NBA PM: Free Agency’s Biggest Disappointments
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Free Agency’s Biggest Disappointments
The onset of the new, stricter salary cap policies is supposed to herald an era of equal opportunity within NBA circles. So far, however, a few teams that are willing to ignore some or all of those new policies have continued to tip the scales of free agency. This summer a number of teams were preparing maximum cap space to make runs at key free agents, but now that the dust has largely settled a few teams are left all but empty-handed.
At the top of our list of free agency’s biggest disappointments, we have two perennial Western Conference contenders who don’t appear to be anywhere close to returning to contention next season.
Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers always seem to pull the big names in free agency, especially their own players. This summer, however, they lost the biggest fish on the market when Dwight Howard opted to take his services to Clutch City. Howard was expected to be the centerpiece of a Lakers team that might draw LeBron James out of Miami eventually, making the Lakers the NBA’s team to beat for yet another generation. Instead, the Lakers have been sniffing around for scraps like Chris Kaman and Nick Young and are a far cry from contention, and perhaps out of the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks - Like the Lakers, the Mavericks have taken significant steps backwards, and are about as far from the 2011 championship team as they could be. They didn’t bring back that championship core because they wanted to preserve cap space for this summer’s big free agency class, but now that class has come and gone without much interest from the key free agents. Dallas entered the summer with dreams of putting Chris Paul and Dwight Howard on either side of Dirk Nowitzki. Instead, their big additions to date are Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, with Samuel Dalembert waiting in the wings. Like the Lakers, the Mavs look more likely to hit the draft lottery than to make the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets - It’s been a rough summer for the Nuggets, who lost GM Masai Ujiri to the Toronto Raptors, fired Coach of the Year George Karl, and then lost prized small forward Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors. They did acquire Darrell Arthur from the Memphis Grizzlies, but he’s by no means a splashy acquisition. Not only will the Nuggets have to replace Iguodala’s production, they’ll also need someone to fill the utility man role formerly held by Corey Brewer, who defected for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Denver’s biggest addition of the summer has been J.J. Hickson, who is a decent post player but is awfully similar to Kenneth Faried, who has more upside. Last season the Nuggets finished third in the Western Conference, and had it not been for significant untimely injuries they might have made more noise in the postseason. Right now they appear to be a playoff team, but with the rest of the West improving around them, that’s not something to take for granted.
Atlanta Hawks – Like the Mavericks and Lakers, the Hawks were hoping to make a big splash in free agency, yet to date they have hardly done enough to keep up with their peers in the East. The original plan was to finally move Al Horford to his favored power forward spot, but the additions of Paul Millsap and Elton Brand don’t inspire hope that Horford will spend much time anywhere besides at center. Kyle Korver is back, DeMarre Carroll is a decent role player and Jared Cunningham has some upside, but otherwise Atlanta’s big move has been to bring back Jeff Teague, who was desperately hoping to join his former coach Larry Drew in Milwaukee. The Hawks are talented, for sure, but they have taken a step back this summer, and barring another major move or addition they look like first-round fodder once again.
Milwaukee Bucks – One of the hard realities that faces every small market team is that big name free agents tend to prefer not to go small. The Bucks were on the verge of being special a couple of seasons ago, but have since struggled to regain their edge. They made the playoffs last season largely due to the fact that no other Eastern Conference team seemed to want the privilege of being dismantled by the Miami HEAT in the first round, but the silver lining was that the team had plenty of room to improve through free agency this summer. Sadly, they have struggled to do so. They were in hot pursuit of Jeff Teague at the behest of new head coach Larry Drew, but the Atlanta Hawks ultimately decided to match Milwaukee’s offer sheet and keep Teague around for a while. Now the Bucks are in the unenviable position of either bringing back Brandon Jennings for a year or trying to do point guard by committee with Luke Ridnour at the heart of the offense. O.J. Mayo is a solid addition, as is Zaza Pachulia as a back-up to Larry Sanders, but the Bucks are still missing the piece that makes it all work together and the options are quickly drying up.
