NBA Free Agency: Guys Who Need a Change of Scenery to Break Out
I've written/read so many articles on NBA free agency, I don't even know how to write a coherent intro anymore.
Seriously, what more can I say in a little 200-300 word section that hasn't already been explicitly stated by every major news outlet or minor blogger?
We all know that the impact of this free agent class could be felt for the next 10 to 20 years.
That's not hyperbole — the wrong signings (or failure to sign anyone at all) could send organizations spiraling into a dark abyss that could result in the losses of millions of dollars and perhaps (eventually) relocation.
We all know that the free agents will drop like dominoes once LeBron James and Dwyane Wade announce. Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer will announce shortly after.
We all know that this could be very similar to the talk of conference realignments in college football — a lot of drama and constant speculation about who will end up where. In the end, maybe just one or two names will change places.
There's little doubt, however, that some players just need to find a new place to play.
Maybe they've worn out their welcome in their current city.
Maybe the prior season ended on such a low-note that a resolution between player and city is near impossible.
Maybe said-player just needs a new city, a new coach, a new system, and a fresh start to recharge his batteries and have a new drive.
Whatever the case, there are a few situations where it's almost definitely best for the player (and in a few cases, best for the city as well) to "get the hell out of dodge." That said, here are a few players who could use a new beginning in 2010-11.
You might notice the absence of a few marquee names on this list. Part of it is because they've already broken out. You know who they are and what they can accomplish, and it shouldn't matter where they're playing to get the job done.
The other part is that while it's fun to speculate about certain players leaving or playing elsewhere, it's not in the players' best interests to do so.
Let the debate begin...
Pending free agent Jordan Farmar has stated that, ideally, he'd like to play somewhere next year where he would be a starter.
Unfortunately for him that might not be L.A., where he's played his entire college and professional career.
Farmar has seen his regular season minutes drop over the past two years.
The Lakers are more than likely going to keep Derek Fisher. While Farmar would probably see an increase in playing time next year so the team could rest the 35-year old Fisher for the playoffs, it's not conceivable that he would assume the starter role or any more real responsibility in the offense.
Playing for Phil Jackson, Farmar has had his ups-and-downs over his four-year career. His playoff minutes have dropped to an all-time low this year. In part because of his split-time with Shannon Brown but also because of the bench woes the Lakers have sustained.
And not that this is a knock on Phil, but he's not exactly a coach who develops his younger players. Few rookies have actually blossomed under Jackson's tutelage since he's more prone to play veterans and players who fully understand his system and philosophy.
If Farmar is going to be a starting PG and harness the bright flashes he's sporadically shown, L.A. isn't the place for him.
Like Farmar, Raymond Felton has spent his college and professional career in pretty much the same spot: he played college ball at North Carolina and has registered five years for the Charlotte Bobcats.
But you can't stay at home forever. Eventually you need to leave the nest to spread your wings.
Felton has seen his numbers decline since the 2007-08 season, and Charlotte has made the playoffs just once in that five-year stretch (this season).
He paired up against Jameer Nelson in the first round of the playoffs this year. Let's just say the results were more than one-sided.
Nelson's Stats (four games: 23.8 ppg (48.4 FG percent, 88.5 FT percent, 42.9 three-point percent), 4.5 apg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 spg
Felton's Stats (four games: 11.8 ppg (40.5 FG percent, 75.0 FT percent, 30.8 three-point percent), 5.0 apg, 2.5 rpg, .5 spg
Not only did Nelson dominate statistically, he completely controlled the tempo of the game. He also took over in stretches when Dwight Howard was in foul trouble. He clearly was the best point guard on the floor. Felton looked lost in his first-ever playoff series.
Felton faces a coaching situation much like Farmar's.
No one is questioning Larry Brown's ability to get the most out of his team. However, he isn't one to develop his players long-term. Even though there wasn't a real viable option behind Felton, he played on a short leash.
Felton thrived in college playing an up-tempo, quick-paced offense. In Charlotte, he hasn't lived up to the billing. In part because the playing style is completely different from what he's used to.
You would think that in five years he might have adjusted.
But he hasn't. It's time to move on.
