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NBA PM: Who Gets Overpaid In Free Agency?
Posted By Bill Ingram On June 27, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Who Gets Overpaid in Free Agency?
The 2013 NBA Draft is now history, meaning teams are preparing to focus all of their attention on free agency. This summer’s big fish, of course, are Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul. But what happens when those big names are off the market and teams that worked hard to clear cap space to sign a max player find themselves without a primary target?
They’ll get into a bidding war for second-tier talent.
At the top of our list of players most likely to get overpaid is Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith. Smith is coming off of a year in which he was paid $13.2 million for averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Smith is a good player, and for a team looking for a third option he could be the piece that puts them over the top. That said, he’s not a franchise player, and any team looking for him to take them to the next level on his own is going to be disappointed. Does that mean he doesn’t get overpaid once the big dominoes fall? Probably not. All he needs is for a team like Dallas to panic and decide he’s their only hope of getting Dirk Nowitzki back into contention and he’ll find a golden parachute for the last years of his basketball prime.
Second on our list is a player who might just be a max player in the near future, but is still very much in the questionable stage of his career. Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic has looked like an All-Star at times, but also has games where he looks like a solid starter and nothing more. He has shown marked improvement in each of his three NBA seasons, and the Timberwolves have been clear in saying they will match any offers for Pekovic, who is set to be a restricted free agent. There is little question that they will match any offers, but how much will that end up costing them? The Portland Trail Blazers are expected to make a run at Pekovic, and their number is likely to be large enough that it will make Minnesota think long and hard about what their budding young center is worth. He just might turn out to be a max player, but that’s still a gamble at this point.
Once Chris Paul re-commits to the Clippers, as he is expected to do, two names are going to jump up the free agency chart. The first is Brandon Jennings, who can be a restricted free agent. The Milwaukee Bucks have every intention of re-signing him, and are merely waiting for the market to set his value. To be clear, however, Jennings is not an elite point guard, and expecting him to become one is likely to lead to bitter disappointment. Still, the Dallas Mavericks are widely believed to have interest in Jennings and they’re a team that could potentially price him out of Milwaukee’s range of interest.
The other point guard who could garner considerable interest is Golden State Warriors backup Jarrett Jack, who was an absolute bargain this season at just $5.4 million. After eight seasons in the NBA, Jack has established himself as a great locker room leader and a solid role player on the court. He’s a capable starter, and some would argue that it’s finally time for Jack to get paid in a big way, but here again, it’s best to exercise caution. His best stretch as a pro came during his time in New Orleans, when he averaged 15.6 points and 6.3 assists on a dismally bad team. He started 39 of his 45 games during the lockout-shortened 66-game season in 2011-12, helping him to showcase his ability a little more than he had previously. Still, Jack’s best role is as a sixth man, and any team attempting to make him a highly-paid starter after missing out on Chris Paul is likely to regret the move.
Rounding out our list is the biggest risk of all. Andrew Bynum is one of the most dominant big men in the game when he’s healthy, and there’s no question that a healthy Bynum can take a team from the lottery to contention. He could do it for the Philadelphia 76ers, or he could do it for a team like San Antonio, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta – all teams that could sign Bynum to a max contract if they so chose. Bynum might be the kind of player who helps Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or even Al Horford make a deep playoff run, too, but he also might be the same kind of bust that he was for Philly this season. The Sixers believed they were ready to challenge all comers in the Eastern Conference when they got Bynum via trade last summer, but instead they were on the outside looking, with the predominant story about their team revolving around the latest setback by Bynum. Is Bynum a max player? Chances are, someone will decide that he is. But if they do, they had better assign a full-time body guard to make sure he doesn’t go bowling or do anything else that could result in him missing yet another season with knee issues.
Nowitzki Ready To Play Second Fiddle
It’s certainly no secret that every team with the ability to clear maximum cap space this summer is hoping to lure Dwight Howard to town, but few actually have a prayer of signing him. It sounds as if the Los Angeles Lakers have lost his interest, and while the Houston Rockets offer a team that appears to be ready-made to contend with Howard in the mix, they have some maneuvering to do before they can sign him. Even then, it’s not clear that Howard would be the first option, given the vastly improved play of James Harden this season. If Howard isn’t the first option, he’s likely to cause the same kinds of problems for his new team that he did for the Lakers, and before them the Orlando Magic.
That’s where the Dallas Mavericks come in.
The Mavericks, too, need to unload a contract before they can offer Howard a max deal, but they are ready to make him the focal point of Rick Carlisle’s system with All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki ready to make sure he gets plenty of touches in the post.
“To me, when he’s healthy he’s the most dominant big man in the league,” Nowitzki told Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. “He’s shown that at the end of the season, when he was right, what he can still do. He can dominate on both ends of the floor if he feels healthy, he can still use his athleticism. He’s a beast on both ends of the floor.”
The Mavericks also feel that owner Mark Cuban is a significant factor that could sway Howard to Dallas. No other team has an owner who sits courtside and plays an active role in games. More than anywhere else, Dallas would provide Howard with a vocal advocate who doesn’t mind paying fines to make sure his players are officiated the right way. Considering the pounding Howard takes on a nightly basis that could be a huge factor, though of course he would need to hit a higher percentage of his free throws to maximize that advantage. And of course, Nowitzki’s ability to drain shots from all over the court would give Howard plenty of room to operate.
“He’s the kind of guy you can just get the ball to in the post, and I’ll just spread the floor,” Nowitzki said. “On the defensive end, he’s a guy that can protect the rim and a guy that’s obviously a luxury. We’d love to have him, but so would all of the other teams with cap room. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Unfortunately, for the Mavs to clear the roughly $20.5 million they need to start Howard on a new max contract, they will have to part with Shawn Marion’s $9.3 million contract. Marion is one of the last remaining pieces of the 2011 championship team.
“We’ll cross that bridge once we get there,” Nowitzki said. “If Dwight really says he’d love to be here and love to come and this is where he wants to play, then that’s something we have to address then. Now I don’t know if we have to address that.”
Of course, counting on signing Howard is dangerous, as his indecisiveness is as legendary as his dunking ability. Nowitzki would love to have him, but also understands that he can’t be the only plan for the Mavericks.
“Honestly, I think we can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” Nowitzki said. “I just think we need to have multiple things going if Dwight or whoever says no. We’ve got to have some other options. If the top free agents decide not to come here, then we’re going to find a way to get better with some of the second-tier guys.”
The Mavericks have their work cut out for them, with or without Howard, if they hope to get Nowitzki back into contention before his contract and his career expire. Adding Howard would be a great first step, but just as important would be filling out a quality team around him. Last season the Mavs’ second unit was the best in the NBA, but with the vast majority of those players now gone, the Mavericks will have to get creative to afford a strong supporting cast for Nowitzki and which ever big name free agent they land.
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