Post-Dwight Howard Anxiety Isn't Forcing Spurned Teams to Overpay Free Agents

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2013

Apr 28, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis (11) during game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs against the Miami Heat at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Miami won 88-77.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard found a home with the Houston Rockets on July 5, which left a handful of his former suitors scrambling to execute their backup plans.

And while it would have been understandable if the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers had embarked on grief-fueled spending sprees, it turns out that none of the other competitors for Howard's services are recklessly blowing their money.


Los Angeles Lakers

If any team could have been expected to panic in the aftermath of the Dwightmare, it would have been the Lakers. But because the team remains planted firmly in luxury-tax territory, it couldn't overspend on free agents even if it wanted to.

L.A. has nearly $80 million committed to next season's salaries. So the only moves the Lakers can make on the free-agent market this summer are going to be league-minimum signings and perhaps the use of their mini mid-level exception.

Either way, the Lakers aren't going to break the bank this summer.


Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are similarly situated, though their over-the-cap status is much more complicated than that of the Lakers'. Depending on how Golden State structures its acquisition of Andre Iguodala (remember, he's not officially a part of the team until July 10), the Warriors can either end up slightly over or under the projected salary cap of $58.5 million.

The machinations are extremely complex, and if you're inclined to break down the myriad scenarios, please check out Luke Adams' breakdown over at Hoops Rumors.

In a nutshell, Golden State can engage in a sign-and-trade with the Denver Nuggets to acquire Iguodala, or it can structure his acquisition as an outright signing. Confused yet?

The important thing to remember is this: Depending on how the Warriors finagle the particulars, they're going to end up with either the mid-level exception of $5.15 million that goes to teams that are over the salary cap, or the smaller $2.65 million exception that goes to teams that are under the cap.

That means they—like the Lakers—simply can't overspend on free agents. They don't have the money to do so.

Instead, the Warriors are reportedly pursuing more modest signees like veteran big man Jermaine O'Neal.

*Note: The omission of a discussion about whether or not Iguodala's four-year, $48 million deal was an overpay was deliberate. It was a market-rate agreement at worst but more likely a legitimate steal.


Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks actually could overspend if they wanted to, but it seems Mark Cuban's club is taking care to complete only moderate deals for reasonable rates.

Dallas agreed to a three-year deal with Devin Harris for just $9 million, which could turn out to be a very nice value play. Jose Calderon was a bit more costly, but at four years and $29 million, his contract will be exceedingly easy to move if the Spaniard disappoints.

On a potentially more dangerous note, the Mavs are interested in Andrew Bynum. But they're going to be exceptionally careful in their pursuit, according to ESPN's Marc Stein:

It's hard to even imagine what an "overpay" for Bynum would be. After all, if he turns out to be healthy, he has proven to be among the league's five best centers. The fully functional version of Bynum is probably worth at least $15 million per year.

But the risk with the big man is immense, and almost any deal could turn out to be a mistake. Signing Bynum could change the analysis here, but so far, Dallas has been impressively circumspect in its moves.


Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks haven't just avoided overspending; they've actually pulled off some of the very best deals of the entire free-agency period.

Atlanta kicked things off by agreeing to re-sign Kyle Korver to a very reasonable four-year, $24 million contract, and then followed that up with the most stunning bargain of the summer.

In agreeing to terms with Paul Millsap on a two-year deal worth just $19 million, the Hawks obtained a player who posted a higher 2013-13 PER (19.89) than any player who suited up for Atlanta last season. That includes the recently departed Josh Smith and the team's best holdover talent, Al Horford.

Getting DeMarre Carroll for two years and just $5 million was icing on the cake.

Keep in mind, the Hawks could totally ruin all of the nice things they've done so far if they're actually serious about paying Monta Ellis $10 million per season on a multi-year deal. Per Stein, that's a possibility.

Disaster could still strike in the form of a massive overpay for a low-efficiency scorer with a strong aversion to defense, but if the Hawks avoid wasting money on Ellis, they'll have fared as well as any team in free agency.

So, it turns out that none of the teams that lost out on Howard have coped with their sadness by making panicked decisions on the free-agent market. A few things could change that conclusion in the coming days, but everyone has been pretty well behaved from a financial standpoint so far.