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50 Observations about NBA Free Agency

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From time to time, I drop random observations because it’s too long for a tweet and too short for a full post. Also because it allows me to crack jokes, which is really the reason I’m here. That and the money. Mostly the money. Anyway, it’s been a crazy week of free agency. Here are 50 observations about what we’ve seen.

1. Despite all the hand wringing over the vast majority of these deals, there has been a significant level of restraint exhibited. Gone are the eight-figure averages that would so commonly permeate second and third option player extensions, replaced by reasonable three-year deals.

2. Nothing is more exemplary of this than Nick Young. In 2009? Nick Young would be showering the money oil off of him from sleeping in a gigantic bed of money with cash sheets. Joe Dumars alone would have offered him the gross national product of Botswana.

3. Instead, Young gets a one-year, $6 million contract. Lou Williams is still on the market. O.J. Mayo, Brandon Rush, Courtney Lee, shooting guards are actually not being snatched up like they’re gold mines. It’s incredible.

4. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t bad deals being tossed around.

5. In totally unrelated news, Jeff Green got four-years, $36 million.

6. I argued on Twitter that were the fourth year non-guaranteed, I wouldn’t have objected to a $10 million per-year average for the Celtics. They had positional need for Green, had already invested a lot in his future, and their inability to sign outside free agents created a boondoggle for them.

7. That said, it’s still an overpay and there isn’t a single metric or piece of hard evidence to suggest that Green is worthy of this deal. It’s either going to turn out as one of the best or worst contracts Danny Ainge gambled on. And this is a guy who brought in Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal.

8. On the other side of it, you have to love what the Hornets did with the sign-and-trade for Ryan Anderson. Getting a versatile big who can spread the floor and actually rebounds, the Hornet managed to get more than what the Magic will likely get for Dwight Howard, in exchange for Gustavo Ayon. Not a bad day at the office.

9. I have concerns about Anthony Davis being forced into playing the 5, but with today’s NBA shifting smaller and smaller in terms of lineups, you have to think it’s at least worth a shot to pair Davis and Anderson without putting Anderson at the 3.

10. The Sixers managed to have a great and terrible week at the same time. Lavoy Allen, what a steal! Spencer Hawes, what were they thinking? Nick Young, great job! Considering entering the Kris Humphries sweepstakes, why? It’s an up and down week for Philadelphia, but that Allen contract really stands out as a steal.

11. Just to review this, the Rockets had Aaron Brooks and the Suns had Goran Dragic and then the Suns sent Brooks to Houston for Dragic and a pick, and now the Suns have signed Dragic and the Rockets are talking to Brooks and the Rockets got a pick back (in a trade of Kyle Lowry). They’re working backwards. I’m excited for the Suns to trade for Shawn Marion and Houston to introduce Yao Ming.

12. Dragic is going to have a lot on his shoulders assuming the Hornets match the offer for Eric Gordon. Marcin Gortat seems like a good idea, but when you’re actually there and he’s your second best player, that’s a problem.

13. Thank Goodness they have Michael Beasley to provide stability and common sense to the floor.

14. Everyone’s rooting for Bandon Roy, but when he steps on the floor, there will be gasps and a lot of nervous people. Hopefully he’ll accept a low-impact role where he can just shoot, and everything works out.

15. The Mavericks aren’t desperate, at least not as desperate as they seem. They still have Roddy Beaubois who showed a lot last season. They’ll likely have Ian Mahinmi, who really has shown some things. They’re in talks for Ramon Sessions. And, you know, Dirk Nowitzki. They are a well-placed trade from getting a core together. They’re out of title contention for the foreseeable future, but they likely will not be horrible.

16. Eric Gordon has done some pretty substantial damage to his image with all this nonsense. It’s one thing to want the money. It’s another to want the freedom. But Gordon wants the money, and the freedom, despite having elected not to sign the qualifying offer to make him a free agent.

17. On top of all that, he wants to use that freedom to join a team with Michael Beasley and Marcin Gortat instead of Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. OK.

18. Gerald Wallace at 4-years, $40 million looks great next to Jeff Green, 4-years, $36 million.

19. Gerald Wallace 4-years, $40 million looks horrible next to Ryan Anderson, 4-years, $36 million. Wallace’s best days are behind him. That contract is going to look massive in three years compared to production.

20. But not as massive as Joe Johnson!

21. It should be noted, with or without Dwight Howard, the Nets will more than likely be paying each team under the cap enough to subsidize their own D-League teams for a year in 2015. Between the Nets and the Knicks, teams will be able to afford their own MLE’s for free.

