The NBA free-agency period is a chance for teams to improve by acquiring those missing pieces in the ever-constant effort to reach the promised land.
While no team goes into free agency looking to get worse, not every team can improve. Some teams will lose out on players, others will overpay for their acquired talent, and some will take risks that just don't work out.
The 2012 NBA free-agency period has been a big one so far, and while there have been many winners (the Los Angeles Lakers signing Steve Nash, the Brooklyn Nets re-signing Deron Williams), there have certainly been a handful of losers.
Let's check out some NBA teams who have taken a step back in free agency.
You can't blame the Magic squarely for this one. They were going to lose out on forward Ryan Anderson one way or another, and they got back what they could in a sign-and-trade. They agreed to sign-and-trade Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for forward/center Gustavo Ayon.
If you're going to lose a talented player (and Anderson is a talented player, averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last season) then it's better to get something rather than nothing. Credit the Orlando front office for managing to get a young prospect in Ayon for a guy who was ready to leave anyway.
That said, the Magic certainly did take a step back. Ayon has solid potential, but he's not Anderson, and he might never be. He averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in his rookie year last season for the Hornets.
Sometimes, even the smart move makes you a little bit worse.
The Toronto Raptors are an example of how making a move to improve can still make you worse.
First, they missed out on Steve Nash, who they very publicly courted but failed to sign. Maybe the signing of Landry Fields was a knee-jerk reaction, but the three-year, $20 million contract they signed Fields to has been called the worst contract signed this season.
Fields is a role player off the bench at best—he proved that last season in New York. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds.
The Raptors did make a great trade with the Houston Rockets, bringing in point guard Kyle Lowry for a lottery-protected 2013 first-round selection. Lowry is, when healthy, a top-10 point guard in the league, and if Toronto can keep him happy he could be a fantastic addition. But the Lowry trade doesn't count as a free-agent acquisition.
The Mavericks aren't worse than they were last year—in fact, they might be better. But they're worse than they were in 2011 because they took a gamble in free agency that didn't pay off.
Dallas took a risk in 2011, deciding to swing for the fences rather than play it safe. The Mavericks let center Tyson Chandler, a huge part of their title run, leave and sign with the New York Knicks to conserve cap space for the 2012 free agency run. Speculation bloomed that they were hoping to sign both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams.
Of course, Howard remains in Orlando and Williams remains in Brooklyn. While the Mavericks did sign O.J. Mayo, he's a poor consolidation prize after sacrificing a potential title contender to go after Dwight and/or Deron. Mayo is a decent pickup, no doubt, but not much more than decent.
They also signed Chris Kaman to a one-year deal, which was a solid move.
Truth be told, their best move was a sign-and-trade with Indiana that swapped backup center Ian Mahinmi for Darren Collison.The Collison acquisition was a very smart move and helps ease the disappointment of missing out on Williams... a little bit, at least.
The Mavericks didn't take a HUGE step back—heck, a starting five of Collison, Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Kaman might be stronger than last year—but their title window is officially closed.
In what has become the most discussed free-agent decision since LeBron James' "The Decision," the New York Knicks let restricted guard Jeremy Lin leave for Houston. They'd already signed replacements—they agreed to a deal with in Jason Kidd and completed a sign-and-trade for Raymond Felton.
You can make the argument that it was the right fiscal decision for the Knicks (their luxury tax fee in three years could have been as high as $40 million, according to reports), but in terms of talent, they took a step back. Lin is a better player than Felton and Kidd combined at this point.
Lin averaged 18.2 points and 7.7 assists on 44.5 percent shooting as a starter for the Knicks, while Felton really struggled for the Trail Blazers last year, averaging 11.4 points and 6.5 assists on 40.7 percent shooting. The good news for Knicks fans is Felton's best year came two years ago as a Knick, when he averaged 17.1 points and 9.0 assists, but that was in the Mike D'Antoni era of fast-break basketball, and new coach Mike Woodson favors a much different style.
Fiscally, it could be argued the Knicks needed to let Lin go. But Felton is not a better player than Lin, and thus the Knicks took a step back.
Of course, Kidd already got the Knicks' new point guards off to a horrid start when he was arrested for a DWI on July 15th. Quite a way to start.