NBA Free Agency 2012: Winners and Losers of the First Week of Free Agency
The 2012 NBA Free Agency period is underway, and several franchises wasted no time in drastically changing their fortunes.
Teams like Brooklyn, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston (amongst others) have all been active for better or for worse. Max contracts offers have been tendered, blockbuster trades executed, and picks for far-off drafts swapped several times over.
While the picture is far from complete—restricted free agents can’t sign offer sheets until July 11, after all—there’s no doubt that off-season dealings are a race for the swift.
Here are the teams that have already cemented themselves as winners or losers in just the first week of free agency.
Winners: Los Angeles Lakers
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Like death and taxes, Los Angeles reboots their title hopes by acquiring a star talent every few years, seemingly out of nowhere.
This time, it's Steve Nash's turn to be the rabbit pulled out of a hat.
Thanks to an 11th hour offer of two first-rounders and two second-rounders, Los Angeles has acquired the 38 year-old point guard from the Phoenix Suns, giving them their best floor general since Irvin “Magic” Johnson.
Are there questions about fit? Certainly. Andrew Bynum is too lumbering to be an ideal pick-and-roll center, and Kobe Bryant has never had to share the backcourt with a ball-dominant guard.
But those are just thoughts to help non-Lakers fans sleep nights. Los Angeles is an immensely more dynamic team than it was a week ago, and they are the hands-down winner of the first week of free agency.
They may not be done. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski speculates that a Bynum-for-Howard trade could come soon, whether Dwight agrees to sign an extension, or not.
Losers: Los Angeles Clippers
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The Clippers were swept out of the 2012 playoffs by a San Antonio Spurs team that out-toughed them and out-executed them.
Los Angeles’ remedy? They sign and trade Reggie Evans, their toughest inside presence, to the Brooklyn Nets.
And they lock-up shooting guard Jamal Crawford, who’s never been known for his execution, to a three-year $15.7 million contract on the heels of one of his worst seasons as a pro. (14 points per game, 38.4 percent FG).
In what amounts to an audition year for the Clipper—go far in the playoffs and they’ll likely retail Chris Paul, fail and they could see him walk as a free agent in the 2013 off season—their early transactions feel like death on stage.
Winners: Phoenix Suns
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It seems odd to consider the Suns “winners” in the wake of Steve Nash’s departure.
But the split was best for all parties involved, as it gives Phoenix a chance to build for the future.
And build they have.
On July 4, they signed unrestricted free-agent Goran Dragic to a four-year deal worth $34 million (via ESPN). The 26-year-old point guard set the league on fire in 28 starts for the Rockets last season, averaging 18.0 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals on remarkably efficient shooting (49 percent FG, 37.9 percent 3P).
Dragic is a revelation. Let’s agree on that.
What’s less certain is how their other acquisition, the mercurial Michael Beasley, will work out.
By signing Beasley to a three-year contract worth just $18 million, Phoenix made a reasonable gamble on his upside (via The Arizona Republic). He is just 23, after all, and it’s hard to imagine a better place for him to approach his considerable potential than the Suns up-and-down system.
Losers: Indiana Pacers
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The Pacers’ heralded cap flexibility could be a thing of the past.
Portland has offered Indiana center Roy Hibbert a max contract, which now puts Indiana in the unenviable position of overpaying the 25-year-old big man or watching him leave for nothing.
And, according to a Hoopsworld report, the Pacers have offered combo guard George Hill $40 million over five years—big money considering Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet from Houston for $28.9 over four years and Goran Dragic’s Phoenix Suns contract worth $34 million over four years.
These are big financial obligations to players with questionable star potential.
And while you can’t blame Indiana for keeping their young core intact, they surely went into the off season with loftier expectations than retaining their own talent.
Winners: Atlanta Hawks
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Prior to this week, the Atlanta Hawks occupied the least-enviable position in the NBA: not bad enough to miss the playoffs in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, but not nearly good enough to contend for a title.
The Hawks will now go into the 2013 off season with the cap room to make serious bids for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, provided both or either decline to sign extensions this year.
Losers: Houston Rockets
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In offers to the restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has included “poison pill” provisions—or, contracts that drastically inflate in their final years.
But it’s not clear who’s poisoned in these scenarios—opposing teams or Houston.
The New York Knicks are almost certain to match any offers to Lin, and it’s very possible the Chicago Bulls do the same with Asik. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, the Rockets have let stud point guard Goran Dragic walk. They have traded away their other stud point guard Kyle Lowry and, most perplexingly, considered floating a $32 million offer to steady-but-unremarkable swingman Courtney Lee.
Morey may have a master plan, but in the early goings, Houston’s front office has appeared too clever by half.
Winners: Toronto Raptors
It’s been a roller coaster week for the Toronto Raptors.
The organization began the free agency period with a great chance of nabbing Steve Nash. They then learned they’d lost him to the Lakers, before finally, on July 5, trading a protected first-rounder to the Houston Rockets for point guard Kyle Lowry (via ESPN).
Is Lowry the Canadian folk hero they’d originally hoped for?
But he’s a tough young playmaker on a great contract ($5.7 and $6.2 million the next two seasons) who gives Toronto the flexibility to trade Jose Calderon, or to simply amnesty him.
And all they had to give up was a lottery pick in what projects to be one of the worst drafts in recent history.
Losers: Dallas Mavericks
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A year ago, the Dallas Mavericks decided to forgo an honest-to-goodness title defense by letting restricted free agents Tyson Chandler and Jose Juan Barea sign elsewhere in the 2011 off season.
The idea was to clear cap space to sign Deron Williams, Dwight Howard (or both) in 2012. But D-Will has agreed to a max contract with the Brooklyn Nets, and Howard is fixated on joining him there.
So there you have it. Two seasons of Dirk. Poof. Up in smoke.
You can’t blame Mavs owner Mark Cuban for trying to hit a home run, but the first week of free agency, he has sown the seeds of catastrophe for an aging Dallas team.
Winners: Brooklyn Nets
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The skeptics say that a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace will never be enough to get past Miami’s Big Three, or even a healthy Chicago Bulls team.
They’re also quick to note that Joe Johnson has perhaps the worst contract in the Association, and that it was a classic Billy King move to acquire him.
But they are missing the forest for the trees.
Losing Williams the summer before the new ownership moved the team into a brand new stadium in a new market, sporting a new logo and outlook, would have been unacceptable.
So, instead of taking a few more turns on the Dwight Howard carousel, they grabbed talent as though money were no object—for Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov, it isn’t—and convinced D-Will that they were in it to win it.
And, contrary to earlier reports, Howard is still an option.
Because Bosnian sharpshooter Mirza Teletovic agreed to a deal for the taxpayer mid-level exception (just over $3 million per year), the Nets can now exceed the salary cap apron ($74 million) in a trade for the Orlando Magic center.
At worst, the Nets will arrive in Brooklyn with a high-seeded playoff team.
At best, they'll have a legitimate contender.