The NBA offseason is winding down, putting an end to one hell of a summer. Fans saw another great free-agent class go through the motions, with some cheering and others ending up in tears.
When the dust started to settle there, we had some great Olympic basketball while one of the biggest trades in league history was finalized. All in all, this summer was one for the ages.
Yet, what can we as fans take away from this year's offseason?
Sure, free agency may seem like numbers and years concerning certain players and teams, but as LeBron James going to Miami over New York or Chicago showed us, there are no guarantees. Similarly, trade rumors should never be counted out, since something can happen just when one thinks all hope is lost.
Long story short, this NBA offseason served not only as a means for passionate NBA fans to get a feel for what may happen next season, but also as a learning experience for all.
For the first time in what seems like years, this summer was more than just fans getting their fix of offseason drama.
Rule No. 1 of free agency in any sport: NEVER count out the possibility of a mystery team.
Just because a team doesn't appear to be interested in a player doesn't mean that it isn't secretly crunching some numbers in order to make an offer before the final buzzer.
Such was the case with the Los Angeles Lakers, who ended up signing future Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash to a three-year, $27 million deal.
As Nash's free-agency saga developed, it appeared as though the Toronto Raptors would be the front-runners for his services, with teams like the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks also in the mix.
Yet, just as LeBron James shocked the world with his decision to go to Miami, so did the high-payroll Lakers when they announced this sign-and-trade deal that only saw them lose draft picks.
In an instant, the Lakers had their first true point guard since Nick Van Exel.
And all the while, it seemed as though the heavy contracts of Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol would keep the team from having a productive free-agent season.
Instead, GM Mitch Kupchak made the numbers fall into the right place, and he is now a definite contender for Executive of the Year.
For most of last season and this offseason, the Dwight Howard trade rumors appeared headed towards one destiny: becoming the greatest trade that never was.
Despite interest from teams like the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, it appeared that the demands of the Orlando Magic were too high and that Howard would simply play out the remaining year on his contract and then find a new team next summer.
However, just when it appeared that trade talks were dead, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak showed that he still had some of his magic left in the proverbial tank.
In a four-team deal that also included the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, Howard was traded to Los Angeles. The Lakers made out like bandits, only losing center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia and a draft pick to Orlando.
This trade was easily the defining moment of the NBA offseason, and if the Lakers are able to win a title with their new core group, it could very well go down as the best deal in league history.
As we all recall from last season, New York Knicks fans were stricken with an acute condition known as Linsanity for a short amount of time.
Point guard and Harvard grad Jeremy Lin took the city by storm, helping the slumping team get on a seven-game winning streak and ultimately playing a large role in them inching into the postseason.
Once the season ended, he hit restricted free agency and received his early Bird rights, which would have let the Knicks go over the salary cap to re-sign him.
At that point, Knicks fans expected that Lin would return even though he had agreed to a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet with the Houston Rockets. Team management announced their intentions to match the offer, and even Knicks coach Mike Woodson said that Lin would be back for the 2012-2013 season.
But the Knicks never matched Houston's offer, and thus, Lin is now a member of the Rockets. It just goes to show you that no matter how much money there is to be made with a certain player, simple "guarantees" mean nothing.
Under the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, there are stiffer rules regarding teams that are over the salary cap.
For example, say a team is $5 million over. They now have to pay $1.50 for every dollar they are over the cap. The CBA also has higher penalties for higher amounts over the cap, as well as "repeat offender" clauses for teams that are over the cap for consecutive years.
One team in danger of having to write one of these big checks is the Miami Heat, whose payroll for the upcoming season stands at $82 million, well over the $58 million cap. That said, one would think that GM Pat Riley would shy away from signing players to lucrative contracts now that his Big Three have won a championship ring.
However, the impending penalties do not seem to faze Riley. This summer, he signed aging shooter Ray Allen to a three-year, $9.2 million deal and underachiever Rashard Lewis to a two-year deal.
Perhaps this is Miami's way of saying, "New CBA be damned. One ring just isn't enough!"
As players get older, their skills usually start to desert them. Thus, even though they may want to keep playing while on the decline, their overall financial value decreases along with their ability to contribute.
They may have roster spots, but they aren't exactly making big money compared to younger superstars.
However, this offseason proved that some GMs don't really care about age. Take Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, for example. The man hasn't played a full 82-game season since 2005, and ever since he was traded to Boston, he has struggled to stay healthy and keep his overall numbers up.
As he entered free agency this summer, it was unclear as to whether or not the veteran forward would stay with the Celtics, who needed to get younger.
In the end, he re-signed for $34 million over three years. That's a lot of money for someone whose time on the trainer's table has grown in recent years.
Similarly, the New York Knicks signed oft-injured 38-year-old center Marcus Camby to a three-year deal worth $13.2 million. Both players are still talented enough to be meaningful contributors on an NBA team, but the money in their respective deals says it all.
Age is just a number, and if you can produce, you get paid.