Josh Howard desperately needs a new start somewhere. In other news the sun is hot and the sky is blue.
Howard has almost fallen off the face of the earth in the past year. He struggled with ankle problems in Dallas, missing a handful of games and seeing his numbers dramatically dip before being shipped off to Washington.
From there he played four games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season.
And that's not to mention the other off-the-court problems that have arisen. There were his comments about smoking weed during the 2008 playoffs, and his arrest for street racing later that summer.
There were also reports that he missed a game while playing for Dallas because he had a hangover.
Any time you combine physical injuries, emotional instability, and a bitter departure, a fresh beginning is exactly what the doctor ordered.
The question is, where?
A lot of teams might be hesitant to take a flier on Howard because of his past issues. They'll want assurance that something else won't happen in the future.
Howard didn't get a chance to bust his rear off in a contract year to show teams what he's capable of.
It'll be interesting to see if he can return to form as a player who averages 20 points and seven rebounds per game and is a lockdown defender. Or if the baggage he's carried over the years finally takes its toll.
Very few experts/writers/bloggers have Gay returning to the Grizzlies next year even though he's a restricted free agent. The Memphis front office has been adamant that re-signing him is its No. 1 priority this offseason.
Of any player on this list, Gay might need a change of scenery the least though. Even though he'll be entering his fifth year, we might already have a good idea of the type of player he is.
He's an uber-talented, freak of an athlete. However, will that translate into the dominance on the court that we expected after his breakout sophomore campaign?
This year, a contract year, his numbers barely increased. Sure, his points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and field goal percentage all went up, but not significantly.
Sure, the Grizzlies were one of the surprise teams in the NBA, but it felt like that had more to do with the resurgence of Zach Randolph (not that he was ever elite—maybe we should just say "surgence"?) and breakout seasons from Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo.
I don't know what it is about Rudy. It's just one of those intangible basketball things where statistics don't tell the whole story.
Maybe I just can't get the dejected look on his face and defeated body language during the '06 NCAA Tournament game against George Mason out of my mind (you know, when Gay looked like he was already thinking about where he'd be playing in the NBA and UConn hadn't even lost yet!).
It just doesn't seem like he'll ever be the type of player his talents potentially could allow him to be.
So maybe Memphis is the place for him afterall.
It feels like if he ever does have a chance to finally break out, it won't be on the Grizzlies.
Believe it or not, Harrington has been an X-factor on two playoff teams throughout his career: the '03-'04 Indiana Pacers and the '06-'07 Golden State Warriors.
He was the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the 61-win Pacers. Maybe more importantly, he shot over 46 percent from the field and attempted just one three-pointer a game.
On America's favorite underdog (the Warriors), he was the ideal complement to the guard-heavy Baron Davis-Monta Ellis-Stephen Jackson-Jason Richardson combo.
After being acquired from Indiana he became Golden State's second-leading scorer (17 points a game), second-leading rebounder (6.4 a game), second-best three-point shooter (a blistering 41.7 percent, nearly a career high), and defended multiple positions for the small-ball Warriors (we'll use the term "defended" loosely).
But while that Golden State team was all kinds of fun to watch, it didn't really help Harrington's career long-term.
He was put in a system where he could loaf around the court on defense and play only behind the three-point line on offense. Harrington wasn't an aggressive rebounder, nor was ever elite in that category, but his numbers and overall impact on that end have substantially declined.
Even though he likes New York, he really wants to go somewhere and win.
Well, that pretty much throws New York out the window, doesn't it?
Kidding, Knicks fans. But if they land two big free agents, Harrington won't be re-signed. Either way, he won't be part of a winning team in New York.
It's interesting to see whether the last four years of play (and two years of utter team failure) will impact Harrington's future.
Can he go back to being a difference maker on a good team by either coming off the bench or providing some offensive versatility?
Or is that losing stink and free-reign chucking ingrained in his blood now?
If Joe Johnson and Atlanta were on the verge of being separated this offseason, the Magic series was like a bitter custody hearing over the children: There was harsh name-calling, and both sides did some things there's no going back from.
In the end, all hope for reconciliation was thrown out the window.
