|Any time you can swap out a 23 year old PG that singlehandedly re-invigorated your franchise for an overweight PG coming of the worst season of his career, you have to do it.|
Last summer, the NBA and its players engaged in a lengthy duel that nearly erased the entire NBA season. Throughout the summer and fall, the two sides re-enacted the Artest Melee in board rooms across the country, the owners slugging it out in an attempt to completely break the players. The point of the fight? Money, pure and simple. By stiffening the luxury tax, giving teams bigger advantages in retaining their own players, and limiting the flexibility of over-the-cap teams, the league sought to retain market viability in places like Orlando (fail) and New Orleans (fail) and prevent the rise of “super teams.” Most importantly, though, the league wanted to place safeguards in the system to protect themselves from their own wild spending ways. For some teams, this has worked (more on this later).
Then there are the Brooklyn Nets. Here are the tallies of what Mikhail Prokhorov has done this summer:
Deron Williams: 5YR $98M
Gerald Wallace: 4YR $40M
Joe Johnson: 4YR $89.3M
Brook Lopez: 4YR $60M
Kris Humphries: 2YR $24M
For the mathematically challenged among you, that totals $311.3M. $72.3M for next year alone! And those are just the starters!
While I certainly can’t question the commitment of Comrade Prokhorov, I absolutely have to question the execution. Wallace, Johnson, and Lopez are all talented but extremely flawed players that are worth nowhere near what they’re being paid. Is Deron Williams the type of “superstar” to take them to the next level? Based on what he did with similar talent in Utah, I’d have to say no. So, essentially, the Nets have built a perennial #3 or #4 seed in the East, except they’re going to pay $80M+ per year (before luxury tax!) for it. Nicely done. (*) So much for that new CBA.
(*) Quick tangent: Think about where the Nets could be if they hadn’t pulled the trigger on Deron Williams. They’d have Derrick Favors as their cornerstone, and man did he look like a potential monster in the playoffs. They’d have the 2011 pick they dealt to Utah, which turned into Enes Kanter. They’d have a future Golden State first round pick which is only top 6 protected this year and next. They’d have their own 2012 first round pick since they wouldn’t have traded it for Gerald Wallace. Plus, they would still have Devin Harris’ expiring deal, would probably have dealt Brook Lopez for a valuable asset, and would have all kinds of cap flexibility. This could really be one of the top up-and-coming teams in the league.
Of course, Nets GM, Billy King, isn’t the only person leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. With most of the major action complete, we can now take a step back and see what the damage is. Here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the NBA’s free agent period:
* New Orleans Hornets – It’s supposed to take some time to recover from losing a franchise player, right? Well, through an uncanny combination of luck (landing the #1 pick), luck (Stern vetoing crappy Lakers trade, negotiating Eric Gordon trade, keeping Gordon long term via RFA), luck (Rubio getting hurt thus giving NO a second top ten pick), and luck (Magic being dumb enough to give away Ryan Anderson), New Orleans has done just that. And in such a short time! Seriously though, the Davis/Anderson/Gordon trio is going to be really good, and the team has a bunch of other nice pieces in Austin Rivers, Darius Miller, and Al-Farouq Aminu. A+ offseason.
* Phoenix Suns – Phoenix easily could have had a disastrous summer leaving them with a bare bones roster and precious few assets. Instead, they orchestrated a sign-and-trade with Nash that netted them two first round picks and then added young, low cost talent in Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. Great recovery for a perpetually incompetent franchise.
* Atlanta Hawks – Atlanta successfully purged themselves of over $100M of bad contracts between Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, and did so without having to give up a single extra asset. I’d have sworn to you this was completely impossible, but apparently nothing is beyond the scope of the NBA’s stupidity. Afterwards, they put the cherry on top by getting Lou Williams to take the MLE. Huuuuuuuge offseason!
* Brook Lopez ($60M), Omer Asik ($25.1M) – My goodness that’s a ton of money for two seriously flawed players. Lopez is a nice offensive player, but he can’t rebound or defend worth his life. Conversely, Asik is a defense/rebound machine, but can barely catch the ball, much less score. But hey, on the plus side, there are usually twice as many dumb contracts given out to seven-footers, so maybe people are catching on. Or not.
* The Rockets PG situation – Houston entered the offseason with two young, stud PG’s in Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, so how exactly did they end up with Jeremy Lin? For sure, Lin was a nice signing at this juncture, even at $8M+ per season, but there’s really no doubt that Houston ended up with the third best option in that group. And really, there was no earthly reason why that had to be the case. Lowry was a proven performer that was already under contract. Dragic was exclusively negotiating with Houston at the outset, and eventually signed with Phoenix for less than Lin received. Both players outperformed Lin last season, and both were far easier and cheaper to retain. Bad move on Houston’s part.
* $46.5M of Nicolas Batum -- WHOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! That’s so much money for Nicolas Batum! The potential is there, yeah, but neither Portland nor Minnesota is the least bit concerned that he’s been in the league for four full years and is still banking on potential? Oh man, this has disaster written all over it. They better negotiate a few more amnesties…
* There has been a lot of ugly this offseason, but nothing compares with the way the Knicks have completely mangled things in New York. Swapping out Jeremy Lin for Ray Felton/Jason Kidd (Rayson Kilton) is a complete and utter disaster. And to think, this sudden urge to be “fiscally responsible” is coming from the same owner who let Isaiah Thomas rack up $100M in payroll (on the likes of Eddy Curry and Steve Francis!), and who just recently handed out money to a couple 40 year old men (Kidd, Marcus Camby). Make no mistake, no matter how high the cost of keeping Lin would be, the cost of letting him walk is exponentially higher. In short, it might be the dumbest decision in recent NBA history. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Just go to a few Knicks message boards and see how depressed their fan base is. This franchise has been perpetually kicking their fans in the teeth for years, and they really did owe it to them to keep their product fun and likable.
2. Brooklyn has a team. There is competition in town. The Knicks don’t have a free pass anymore.
3. From a competitive standpoint, Lin is better than either Felton or Kidd. In fact, based on their play last season, both Felton and Kidd are borderline NBA players at this point. You can’t sell your fans on a “championship dream” and then cheap out on PG.
4. Under no circumstances can an NBA team afford to literally give away a 23 year old asset. Just can’t do it. There are simply too few good, young players to take a player like Lin for granted.
5. Most importantly, the basis of the Knicks decision (cost) is faulty. True, the third year cap hit of $15M is hefty, especially when you add in the luxury tax, but the cap hit for the first two years of the deal is just over $5M. That’s two years where you can stick a bucket on the ground and collect all the money rolling off Lin’s back. More importantly, that’s two years to make other moves to save money down the road, and two years to evaluate Lin to see if things are working out. And guess what? If Lin sucks or if the team goes in the tank, you can trade him! Easily! Worst case, the Knicks cut him and use the “Stretch Provision” to stretch his $15M cap hit over three seasons, thus drastically reducing the luxury tax hit the team would take.
Basically, there was literally no reason for the Knicks to let Lin walk, thus destroying the spirit of their collective fan base.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the Knicks new cross town rival would be the franchise to thumb their noses at the new CBA when it has been the Knicks doing that for so many years. But hey, at least New Yorkers have $60M worth of Brook Lopez to cheer for.