We're now more than two weeks into the month of July, and the flurry of free agent movement around the league has finally started to settle down.
Only a few of the "big names" that entered the offseason on most people's lists for the top free agents, both restricted and non-restricted, remain. And while we know the risk/reward that signing a marquee free agent presents for a team such as Dwight Howard in Houston or Andre Iguodala in Golden State, the combined short and long term implications for mid and lower tier signings can be just as important.
With the rules for the new CBA going into effect for the 2013-14 season, teams are forced to spend 90% of the cap to reach the "salary floor", but having that flexibility for the future means a lot of 1 or 2-year deals, some of which contain years down the road that are unguaranteed. It also meant guys who are used to getting bigger deals had to settle for "room exception" or "mini mid-level" exception deals to get on board with teams over the cap and (in some cases) the luxury tax. That being said the teams with cap room did continue to make splashes, and a lot of guys did get paid. How will this affect playoff races and title chances for the upcoming season? Let's take a closer look:
Darren Collison (2 years, $3.8 million) and Matt Barnes (3 years, $10 million), LA Clippers
Reports from LA and around the country say that Barnes took less than the full mid-level exception to allow Collison to sign with the Clips as well. Since the Clippers split the full mid-level exception on these two players, they lock themselves into the hard cap. They are also right around the newly-set luxury tax number for the season ($71.7 million), pending any additional moves the team makes.
Now as Pelicans fans we know as well as anybody the good and bad that Collison brings to a team. That being said, it's still a bit of a head scratcher that Collison settled for a portion of the mid-level when players of his caliber got at least 3 times more (ie Jameer Nelson's contract extension last year).
Yes he is not of the caliber of the other guards that were available this off-season (Teague, Jennings, Evans), but the Clippers got a steal here. Also Collison gets reunited with Chris Paul again after backing him up his rookie year here in New Orleans.
As for Barnes, he's coming off a solid season as one of the best bench guys in the league a year ago, and a huge component of the Clippers second unit that was among the best in the league. Him coming back, along with the Collison addition, solidifies a second unit that includes Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford. If the Clips can bring in another veteran big man to backup Griffin and Jordan (Kenyon Martin and Elton Brand, two former Clippers, come to mind), they'll be in business.
Chris Kaman (1 year, $3.18 million) and Nick Young (1 year, $1.18 million), Lakers
After losing out on the Dwight sweepstakes, the Lakers are deciding to go the Mavericks route and try to remain semi-competitive. With Kobe out until Christmas at the earliest and Steve Nash finally starting to show his age, the team is going with a couple of one dimensional veterans in Kaman and Young.
Both Kaman and Young played for the Staples Center's other tenants earlier in their careers, and both are coming off disappointing seasons in Dallas and Philadelphia, respectively. Kaman took the mini mid-level exception (all the Lakers could offer being a tax-paying team) while Young signed for the veterans minimum.
Add on the recently announced Wesley Johnson signing, and there's a very good chance the Pelicans (and a lot of other Western Conference teams) will finish above the Lakers in the standings this year. Barring the team making a late play for Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade (the only mechanism available for them to acquire Jennings), it looks like Mitch Kupchak won't have much to show for the grand offseason the team had planned.
Monta Ellis (3 years, $25-$30 million), Mavericks
Ellis turned down a 3-year, $36 million extension from the Bucks (as well as declining his $11 million player option for this year) to hit the open market, and found the teams seeking his services didn't think as highly of him as Monta did of himself. Sacramento and Atlanta were the only other two teams that seriously pursued Ellis, with the Kings needing to make a salary dump (most likely would have been former Hornet Marcus Thornton) to bring Ellis on board. In the end it was Dallas, who missed out on signing a superstar for the 2nd straight year, who anted up for Monta.
The Mavs added Monta to the rest of their offseason haul, which included a 4-year deal for Jose Calderon, a 3-year deal for Devin Harris that eventually got nixed due to an injury, and smaller deals for Wayne Ellington and Gal Mekel. Dallas has been the strongest suitor for center Samuel Dalembert's services, as Bernard James is the only true center on the roster.
The bottom line is that GM Donnie Nelson left the cupboard bare. going all-in on the hope that one of the marquee free agents these past two summers would choose Dallas. Now they have a mediocre roster that will most likely resemble the debacle of last season instead of past success. Yes both Shawn Marion ($9 million) and Vince Carter ($3 million) and their contracts will come off the books next summer; and with it being the last year of Dirk Nowitzki's deal that pays him $22 million in 2013-14, they will have a decent amount of cap room next offseason as well.
But Nowitzki just turned 35 and treading water for another season may not be enough to keep him content to stay in Dallas. Hey, if Paul Pierce can get traded, anything can happen.
Corey Brewer (3 years, $15 million), Timberwolves
Brewer returns to his old stomping grounds in Minnesota, joining a revamped roster that new GM Flip Saunders has overhauled this offseason. Saunders traded away Luke Ridnour, released Greg Stiemsma, and saw Andrei Kirilenko not pickup his player option, and in response brought in a bunch of new faces, including Kevin Martin (4 years, $30 million), Chase Budinger (3 years, $16 million), Ronny Turiaf (vet minimum) and Brewer.
The lanky Brewer was a guy on many Pelicans fans' radar,with his ability to stretch the floor and play solid wing defense projecting as a nice fit on a team devoid of that player mold. In the end Brewer chose Minnesota over returning to Denver (where he finally started to realize his potential as a premier role player) or New Orleans, though it's unclear if the Pelicans pursued him hard at all. Saunders is clearly going all in in trying to make the T-Wolves competitive/appeasing Kevin Love, whose relationship with former GM David Kahn was rocky at best.
Randy Foye (3 years, $9 million) and J.J. Hickson (3 years, $15 million), Nuggets
This was the Nuggets' response to losing Andre Iguodala to Golden State. It is yet to be determined just how much Denver will miss Iguodala and what he brought to the table, but all things considered, you could do worse than these two pickups. Foye was brought in as part of the sign and trade with Golden State and Utah, and the last year of his deal is a team option. Foye is another "three and D" guy that teams are falling in love with, although Foye plays primarily shooting guard instead of small forward, which suits Denver fine with the Gallinari/Chandler combo already locked in at SF.
Hickson averaged a double-double in 2012-13 (12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds), and coupled with JaVale McGee at center and Kenneth Faried at power forward, Denver will at the very least be able to throw multiple looks at teams throughout games. The Nuggets will not be as strong a squad as a year ago with Iguodala gone, but their front office continues to bring in pieces to be competitive without handing out any bohemoth contracts that hamstring their flexibiltiy seriously.
Extensions for Gallinari and Lawson a year ago soldified the Nuggets' young core, and it seems Dell Demps may be taking a page out of their playbook by locking up his core while they are young and continuing to grow, instead of players on the downslope of their careers.
Carl Landry (4 years, $26 million), Kings
Landry got a big payday this summer, joining his former teammate in Golden State (and New Orleans) Jarrett Jack in cashing in elsewhere. While the Warriors and the Jack/Landry pair had mutual interest in coming back, Golden State decided to roll the dice on Iguodala and clear the house of their expiring contracts (Jefferson, Biedrins and Rush to Utah) while not bringing back their top two bench players from their very successful 2012-13 campaign.
While Jack chose to take his talents to Cleveland and play with/back-up Kyrie Irving, Landry returned to Sacramento, where he spent the 2010/11 seasons before coming to New Orleans in the Marcus Thornton deal. Landry was great in the role of 3rd big man for the Warriors, and looked like he had finally found the perfect niche for himself in Oakland. Alas he decided to run for the $$$ and the Kings sure ponied up the dough.
Even with the new management and front office in place, this deal sure looked like a Geoff Petrie-type move, as the Kings added Landry to an already crowded frontcourt that includes DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson. Even if one or more of those guys gets traded, it still seems like Sacramento is a franchise with no clear direction, other than the fact they will still be playing home games in Northern California and not So Cal or the Pacific Northwest.
It's also a lot of money to throw at a guy who will most likely be your 3rd of 4th big. Sacramento (as always) will be a situation worth keeping an eye on for future moves.
Andrei Kirilenko (2 years, $6.2 million), Nets
The rich continue to get richer. In a move that stunned everyone involved with/who covers the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets were able to secure Kirilenko's services for the price of the mini mid-level exception, which as a taxpaying team was the maximum they could offer. Kirilenko opted out of the last year of his deal with the TImberwolves (which would've paid him $10 million) and was though for awhile to be headed to the Spurs.
Alas what would've been a perfect fit foe everyone fell through when Saunders and the Wolves refused to participate in any trade with Kirilenko that could net him more money. So instead AK-47 chose the Nets, owned by fellow Russin Mikhail Prokhorov, who will pay in excess of $100 million in luxury tax this season. Needless to say with the team this deep into the tax level, their longterm flexibility is somewhere between zero and none.
