The dust of the The 2015 NBA Free Agency Period (and, yes, I made it a proper noun) is just about cleared with very few quality rotation players still left on the open market. This year’s frenzy of player movement is only the beginning for a league that will see its salary cap rise to a possible $90 million over the course of the next two seasons. Just the thought of all that money makes me wish I was a foot taller and had a nasty crossover.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Even though it’s going to be a fun next couple of years both on and off the court for The Association, we still have this offseason to analyze and critique before we get the equivalent of turning off the salary cap in NBA 2K. And if the 2015 period is any indication of what the next couple years will be like, we are in for a show like no other.
So, without further ado, my useless critique of the 2015 NBA Free Agency smorgasbord starting with two teams took the most advantage of this year’s free agency period.
San Antonio Spurs
No surprise here. Coach Pop used his power over the dark arts mixed with his Sahara inspired sense of humor to lure free agent numero uno LaMarcus Aldridge for 4-years/$80 million deal, causing a mass flood made of tears to wash away the city of Portland. With aforementioned rise in the cap the next couple of seasons, this is a bargain of a deal for an impact player. If Aldridge hit the market next year, or the increase in the cap happen this season, you are looking at close to a $100 million max deal. Tough luck for Aldridge, but a heck of a deal for San Antonio. Maybe the only time $80 million dollars and “bargain” will ever appear in the same sentence.
If signing the most coveted free-agent of the class wasn’t enough to like, they locked up their young two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard with a 5-year/94.3-million deal, brought back their ace perimeter defender and three point specialist Danny Green on a 4-year/$45-million, and convincing highly coveted veteran forward David West to come play on a 1-year/1.5 million contract. And they talked Tim Duncan (2-year/10.8 million) and Manu Ginobili (2-years/5.7 million) to come back for two more seasons of chasing another championship with a new, young nucleus and Tony Parker running the show.
If this doesn’t prove that Coach Pop is a evil hybrid of Voldemort and a Sith Lord, I don’t know what does.
New York Knicks
The Knicks and “winner” are not two words that you usually see placed together. And I know this may be a shocker to most, but looking at the moves that Knicks made this offseason, I see a team that recovered from failing to land a big name by making a lot of signings that made sense and improved their team for the better.
Even though the team came under heavy criticism from analysts and fans alike for drafting then 7-foot Latvian prospect Kristaps Porzingis with the 4th pick in this year’s draft, the Knicks made improvements that will allow them to contend for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. It started with raiding the Portland Trailblazers (sensing a theme here?) by signing guard Arron Afflalo (2-year/$16-million) and center Robin Lopez (4-year/$54 million). They also locked up forward Kyle O’Quinn from the Orlando Magic with a 4-year/$16 million that gives the team a young and versatile player that showed flashes of being a solid NBA player for a long time. Even the signing of forward Derrick Williams, an underperforming former 1st overall draft pick, gives the team a 24-year old player that may finally get an opportunity to grow into a solid contributor after languishing away in Minnesota and Sacramento.
Every offseason move improved a team that ranked 30th in points and 29th in rebounding which lead to thembeing the worst team in the NBA. The addition of the front court muscle is a sign that team president Phil Jackson and coach Derrick Fisher are determined to make the Triangle offense work, and it does look reminiscent of the physical front court that helped Jackson’s Bulls win their first three NBA championships (along with that Jordan guy). Of course, all these moves don’t mean anything if Carmelo Anthony can’t stay healthy for the majority of the season. If he can, and the additions of Afflalo and rookie guard Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) pan out, we may see a more vintage Anthony season in 2016.
The Knicks have been a terribly constructed basketball conundrum for a better part of a decade. Even the Carmelo trade was a bit of a head scratcher (trading virtually your whole team for a guy you could have signed as a free agent in upcoming the offseason), but 2015 saw the Knicks make smart moves that actually made basketball sense. I’m not saying these moves get them a championship anytime soon, but don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at lower seed playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (and, yes, I said that twice. Just wanted to reiterate so you know you’re not going insane and you did read that correctly. Twice).
Instead of writing about the losers of free agency, below are my thoughts on moves made by a number of different teams. NBA Free Agency isn’t always black and white, and that is why it’s so fun to analyze!
Teams Locking Up Their Key Free Agents…Was Kind of a Buzzkill
With such a star studded free agency class, we expected a lot of big names to move on to new teams and give us more to talk about heading into the 2015-16 season.
Instead we got teams that locked up their superstars with max deals. In other words, they killed our fun a bit.
It started with the Cleveland Cavs bringing back Kevin Love, something that most analyst wasn’t for sure would happen, after Lebron had a pool side cabana meeting with his favorite power forward (sometimes). Cleveland was the only team that could offer him a max deal and a legitimate run at a title, or titles, in the years to come. Then the inevitable signing of Lebron that occurred just recently to keep him in Cleveland for at least one more season and then many more when he opts out and cashes in on the big money in 2016 and retire a Cavalier.
Then the Grizzles locked up their franchise center Marc Gasol, Chicago signed their young swing man Jimmy Butler, and even Orlando brought back their young forward Tobias Harris though speculation was running rampant that they were not going to match any deal for the restricted free agent.