22. The Grizzlies will have both Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur next year, which is going to be like having clones on the floor when they play together in a small-ball lineup. There aren’t enough elbow jumpers in the world. Good pickups for Memphis, though, and on a budget.

23. Ray Allen, in a world where the Magic are willing to deal with the Nets, the Suns are willing to trade Steve Nash to the Lakers, and Jason Kidd joins the Knicks, is the only one with a true sense of vindictiveness and you have to appreciate that, unexpected though it may be.

24. The Magic are clearly moving towards a rebuild, letting Ryan Anderson go. So we can expect them to be cautious and hesitant with move…. wait, what’s that? They re-signed Jameer Nelson on a long-term, medium-money deal? Oh, OK then.

25. The Knicks are in such a bind with Jeremy Lin. They can’t move him because he’s too valuable from a marketing standpoint, and yet matching is insane because they’re never going to give him the ball anyway. #ISOMELO

26. If Rashard Lewis signs in Miami, please consider how good the Heat’s garbage time lineup featuring Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier, and Juwan Howard would be in 2003.

27. George Hill’s five-year, $40 million deal in Indiana isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t awful. You’d like to see him cement himself as the guaranteed starter there, though, for that money. The deal is going to be very movable in about two years, though, should the Pacers need to clear it.

28. Kevin Love desperately wants out of Minnesota. Nicolas Batum desperately wants in. Different strokes, I suppose.

29. The Clippers went with such a strange combination of players. Billups makes more sense with Mo Williams traded to Utah, but Jamal Crawford is going to be so boom or bust for them. They’re also going to be short a shooter with Nick Young gone. But stars like CP3 like veterans. And Crawford’s a vet.

30. Jerryd Bayless is likely going to be a pretty good value pickup for one of these teams. He can run point and score. He’s got limitations but as a bench contributor he can provide help.

31. Love the idea of Antawn Jamison in Charlotte. Gives them a professional to set the tone in the locker room, he spreads the floor enough and he comes at a discount price on a short-term contract. That’s just what the doctor ordered as the Bobcats try and move out of the primordial ooze.

32. You have to appreciate the fact that Brandon Bass almost certainly took less money to return to the Celtics. He’s a guy who really could have helped a lot of teams. Not sure how he’ll fit once the plodding Big-2-plus-Rondo era is over, but he’s going to help them win a lot of games over the next two years.

33. Elton Brand goes from horribly overpaid player to unbelievable bargain in a single transaction. Say hello to the amnesty clause.

34. Alonzo Gee isn’t on the radar much and the Cavs can match any offer but teams should definitely explore an offer sheet for him. He’s versatile, productive, and still has some upside. He was a hidden gem for Cleveland last year.

35. Kirk Hinrich returns for nearly a quarter of what he was making in his last year in Chicago. He’ll help, though. He can manage the offense, which is a big deal with how the Bulls’ offense is. The just need someone to set the table with Rose out.

36. There’s a certain level of ignorance being displayed in the Jason Terry evaluation. Ray Allen slipped last season, but so did Jason Terry. He had more trouble creating a shot, getting to the rim, staying in front of his man, hitting the big shots. He’ll still be a huge contributor for Boston, but losing Allen and gaining Terry is more about team need and fit than overall player talent upgrade.

37. Which guy is more surprising in terms of not having a deal agreed to yet, JaVale McGee or O.J. Mayo?

38. Mayo was coveted in Memphis and can’t seem to break out of the pack to draw an offer. This from a guy who showed the ability to drop 40 as a rookie. Lionel Hollins’ hiring may have been the worst thing for Mayo’s career, even if it was the best thing for Memphis.

39. Anyone else wonder if the Nuggets are going to sign McGee to a big long-term contract and then trade him like they did Nene?

40. If the Bulls match Asik, it’s a good move. If they let him walk for the money, it’s a good move. It’s kind of a can’t lose for Chicago, which is a rarity in these situations. Asik’s good enough to pay but also not good enough to suffer for walking away from.

41. Remember when Shannon Brown was a crucial piece on a championship team?

42. Kwame Brown could get massively overpaid as a competent center or underpaid as Kwame Brown. There’s very little in between.

43. If anyone can figure out what Daryl Morey is doing in Houston, could you draw the rest of us a diagram, with flankers?

44. Andre Miller didn’t take the money, the ring chase, or the starting gig. He just stayed home. Didn’t see that coming.

45. Marcus Camby’s transformation for how he’s considered defensively over the past five years is amazing, and Benjamin-Butto-like.

