NBA Free Agency 2012: Biggest Downgrades of NBA Offseason
Most teams use the summer as an opportunity to upgrade their respective rosters by any means necessary.
When trade assets are in short supply and in-house talent is lacking, the free-agent market becomes a prime opportunity to fill in some gaps or otherwise upgrade positions of need. With a little bit of cap space or a mid-level exception in hand, an improved rotation is just a signature away.
Well, that's the theory at least.
In practice, some organizations rely on free agency just to maintain the status quo.
Others even regress.
While the New York Knicks ponder whether to match the offer sheet the Houston Rockets extended to Jeremy Lin, we may be witnessing a team forced to regress by virtue of long-term budgetary fears. Even when franchises seemingly do find money growing on trees, there are no guarantees.
It's far too soon to make any final judgements about this offseason's winners and losers, but at the rate they're going, here are five clubs who look to be taking a step backward.
Knicks Possibly Losing Jeremy Lin, Adding Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd
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It's not yet official, but it's looking more and more like the New York Knicks will pass on matching the offer sheet the Houston Rockets offered to rising star Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets offered the point guard a heavily back-loaded deal that would cost New York over $15 million in its third year. While Lin would be worth every dollar from a financial perspective, his impact on New York's cap flexibility and cost in luxury taxes may make a deal too difficult to stomach.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have agreed to a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Portland Trail Blazers that will bring point guard Raymond Felton back to the team where he last played his best basketball.
There's certainly reason to believe Felton will improve upon his lackluster campaign with Portland in which he shot just a hair under 41 percent.
But that doesn't mean he'll replace Lin in any meaningful sense, and there's no chance he'll bring the same measure of upside to the table.
Even with 39-year-old Jason Kidd helping out, the Knicks won't be the same. Kidd showed marked signs of decline last season with the Dallas Mavericks, and he's best-suited to play the remainder of his career out as a limited role player.
If Lin indeed becomes a Houston Rocket, New York could take a significant hit in the backcourt.
76ers Losing Lou Williams, Adding Nick Young
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Lou Williams may not be a star, but he was a vital piece of the Philadelphia 76ers' breakout season. The organization may have good long-term reasons for letting the Atlanta Hawks snatch him away, but that won't ease the pain in the short term.
No, not even Nick Young will ease that pain.
The 76ers signed Young to a one-year deal in the hope that he'd replace Williams' scoring ability, and they're not entirely wrong for doing so. Young is a more affordable option and can do a few things Williams can't.
Namely, he's a bigger body who can better match up against shooting guards, and he has the potential to be a much better three-point shooter if he can iron out some consistency issues.
Still, he's not as adept at creating his own shot, drawing fouls or creating plays for others. He's more of a role player than a spark plug, at least for now.
Magic Losing Ryan Anderson, Adding Gustavo Ayon
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It's not as if this particular downgrade was an accident.
New Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has undertaken a massive rebuilding project in anticipation of Dwight Howard's exit. Shelling out big bucks to a spread-4 in his prime just didn't make a whole lot of sense, especially without knowing how that kind of specialty player will fit into a remodeled roster.
Accordingly, the Magic agreed to send Ryan Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for still-raw big man Gustavo Ayon.
Ayon isn't equal value, nor is he meant to be.
The Magic just wanted to get something rather than nothing for their trouble, so this is an acceptable sacrifice.
Rockets Losing Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, Possibly Adding Jeremy Lin
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How could the possible addition of Jeremy Lin be a downgrade?
When it's offset by the loss of two very good point guards.
Backup Goran Dragic is heading back to the Phoenix Suns to usher in the post-Steve Nash era, and disaffected starter Kyle Lowry is heading to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Gary Forbes and a pretty valuable first-round draft pick.
Lowry wasn't even a free agent, but nor was he happy in Houston.
Some will hyperbolically maintain that Lin is an improvement nonetheless. After all, it's a bit tricky to play two point guards at the same time.
But consider this.
Dragic averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 28 games as a starter. Those numbers are almost identical to Lin's marks over the course of the 25 games he started. Dragic even has a slight edge in assists and turned the ball over significantly less.
Meanwhile, Lowry has just two more years totaling about $12 million left on his deal, while Lin's offer sheet binds Houston to a three-year, $25 million contract.
Yes, even Jeremy Lin can be a downgrade.
Clippers Losing Mo Williams and Nick Young, Adding Jamal Crawford
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Sure, a healthy Chauncey Billups will sort of be like a new addition to the roster, but no one knows how meaningful an addition it will be after the 35-year-old spent most of the season recovering from a torn Achilles.
That leaves free-agent signee Jamal Crawford as the only sure thing to replace the combined production of Mo Williams and Nick Young. Crawford's numbers are similar to Williams', except when you take efficiency into account.
Williams' shooting percentages were far better both in general and from behind the arc. Even the streaky Nick Young shot better than Crawford did last year.
Though Crawford has better size than Williams and is ostensibly more equipped to match up with shooting guards, he's a well-below-average defender—and a 32-year-old one at that.
Eric Bledsoe's emergence should help offset the loss of Williams. With Chris Paul playing the lion's share of minutes at the point, it wasn't all that easy to find minutes for Mo without resorting to a super small backcourt anyway.
But unless Crawford has a bounce-back year, he won't represent an upgrade over Williams and Young counted together.