5 NBA Teams That Staved Off Disaster During 2014 Free Agency

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJuly 24, 2014

5 NBA Teams That Staved Off Disaster During 2014 Free Agency

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    During 2014 NBA free agency, a variety of league front offices were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Certain circumstances left them scrambling to execute Plans B, C and D after primary options fell through. Other teams staved off impending doom by retaining stars despite reports linking them to the contrary.

    The Miami Heat, for example, lost four-time MVP LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Replacing the best player in the Association is an impossible task, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, team president Pat Riley retained two members of the Big Three. He also loaded the roster with an eclectic group of capable role players.

    South Beach wasn’t the only locale that dodged complete disaster when Plan A went awry, though.

    Unlike Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey—who traded away Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and draft picks to free up cap space for a third star H-Town didn’t land—other teams improved the roster.

    Miami ensured it will still be competitive during the post-LBJ era—especially in the wide-open Eastern Conference—but what other teams avoided tragedies?

5. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The pipe-dream starting five of naive Lakers fans—Eric Bledsoe, Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng, Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol—didn’t come to fruition.

    Even grounded L.A. fans who hoped to retain Gasol or at least add one second-tier free agent to pair with Bryant didn’t get the desired outcome.

    Nevertheless, general manager Mitch Kupchak was able to weather the storm after seeing stars slip through his fingers.

    Can Jordan Hill’s two-year, $18 million contract be deemed an overpay? Most definitely.

    With that said, the second year of Hill’s deal is a team option. So at least the Lakers left some leeway in terms of cap space if the University of Arizona product doesn’t live up to his new financial figure.

    Trading for Jeremy Lin wasn’t the blockbuster move fans were pining for, but netting Houston’s first-round pick in the process was a savvy addition by Kupchak and Co.

    Claiming veteran power forward Carlos Boozer off waivers was a head-scratcher, because L.A. used the No. 7 overall pick in 2014 on big man Julius Randle. Further clogging the frontcourt—thus limiting the Kentucky product’s minutes—raised questions.

    However, Boozer can simultaneously help Bryant compete in the loaded Western Conference and act as a mentor to Randle. On that basis, bringing him on board isn’t as baffling.

    The Lakers also pilfered 25-year-old forward Ed Davis from the free-agent pool for the veteran’s minimum. His playing time will be limited, but there’s reason to believe he’s a solid NBA talent who hasn’t found an ideal destination yet.

    Add the four-year, $21.5 million deal handed to fan favorite Nick Young, and the Lakers avoided a much worse outlook.

    Kobe even said the following, per a pair of tweets from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, “I can sit here and tell you with 100 percent honesty that I’m happy with the effort the organization put forward this summer. I think Mitch has responded quite efficiently (from missing on Melo/Pau) by picking up some of the pieces he has.”

    If the Black Mamba isn’t ticked off, that’s a victory for Lakerland.

4. New York Knicks

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    Perhaps Carmelo Anthony never intended to leave the Big Apple. Maybe free agency was merely a part of the NBA lifestyle he wanted to experience at some point during his prime.

    After all, his wife, La La Anthony, said back in January, “I definitely think he will stay. I know that he wants to stay and I support him wherever he wants to go,” per the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte.

    Remember, she said that before legendary coach Phil Jackson came to town as New York Knicks team president.

    Even down to the very end, reports suggested that Anthony mulled leaving NY. USA Today’s Sam Amick wrote, “A person with knowledge of Anthony’s situation confirmed reports that he still is considering the Chicago Bulls, though it’s unclear where the Bulls, New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers are in the lead in these one-man sweepstakes.”

    The Rockets and Dallas Mavericks were also courting Melo, but fell out of the running without ever being seen as legitimate landing spots.

    Heading to the Windy City obviously had great appeal from a winning perspective, but Chicago ultimately didn’t have the funds necessary to net Melo. As a result, the Bulls moved forward by signing Pau Gasol and bringing highly touted prospect Nikola Mirotic to the NBA from overseas.

    Anthony, meanwhile, returned to New York on a five-year, $124 million deal—$5 million less than the max—per ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley.

    If the Knicks lost the former scoring champ to another suitor, they would have been forced to move forward with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. They have to ride out 2014-15 with those guys anyway, but retaining Anthony gives firepower for the future.

    With plenty of salary set to come off the books in 2015, the Zen Master can court talented stars to play beside Carmelo.

    It also can’t be understated that the Knicks managed to trade into the 2014 draft and dump Raymond Felton in the same move.

