Ranking the Biggest Spenders During the 2012 NBA Free Agent Frenzy

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2012

Ranking the Biggest Spenders During the 2012 NBA Free Agent Frenzy

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    In the NBA, money talks.

    And rightfully so, since the Association is a business. Cash buys talent; talent earns victories; victories entice fans; fans generate revenue.

    That's why the NBA offseason is so important. Meaningful basketball isn't being played, but the immediate futures of teams—in all aspects—are being determined; the free-agency period is all about maximizing the potential of a franchise's product.

    But does frivolous, borderline excessive spending guarantee success, or does it simply perpetuate the stigma that championships cannot be bought?

    Because while some teams opt to throw money at any household name they encounter, others are more reserved in their spending, instead emphasizing the existence of continuity, stability and, in some cases, empty pockets.

    But which philosophy, which methodology is king? Is it the penny-pinchers, moderate spenders or perpetual check-writers who are getting it right?

    All one needs to do is take a look a this summer's finances and the resulting product to find out.


    *Note: Offseason financial figures will not reflect drafted rookie contracts, extensions or amnesty-wire pickups and will take into account projected cash commitment over the entirety of player deals.

30. Detroit Pistons

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $6.65 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 3

    The Pistons were anything but busy in free agency.

    Detroit recently picked up backup point guard Jonny Flynn, who is easily the team's most noteworthy acquisition. Big man Vyacheslav Kravtsov has also drawn some praise, as he deepens a Pistons interior attack that is laden with uncertainty.

    Neither acquisition screams game-changer, though, as is the case with most teams who are tightly wrapped within the confines of the league's salary cap.

    And subsequently, even with the star potential of Andre Drummond in tow, Detroit is seemingly headed anywhere but to the postseason in 2013.

29. Washington Wizards

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $7.17 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 7

    The Wizards latched onto a handful of odds and ends this past summer and nothing else.

    Washington's most notable signing came in the form of Martell Webster, someone who the team hopes will emerge as an additional threat on the perimeter. He was also the most expensive free agent the Wizards landed, signing a one-year deal worth a whopping $1.6 million.

    While such numbers are indicative of an extremely low-key free-agency period, the fact is, Washington didn't have money to spend.

    Even still, the Wizards spent less money this offseason than a midlevel talent like Ariza is slated to make next year.

    And for a basement team that hopes to clinch a playoff berth in 2013, that's not exactly reassuring.

28. Utah Jazz

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $8.47 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 3

    Next summer, the Jazz will have plenty of money to burn, but it was a different story this offseason.

    Utah made quite a splash through trades, acquiring both Marvin and Mo Williams, but the franchise remained relatively idle on the free-agent market.

    Randy Foye was a solid pickup for a team in sore need of an added punch in the backcourt, and even Jeremy Evans' presence on the wing is deserving of a hat tip.

    But that was pretty much it, aside from center Brian Butch. Utah spent less than $9 million on three contracts, which combined have five years of salary obligations.

    And that, right there, is the definition of bargain bin shopping.


27. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $9.12 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 5

    Unless your name was Serge Ibaka, the Thunder didn't have much money to spend this summer.

    That said, without even coming close to breaking the bank, Oklahoma City added numerous athletes with the potential to make some kind of impact when called upon, including guard Andy Rautins and forward Hasheem Thabeet.

    Luckily for the Thunder, in their case, less really was more this offseason, as every dollar spent directly affects their decision surrounding restricted-free-agent-to-be James Harden.

    So, for a multitude of reasons, both financial- and basketball-related, forgoing the temptation to make any sort of major spending splash was a smart one for general manager Sam Presti and company.

    And there's always the age-old philosophy that dictates if it's already a title contender, don't tinker too much with it. Or something like that.

26. Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $14.33 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    It's not easy being a member of the Bobcats, unless you're partial to losing.

    Coming off an abysmal 2011-12 campaign that saw Charlotte set the record for the worst winning percentage in NBA history, one would like to believe the team was in position to make some drastic improvements.

    But it wasn't. The Bobcats issued six contracts, the most notable of which was handcrafted for Ramon Sessions, paying him $10 of the $14 million Michael Jordan and company invested this summer.