Carl Landry Finally Gets His Due
There are few players in the NBA who have paid their dues for as long as Sacramento Kings power forward Carl Landry. One of the many second round gems uncovered by the Houston Rockets (via a pick from Seattle), Landry quickly earned a reputation for being tough and playing with high energy. He was one of several players who stepped in to help the Rockets go on a 22-game winning streak despite losing All-Star center Yao Ming to injury. Since then, however, Landry has struggled to find a long-term home.
After a promising start with the Rockets, Landry bounced around from team to team via free agency and trades. He landed in Sacramento as part of a trade that sent Kevin Martin to Houston, but a year later he was handed off to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Marcus Thornton. He re-signed with the Hornets prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, but it was a one-year deal, and he would end up signing with the Golden State Warriors for 2012-13. After six seasons and five different teams, Landry boasted career averages of 11.9 points (54 percent from the field) and 5.3 rebounds per game playing largely as a reserve. He came into free agency as one of the guys who had truly paid his dues and was ready for a team to invest in him long-term, and the Kings did just that on Monday, inking him to a four-year, $26 million contract.
“[Landry] is symbolic of the new era of the Kings – Kings 3.0,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadive told Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. “Excellence on the court, excellence off the court. To me, the power forward position is a 21st-century position. It’s a big man with skills, and Carl is really the personification of everything that is good about our sport.”
It helped Landry that he was a favorite of Kings head coach Mike Malone when he was an assistant with the Hornets and Warriors. Malone has considerable say in roster moves with the Kings, and Landry was one of his prime targets.
“I guess it’s meant to be,” Landry said. “Coach Malone is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and I’m glad he’s having this opportunity to become a head coach in this league. I think he’ll do an exceptional job turning this organization around.”
The Kings weren’t exactly in need of another power forward, and Landry joins a host of former Houston Rockets at the position. Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson both spent time in Houston, and are part of the committee of players who will apparently back up starter Jason Thompson next season. The great thing about Landry is he’s happy to play his role, whatever role that might be, and he stays ready for a bigger role when it comes his way.
“We’re all professionals, and at the end of the day, everybody in the frontcourt is a competitor,” Landry said. “We want to win and do what’s best for the team. … However many minutes Coach Malone and his staff decide to play me and whoever he puts on the floor, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning.”
It’s difficult to see the big picture for the Kings, who have spent most of the summer compiling point guards and small forwards, but the addition of Landry is a no-brainer. He’s a proven winner, both on and off the court, and when it comes to creating a team-first culture built on hard work and dedication, Carl Landry is as solid an addition as the Kings could have possibly made.
Detroit Pistons Sign Chauncey Billups
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the club has signed free agent guard Chauncey Billups. Per team policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.
“We are pleased to announce Chauncey Billups’ return to the Pistons organization,” said Dumars via press release. “Chauncey played an integral part in the success of the franchise from 2002-2008. His playmaking ability and experience will provide depth in the back court while his leadership and commitment to winning will help our club.”
Billups, 36, has NBA career averages of 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 31.9 minutes in 1,024 games (930 starts) with the L.A. Clippers, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons. The 15-year veteran is a five-time NBA All-Star, ranks fourth in NBA history for three-pointers made (1,816) and is the seventh active NBA player to reach 5,000 assists. He is one of only 31 players (four active) in NBA history to score over 14,000 points and distribute more than 5,000 assists. Billups has played in 146 career playoff games (143 starts) during 12 trips to the NBA playoffs and averaged 17.3 points, 5.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 36.4 minutes per game. He won the NBA’s inaugural Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award this past June, which recognizes the NBA player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to his team.
Billups’ six-year career in Detroit is highlighted by back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships and two NBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005. He was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player during the Pistons NBA Championship season in 2003-04 when he averaged 21.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists in five games vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. The Denver, CO native was named an NBA All-Star three times with Detroit, All-NBA Second Team (2006), All-NBA Third Team (2007) and All-NBA Defensive Second Team (2005, 2006). In 463 games with the Pistons, Billups averaged 17.0 points, 6.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game.