NBA PM: Top NBA Free Agent Value?
Generally speaking, when casual NBA fans talk about the value of particular free agents they spend most of their time talking about stats. And most of the time that’s a fairly reasonable approach. The first things that pop out when you’re talking about a given basketball player are his per game averages for points, rebounds, assists or blocks, and perhaps shooting percentage from the floor and from three-point range. In many circumstances, some combination of those stats is enough to get a general idea of how a player might impact a new team.
There are some instances, however, where stats don’t tell much of the story. That’s the case with one of the top “intangible” free agents going into the 2011-12 NBA season.
Shane Battier needs no introduction to fans of the Houston Rockets or Memphis Grizzlies, who have seen him up close and personal for years, but he may need something of an introduction to the rest of the league. Most think of Battier as a defensive stopper, and while he is certainly that, he also brings a great deal more to the table.
Last season was a perfect example of The Battier Effect, as he was traded from the Houston Rockets back to his original team, the Grizzlies, at the trade deadline. At the time the Rockets and Grizzlies were locked in a battle for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, and Rockets head coach Rick Adelman was none too pleased to lose his team leader at that critical time of the season, least of all to the very team he was battling for a postseason berth.
The Rockets weren’t terrible after the trade, and thanks to some brilliant coaching from Adelman and outstanding play from Chase Budinger the Rockets hung tough. They stumbled down the stretch at a time when they could have used a steady veteran voice in the locker room, and by losing three of their last five games the Rockets fell out of the playoff picture.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies won nine of their last 13 games with Battier filling in for the injured Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies grabbed their first playoff spot since 2005-06, an accomplishment in which the Grizzlies unanimously agreed Battier was key. Battier went on to help the Grizzlies upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, even knocking down a game-winning three in the series, and Memphis went on to get within a win of going to the Western Conference Finals.
Battier averaged just 5.5 points per game in the playoffs, yet his teammates will tell you he was one of the most important people on the team. His calming presence on and off the floor counted for more points than anyone could have put on the scoreboard.
Now Battier is a free agent, and it’s highly unlikely the Grizzlies re-sign him now that Rudy Gay is healthy and they have to spend a chunk of money on Marc Gasol. Houston is still home to Battier, but he’s not interested in giving a discount to the team that traded him away while his wife was too pregnant to move. The Indiana Pacers will be in hot pursuit of Battier, but they’re not along. Shane made quite an impression on the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second round of the playoffs, and in particular Thunder star Kevin Durant, who would love to have Battier backing him up next season. Battier would love to compete for a championship, and doing so with one of the most humble, hard-working teams in the league would be a dream come true for the Duke alum.
Shane Battier won’t be the hottest name in free agency, whenever it begins, but he will be one of the first people getting a phone call from smart GM’s who are looking to take a significant step forward. It may not show on the stats sheet, but Battier is the kind of player who can take a team from playoff-hopeful to contention.
Sounds like a Sam Presti kind of guy to me.
Fernandez Not Title-Ready?
When the Dallas Mavericks acquired Rudy Fernandez from the Portland Trail Blazers on draft night two things immediately ran through my head.
First, I thought it was a long time coming. Fernandez’ time with the Blazers was characterized by demands made through his agent or through the Spanish media, demands he would always deny later. He wanted more playing time, wanted a bigger role. Yet when Brandon Roy was out for an extended period of time and Blazers head coach Nate McMillan called Fernandez’ number early and often, Fernandez let the team down. He let himself down, for that matter. In his team’s time of need Fernandez averaged just 8.6 points per game and shot a career-low 37% from the field. The divorce between the Blazers and Fernandez was a long time coming.
The second thing that ran through my mind was that the Mavericks would likely lose one of their best defensive players now that Fernandez was in the mix. DeShawn Stevenson is one of the unsung heroes of the 2011-12 championship run, and given the team’s need to spend massive amounts of money re-signing Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and JJ Barea, the addition of Fernandez almost certainly means Stevenson won’t be back. In this reporter’s opinion, that’s a significant setback for the Mavs, and it’s an opinion Mavs guard Jason Terry shares.