    And while it's acceptable for a team like Oklahoma City to spend next to nothing in free agency, it's a different story in Charlotte.

    Ample amount of cap space or not, this team is no closer to climbing out of the NBA's basement. Not for a long time.

25. Chicago Bulls

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $14.66 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    In the midst of Derrick Rose's injury, no one would have blamed the Bulls for finding a way to spend a pile of money in free agency to help ease the pain.

    But they didn't; they showed restraint. So much restraint, in fact, that I almost resent their lack of urgency.

    Chicago didn't have much money to spend in the first place, but making a play for a more capable and proven floor general would have made much more sense than targeting Kirk Hinrich. After all, for the money the Bulls spent on him, they could have had Raymond Felton. I'm just saying.

    I won't go as far as to say Chicago is doomed this season, but remember, you get what you pay for.

    And the Bulls didn't pay for a whole lot.

24. Miami Heat

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $16.10 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    Miami had almost no money spare in free agency, but as it turns out, that was more than enough.

    Every one of the Heat's new faces entered the fold for next to nothing, including Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. I mean, we're talking about two former All-Stars, fully capable of making a significant impact, whose services cost Miami less than $12 million for a combined five years.

    That's the type of effect a championship ring can have, though. LeBron James and company took home the hardware last year, and now, every player hungry for a title will look their way, even if it means taking a pay cut.

    And that's just plain scary for every team outside of South Beach.

23. Golden State Warriors

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $18.15 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 4

    Golden State did a lot this offseason with very little cash to dispose of.

    Carl Landry and Brandon Rush aren't what you would call star-caliber players, but Rush excelled in his short time with the Warriors, and Landry is a perpetual workhorse.
    Most importantly, though, they were both signed to deals that pay them just $4 million annually, a bargain compared to what some lesser athletes earn. So what if Golden State's roster reads like a who's who of the NBA's most injury-prone players. And maybe it doesn't even have a chance at making the postseason in 2013.
    Despite all that, the Warriors should be proud of and take solace in knowing they were able to take home two athletes who cost next to nothing but instantly make the team a more formidable opponent.
    Not bad for a roster plagued with financial deadweight such as Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. 

22. Dallas Mavericks

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $19.54 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    Is your double-take over with?

    It takes some time to take it all in, and once you do, it's still difficult to understand. 

    The Mavericks, a team known to spend, a team owned by eccentric billionaire Mark Cuban, spent less than $20 million this offseason.

    And yet, somehow, Dallas still managed to improve—drastically.

    Yes, Elton Brand came off the amnesty wire, but Chris Kaman and Brand were snagged via free agency for much less than they're actually worth. In fact, Kaman, who is set to earn $8 million this season, is the Mavericks' most expensive investment of the offseason.

    For a team like this, with their rich financial history, that's absolutely mind-blowing.

    So, while nothing could have made Dallas completely forget about being spurned by Deron Williams, obtaining numerous specimens of top-tier talent at a fraction of the cost is as close as it gets. 

21. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $19.86 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 5

    The Cavaliers had plenty of money to spend this summer, but at the rate they spent it, it's clear Dan Gilbert and company must have invested (and subsequently lost) most of it in an anti-LeBron James venture.

    I mean, there's no other excuse for not surrounding Kyrie Irving with better talent than Alonzo Gee—who, at about $3.3 million annually, was Cleveland's most expensive catch—right?

    Well whatever the reason, despite having more than $10 million annually to burn through, the Cavaliers ultimately decided inking a handful of inexpensive, under-equipped, marginal role players was best.

    To answer your question, yes, I disagree too.

20. Atlanta Hawks

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $25.13 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 5

    The Hawks spent next to nothing in free agency this summer, which was a fantastic move as they gear up for the frenzy that awaits them and the rest of the NBA in 2013.

    Most notable, though, was Atlanta's ability to replace a nine-figure player with a seven-figure one. After dealing Joe Johnson to the Nets, the Hawks landed Louis Williams, who is essentially a shorter version of Johnson with better court vision.

    And he cost them just under $16 million over the next three years. Johnson was still owed about about six times that.

    Enough said.

19. Orlando Magic

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $29.70 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 3

    Just like the Magic failed to receive an adequate return for the services of Dwight Howard, they failed in free agency as well.

