NBA PM: The Best Offseason Moves
Now that the 2012-13 NBA season is nearing the halfway point, we’ve had enough time to see which offseason moves have panned out and which ones have failed. This was a busy offseason that featured plenty of big trades and notable free agent signings. There were also a number of coaches and executives who found new jobs. Here are the offseason moves that have looked the best so far.
Best Trade Acquisition: James Harden
Entering the season, the Rockets were projected to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. They had stockpiled young players and draft picks in an attempt to acquire Dwight Howard, but failed to land their primary target. However, the trade that they made just before the start of the season was even better. Rather than bringing in Howard as a rental, they acquired Harden and signed him to a five-year deal. For years, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had been trying to land a star player and now he finally has the centerpiece that he wanted. Harden as been worth every penny, prospect and pick, helping Houston to a 21-18 record and the seventh seed in the West. Rather than winning the lottery this season, the Rockets have been winning games and Harden is a big reason for their success. With an expanded role in Houston, Harden has flourished. He’s the fourth-best scorer in the NBA with 26.4 points per game and he’s also chipping in 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Harden has the tenth-best Player Efficiency Rating in the league at 23.05, which is significantly better than other players that were traded last summer such as Howard, (20.51), Joe Johnson (14.94) and Andre Iguodala (14.07). Not to mention, he’s only 23 years old, which means his best basketball is likely ahead of him.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Howard, Kevin Martin, Raymond Felton, Kyle Lowry
Best Free Agent Signing: Andray Blatche
When the Washington Wizards amnestied Blatche last offseason, there weren’t too many teams interested in the 26-year-old. During his stint in Washington, he had been described as lazy, selfish and immature. He had a string of off-court incidents and developed a reputation as a cancer in the locker room. The Wizards paid him $23 million to go away, which is enough to scare most teams off. However, Blatche worked hard and was humbled by the experience. He worked out for the Brooklyn Nets and signed a non-guaranteed, veteran’s minimum contract. The Nets weren’t sure what they were going to get out of Blatche, but he has been everything they hoped for and then some. This season, he’s averaging 11.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20.6 minutes. This has been one of the most productive years of Blatche’s career. He’s currently ninth in the NBA in PER at 23.32. That’s an incredible number, especially considering that his previous career-high PER was 17.62 and for most of his career he has hovered around 15, which is the league average. Blatche has exceeded expectations this season and outplayed the contract he was given last summer.
Honorable Mention: J.J. Hickson, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, O.J. Mayo, Ray Allen
Best First-Round Pick: Damian Lillard
Prior to the 2012 NBA Draft, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Lillard since he had played at Weber State and was a shoot-first point guard. Could he play against NBA-level competition? Could be a facilitator or was he just a scorer in a point guard’s body? Could he defend NBA point guards? Lillard climbed draft boards in the weeks leading up to the draft, but these questions were why he didn’t climb even higher. Lillard ended up being selected sixth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, but even that seems too low after watching him dominate this season. He’s the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year and he’s even being talked about as a potential All-Star. If he makes the Western Conference All-Star team, he’ll be the first rookie guard to make the team since Michael Jordan did it 28 years ago. Lillard has been sensational during his rookie season, which is why the Blazers felt comfortable handing him the starting job from day one. Most point guards take time to adjust to the NBA, but not Lillard. He’s making an immediate impact and the 22-year-old’s future is still very bright.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Jared Sullinger
Best Second-Round Pick: Jeffery Taylor
The Charlotte Bobcats selected Taylor with the first pick of the second round in June and he has emerged as a significant contributor during his rookie season. The 23-year-old stayed at Vanderbilt through his senior season and was considered one of the more NBA-ready prospects in this year’s draft. Taylor has started 26 games for the Bobcats, averaging 7.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and one steal per game. Taylor is part of Charlotte’s long-term plan and the team has been very pleased with his play. He’s a mature, developed player and that’s exactly what this young Bobcats team needed.
Honorable Mention: Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, Bernard James
Best Coach Hiring: Terry Stotts
The Portland Trail Blazers took a unique approach to hiring a head coach last summer. Rather than hiring a coach and then building their roster to fit that coach’s style, they built the roster first and then found a coach that would fit with the pieces that they had put in place. Stotts was chosen because he can develop young talent and teach better than most coaches. When the Blazers hired Stotts, they were criticized because had a career record of 115-168 at the time. However, Stotts has done an excellent job in Portland. He’s putting his players in a position to be successful by giving them a lot of freedom. The Blazers play hard every single night, which is a testament to Stotts’ coaching. He has gotten a lot of out this young roster and has them in the eighth seed in the Western Conference, which is way ahead of schedule considering they’re the sixth-youngest team in the NBA. Stotts has done a terrific job and Neil Olshey deserves credit for making an excellent hire.
Honorable Mention: Jacque Vaughn, Mike Dunlap
Best Executive Hiring: Rob Hennigan
Everyone owes Orlando Magic general manager an apology. When the Orlando Magic hired Hennigan, many felt that he would be in over his head. After all, this was his first general manager job and he had inherited all of the drama surrounding Dwight Howard. However, Hennigan handled the situation perfectly. He tried to persuade Howard to stay. Then, when that didn’t work, he dealt him for prospects, cap flexibility and draft picks. Rather than budging and trading the superstar center to the Brooklyn Nets, he weighed all of his options and decided on the four-team deal that netted Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and multiple first-round picks. He also got rid of several bad contracts that former Magic general manager Otis Smith had handed out. Chris Duhon was sent to Los Angeles, Jason Richardson was dealt to Philadelphia and Quentin Richardson was bought out. He also drafted Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn, who have played well when given minutes. Now, the Magic have a wealth of young talent and draft picks as well as the necessary cap room to be players in free agency at some point in the near future. At the time of the four-team trade, the general consensus around the league was that Orlando was on the losing end of the deal, but their return looks pretty good today, especially considering Howard has struggled in Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum hasn’t played a game in Philadelphia. Hennigan took over a terrible situation and made the best of it. While Hennigan’s team hasn’t won as many games as other executives’ who were hired over the offseason, he deserves credit for shedding salary, bringing in plenty of high-potential players and ushering in a new era in Orlando.
Honorable Mention: Danny Ferry, Neil Olshey, Kevin Pritchard
Leslie Hoping to Return to NBA
Of all the players in the NBA Development League this year, few have as much potential as Travis Leslie. The 22-year-old was selected with the 47th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, but was waived just before the start of the season since the Clippers approached this season with a win-now mentality.
Now, Leslie is playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors and trying to return to the NBA. Most executives believe he has the talent to play at the NBA level and they believe he’ll continue to develop in the coming years. In 14 games with the Warriors, Leslie has averaged 15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. Yannis Koutroupis caught up with Leslie at the D-League Showcase in Reno. Check out the interview: