Biggest NBA Free Agency Surprises
It’s been a wild first few days of free agency that have included blockbuster pending trades, hefty contracts being thrown around left and right and numerous possible free agents on the move. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest bombshells that have transpired so far in the early stages of free agency:
Atlanta Hawks Clean House
Even though the Hawks have been a perennial playoff team over the past few seasons, it appears General Manager Danny Ferry and Co. are intent on shaking things up this offseason. The first domino to fall was Joe Johnson, whom the Hawks have a trade pending with the Brooklyn Nets for salary cap relief. That potential return for Atlanta included the expiring contracts of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams and Anthony Morrow to go along with a lottery-protected first round pick in 2013 and DeShawn Stevenson via sign-and-trade.
Clearly, the Hawks are intent on ridding themselves of Johnson’s contract (he’s due nearly $90 million over the next four years) regardless of the type of talent they are expected to receive in return. Although, even though the Hawks didn’t acquire any future building blocks (MarShon Brooks?), you have to hand it to the Hawks and Ferry for being able to unload the NBA’s worst contract.
Separately, the Hawks acquired point guard Devin Harris from the Utah Jazz for former second overall pick Marvin Williams. Harris, also on the final year of his contract, would conceivably compete for the team’s starting point guard spot next season and a change of scenery could be just what the former lottery pick needed to get things back on track. The same can be said for Williams, who never quite fit in with Atlanta.
The next question for Atlanta centers on Josh Smith, who will also be a free agent at the end of next season. Atlanta now has the option to either make a play for Dwight Howard via trade or wait until the offseason to try and sign both Smith and Howard to long-term deals. It’s no secret that Smith and Howard are close friends and Smith may take a lead recruiting role in trying to bring Howard to the ATL.
With these recent blockbuster moves to clear cap space, it appears as though Atlanta is intent on wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch in order to try to build a legitimate contender in the East.
NBA Free Agency – Where Overpayment Happens
Roy Hibbert’s Max Deal
Let me be clear: this is not an indictment of Hibbert’s overall skills. In fact, Hibbert is largely recognized as an above-average center but a maximum contract right off the bat was somewhat surprising.
Pairing Hibbert with All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the Blazers’ frontcourt looks like an excellent duo on paper but is Hibbert a $14.5 million a year player?
Last season, in his best year thus far as a pro, Hibbert averaged 12.8 points (49.7 percent shooting), 8.8 rebounds and two blocks per game – hardly max-money numbers. It should also be noted that Indiana also made it to the playoffs and Hibbert played a large role in the Pacers taking a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Miami HEAT before losing in six games.
The realization here is that seven-foot centers generally receive gigantic contracts but it was surprising to see Portland jump right out of the gate and dangle a max-deal at Hibbert without a moment of hesitation. Prying Hibbert away from the Indiana Pacers was going to take a bold move like this and the Blazers stepped up to the plate.
Indiana still has the right to match, and likely will, but the Blazers have made sure Hibbert is going to be a very rich man for years to come.
Minnesota Timberwolves Go All In For Batum
Also on Portland’s agenda will be figuring out how to play the situation with Nicolas Batum, who has been offered a four-year deal from the Minnesota Timberwolves worth possibly as much as $50 million. At just 23 years old, Batum is a young talent with plenty of potential to become an All-Star-type player in this league.
Although he has shown flashes, a contract like this suggests multiple All-Star selections are inevitable and that Batum is prepared to play second-fiddle on the T-Wolves to only Kevin Love. That certainly is a possibility but, if not, the Timberwolves have positioned themselves to ride this thing out assuming the Blazers decide, or are simply unable, to match that contract.
If Batum fails to live up to these lofty expectations, Minnesota will be stuck with an $11 million per year underachiever.
Like the Blazers with Hibbert, Minnesota felt like it had to make a point early on in free agency to let Portland know they were going to have to back up the Brinks trucks to keep their young star. The Blazers have been saying for quite some time now that they felt like Batum was a key cog for the future of this team, now is the time to put up or shut up.
Gerald Wallace’s Big Deal
After trading what ended up being sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft for Wallace earlier in the season, the Brooklyn Nets wanted to make sure Wallace wasn’t going anywhere in free agency. Doing so forced the Nets to overpay and overpay quickly as Wallace was reportedly the first player to be offered a contract in 2012 free agency early Sunday morning.
Wallace, who will be 30 years old when the 2012-13 season kicks off, is still a solid two-way player but four years at $40 million seems excessive. This is true especially when you consider the market would’ve likely dictated a contract worth as much as $2-3 million less per season and possibly a year or two fewer on the total length of the contract.
Losing Wallace for nothing in free agency after giving up a lottery pick would’ve been inexcusable for GM Billy King and the rest of the Nets brass so the team bit the bullet and made sure Wallace remained in Brooklyn. Keeping point guard Deron Williams is the Nets’ number one priority so keeping Wallace is a message to D-Will that management is willing to spend the dough required to produce a winning team.
It isn’t so much a surprise that the Nets offered Wallace a deal so soon, but more that the amount and length of the contract doesn’t match up with the market value of a player like Crash.
What has surprised you the most so far in free agency? Leave your comments below!