This is the team Brooklyn is going all-in with, and if they do not compete for the title before Pierce and Garnett retire/leave, the franchise will be screwed for awhile.
Jeff Teague (4 years, $32 million signed w/Bucks), Hawks (matched offer)
Teague was one of the 5 restricted free agents that Zach Lowe and others identified as the cream of the crop for this free agency class. We'll get to the other three who haven't signed in a moment, but up until this point only Tyreke Evans had been taken off the board when the Pelicans orchestrated a sign and trade for him with Sacramento. Teague was part of a musical chairs of sorts with Milwaukee and their free agent guards in Jennings ans Ellis. The Bucks and Hawks talked about potential sign and trades involving some combination of those players, but after Milwaukee signed O.J. Mayo and decided to tender Teague an offer sheet, the clock came on for the Hawks to decide what to do.
Atlanta was in the mix for the superstar duo of Paul and Howard, clearing a ton of cap room in order to be able to offer a max contract to both players. When both decided to sign elsewhere (coupled with their complete lack of interest in retaining Josh Smith, who bolted for Detroit and $56 million), it left the Hawks with a ton of cap room to use on whatever targets remained. To this point, along with matching Milwaukee's offer for Teague, they've brought back Kyle Korver and added forwards Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll.
They still have some cap space remaining, but after striking out on the big fish it'll be interesting to see what course of action new GM Danny Ferry takes. Don't expect any big moves/trades from Atlanta, as they will most likely stick with what they have and try to another splash in next year's free agency.
Three of the Big 5 restricted free agents remain, and each of their situations is remarkable different. Nik Pekovic will most likely stay in Minnesota; it seems like progress towards a $50 million-ish deal is slow but inevitable, and if a team with cap room decided to jump in the stakes at the last minute, the Wolves would almost assuredly match it. Brandon Jennings has stated his desire to leave Milwaukee in the past, and unless the team offers a multiyear deal in excess of $12 million per, there's a good chance Jennings will sign the one-year qualifying offer ($4.5 million) which would benefit both sides and their respective goals.
Gerald Henderson and the Bobcats have apparently reached an impasse with their negotiations, and Charlotte is looking at sign and trade possibilities with other teams. Henderson is looking for a base salary around $8 million per year, which is apparently too much for the always frugal Bobcats to swallow. It will be interesting to see where the dynamic young Henderson will end up and if he continues to improve his already underrated game.
The Pelicans were able to fill out the rest of their roster with the likes of Anthony Morrow (2 years, $2 million) and Greg Stiemsma (1 year, $2.7 million), a young sharpshooter coming off his worst season as a pro and a shotblocking 4th big with an underrated mid-range game. Compared to what else remains on the free agent market, it appears Dell Demps did a pretty good job with his 11th and 12th men.
Older veteran bigs such as Sam Dalembert, Antawn Jamison, Kenyon Martin and Elton Brand are still available, though its likely none of them (except maybe Dalembert with Dallas) will get more than the minimum. A couple of players who I'm surprised aren't gaining more interest are Gary Neal and Ronnie Brewer.
Neal was really effective as the bench gunner for the Spurs the last few years, and it seems like a player like him who could come in and score effectively for the 2nd unit would garner more attention. Nate Robinson is another player in this mold, but he's already been linked to a few teams, including the Bulls and the Nuggets. Neal has proven he can catch fire for stretches and perform on the biggest stages; we'll see if the Spurs bring him back or he falls to another contender (cough, OKC, cough).
As for Brewer he's a guy who provides half of the "three and D" combo, yet despite his poor shooting ability has proven he's a solid NBA role player and has garnered rave reviews from his stops in Chicago, New York and Oklahoma City. Having the Al-Farouq Aminu syndrome (aka no jumpshot) is never good for a player, but Brewer is still young and athletic enough to be a really good defender and be a respectable 8th or 9th man on a good team.
It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the chips fall as free agency continues the next few weeks. There's a good chance some veterans will get squeezed out by the exceptional performers at Summer League (Andrew Goudelock and Khalif Wyatt to name a couple), which will thin out the already small number of remaining roster openings.
The bottom line is with the harsher penalties for teams that go over the cap as well as the limited number of exceptions available to bring in talent, teams have to be more creative than ever with roster building. It just goes to show you what being a cap savant like Dell Demps can mean to a franchise trying to build a winning foundation without submerging itself into cap purgatory.