The team-building process is in the NBA is an enterprise both incredibly delicate and terribly precise. It requires careful planning, diligence and patience above all—not to mention raw luck and the power of persuasion.
Teams build toward intermediate goal after intermediate goal, until finally the pieces fit just so. Very rarely does a core of a team appear overnight, and though the "Big Threes" in Boston and Miami would seem to have been conjured by a move or three, one was the product of stockpiling young assets while the other was a master class in clearing cap space.
It's all a process, and after looking up and down what has become of a once-promising free-agent class, I can't help but feel that the 2012 crop might only be an intermediate stage in the long game of so many teams.
There are obviously some good players to be had in 2012, with Deron Williams being the best among them. But what lies beyond Williams are dozens of consolation prizes, and teams with sustainable cap room may be better off standing pat.
Consider, for a moment, the players that will be on the market by next July.
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Chris Paul
- Dwight Howard
- Andrew Bynum
- Josh Smith
- Manu Ginobili
- Monta Ellis (ETO)
- Kevin Martin
- David West
- Jose Calderon
- Dorrell Wright
- Tony Allen
- J.J. Redick
Restricted Free Agents
- James Harden*
- Stephen Curry*
- Serge Ibaka*
- Taj Gibson
- Tyreke Evans
- Darren Collison
*Barring the possibility of a contract extension, for which Harden, Ibaka and Curry seem likely.
That may not be a legendary free-agent class, but the possibility that Paul, Howard and Bynum could all be had should lend even the most trigger-happy executive some incredible patience.
Plus, next summer's consolation crop is much richer than the 2012 class. Goran Dragic is a nice get, but he's not quite on the level of a Ginobili or a Smith, to say the least.
And so it should be for almost every team that has time to spare and cap space at their disposal. It can be tricky in some cases to prolong the life of that cap space against the gradual increases of NBA contracts, but those in a position to do so—and those with staggered expiring deals—would be wise to.
The Williams sweepstakes increasingly looks to be a two-team race, and though the temptation to spend and improve immediately can be powerful, it's also a terribly convenient way for teams to spend their way into trouble and needlessly sacrifice the chance to make a run at a far superior player.
The draft class of 2013 may not hold any more certainty, but looking forward does extend the shelf life of hope and could help save certain front offices from themselves.