I agree with Grantland’s Zach Lowe that you can thank the rumored rising of the salary cap to ridiculous heights in the coming seasons for teams being able to lock up their young stars without having to worry about missing out the free agent upcoming sweepstakes. Most of these deals, much like the Aldridge deal, will seem like steals once the money starts getting thrown around the next couple of seasons.
The Sacramento Kings need to give their team psychologist a raise…now
Let’s look over the fact that the Kings can’t decide what direction they want to go in as a franchise, why they fired the only coach DeMarcus Cousins actually got a long with, and how they were shocked that their head coach George Karl (at least for now) wanted to have more control over personnel decisions when it’s common knowledge that is part of the package when you hire him.
I’m overlooking all of that to bring up one point: This team now has DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and Willie Cauley-Stein. If I’m the team psychologist, I’m either asking for a substantial raise or I’m giving my notice effective immediately.
If the Kings are looking to get a reality show picked up by Bravo! then this roster is perfect. Rondo is moody, Willie Cauley-Stein is that hyper kid you wish you didn’t invite to your child’s birthday party, and DeMarcus is…well…DeMarcus. If I’m George Karl, I’m getting out of Sacramento as fast as I can. It’s not like you are going to make it the whole season anyway. You and DeMarcus can’t even slap hands without showing everyone how much you detest each other.
Get HBO on the phone. I think I have their first team for NBA version of Hard Knocks. They can thank me (and pay me) later.
Is DeAndre Jordan a Max Player?
For the record, I don’t blame DeAndre Jordan for changing is mind. We all do it, but unfortunately for him it’s being televised to millions of people and victim of the vicious 24-hour news cycle (read about it here if you just came out from underneath your rock).
The bigger issue is whether or not he is a max player.
Yeti and myself discussed this the other day and both of us agreed that the Mavericks would have regretted signing Jordan. Why? He isn’t a fit. The only aspect of Jordan’s game that would have been a help to Dallas was his defensive skills, but that alone doesn’t make him a max player. Dallas was betting on him to be both a defensive monster and an offensive one.The Mavericks promised him a more active role as an offensive player, but I don’t see him being a guy you can feed in the post and him be successful. Jordan needs to be given the ball in places he can succeed on offense: off pick and rolls, slashing to the rim, ally-oops, or eating up offensive rebounds. He isn’t going to be a one-on-one player that can create his own shot, but he can thrive in a system that he can use his athleticism to play off of talented passers and playmakers. In LA he has two of the best: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Who did he have in Dallas? Raymond Felton. Yep. Glad we are on the same page.
With all that being said, he is a max player for the Clippers. There is no doubt in my mind. Not only is he the defensive pillar for that team, his offensive game fits perfectly with Paul’s and Griffin’s. He is an energy guy that teams have to make sure to put a body on, not for fear of his isolation or mid-range game, but his slashing and crashing ability at the rim.
Unlike in Dallas, his shot blocking and defensive rebounding alone would have been enough for LA to make him a max offer. The Clippers had only one reliable front court player on their roster in Griffin, with only Glen Davis left to take Jordan’s spot they also ran out of options fast in free agency at the center position. Without Jordan at the rim, the Clippers would have been in major trouble on the defensive end with Griffin and Davis manning the paint. Neither are traditional bigs to begin with, but add their lack of defensive skills to the equation, and the Clips would find themselves playing from behind an awful lot next season.
And did I also mention that Glen Davis is just an all-around not good basketball player? Starting Davis is like telling the other team that you are basically playing a man down.
I agree with JJ Reddick that the Clippers would have failed free agency if they didn’t bring Jordan back into the fold. Without Jordan, the Clippers would have floated to the back end of the Western Conference playoff teams and wasted another year of Paul and Griffin being in their prime. With Jordan, and the addition of Lance Stevenson, the Clippers look poised to make a deep playoff run again.
During the whole Jordan Saga , I kept thinking about Amare Stoudemire opting out of his deal with the Phoenix Suns in 2010 and cashing in with the Knicks that summer. Stoudemire’s game was made for the break neck speed of then coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. Stoudemire had a little bit better mid-range game than Jordan, but was more of a slasher and powerful finisher at the rim. Even with D’Antoni now coaching the Knicks at this time, Stoudemire didn’t have a great supporting cast and the lack of a great facilitator (he had Steve Nash in Phoenix) you could see him trying to force his game to change into something he couldn’t achieve: A one-on-one post threat. It got worse when the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony, a guy who had no business being in the D’Antoni’s system. Anthony was a dominate one-on-one player and stopped the fast paced offense with his isolation. To be fair, Stoudemire did get bit by the injury bug, but when the Knicks fired D’Antoni and cut point guard Chauncy Billips, Stoudemire looked lost in the offense. That combination of injury and offensive philosophy change sunk Stoudemire’s career.
I envisioned this happening to Jordan in either Dallas or, coincidentally, in New York, who was chasing him as well. Minus Jordan being a much better defensively, he plays a lot like Stoudemire on the offensive end and is considered one of the best finishers in all the NBA. His change of heart, whether you agree with it or not, will allow Jordan to continue being a great defensive player and slasher in LA, rather then just another mistake on a team’s financial report.