NBA Free Agency 2012: Offseason Deals We Should Have Seen Coming
Hindsight being as perfect as it is, it's always easier to look at NBA free agency moves and brag to anyone who'll listen, "I told you so!," even when the signings seem surprising in the moment.
In some cases, the deals struck truly come out of left field. Perhaps some unforeseen factor comes into play that tips the scales in a way that even a player's closest confidantes can't predict. Some might put LeBron James's jump from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat in this category.
Or, perhaps, place his "decision" at the other end of the spectrum, among those moves the basketball world should've seen coming and that the game's insiders probably did.
Such is the way hindsight affects our perception of a given free agent's choice and how he arrived at it. The same goes for these five stars, all of whom came into the money in ways that seemed rather strange at first but make perfect sense on second thought.
Steve Nash Joins the Rival Lakers
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As ESPN's Marc Stein detailed back in July, not even Steve Nash thought he was going to wind up with the Los Angeles Lakers when free agency started. Sure, he wanted to go to a contender and would've preferred to stay close to his kids in Arizona.
But the Lakers? Those arch rivals of the Phoenix Suns whom he'd battled on so many occasions, most notably in the playoffs? Join forces with Kobe Bryant?
Really. And if you consider Steve's rationale for sticking it out with the Phoenix Suns rather than forcing a trade out of town, it makes all the sense in the world.
That is, Nash didn't want to leave his children behind, not after divorcing his wife and definitely not to play for Eastern Conference also-rans like the New York Knicks and the Toronto Raptors. Nash even made it sound like he'd have been willing to re-sign with the Suns at a discount if they'd so much as offered him a deal.
The Lakers, meanwhile, were in the market for an upgrade at point guard after Ramon Sessions opted out of the final year of his contract...and after watching Sessions stink it up in Purple and Gold during the playoffs. They too struck an ideal balance between location and contention that suited Nash's tastes, even if the prospect meant going to the "Dark Side."
Something about which Nash, a movie buff, was certainly aware.
The news caught Lakerdom by surprise, considering how hard the Knicks and the Raptors had lobbied to get Nash. But now, Nash in a Lakers jersey looks like natural fit.
Ray Allen Takes His Talents to South Beach
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For Ray Allen, the warning signs of his drift to a rival camp were far more plentiful from a much earlier stage.
If only Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski had made the public privy to the details beforehand.
In any case, the writing had been on the wall for some time, and Allen likely had read it more times than he'd care to recount. Between nearly being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies at the deadline, losing his starting job with the Boston Celtics to Avery Bradley and butting heads with Rajon Rondo, Jesus Shuttlesworth had seemingly grown tired of having his needs overlooked time and again, especially after doing so much to bring the C's back to prominence.
The signing of Jason Terry appeared to seal the deal for Ray, though the C's still insisted that they wanted him back for another run at the title.
But after seemingly being so cordial with the Miami Heat at times during the Eastern Conference Finals, is it any wonder that Allen took his talents to South Beach? Chances are he would've wound up as a reserve regardless of which team, between Boston and Miami, he ultimately chose.
As such, why not go for a fresh start with the defending champs rather than try to rekindle the magic with an organization that had subjugated him so many times, even if it was to the benefit of the team?
Also, old people going to south Florida to retire isn't exactly a new phenomenon.
Deron Williams Nets Big Money in Brooklyn
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Deron Williams' story was quite different as he ultimately went for more money to stick with what had previously been a miserable situation. His season-and-a-half in New Jersey saw the Nets stink to the high heavens and wind up with lottery picks, the most recent of which was shipped off to Portland to rent Gerald Wallace for the second half of a meaningless 2011-12 season.
It seemed like a sure thing, then, that D-Will would ditch Mikhail Prokhorov's Tristate play pen to join his hometown Dallas Mavericks, who'd won the NBA title in 2011.
Except the Mavs had essentially taken a mulligan on defending their crown when they let Tyson Chandler walk to the New York Knicks last December. That move only further suggested what Steve Nash's departure did back in 2004—that Dallas doesn't do well in free agency, particularly when it comes to taking care of its own.
Whether that had any bearing on D-Will's decision is anyone's guess at this point, though the Mavs' chances could be seen slipping away once word surfaced that the Nets were after Joe Johnson. At that point, the choice between playing in Big D with an aging Dirk Nowitzki or in a brand-new building with Iso Joe, Crash Wallace and (potentially) Dwight Howard didn't seem so difficult.
And realistically, was Deron really going to turn down that additional $25 million the Nets could offer him, along with all the brand marketing opportunities that'd come with being the star of the shiny, new Barclays Center in Brooklyn?
Maybe, but certainly not easily.
Andrei Kirilenko Throws Himself to the 'Wolves
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The Nets' flurry of free-agent signings and trades to restock their roster left them with almost no financial flexibility with which to lure Andrei Kirilenko back to the NBA.
Yet, the prevailing assumption was that Kirilenko would somehow wind up in Brooklyn anyway because of his ties to Nets owner and Russian countryman Mikhail Prokhorov.
Then, of course, the Minnesota Timberwolves went about shedding salary like it was going out of style, moving Wesley Johnson and Brad Miller's contract after missing out on Nicolas Batum to make room for AK-47. Sure enough, the T'Wolves convinced Kirilenko to sign on the dotted line of a deal reportedly worth $20 million over two years.
Not that Minny's interest should've taken anyone by surprise. GM David Kahn had been on the prowl for an upgrade on the wingb and the addition of Alexey Shved, Kirilenko's former teammate with CSKA Moscow, made the former Utah Jazz swingman a natural fit.
As did the T'Wolves' (shall we say) apparent propensity for employing lighter-skinned players, including Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea, Darko Milicic (before he was cut via the amnesty clause), Greg Stiemsma and now Shved and Kirilenko.
Apparently David Kahn follows the principles of the Larry Bird School of Player Personnel Decisions.
Whether those supposed principles had any bearing on Kirilenko's arrival in the Great White North is irrelevant, at least in comparison to the impact that Shved's arrival, Minny's chase and Brooklyn's lack of cap space likely had.
Jeremy Lin Leaves New York for Houston
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Of course, no discussion of "surprising" free agent moves involving New York teams would be complete without at least mentioning Jeremy Lin.
There's no shortage of reasons to have thought that Lin had played his last game in a Knicks uniform—comments from Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith, New York's apparent refusal to tender him an actual offer before he sought out an offer sheet from the Houston Rockets, his refusal to sign on with CAA, the Knicks' pre-emptive strike to bring Raymond Felton back aboard.
Those factors all made it apparent that Linsanity's days at Madison Square Garden were numbered.
But beneath those developments is one simple notion that seems to underlie everything the Knicks do and have done over the last decade or so—Dolan's Law.
Which is to say, anything that James Dolan can screw up, he will screw up.
Lin's case was no different. The Knicks finally had something special on their hands, a bona fide phenomenon who'd become a fan favorite and given hope to basketball fans in the Big Apple where once there was none.
So, naturally, the Knicks fumbled him away to the Rockets, choosing instead to hand their point guard duties to Felton and Jason Kidd and feign poverty whenever questions about the "poison pill" third year of Lin's deal came up.