5 Biggest Risk/Reward Moves of the NBA Offseason
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Every year there are players on the NBA free-agent market who are scary—scary because they can elevate a team to the next level or cost a general manager their job.
Yes, we're talking those high-risk, high-reward players. The players who are so talented they have front offices salivating, yet mercurial enough to have owners sweating bullets if they're on the payroll.
This summer there were quite a few signings of that nature. We're going to run down the top five, based on financial impact, potential performance, attitude and maybe hairstyles (although Andrew Bynum would take that category with ease).
Basically we're going to be looking at just how much volatility a player brings and how much teams have invested in them. So the more expensive and volatile the player, the higher the rank.
5. Metta World Peace
Despite a name change, Metta World Peace is as unpredictable as ever. Forget "Malice in the Palace"; what about his devastating elbow on James Harden in 2012?
To be sure, his antics always have been and always will be an unknown quantity. And if you need more evidence, just check out his Twitter feed.
If he can behave and stay on the court, he brings skills to the table the Knicks need. He's still a solid defender and a tough player, two things the Knicks are lacking. And he's a career 34.2 percent shooter from deep, so he won't be a liability from beyond the arc when he plays.
If he can play defense, hit some threes and provide valuable defensive toughness minutes, he'll be worth much more than $3.2 million.
But of course there's always the chance he'll draw unwanted attention to himself, or simply implode. It's Metta World Peace we're talking here, who knows what he'll do.
But despite all that he stays at No. 5. He's risky for sure, but with his salary he can be cut without much thought if it really goes sour in New York. So if you can even say something like this in regard to Metta World Peace, the contract is relatively low-risk.
In other words, yes, putting him on your roster is a gamble. But the Knicks can remove him if need be, so they can limit the damage if it comes to that.
4. Monta Ellis
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Once upon a time, Warriors fans booed their owner when they traded Monta Ellis. My oh my how things change.
This year he was a consolation prize for the Mavericks after the team missed out on Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. Ellis also got a year and $10 million less than he wanted. Yet he still got $25 million over three years.
The league has Ellis pegged for what he is. He's a guy who averages 18 points on 16 shots and plays poor man-to-man defense. He gets steals, but other than that he's a liability on the defensive end. And in the last three years his highest field-goal percentage was 43.3.
So where's the upside? In order for Ellis to be on this list, there has to be a reward, not all risk.
If he is utilized correctly, Ellis can be valuable. With his skill set he can be a valuable scorer off the bench, a la Jason Terry. Before The Jet made his way to Dallas he was also considered a chucker, never shooting more than 43.6 percent in his first five seasons.
But he vastly improved, taking his shooting percentage up to respectable levels and filling a scoring void in the second unit. Ellis can do just that, though he is a more talented scorer than Terry was.
And Ellis does have other skills that are overshadowed by his glaring lack of certain attributes. In plain terms, Ellis is an underrated passer.
His per-36-minute assist averages the past two years are 5.8 and 5.9. Not what you would expect from someone who has Ellis' reputation.
If he can adjust to a new role, take fewer shots and utilize his court vision, he would be one of the best bench assets in the league. Few teams have a guy who can come in off the bench and wreak havoc like Ellis is capable of.
But then again, he could continue his brand of basketball or get worse. Which would make his contract a huge loss for the team. Paying someone like that $25 million for three years is not very appealing.
So down here he stays. It's asking a lot for someone to make a radical transformation like that, so the upside isn't as great as other signings. But it's also not asking a lot for him to become a solid sixth man.
Thus, he stays in the four spot.
3. JR Smith
JR Smith had an amazing 2012-2013 season with the Knicks. He improved his field-goal percentage while increasing his scoring average from 12.5 per game to 16.1 per game. No wonder he took home the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
He had a career year last year; it was just the playoffs that posed a problem. He elbowed Jason Terry, as seen above, in the opening round of the playoffs, and from then on was atrocious. He shot less than 30 percent from both the floor and behind the arc.
It also just so happens that Rihanna called JR Smith out for clubbing too much during the playoffs, only adding to the turmoil surrounding Smith's postseason.
As if that wasn't enough, Smith had offseason knee surgery to fix a "chronic" knee problem. In other words, this wasn't a minor procedure.
All this contributed to Smith getting less than he had originally thought. But he still re-signed with the Knicks for three years and $18 million.
If the Knicks get the JR Smith from the regular season, they'll be more than happy paying him $6 million a year.
But if his knee doesn't hold up, if he draws more attention for his off-the-court antics or if he can't solve his playoff woes, then that contract will be tough.
Keep in mind that before Smith broke out with the Knicks last year, the league thought they had him figured out. He was supposed to be a guy that oozed talent, but couldn't put it all together.