    And it's not so much what Orlando spent, but who it was spent on. The team re-upped point guard Jameer Nelson, who is fresh off his worst season since his rookie year, for three years at a going rate of more than $25 million.

    I understand the desire for continuity in the locker room, but Nelson would not have fetched that type of money on the open market. Not at all.

    In reality, this total should be somewhere near the $15 million to $17 million mark.

    Yet the Magic continue to overspend and overpay, which is ironic, because it is those same flaws that got them into trouble before, forced them to put a mediocre product on the floor year after year and ultimately led to Howard's departure.

    You'd think they would have learned by now. But I guess not. 

18. Memphis Grizzlies

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $30.84 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 8

    Despite letting O.J. Mayo walk, the Grizzlies managed to invest more than $30 million over the next four years.

    Yet after reviewing their docket of transactions, that seems like a bargain.

    Memphis inked three starting-caliber players in Darrell Arthur, Jerryd Bayless and Marreese Speights to come off its bench, investing no more than $4.5 million annually in any of them.

    In other words, with little to no cap flexibility, the Grizzlies were not only able to preserve their depth, but increase it.

    The financial minds of the NBA world refer to that as "winning on a budget."  

17. Toronto Raptors

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $31.59 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 8

    If it weren't for the play Toronto made on Landry Fields in an attempt to block New York's pursuit of Steve Nash, the Raptors would have spent next to nothing in free agency.

    Of the nearly $32 million Toronto is now obligated to pay eight different players over the next three years, Fields accounts for roughly $19 million of it.

    Confused? I don't blame you. Because for all the talk about how much the Raptors improved, their free-agency execution was unimpressive.

    That said, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas are the most promising pieces to the Raptors puzzle, all of whom were acquired via a draft selection or trade.

    Toronto's free agents? They're just fillers, one of which was incredibly expensive. 

16. Philadelphia 76ers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $32.40 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    The Sixers spent a modest amount of money during free agency for a modest amount of talent.

    Nick Young can be a scoring powerhouse, Spencer Hawes has his two-way upside, and Lavoy Allen seems to have promise, but no one on Philadelphia's free-agency docket screams game-changer.

    To be fair, though, neither does the $32 million the Sixers are spending over the next two years.

    The fact is, a spending spree wasn't a necessity for Philly. There were plenty of odds and ends to piece together to begin with, and Andrew Bynum only adds to the confusion. A free-agency binge would have only complicated things further.

    For the Sixers, the time to drop some serious cash come next summer, when it will cost them more than double what they spent this offseason just to retain Bynum.

15. Los Angeles Clippers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $37.17 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 7

    The Clippers paid Jamal Crawford far too much money, yet overall they managed to substantially deepen their rotation without emptying Donald Sterling's bank account.

    Crawford's four-year contract will be tough to swallow, but Los Angeles snagged a handful of bargains in Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes and Willie Green. Even Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf's deals are cause for some excitement.
    And while the Clippers aren't equipped enough to win a championship, this offseason did give them something to play for during the 2012-13 campaign, rendering their free-agency endeavors a success.
    For the most part.

14. Sacramento Kings

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $39.10 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    The Kings committed just under $40 million to a total of six different players over the next five years this summer and managed to not get any better.

    Not only is Aaron Brooks' presence counterproductive—see: Jimmer Fredette's development—but why the Kings felt it pertinent to invest $6 million annually in a backup-caliber center like Jason Thompson is beyond me.

    Simply put, when you're as consistently bad as the Kings have been, the roster at least comes relatively cheap; perennial lottery teams tend to be the organizations not willing to spend absorbent amounts of cash.

    But not Sacramento. This is a franchise with a penchant for throwing money away, and apparently nothing has changed, which the Kings made clear with their biggest signings.

13. Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $42.41 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 8

    When you look at the deafening talent the Lakers assembled, you'd think they spent far more than $42 million.

    But then again, this is Mitch Kupchak and company we're talking about; Los Angeles has become extremely adept at ridding itself of unwanted contracts and landing the players the organization covets most at a reasonable price.

    The Lakers signed impact players Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Steve Nash for less than a combined $16 million next season. That's just incredible considering two of those players—Jamison and Nash—were making nearly $30 million combined last season.