    New York sent Felton and Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract to the Mavericks in exchange for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and a pair of second-round picks. It used those second-rounders to net Wichita State standout Cleanthony Early and Thanasis “Brother of the ‘Greek Freak’” Antetokounmpo.

    That’s a win for the Knicks even though they had to sweat out Anthony’s decision.

3. Washington Wizards

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    Despite alpha dog point guard John Wall shooting a dreadful 36.6 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from three-point range during the playoffs, the Washington Wizards reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

    They fell to the Indiana Pacers in six games, but Washington’s young backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal hinted at a bright future.

    The Wizards got the ball rolling in free agency by retaining Polish center Marcin Gortat on a five-year, $60 million deal. That figure was met with cynicism primarily because of the length of the deal.

    SB Nation’s Mark Deeks wrote the following at the time:

    In his report, Woj (Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski) mentions that the $60 million contract will echo the amount given to Nikola Pekovic last summer by the Minnesota Timberwolves. On number alone, it does -- Pekovic signed for exactly that amount. But Pekovic was 27 when given that contract, and about to enter his prime years. Gortat is 30 years old and about to leave them.

    The Wiz got Gortat at market value, but signing him until he’s 35 raised eyebrows in the NBA community. Can he sustain a high level of play for the next five years?

    When Washington lost veteran swingman Trevor Ariza to the Rockets on a four-year, $32 million deal, it appeared as if all was lost. The defensive-minded wing was a huge part of Washington’s success, and replacing him would be a tall order.

    Instead of panicking, the Wizards managed to land future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce on a bargain two-year, $10.8 million deal (the mid-level exception).

    “The Truth” was targeting a much bigger payday, according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. Ultimately, though, he was convinced to join Washington’s young core for less.

    Our nation’s capital also solidified bench depth via DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, Andre Miller, Garrett Temple and Kevin Seraphin.

    Head coach Randy Wittman will be able to rest Nene and Gortat throughout next season due to the influx of frontcourt members.

    Pierce may not be a clear-cut upgrade from Ariza, but he’s a proven winner who will be a perfect locker room presence to mentor Washington’s young stars. All in all, the Wizards ensured that they’ll stay competitive in the east.

2. Dallas Mavericks

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    Former MVP Dirk Nowitzki decided to ink a three-year, $30 million deal to stay with the Mavericks earlier this offseason. Opting for a huge pay cut relative to his market value gave owner Mark Cuban and Co. the wiggle room needed to add pieces around the German 7-footer.

    The front office didn’t land big-name All-Stars like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but it avoided a total letdown by making an array of underrated moves.

    The trade with New York to bring Tyson Chandler back was step one. He was the defensive anchor of Dallas' 2011 title team—an entity the roster sorely needs beside Nowitzki.

    Since the swap, the Mavs’ biggest move was adding Chandler Parsons on a three-year, $46 million contract—a necessary overpay to swipe the restricted free agent away from Houston.

    They also added Al-Farouq Aminu on a two-year deal and are close to finalizing a contract with free-agent point guard Jameer Nelson, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

    If you recall, the Mavericks' championship squad didn’t have a plethora of big-name stars. Instead, management slotted a variety of above-average role players (Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Chandler, etc.) around Nowitzki.

    Head coach Rick Carlisle put all the pieces together into a cohesive unit, which led to a Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    The Western Conference is still absolutely loaded, but Dallas took the 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round before upgrading with Parsons and Chandler.

    The Mavericks should still be considered a dark horse, but a starting five of Devin Harris, Monta Ellis, Parsons, Dirk and Chandler has plenty of potential.

1. Miami Heat

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    King James deciding to take his talents home to Ohio was a crushing blow for Miami.

    In fact, losing him seemed to ensure that the Heat would also miss out on Chris Bosh. ESPN.com even reported that the Rockets believed they would have a commitment from the veteran big man and would match the offer sheet extended to Chandler Parsons.

    Instead, those reports took a 180-degree turn. Bosh opted to stay with Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra to the tune of $118 million over five years.

    The Heat, having already signed Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger as role-playing cogs, added former All-Star Luol Deng on a two-year, $20 million deal. He can’t fill LeBron’s shoes, but he’s an All-Star-caliber forward when healthy.

    They also retained Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

    Considering that Miami watched a four-time MVP bolt for Cleveland, it has to feel pretty darn good about the pieces coming in.

    D-Wade’s decline has been largely overblown. He still averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor during 20 playoff games.

    Bosh, meanwhile, has the opportunity to reappear as a go-to option and alpha dog. He had a 37-point outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers last season when James was out. Expect to see a few more scoring explosions next season.

    Oddly, even while losing LBJ, the Heat are still in the hunt to come out of the Eastern Conference.