NBA Free Agency Palooza Part 1
Here is the list of pretty awesome things that have happened in the sports world so far this summer:
1. The San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat 3-1 in the NBA Finals. Greg Poppovich and Tim Duncan won their first title together in 1999 and 15 years later they won their fifth. More importantly, they did it against the Miami Heat. You know the team that broke their hearts in that Game 6 last year thanks to Ray Allen. This Spurs team was on a mission to not only get back to the Finals, but also get there and beat Miami, which they did handily.
2.The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup Final in the most epic way possible. In the first round they became just the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a series. In the second round they beat their cross-town rivals the Anaheim Ducks and then beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals in an incredible 7 game series. At that point it almost seemed like they were destined to take the cup home and they did by beating the New York Rangers in 5 games. Alec Martinez became the NHL’s Robert Horry, Jonathan Quick is still god, and the Kings won their second title in three years.
3.The World Cup exceeded expectations. From start to finish it was filled with drama, goals, bites, awesome celebrations, awesome managers, USA USA, and Cinderella stories. The stars showed up on the biggest stage as well. Messi, Neymar, Robben, Van Persie, and Suarez all brought their A games to Brazil (Luis Suarez also brought his biting fetish) and had big moments. But in the end all of those stars couldn’t match the might of the German machine. They ran rampant throughout the tournament with only a few close calls and beat Argentina in the final thanks to an incredible goal from Mario Gotze in extra time.
Now while these three separate events were all incredible in their own right, they paled in comparison (at least here in America) to the madness that has been NBA free agency. In this social media driven age that we live in, every rumor that sprang up on twitter was looked at, every instagram post had a deeper meaning, and let’s not even get started on how many times we all read “according to sources close to the situation” in an article. I’m not even sure ESPN covered anything other than LeBron James during the month of July. I know I have gotten to the point where I want to punch Chris Broussard in the face whenever I see him on TV. Basically this whole NBA summer has been batshit crazy.
There were three big fish available this summer (ok more like one gigantic great white shark in LeBron and two smaller less scary looking sharks in Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh) and then a bunch of solid second tier fish. Guys like Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Kyle Lowry, Paul Pierce, Eric Bledsoe, Isiah Thomas, Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and a few others were all on the market. In total that’s about 12 guys who would easily improve any club that they go to and about the same number of teams out there with at least $10 million in cap space to pay them. So in Part 1 we’re going to go through all of the Eastern conference teams who were major players in free agency.
What they Wanted: Carmelo Anthony, to be rid of Carlos Boozer for forever!!!
What they Actually Got: Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, rid of Carlos Boozer for forever!!!
Going into the summer, the Bulls were seen as the favorite to get Carmelo Anthony. If one was to believe Carmelo’s comments that he made earlier in the year that money isn’t as important to him as winning championships, then you have to think going to Chicago would be a no brainer. He could go to Chicago and basically play the same role as he did on the Olympic team a few years ago. Remember when Coach K and his staff just told ‘Melo “Hey just go score, we got you covered defensively”. That Olympic team was the best version of Carmelo to watch. A guy with his size and ability shooting 3’s, getting to the rim and basically just terrifying all the foreign players that had to guard him. At 30 years old he is still probably the best pure scorer in the league right now (sorry Kevin Durant but your post game is still a bit lacking), and teaming that up with Derrick Rose would have given the Bulls another bonafide scoring option.
That potential starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Carmelo, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah easily would have made the Bulls the favorites to win the Eastern conference. Unfortunately for the Bulls they couldn’t offer Carmelo the max contract he would’ve wanted without engaging the Knicks in a sign-and-trade for Carlos Boozer, which obviously the Knicks wanted no part of. Now could he have taken less money to still sign in Chicago? Sure but I don’t think anyone should blame him for taking the extra $30 million that New York could offer him. So Chicago’s Plan B was getting Pau Gasol and importing the Spanish Nikola Mirotic from Real Madrid. Pau Gasol is obviously a considerable upgrade over Carlos Boozer, and Mirotic is a capable 3 point shooter who can help the Bulls space the floor. This past week they Bulls also informed Carlos Boozer that they will be using the amnesty clause on him (this rule allows for teams to cut a player without his contract counting against their salary cap).
NEW YORK KNICKS
What they Wanted: Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson’s Zen magic
What they Actually Got: Carmelo Anthony, all of Phil’s Zen magic
The Knicks could not lose Carmelo Anthony. Even with all of Melo’s flaws losing a player of his caliber almost always devastates a NBA franchise. More importantly they needed to keep him around to try and attract other star players to come and play with him. In today’s NBA not even the bright lights of New York city would attract a superstar player if they knew they would have no one else there to help them.