    You see? Not everything in Hollywood comes as overpriced as Metta World Peace.

    So, here's to a larger-than-life market redefining its team structure on a budget.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $42.58 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 3

    That's right, even Milwaukee spent more money in free agency than Dallas.

    To be fair, the bulk of the Bucks' investment came in the form of Ersan Ilyasova, to whom they committed $40 million over the next five years. But there's no denying that that's a large chunk of change for a small-market team.
    Milwaukee must grow accustomed to spending a significant amount of money, though, as there's a very real possibility the team will be tasked with attempting to re-sign both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings next summer.
    So consider this spending spree a warmup for a potential rainfall of funds in 2013.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $47.59 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    Minnesota took plenty of gambles in free agency this summer.

    Not only did the Timberwolves sign six new players, but $30.4 million of what they invested was poured into the contracts of Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy, two athletes who haven't seen NBA action in over a year.

    And when you're investing that type of money in two players, you're looking for durable, regular-season-tested, playoff-approved athletes. Kirilenko and Roy are anything but durable, and though they've each had their stints in the playoffs, neither has repeatedly tasted postseason success.

    If I'm the Timberwolves, regardless of how much faith Kevin Love has in this roster, I'm in need of more bang for my $30 million than Kirilenko and Roy will ultimately provide.

10. San Antonio Spurs

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $54.10 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    San Antonio essentially dropped 54 million bones just to keep its roster intact, which is slightly unimpressive, yet shockingly admirable at the same time.

    Though you would have liked to see the Spurs make a serious play for some prolific and youthful exuberance, Patty Mills will have to do for now.
    Retaining Tim Duncan was a necessity. Even at 36, he remains one of the most consistently efficient big men in the game. Holding onto Danny Green, especially at under $4 million annually, was a savvy move as well.
    And yet, something still seems to be missing; something continues to separate the Spurs from the rest of the league's title contenders. But you know what? That's been the case for the past two years, and look how many doubters have been proven wrong.
    So, taking history into account, let's just assume this was the most logical $54 million spent all summer.

9. Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $57.70 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 7

    Had Portland been able to lock down Nicolas Batum before the end of the extension period last season, this number would be significantly lower.

    By doing so, the Blazers would have saved not only a pile of money, but a headache as well.

    Right now, even with a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland is a thin team. Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard stand to make an impact, but not a guaranteed one. Batum's progression is anything but guaranteed as well.

    No, instead, the Blazers spent nearly $50 million over the next four years on both Batum and J.J. Hickson.

    And that's an absurd amount of cash to spend on two players from whom you hardly know what to expect.

8. Phoenix Suns

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $59.10 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    We all know that there are people who tend to drown their sorrows—specifically romantically related sorrows—in binge eating. Well, apparently it works the same way in the NBA. Steve Nash spurned the Suns, and they responded by going on a spending spree.

    Seems logical, right?
    In this case, yes it does. Phoenix seemingly made a series of moves that ensures it will remain stagnant in its progression from last season. Lo and behold, after losing a player like Nash, that's actually an accomplishment.
    We're always skeptical when a struggling team opts to throw massive amounts of money at its problems without any of that cash landing a bona fide superstar, but the Suns are onto something here.
    Goran Dragic is a stud, and on a team where there are almost no expectations burdening him, Michael Beasley may just reach his potential yet.
    Though I hardly support investing over $3 million annually in Shannon Brown, Phoenix's free-agency binge can only be described as gutsy.
    And that's fitting, because after dealing Nash to the Lakers, it was gut-check time for the Suns.

7. Houston Rockets

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $59.37 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 6

    I know what you're thinking: What was Houston thinking?

    The Rockets committed nearly $60 million to a string of unproven and underwhelming talent, more than $50 million of which is owed to Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.

    The fact of the matter is, Houston was too quick to empty its pockets this offseason. Not one of their free-agency endeavors indicate this team is headed in the right direction, or any direction at all for that matter.
    And yet here we are, looking at a surefire lottery team that spent nearly twice as much this summer as a playoff contender like Philadelphia.
    Crazy, right?

