Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Good Moves; Bad Moves in NBA Free Agency

The acquisition of Doc Rivers was integral to keeping Chris Paul in Los Angeles (flickr)
By Bennett Corcoran

As the July moratorium approaches and NBA free agency officially kicks off, let’s take a quick look at some teams that have already committed to verbal agreements with prominent free agents on the market as they attempt to improve next season. Aside from the obvious good moves like Dwight Howard to the Rockets or even Andre Iguodala to the Warriors, there are plenty of other moves out there that require a little more analysis.

Good Move(s): Los Angeles Clippers Keep Chris Paul, Get Doc Rivers, and Improve Depth
Despite earning the most wins in franchise history last season, the Clippers disappointed in the postseason by losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. While attempting to keep Chris Paul around was a no-brainer, retaining him was far from it. To do so, the Clippers had to acquire Doc Rivers, a veteran coach with a proven track record, to replace the incompetent Vinny Del Negro, whose late-game substitutions and questionable decisions clearly jeopardized their chances. Not only did the Clips keep their franchise cornerstone and nab one of the best coaches in the NBA, they were able to flip budding star Eric Bledsoe, who was inevitably on the way out of Clipperland, for backcourt depth in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. This pair of shooters gives Paul even more weapons to drive and kick to, and immediately makes the “other” L.A. team one of the best offenses in the Association. Factor in the addition of Darren Collison, along with the retention of Matt Barnes, and the Clippers are clearly winners in July.

Bad Move: Detroit Pistons Waste Cap Space (Again)
Josh Smith is a hard-nosed defender who uses his strength and athleticism to get blocks and get out in transition for easy buckets. However, the Pistons simply aren’t a good fit by any means. Despite his preferences, Smith doesn't belong at small forward. His love affair with the long two and his inefficiency from three point range make him a questionable fit with the Pistons, who appear set at power forward and center with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already in fold. I’m just not sure Smith will be able to be successful playing alongside Monroe and Drummond at the same time. Factor in the likely backcourt pair of Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, and it’s evident the Pistons will be one of the most three-point deprived teams in the NBA.

Good Move: Portland Trailblazers Add Depth
With the constant trade rumors swirling around Portland’s lone All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland needed to act fast and improve the overall depth of their team. The foundation of Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews is solid, but still a bench away from a playoff team. But with the additions of former lottery pick Thomas Robinson, three-point specialist Dorell Wright, and true center Robin Lopez, the Blazers are stockpiling affordable young talent and making the necessary moves to sneak into the playoff picture.

Bad Move: Charlotte Bobcats Sign Al Jefferson
This move was unsurprising yet disappointing. It is clear that Michael Jordan and the Bobcats organization are desperate to win now, but they have got to be more patient than this. Spending  $41 million on Jefferson, a solid offensive center but one who offers nothing defensively and is still clueless as to how to defend the pick-and-roll, is simply irrational. I understand that they are the laughing stock of the NBA and want to improve their culture, but they probably could’ve done so for far less. Even worse, Jefferson could be just good enough to take them out of the running in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.

Good Move: Atlanta Hawks Sign Paul Millsap
The Hawks have a ton of cap space, and snatching up Millsap is a low risk maneuver. A relative bargain at two years and $19 million, Millsap won’t turn into a long-term burden Atlanta will regret for some time, unlike his former Utah counterpart in Charlotte. Instead, Millsap will help replace the production of Josh Smith and try to bring the Hawks back to the playoffs. If it doesn’t work out or Atlanta decides to tank, Millsap’s contract won’t be difficult to move by any means. A low risk move, this contract allows the Hawks to stay competitive while retaining flexibility.

Bad Move: Minnesota Timberwolves Sign Kevin Martin

I understand the Timberwolves were absolutely desperate for three-point shooting, and obviously Martin is a capable sharpshooter from distance. However, four years and $28 million for a guy who is already 30 and is a severe defensive liability is a definite stretch. While Ricky Rubio will certainly find Martin some open looks around the perimeter, this move significantly limits the T-Wolves financially moving forward.

Good Move: Indiana Pacers Build Bench
If the Pacers had a more productive bench (or more realistically, even a productive bench), they could have definitely knocked off the eventual back-to-back champion Miami Heat. Early in the offseason, Indiana is already attempting to bolster its bench. After resigning David West, the Pacers added an effective backup point guard (as opposed to D.J. Augustin) in C.J. Watson, a proven veteran who knows his role. Factor in the addition of Chris Copeland, an underused forward for the Knicks last season capable of knocking down three pointers, and it finally looks like the Pacers could have a solid bench next year, even if Tyler Hansbrough leaves. With Danny Granger coming back as well, Indiana is in good shape going forward.

Bad Move: New Orleans Pelicans Commit to Tyreke Evans

This one is certainly a perplexing move by the Pelicans. Evans has made it pretty clear that he prefers not to play small forward, yet the backcourt in New Orleans seems firmly set with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday officially on board and the max contract of Eric Gordon occupying the two-guard spot (well, if he can play for more than 30 games that is). So for now, I’m just not sure how Evans meshes with this group. To make matters worse, the Pelicans now have a gaping hole at center now that Robin Lopez has departed, unless they’re convinced that Anthony Davis can handle it.

Good Move: Philadelphia 76ers Trade for Royce White
In an incredibly low-risk, high-reward move, the Sixers acquired Royce White from the Houston as the Rockets needed to clear cap space to sign Dwight Howard. New GM Sam Hinkie is clearly familiar with White from his days in Houston, and felt that this was a calculated risk. Honestly, I feel bad for Royce White, as his off-court anxiety issues have really distorted the perception of him. He still has a chance be an effective NBA player based on the talent he displayed at Iowa State. With Philadelphia firmly entrenched in the lottery, this was a solid risk to take.

Bad Move: Dallas Mavericks Stockpile Mediocre Point Guards
I’m not going to tax the Mavs for missing out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, because they did give it all they had (at least this time around there were no conflicting Shark Tank episodes that I’m aware of) and quite frankly were a long shot to begin with. Instead, I’ll criticize how they reacted to missing out on Dwight; signing every point guard in sight to a multi-year deal. Last year when Dallas whiffed on Deron Williams, they stockpiled one-year deals to preserve cap space. But this year, they not only lost out on their prized free agent, but they renounced a large portion of their cap room with redundant players signed to long-term deals. Jose Calderon is a decent point guard, but four years and $29 million for a guy who plays suspect defense, is already 31, and is probably not even a top 20 point guard in the NBA is a definite head-scratcher. Add in the additions of Devin Harris and Gal Mekel despite drafting Shane Larkin in the first round makes the move even more puzzling. Harris proved in Atlanta he can play off-ball, but that doesn’t justify the Calderon signing in my eyes. With every move Mark Cuban makes, that promise to Dirk Nowitzki of returning to contention looks more and more foolish.

Good Move: Sacramento Kings Acquire Luc Mbah a Moute
In a lower profile move, the Kings added a defensive-minded forward to fill their glaring void at the three by trading a pair of second rounders for Mbah a Moute. The former UCLA product isn’t flashy, hasn’t shown much improvement from year to year, and comes with injury concerns. On the other hand, he’s consistent and plays with a defensive intensity, which nobody else in Sac-town seems to do (second to last in defensive efficiency last season). It’s not going to propel them to the playoffs, but it subtly alters the culture in the right direction. The move also likely takes them out of the running of the ultimate chucker Monta Ellis, which is a good move in and of itself.

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