The 6 Biggest Whiffs from 2014 NBA Free Agency
Amid the flurry of NBA activity this offseason, a number of moves (or non-moves, as it were) grabbed headlines but never materialized to anything more.
For one reason or another, these almost-partnerships never made the transition from the rumor mill to the transactions log.
Depending on how the 2013-14 campaign plays out, some of these could be remembered as costly missed opportunities. There were some potential landscape-changing moves discussed.
Granted, not everything that gets thrown at the wall has a great chance of sticking.
As fun as it might have been to imagine Carmelo Anthony forming a Big Four with the Miami Heat or LeBron James teaming with "Mini LeBron" Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns, those rumors always felt heavier in hope than substance. No one thought Anthony would leave a significant stack of cash on the table (he didn't), and most painted James' decision as being Cleveland or Miami (he went with Cleveland).
The six near-stories on this list seemed to have some serious legs, though. While circumstances kept them from coming to light, the thoughts of what could have been won't fade away nearly as easily.
Paul Pierce Almost Reunited with Doc Rivers
Sentimental story aside, how good of a get would Paul Pierce have been for his former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers?
Rivers' team won 57 games last season despite getting routinely slaughtered at the small forward spot. In Matt Barnes (40 starts) and Jared Dudley (43), the Clippers had a pair of veteran 3s with a short offensive checklist and a strong reputation for scrapping at the defensive end.
Injuries slowed Barnes out of the gate (he missed 19 of the team's first 27 games) and Father Time stripped the 34-year-old of some of his athletic gifts. He still fared better than Dudley, who has never been a great athlete, but that left the Clippers undermanned against the physical specimens that suit up at the position.
What's worse is this pair wasn't getting back nearly what it was giving up at the defensive end. Neither provided much in terms of floor spacing (Dudley shot 36.0 percent from distance; Barnes was at 34.3), and their contributions rarely came efficiently. Barnes finished 38th out of 67 qualified small forwards with a 12.05 player efficiency rating, via ESPN.com, while Dudley's dreadful 8.91 mark earned him the 60th spot.
The Clippers needed to upgrade the position and tried to do that with Pierce. They attempted to work a sign-and-trade exchange with the Brooklyn Nets, via ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk, but nothing ever came together.
Now, Pierce is off trying to spark the Washington Wizards' championship run, while the Clippers are left hoping their own won't be derailed by their weakest starter.
Golden State's Other Potential Stretch 4 Solution
When Steve Kerr took on the Golden State Warriors head coaching gig, he kept most of his personnel plans close to his vest.
He did, however, let one suggestion for improvement slip.
"I did tell them I think this team could use a stretch 4," he told reporters at his introductory press conference. "I think a shooting 4 could really make things difficult on the opposition."
Kerr's comments, of course, came amid swirling trade winds surrounding the league's quintessential stretch 4, Kevin Love. The sharpshooting big man had not only created his own trade market, he had even expressed interest in the Warriors, sources told Shelburne and Marc Stein.
While that pursuit understandably dominated headlines, it wasn't the only avenue the Warriors explored to find Kerr a perimeter friendly big. They also made a run at Channing Frye, via Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The 6'11" Frye was a highly intriguing target.
Not only had he converted 38.9 percent of 1,526 three-point attempts over his last four healthy seasons (he missed the 2012-13 campaign with a heart condition), he also had a history with several Warriors. He teamed with forward Andre Iguodala at the University of Arizona and worked with Kerr and associate head coach Alvin Gentry when all three were with the Phoenix Suns.
Ultimately, the Warriors were priced out of Frye's market, as he got a four-year, $32 million deal from the Orlando Magic. Now, Kerr's hopes of finding a stretch 4 hinge on the development of the 6'8" Harrison Barnes (career 35.2 three-point percentage) and the 6'7" Draymond Green (29.7).
Luol Deng Nearly Flies with the Atlanta Hawks
After shedding Joe Johnson's contract, letting Josh Smith take his shot selection elsewhere and overseeing a better-than-it-sounds 38-win season, Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry tried to bolster his perimeter with two-time All-Star Luol Deng.