6. New York Knicks

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $61.16 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 14

    It just wouldn't feel like a proper offseason if the Knicks didn't spend as much as they possibly could.

    Despite being one of the teams that was supposed to be severely restricted when it came to the free-agency frenzy, New York wound up committing more than $64 million to an array of players over the next four years.

    Should we commend the Knicks for their financial maneuvering? To an extent, perhaps, but keep in mind that not one of their signings is guaranteed to boost their status. 

    As per usual, New York's spending spree bought it more question marks than most teams could stomach.

    Alas, some things never change.

5. Denver Nuggets

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $63.88 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 3

    The Nuggets were relatively inactive during free agency...in an expensive kind of way.

    Denver certainly threw the basketball sphere for a loop when it acquired Andre Iguodala from the Sixers, but in terms of free agency, it was a matter of maintaining and fine-tuning the roster.

    Both JaVale McGee, who earned himself a nice payday, and the ever-underrated Andre Miller agreed to return to the Nuggets, while the team also landed additional versatility in Anthony Randolph.

    Though the signings are easy to justify and accept, the Nuggets are a notoriously cash-conscious team, so it was slightly surprising to see them commit nearly $64 million over the next four years to three players.

    But then again, times are a-changing for the Nuggets. At least, that's what their recent spending spree would indicate.

4. New Orleans Hornets

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $108.95 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 4

    All I can say is, "Wow."

    Seemingly overnight, the Hornets went from a franchise in flux to a future powerhouse. And they have the receipts to prove it.
    New Orleans committed nearly $110 million over the next four years to four different athletes, and that's not including the money they'll invest in draft pick Anthony Davis.
    If you would have told me that the Hornets would go from being spurned by Chris Paul to going on a nine-figure shopping spree in a matter of months, I would have laughed and then promptly slapped you.
    But I'm not laughing now. New Orleans proved it means business, investing over $90 million in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon alone for the next four years. That's no joke.
    And a quick look at the roster will show that the Hornets aren't, either.

3. Indiana Pacers

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $130.198 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 10

    Just for the record, I'm not OK with this. And you shouldn't be either.

    I'm all for spending what it takes to build a contender, but more than $130 million later, the Pacers still aren't contenders.

    D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green were bargains; Roy Hibbert and George Hill were not.

    Over the next five years, Indiana owes nearly $100 million to the latter two. Hibbert, while an above-average center, is not a star—he's too inconsistent to be. Will he ultimately develop into one? Maybe, but it's costing the Pacers nearly $60 million to find out.

    Then we have Hill, a below-average playmaker, and now Indiana's starting point guard. All that for the bargain—sorry, I mean absurd—price of $8 million annually.

    Even Ian Mahinmi's $16 million over four years has me uneasy. This is a guy who's coming off the best season of his career that saw him average 5.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game in limited action.

    Should we be impressed? By the Pacers' willingness to spend? Yes, of course. By their decision of who to spend on, though? Not so much.

2. Boston Celtics

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $136.10 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 13

    The Celtics were supposed to enter rebuilding mode. They were supposed to start from scratch. And they were supposed to limit their spending.

    Well, zero out of three isn't so bad when you spent it the way Boston did.

    Sure the boys in green dropped a small fortune, but they did so while actually solidifying their place as a title contender. The Celtics didn't overpay any of their free agents, except perhaps Jeff Green. But even he has his upside, just like Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.

    Yes, Boston really did sacrifice whatever financial flexibility they had, yet we can hardly chastise the players they spent it on.

    So just think of it as a lot of money well spent.

1. Brooklyn Nets

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    2012 Free Agency Spending: $246.69 million

    Total Number of Contracts Issued: 14

    You know what they say about a quarter-of-a-billion dollars—it goes quickly.

    The Nets were a busy bunch this offseason, committing massive amounts of money to Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Those four will cost the Brooklyn more than $220 million over the next five years.
    As much as we'd like to cringe at the bill the Nets are about to foot, though, we can't—not extensively anyway.
    Brooklyn had to put the best product possible on the floor to begin its tenure at the Barclays Center. It wouldn't have made sense not to. And that's exactly what the Nets did—assemble a team with potential that's worth watching.
    Did it come at a price?
    Yes, a steep one. But something tells me Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z and company will be fine.


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