrollably).  Like it or not, this arrangement has completely changed basketball.  If it’s for better or worse has yet to be determined.

1 comment:

  1. this is really good...i completely agree