“What he did in this organization for us, you can’t put a price on it,” Terry told ESPN’s Jeff Caplan in a recent interview. “Because me, watching the playoff series, not only the championship, but the first, second, third rounds, he defended his butt off and he set the tempo for us. That kind of toughness you can’t buy. It has to be in you. He’s one of the few guys in this league that has that and it’s special, it’s unique and I believe it’s at premium. And, I think it’s something that we have to have on our team going forward.
“Is Rudy Fernandez that type of player? Not that I know. He’s more offensive-minded. Is he tough? Yeah, he’s tough, but to guard Kobe [Bryant] and [Kevin] Durant and LeBron [James] and Dwyane Wade, you have to have a certain nastiness about you, and DeShawn Stevenson has that.”
One thing you have to know about the Dallas Mavericks is that they are the embodiment of the idea that there is no “I” in team. Head coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t discuss playing time or roles; you accept what you get or you’re gone. It’s that simple. The Mavericks are not going to tolerate a player using the foreign media to debate playing time, and they won’t accept a player not giving 100% in absolutely every practice and every game.
Can Rudy Fernandez cut it?
It seems the writing is already on the wall, as there are persistent rumors that Fernandez has already agreed to sign in Spain at the end of his contract, which ends this season. Is that somebody who is committed to winning an NBA championship?
Stevenson might be the odd man out today, but he should keep his cell phone handy. The Mavericks might be calling sooner rather than later.
Here’s an interesting tidbit from The Oregonian regarding the new GM the team is seeking and, secondarily, the decision the team made not to extend Greg Oden’s rookie contract.
The big issue facing candidates for the job opening created when the Blazers fired GM Rich Cho is what, exactly, the chain of command will be. GM candidates want to know who they’re answering to, and the answer is not a short or easy one. As John Canzano points out in his column:
“…Those interviewing for the job are busy calling around, asking what it’s like to work with the billionaire owner Allen, and president Larry Miller, and vice president Sarah Mensah. They want to know, too, who Bert Kolde is and how he’ll factor in decision-making, and they should want to know — Kolde has been in on at least one round of interviews.”
There’s really no answer to that question, and as long as the answer is ambiguous the Blazers are going to have a hard time landing the GM they really need – San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey.
Canzano is spot-on in his analysis of Portland’s GM search, which probably won’t be resolved any time soon. Where he falls a little short is in his take on the Greg Oden situation. The Blazers opted not to extend Oden’s rookie contract, preferring to make him a qualifying offer that would allow him to become a restricted free agent in 2012. Canzano writes:
Greg Oden, meanwhile, feels like he’ll sign the qualifying offer from the Blazers, play one season, then become an unrestricted free agent. He’s not dumb. Oden holds all the leverage now, mostly because the Blazers handed it to him when they foolishly failed to extend his rookie contract.
We’re talking about a player who, in three NBA season, has played exactly 82 games. When he played in 2009-10 he looked like the future low post dominator the Blazers thought they were getting when they skipped Kevin Durant to draft Oden. In 21 games Oden averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.86 blocks, a big step in the right direction . . .at least, until an injury kept him from playing the rest of that season or at all in 2010-11. How much money should the Blazers really invest in a kid who might not ever play a full season in the NBA?
Ask the Houston Rockets how that story ends. Ask Brandon Roy, for that matter, because it is Roy’s contract and injuries that made the Blazers gun shy about making the same mistake again.
The reason the Blazers didn’t extend Oden’s rookie deal is because, quite simply, they don’t want to be on the hook for paying a player who isn’t able to play. The logic of their move is subject to debate right now, but it won’t be a year from now. If Oden manages to take the court this season and puts up decent numbers, yes, everyone will say how foolish the Blazers were for not extending him. If, as is more likely, Oden continues to struggle with injuries, the Blazers will be congratulated for not sticking the franchise with an albatross contract.
It’s one thing to hope a player gets healthy and becomes a force in the middle; it’s quite another to bank on it, given Oden’s history.
Blazers owner Paul Allen has certainly made his share of mistakes, and his refusal to let the basketball people run the basketball team will likely cost him the best candidates for his GM opening. But Oden call was not a mistake. It was a sensible precaution . . .one that will likely (and unfortunately) pay off long-term.
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