Winners In First Wave Of Free Agency
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The first week of free agency is in the books. While there are a lot of unsigned players still on the market and some pending decisions on restricted free agents, five teams have already done enough to be considered winners. Here’s a look a look at why the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Miami HEAT have fared better than the rest early on in free agency 2012.
When Mikhael Prokhorov became the majority owner of the Nets, he envisioned forming a star-laden team featuring LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. When he missed out on them, he moved onto All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who he was also unable to acquire. He then took a gamble on top-flight point guard Deron Williams shortly after and now he’s finally put together a team that will unquestionably be very competitive in the Eastern Conference. That’s a claim the Nets franchise hasn’t been able to make since 2007.
Say what you want about the massive contracts of shooting guard Joe Johnson and small forward Gerald Wallace, without them Williams is a Dallas Maverick and the Nets are stuck rebuilding around MarShon Brooks and Brook Lopez.
The Nets couldn’t afford to start off a new era in Brooklyn like that. They had to have a strong team to open the Barclays Center and that’s exactly what they have now with Williams, Johnson and Wallace as their centerpieces.
Add in the signing of one of the best power forwards overseas in Mirza Teletovic and that they’re still in the running for disgruntled Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and you have an offseason that could get even better for the Nets.
Prokhorov may not have been able to get his top targets, but his contingency plan has the franchise far better off than they were before he took over.
Los Angeles Lakers
Championships define success for the Lakers and after going 1-8 in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs the last two years, it was time to shake things up. The point guard position has always been in question for them. They thought they found their starter of the future in Ramon Sessions at the deadline, but when he exercised his option to become a free agent, they set their sights on someone they knew could provide a major impact: Steve Nash.
At first it seemed like a silly notion. Nash went on the record saying it would be hard for him to play for the Lakers and Phoenix Suns’ owner Robert Sarver was initially against the idea of sending him there as well.
In a true testament to how unpredictable the NBA can be, neither of those things ended up mattering at all. Nash, intrigued by being able to compete for a championship while staying close to his kids, and Sarver, bind by a promise made to Nash that he would send him where he wanted, changed their tune. The Lakers ponied up two future first-round picks and two future second-round picks along with the trade exception they received from the Dallas Mavericks for Lamar Odom to get the second-best point guard in their history.
Nash’s playmaking and shooting skills are going to be a tremendous addition to the Lakers. They desperately needed a true point guard and now they have the textbook definition of one.
The loss of starting shooting guard Ray Allen and the high price they paid for forward Jeff Green has some considering the Celtics losers this offseason, but when you look at what they’ve done as a whole it’s undeniable that they’re a better team.
Losing Allen does hurt. However, the Celtics secured themselves for his eventual departure by landing veteran combo guard Jason Terry. Terry also brings championship experience and long-range shooting to the table; he’s a solid replacement for Allen. Plus, it opens up more time for Avery Bradley, who the Celtics wanted to give a bigger role to anyway.
The re-signing of Brandon Bass is another quality move that pushes the Celtics closer to the winner category. What really puts them over the top, though, is the Kevin Garnett extension. Keeping their leader and best low-post player ensures that there won’t be any drop off next season. Garnett proved that he still has a lot in the tank and $11 million per is more than reasonable for one of the best big men in the game.
Los Angeles Clippers
Despite not having a general manager due to the Portland Trail Blazers plucking away Neil Olshey, the Clippers have managed to add three really nice pieces this offseason in Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups and Jamaal Crawford.
Odom is a low-risk, high-reward pickup. He could potentially revive his career with them, but if he doesn’t he comes off the books at the end of the season anyway. They didn’t give up a piece that was a vital part of their plans to get him and, at worst, he should at least be as serviceable as Reggie Evans, who they will sign-and-trade to the Brooklyn Nets on the 11th.
Billups was sorely missed after his season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury. He’s a stable presence whose worth on the court is matched by his worth off of it. It was very important for the Clippers to keep him.
Crawford is a significant signing for them, who should pay off in a big way immediately. He wasn’t at his best this past year with the Portland Trail Blazers, but the entire franchise had issues from the front office on down. With point guard Chris Paul setting him up, he should get back to putting up the kind of numbers he did with the Atlanta Hawks.
As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will surely attest to now, when you’re the defending champions there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken. The HEAT were the best team in the league this past season as assembled even with all the injuries that they encountered. All they needed to do was go out and find complementary pieces and fill some small holes.
The sharpshooting veteran Ray Allen is one heck of a complementary piece. He’s going to fit in perfectly with the HEAT thanks to his championship experience, unselfishness and ability to space the floor. Being on the same team as two great creators like James and Wade is ideal for Allen. Their presence will allow him to do what he does best at this point of his career: make shots.
The fact that the signing of Allen also helps weaken their biggest competition in the Celtics makes the move a true home run for HEAT President Pat Riley, whose sales pitch to Allen was reportedly flawless.
Due to their lack of resources, this could be the only major move that the HEAT make this summer. They’re still winners if that’s the cause, though, because Allen at $3 million is about as good of a bargain as you can find in a league where overpaying is prominent.