A versatile two-way player, the 29-year-old had both the style to fit coach Mike Budenholzer's system and the experience to help the new-look Hawks make noise with a healthy Al Horford. Atlanta also offered Deng a few familiar faces in former teammates Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha, both of whom placed recruiting calls to Deng, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
The Hawks were 16-13 when Horford went down with a torn pectoral muscle last season, a rate that would have put them on schedule for 45 victories. Atlanta struggled without its leader, as any team would, but his absence did open the door for Jeff Teague (16.5 points, 6.7 assists) and Paul Millsap (17.9 points, 8.5 rebounds) to post major numbers without him.
In other words, Atlanta had something of substance to sell Deng. In turn, he could have provided a deeper skill set than Korver, more athleticism than Sefolosha and a more promising track record than DeMarre Carroll.
Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Deng "was at the top of the Hawks’ free-agent wish list," but a financial split was too great for the sides to overcome. Atlanta did not want to give him an eight-figure salary, money he eventually found from the LeBron James-less Miami Heat.
Spurs Strike out in Pau Gasol Pursuit
It's not that Gasol is a bad fit for the Chicago Bulls. Between their defensive discipline and his offensive ability, that seems like a near-perfect match.
Even still, Gasol to San Antonio sounded like an even better blend. He might be the Spurs-iest player to ever not don the silver and black.
He's a selfless, gifted passer (career 3.3 assists per game) and a crafty, skilled scorer (17.4 points a night). But after two seasons of misuse in Mike D'Antoni's perimeter-based system and with his biological clock ticking loudly (he turned 34 in July), his perceived value on the free-agent market wasn't nearly as high as it should have been.
Talented, championship-experienced and still overlooked for baseless worries about his age? Does it get any more Spurs-y than that?
"Gasol has always played like a Spur," wrote Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster, "even if he's never been one."
Gasol's gifts didn't go unnoticed by the people in the basketball world who actually matter. His list of suitors ran deep, although Shelburne and Stein eventually called it a two-team race between Chicago and San Antonio.
The big man went with the Bulls, and it's hard to fault him for that. But it's not any easier to stop thinking about how fun this could have been.
Chris Bosh Almost Gives Rockets Coveted Third Star
If you travel to the remote corners of the basketball world, you might stumble across a Chris Bosh Houston Rockets jersey. That's how close this reportedly came to materializing.
The writing wasn't just on the wall; it was on everything.
The money owed to Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin was wiped off the books in trades with the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. LeBron hightailed it back to Cleveland, presumably sealing Miami's championship window shut.
Houston had a four-year, $88 million offer in front of Bosh, along with the belief that a commitment from the big man was coming "soon," a source told Stein.
Only, that commitment never happened. When Bosh put pen to paper, it wasn't on the Rockets' offer, but rather a five-year, $118 million contract from the Heat.
Not only did the Rockets miss out on Bosh—who could have helped make Howard's life easier at the offensive end and helped plug Houston's holes at the opposite side—they then opted not to match Chandler Parsons' offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, this serves a reminder that there is a major difference between a likely deal and an official one. Those Bosh jerseys are probably sitting in a closet somewhere alongside some Spurs 2013 championship gear.
Carmelo Anthony's Fruitless Flirtation with the Windy City
With scratches being potentially itched on both sides of the equation, the fact Carmelo Anthony is not a member of the Chicago Bulls still isn't sitting right with some people.
"From a basketball point of view it would have been better to go to Chicago because they've got better players," Anthony's college coach Jim Boeheim said, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "I think anybody would agree with that. That's not rocket science."
It's hard, if not outright impossible, to disagree. The Bulls won 11 more games than the New York Knicks last season (48 to 37), and Chicago got only 10 appearances out of former MVP Derrick Rose.
With a hopefully healthy Rose back in the fold, the Bulls looked ready to reclaim their spot among the Eastern Conference elites. But even a full-strength Chicago squad seemed light on offense, so Anthony—the scoring champ in 2012-13 with a career average of 25.3 points per game—was an obvious target.
More importantly, he seemed like an interested one. The Bulls gave him the shot at championship contention he said he wanted, plus they had the interior insurance for his occasional defensive lapses.
Anthony started his free-agency recruiting tour in Chicago, and the Bulls rolled out every red carpet they had. They later emerged as one of the last two teams standing in the race for Melo, via ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, but something kept Anthony in New York.
He had 124 million reasons to stay, but he says money wasn't one.
"I want to win," he told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman. "I don't care about the money."
Regardless of his true intentions, his decision has been made. It's just an idea people are still getting used to.
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