But make no mistake about it, this Knicks team is not close to winning a championship. Sure they definitely underachieved last year and probably should make the playoffs this season in a super weak Eastern conference but even with all of Phi’s zen magic, Carmelo and the Knicks organization are mainly relying on hope. They have to HOPE that next summer when they have cap space (bye bye Amar’e Stoudemire) they can attract a big name. Unfortunately they’re already off to a pretty rough start. Lamarcus Aldridge has made it pretty clear that he’s going to resign with the Blazers next summer, Kevin Love will probably be traded and he’ll most likely resign with that team. So the targets that they might have gone after are shrinking and 5 years from now we could be looking at Carmelo’s career and wondering why the hell didn’t he go to Chicago? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the most important thing is the Knicks got their man, their coach (Derek Fisher) and are optimistic going forward
What they Wanted: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade (all on paycuts), Kyle Lowry/Luol Deng/Pau Gasol/Trevor Ariza, and one last run at a title
What they Actually Got: Chris Bosh (on a max deal), Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts
How quickly things change in the NBA. After four straight Finals appearances and two championships the Miami Heat’s Big 3 was broken up in spectacular fashion. Once the season was over it was pretty much assumed by everyone that the Big 3 were going to opt out of their contracts, resign for less money and hope that the extra money allowed for Pat Riley to go get some players to help them win another title. Let’s face it, the 2013-2014 Miami Heat team wasn’t capable of winning an NBA championship. For the second straight year LeBron James had to carry them throughout the playoffs, and in the Finals you could see he just had nothing left. Even after Dwyane Wade was rested throughout the regular season and never played any back-to-backs, he still couldn’t help LeBron at all. So while LeBron going to Cleveland (more on that later) may seem like a kid finally going home on the surface, in reality LeBron probably realized that Dwyane Wade wasn’t going to be able to uphold his end of the bargain and resigning in Miami meant having to carry that team to the Finals AGAIN.
Now, losing a once in a generation player like LeBron James is going to obviously hurt the Heat. But other than leaving, LeBron has also hurt his former team by taking so long to actually make his decision. The only true news that ever came out of LeBron’s camp was that he wanted a max contract (meaning he wanted to be paid $20 million a year, and rightfully so). This hurt Miami in two ways:
- Pat Riley had been saying that Miami would have at least $10 million in cap space to sign a significant free agent. Now when LeBron asked for a max contract, the numbers simply didn’t add up unless Wade and Bosh each would have taken HUGE pay cuts. Remember Bosh and Wade both opted out of their deals (if Wade had opted in he would’ve made $42 million over the next two years), probably thinking that they would have to take less money but the Heat would still give them both nice long term deals.
- No one in their right mind would sign a deal with the Heat without knowing what LeBron James was going to do. Pat Riley and the Heat front office reportedly talked to Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng AND Trevor Ariza. But in those meetings what could he really tell them? They didn’t know if LeBron was coming back, and they also didn’t REALLY know how much salary cap space they would have.
Once Decision 2.0 finally did come down Miami pulled a minor miracle (to me at least) in getting Chris Bosh to stay (5 year $118 million), taking care of Dwyane Wade, getting Luol Deng, picking up some capable role players in Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger and most importantly they now become players in future summers for big name free agents with all the cap space that they will have. Is the team they have now a championship contender?? Definitely not, but in the East they’re clearly a playoff team at least and they can afford to wait until they can lure another big name to South Beach.
What they Wanted: LeBron James, for god to stop hating Cleveland
What they Actually Got: LEBRON FREAKING JAMES
The clear winners of free agency so far have been Dan Gilbert’s Cavaliers. Remember during the regular season when Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were fighting each other? Anthony Bennett was seen as possibly the worst #1 pick ever?? Spencer Hawes was probably their best big man?? Now with the addition of LeBron James the Cavaliers have gone from laughingstock to favorites in the Eastern conference.
There was no way in hell that during the regular season that anyone thought Cleveland had any chance to get LeBron back. But as soon as the final buzzer sounded and the Heat walked off the floor in San Antonio you could see that even if the Big 3 came back together, that a third championship would have been tough for them to attain. The signs were there right from the start. LeBron opted out of his contract a full week before the deadline, Bosh and Wade had no idea what he was doing, Dan Gilbert’s plane flying to Miami (for what we now know was a meeting with LeBron to clear the air), Rich Paul taking meetings with several different teams, Cleveland trading away Jarret Jack to clear cap space, I mean in the end it was obvious he was going back to Cleveland.
With the King in fold the Cavaliers have a worst to first situation developing. They drafted Andrew Wiggins, who has ‘best player in the league in about 7 years’ potential, they already have All-Star Kyrie Irving who will definitely benefit from not having to carry the load every night. They have a bunch of first round draft picks that can be used a trade assets, they have young players like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett (all guys who they can either choose to try and develop with LeBron or trade them for some proven veterans) and the benefit of being in the super weak Eastern Conference. The biggest part is the conference they are in. With Miami now just an average team, there is no real big dog in the Eastern conference. Chicago should be good (but who knows if Derrick Rose will be what he used to be), the Wizards should be good (but they’re probably still too young), the Pacers should be the favorites (but they just lost Lance Stephenson to Charlotte and why would you trust Indiana after what they did during the second half of last season), the Knicks, Bobcats, Nets and Raptors? Sure they’re probably playoff teams but not a real threat. The East is more wide open than it has ever been and any team with LeBron James on it has to be in the contender conversation.
But if you don’t think that the Cavs can win right now don’t worry. The Kevin Love scenario is still very much in the works. A Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade could happen because Minnesota doesn’t want to risk losing a superstar like Love in free agency next summer and get nothing in return. If that trade happens then you’re talking about a new super team in Cleveland with a new Big 3 in Kyrie, LeBron, and Love. The passing alone between LeBron and Love would be the best thing in basketball.
Part 2 of Free Agency Palooza tomorrow with the Western Conference!
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