Over the past three seasons, Johnson has settled down into a pretty consistent player. Take a look at his stats and notice the lack of sporadic jumps across the board:
Points: 21.7, 21.4, 21.3
Assists: 5.8, 5.8, 4.9
Rebounds: 4.5, 4.4, 4.6
Steals: 1.0, 1.1, 1.1
Field Goal Percentage: 43.2, 43.7, 45.8
Three-Point Percentage: 38.1, 36.0, 36.9
Free Throw Percentage: 83.4, 82.6, 81.8
Now, how about his team's numbers...
Atlanta Team Wins: 37, 47, 53
Atlanta Playoff Results: Lost in seven (first-round, Boston), Lost in four (second-round, Cleveland), Lost in four (second-round, Orlando)
On paper, it doesn't look horrible. The Hawks have gotten significantly better the past three years. They've made the second round of the playoffs two years in a row, something the franchise has only done three times in the last 40-plus years.
Johnson has been the most consistent performer on that team.
In the past two years, however, the Hawks have gotten punched in the mouth in the second round of the playoffs. Instead of swinging back, they get knocked to the canvas and refuse to get up.
They've lost all eight conference semi-final games by double-digits, including a humiliating 43-point defeat to Orlando this year. They're an abysmal road team, winning just one playoff game away from Atlanta in the past 13 years.
Johnson has pretty much shown he can't be the best player on a championship team.
He left Phoenix because he wanted to get out of the shadow of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire to prove he could be the go-to guy on a team (a decision that's incredibly perplexing even to this day... Wouldn't you have played with those Suns teams for like $10 a game?).
Unfortunately, that's not the case. Maybe the expectations were too lofty. Maybe Mike Woodson's gameplan of letting Johnson go one-on-five wasn't too elaborately drawn out. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
Whatever the case, it's in both Johnson's and Atlanta's best interests if the two part ways.
Johnson can team up with another premiere offensive player, and Atlanta can use its cap and roster space to tinker and re-build.
I have nothing against the city of Toronto. It seems like a beautiful place with great people and lots of tradition and culture.
But for Chris Bosh, it might as well be basketball hell. Off the top of my head, the best comparison I can think of is Kevin Garnett. He's spending his prime toiling away in mediocrity for a small-market team.
Is it fair? Of course not. Both Bosh and Toronto deserve better. Much like how both Garnett and the Timberwolves deserved better.
Maybe you'll get a year or two where both player and team break out, but over the long-haul, it doesn't work.
It doesn't appear to be improving in Toronto. Andrea Bargnani is making $50 million through 2015.
Hedo Turkoglu is making $44 million through 2014.
Jose Calderon will make nearly $30 million through 2013. Jarrett Jack will collect over $15 million in that same time.
These guys are nice pieces, but collectively, it's not cutting it. Bosh won't be able to break through the wall with this team.
Do you see any scenario where this is anything but a second round playoff team at best? I didn't think so.
Back to Garnett. He made some asinine statement about LeBron James and free agency after the Celtics knocked out the Cavs in this year's playoffs. As usual, he started spouting off at the mouth, this time about something he had no business commenting about.
"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can't get youth back."
(Whatever KG. It's not like the Cavs have been as abominable as your pathetic Minnesota teams were when you were "supposedly" the best player but couldn't carry a backpack across the desert, let alone a team to a title. Where do you get off? Why don't you just SHUT THE $#% UP for once??? Oh sorry, we're talking about Bosh. I'll stop now.)
But in KG's comments he might have inadvertently referred to Bosh's situation much more accurately than he did to James'.
Bosh has never committed any real loyalty to Toronto, but he won't rule out the option of returning. At the same time, he's in a situation where he can't get his youth back. Statistically speaking from an historical perspective, the next two years will be the best of his career.
Can he really afford to spend that time on a .500 Raptors team?
It's nothing against the city. The franchise won't fold because the NBA markets itself as a global market and won't pack up its one Canadian organization because it lost Chris Bosh.
But it's time for him to hit the market. Team up with another superstar to see if they can take over the league for the next five years.
At least win a playoff series.