Even with last year in the books, his career average is 13.2 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting. Nobody ever thought he could be a team's second-leading scorer.
What this all means is 2013 was a career year for Smith. And the Knicks are banking on him repeating it, despite any off-court issues or signs of decline.
Smith had been pegged as the guy whose mental makeup was holding him back. He had all the physical tools, but lacked that special something to bring it all together.
And the Jason Terry elbow shows that he hasn't quite gotten rid of those demons.
But even if JR Smith reverts back to Denver form, he's still a great shooter. And that's an asset that makes the Knicks roster go.
What really could be a problem is if his knee hinders him all year, or the off-court stuff gets to be too much for the team. Then he becomes more trouble than he's worth, and the Knicks are down a No. 2 scorer.
But that's a risk they seem willing to take.
2. Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum is a big boy, but a big boy who carries an even bigger risk.
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Bynum is the ultimate all-or-nothing signing. If he's healthy, he's in contention for the title of best big man in the NBA. Or he might not be healthy, and in that case who knows what he'll be.
There is speculation that his knee problems are degenerative, even though his agent says that his knees will hold up next year. No matter what anyone says, Bynum's knees are a big problem. But they're not the only problem.
Bynum carries off-the-court baggage as well. This whole 2012-2013 season he was seen as surly and uncooperative, and at times he seemed to just not get it. Like when he tried to play off his bowling injury.
Don't forget, Bynum is also being sued by his former neighbors, as noted by USA Today. Among many things, the suit claims Bynum endangered the community by racing his cars through the neighborhood, smoked weed in his house and flashed guns to intimidate his neighbors who lodged complaints.
So it's very apparent that it's not just his knees the Cavaliers should be worried about.
And that's probably why in his two-year, $24 million contract, only $6 million was guaranteed. The second year is a team option, and half of the $12 million he would get next year is tied up in performance and health provisions.
So essentially if he doesn't play, he doesn't get the full deal.
For the Cavs, it's not such a bad arrangement given Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 2011-2012, and is only 25.
Where's the risk with this one?
Well there's always the chance he does exactly the same thing as last year, where he doesn't play a single game and his legal problems/hairstyles are more topical that his post game. In that case he's a huge headache.
And that's a bigger problem on such a young team. A veteran team knows how to deal with a guy like Bynum, but for younger teams that's harder. So his problems become compounded within the locker room.
Unlike everyone so far on this list, at his best Bynum can be the best player at his position, so the reward is huge. At the same time, there's a chance he won't play a single game. Talk about low floor, high ceiling.
1. Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard is an interesting one, and I'll explain what I mean by that.
His risk/reward factor, unlike every other player, is much less based in performance. Yes, last year was a down year. But he still averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks all on 57.8 percent shooting.
Not exactly awful if you ask me.
It was the little things, though, that he couldn't, or wouldn't, do. He wasn't the anchor of the defense like he was in Orlando, he couldn't physically dominate as much and at times he just seemed disinterested.
It might give a GM second thoughts to hand a guy like that a four-year, $88 million deal. And Howard got himself a very special four-year, $88 million deal.
In the contract Howard has an opt-out clause after three years. So if Houston isn't working out, he could bolt. And he's shown a knack for doing just that.
The other thing in that contract is a 15 percent trade kicker. So if the Rockets trade Howard, his salary goes up by 15 percent, making it that much harder to move his contract.
All this adds up to Howard having the power. And we all saw how well that went in Orlando and then Los Angeles.
If I'm an owner, I'm trembling at the thought of Dwight Howard deciding the future of my team.
He could go right back to the dominant 2011-2012 Dwight who can bring the Rockets back to the playoffs and prime them for a deep run. Or he can be the guy who left two teams in shambles and created a media circus wherever he went.
To be fair, the Magic have managed to assemble a nice young core after Dwight's departure. And not too many people will shed a tear if the Lakers have a down year, as people expect them to bounce back soon enough.
But if the Rockets build around Howard, and by their signings this summer they seem to be doing so, and then he leaves or demands a trade then they're in trouble. They will have a team built around a dominant big man, and they'll be lacking a dominant big man. Might be a problem.
Essentially, signing Dwight Howard means the Rockets feel that the reward of getting the best-center-in-the-league version of Howard is greater than the risk of getting Dwight Howard, the franchise hijacker.
In the interest of not having to deal with another year of the "Dwightmare," let's hope he likes Houston.
Nobody on this list can take his team to greater heights or depths like Dwight Howard can. World Peace is a role player, Ellis and Smith aren't of that caliber and Bynum isn't being counted on like Howard is. It's really a no contest.
Good luck, Houston.