The most sobering truth of an NBA free-agency period is that it doesn't get more fun the longer it lasts—both for players and for teams with cap space.
The first week or so of July is Supermarket Sweep on steroids, with teams pushing seven-footers into their grocery carts and not worrying about the price of their items. I have a running theory that David Stern hosts a game show at the owners meetings where he rewards a prize to the most exorbitant contract handed out during the first seven days of free agency.
And while expensive contracts are often handed out in MLB and the NFL far past that initial free-agency period, that isn't the case for basketball players. Once the Supermarket Sweep stage winds down—usually after the first major domino of the offseason falls—the competition suddenly turns into The Price Is Right, with teams trying to get to value down to the closest dollar.
It's a smarter way to do business, of course. When we discuss the best contracts given out this summer, it's likely that we'll all wind up pointing to ones signed after Dwight Howard made his decision. Once the number of teams with cap room dwindles, contract demands tend to do the same. Everyone at this point is merely trying to get into the rat race before getting swallowed up.
As such, expect a ton of movement from the top remaining players here in the coming days. With that in mind, let's take a look at all the latest speculation from around the free-agent market.
Bynum to Cavs Heating Up?
Now that the dust has settled on Dwightmare 2.0 and the Josh Smith sweepstakes has found a winner in Detroit, there is only one All-Star-caliber player remaining on the market. And no, I'm not talking about Brandon Jennings, though more will be said about him later.
Of course, the person to whom I am referring is America's favorite bowling bandit, Andrew Bynum. The soon-to-be departed Philadelphia 76ers center has all but been pushed out the door this offseason, with general manager Sam Hinkie starting a wide-scale rebuild. Philadelphia has already found a Bynum replacement in No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel, who will likely miss the beginning of next season recovering from a knee injury. I'll allow you to fill in the irony there.
But with Bynum's one-year stop in the City of Brotherly Love looking like a $16.89 million vacation, the 25-year-old center has to go about, yanno, finding a new job. The two most notable teams to come up in that process have been the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers, both of whom are looking to make a splash. Dallas lost out on the Howard sweepstakes and has now faced two straight seasons of being left at the altar by its top target. Barring another rollover season—which seems out of Mark Cuban's character—the team will likely be aggressive in trying to land Bynum.
That said, it seems the Cavaliers have made the first move. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Bynum was in Cleveland on Monday to meet with team officials:
Cleveland is an interesting fit from Bynum's perspective, both financially and as a basketball fit. The Cavaliers have the most cap room of any team left on the market at right around $15 million, meaning they could give Bynum something resembling his 2012-13 salary. They also have an incumbent center in Anderson Varejao and a solid young 4 man in Tristan Thompson, both of whom would give Cleveland enough depth to limit Bynum's minutes and possibly give his career more longevity.
Remember, this is a man whose knees are ticking time bombs. Degenerative knee issues don't just go away; they get worse. So working under a more manageable minutes cap could be the difference between Bynum's career going three more seasons or six. That's the tricky thing with knee injuries. You never really know.
The one problem with the Cleveland scenario—at least from Bynum's perspective—is that the team is seemingly unwilling to give him anything more than a one-year contract. As Stein notes, the Cavs don't want to damage their cap space for next summer, where they will try to woo LeBron James back to his home state. Even in the two-year, $24 million deal they reportedly offered, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, comes with a team option.
If Bynum is willing to take a flier-style deal, this could get done soon. If not, it won't at all.
Hawks and Bucks Working on Jennings-for-Teague Sign-and-Trade?
Also salient to the dust settling on the Dwightmare: The restricted free-agency period can officially begin as well. While Tyreke Evans got paid beyond anyone's wildest imagination by the New Orleans Pelicans, he's the only notable restricted player to land a big deal. Mum has been the word on Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Nikola Pekovic and others whose rights are still technically tied to their current squad.
Jennings, warts and all, is obviously the crowned jewel of those players. He's an incredibly frustrating player to watch and by all accounts to play with, but it's hard to deny his talent. In a good situation with a solid infrastructure, Jennings is good enough that he could crack the 10 best players at his position. And considering that point guard is the deepest spot in basketball, that's not a backhanded compliment.
The way John Hammond has been spending money this summer, I had fully expected him to give Jennings $15 million per season by now. But he hasn't, which gives credence to the theory that the Bucks and Jennings' relationship went sour a long time ago.
Teague, meanwhile, has settled into what most who watched him play in college expected. He's about a replacement-level starter, but nothing resembling irreplaceable. The uptick in assists this past season were nice to see and bode well for his work ethic, yet it's to see a team like Atlanta spending many sleepless nights wondering about his future. Hence there is tension between Teague and the Hawks, with the point guard feeling the team's inactivity is a sign of disrespect, per Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears.
Hmm. Two point guards. Both in frustrating situations. Larry Drew used to coach Teague with the Hawks. He's the new Bucks coach. I wonder if they have...oh, they have, according to ESPN's Marc Stein:
Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com that the Hawks and Bucks have in recent days discussed a sign-and-trade deal to land Brandon Jennings in Atlanta and send fellow restricted free agent Jeff Teague to Milwaukee to reunite with former Hawks coach Larry Drew. ESPN.com reported early in free agency that the Bucks, at Drew's behest, had interest.
It seems rather obvious that the Hawks would have to give something up other than Teague to land Jennings. That likely requires something in the form of draft pick compensation, which Atlanta would probably part with in order to upgrade its point guard position.
Either way, both the Hawks and Bucks have been full of strange moves this offseason. Neither team has any chance of contention with their current core, but both seem hellbent on spending their cap space on mid-tier players. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
T'Wolves Clear Room to Pay Pekovic?
Elsewhere in the restricted free-agency pool, it seems nearly every suitor in the Nikola Pekovic race has moved on. Expected to be one of the offseason's most sought-after targets, the Howard market came and went without much of a peep from Pekovic's camp.
It's been known for a while that Minnesota would probably match any deal for the Montenegrin big man, but the lack of movement has been a little surprising. Pekovic is a seven-footer in the prime of his career who has gotten markedly better on both ends of the floor during each of his three NBA seasons. I half expected someone to throw out a crazy figure like four years and $52 million to see if the Timberwolves would bite on the offer.
Alas, it seems Minnesota is negotiating itself. The Andrew Bynum market has more interest in it at this point than the one for Pekovic, leaving him without much negotiating power outside of accepting his qualifying offer and risking playing out the whole 2013-14 season. It's a nice place to be in from a team's perspective.
That said, it seems Flip Saunders is expected to take care of Pekovic regardless. The team cut ties with center Greg Stiemsma and forward Mickael Gelabale this weekend, saving their unguaranteed contracts against the cap. According to the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda, the Timberwolves made that move in order to send a formal offer to Pekovic, which is expected to average somewhere in the $12 million per season range:
On Sunday, they waived center Greg Stiemsma and swingman Mickael Gelabale in two salary-cap moves designed to clear space to allow them to sign free agents Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger as well as bring back Pekovic on a four-year deal that likely will be worth $12 million a year or more.
That's fair market value, so this should be a mere formality. Pekovic, at 27 years old, isn't a guy bound to develop into a superstar. He'll likely keep consistent with his performance from last year, where he was very good offensively and didn't kill anyone on the defensive end. If he winds up at four years and $48 million, that's just the going rate for a center in today's NBA.
The lesson, as always: It pays to be a genetic freak.
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