46. Weird that the Blazers are playing so cool with Nicolas Batum after making his trade value essentially worth a city of gold over the past three years.

47. I have come to the conclusion that Dan Fegan is Keyser Soze.

48. In this scenario, Billy King is Verbal Kint.

49. Pivotal trade piece and free agent: Kris Humphries. Who would have seen that coming two years ago?

50. Landry Fields…. why, Colangelo? Why?

 

Lakers name Magic Johnson President of Basketball Operations

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15:  Magic Johnson attends a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Magic Johnson essentially publicly anointed himself in charge of the Lakers’ front office.

Now, the Lakers are actually giving him the job.

Lakers release:

Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin “Magic” Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss said. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

“It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Jeanie Buss added, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, “We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best.”

With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, “Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less.”

In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, “We thank John for his many years of service.”

This closes an ugly chapter in which Jeannie Buss named Johnson as an advisor, and then he went about publicly trashing Jim Buss and Kupchack while evaluating them for her and clamoring for their front-office power.

Now, the real work begins. And that doesn’t mean calling Kobe Bryant.

Johnson inherits a team with plenty of young talent: D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. That’s a great starting point.

But the Lakers also face significant hurdles back to the top.

They lose their 2017 and 2019 first-round picks if their 2017 first-round pick doesn’t land in the top three. The Lakers have the NBA’s third-worst record. In the past, Johnson has expressed an affinity for tanking.

The Lakers also have the burdensome contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Those make it tough to clear cap space to sign a star.

At least they can trade Lou Williams, who’s having a special season. The deadline is Thursday, so Johnson must hit the ground running.

These conditions are the effects of Jim Buss’ misguided pledge to jolt the Lakers back to contending. Their shortsighted moves and even bigger dreams backfired so spectacularly, they backed into several high draft picks — and at least chose well. While Kupchak’s overall tenure was positive, his approach had grown stale.

The Lakers needed a change in management. I’m just not convinced Johnson was the solution.

Would they have hired him if he didn’t play for them? Probably not. Does his playing experience with the Lakers specifically, as opposed to any team, better prepare him for this job? Probably not.

But even if Johnson were hired for the wrong reasons, he can still succeed.

He thrived in business after retirement by putting the right people around him, and he can do that here. Johnson obviously knows basketball, but managing a roster and all the salary-cap complexities is a different animal. He needs staff, including a general manager, more familiar with that.

Johnson will be the franchise’s new smiling face. But, for this to truly work, Johnson will have to build a winner the old-fashioned way: With savvy drafting, trading and signing.

Reports: Bulls telling teams they won’t trade Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler, top, shoots over Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during the overtime of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won 123-118 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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The Bulls reportedly weren’t making Jimmy Butler available for a trade last month.

As the trade deadline approaches, it seems that hasn’t changed.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The teams that talked to the Chicago Bulls today were told, “Just about everybody on our roster is available, but Jimmy Butler is not.”

The Bulls are not obliged to stand by that, and there’s no indication they’ve assured Butler anything. If they’re offered a package more valuable than Butler, they’ll trade him.

But that’s a lot of value.

Butler is playing like a superstar, 27 and locked up for two more seasons after this one. Not many teams have the assets to trade for someone like that.

Plus, Chicago could use the designated-veteran-player rule to re-sign him. No other team would hold that advantage if it trades for him.

So, Butler is probably valued more by the Bulls than any other team. But if another team with significant assets makes a suitable offer, I doubt Butler remains unavailable.

Lakers’ Lou Williams provides smooth scoring, trade intrigue

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 22:  Louis Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 22, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Lou Williams declared for the 2005 NBA draft out of high school and proclaimed, “The second round is not an option.”

He was drafted with the 15th pick of the second round.

“I used to have to run through everybody,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t feel like I do. Just trying to outsmart guys.”

The last guard drafted directly out of high school, Williams has quietly refined his game. His athleticism has declined with age, but gone too is a recklessness to his play. He largely makes the plays he can and doesn’t try to make the ones he can’t.

Williams is the Lakers’ best player. As a result, he’s also one of the league’s bigger trade chips as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.

He leads the Lakers with 18.6 points per game, and they come in just 24.2 minutes per game. He makes that time count with a historic combination of volume and efficiency.

Both his usage percentage (30.6) and true shooting percentage (60.9) lead the team. The only regularly-used players to produce full seasons with a usage percentage of at least 30 and a true shooting percentage of at least 60 are or will be Hall of Famers:

Harden (again), Isaiah Thomas and Kawhi Leonard are also on pace to do it this year. All three were All-Stars.

Williams flies under the radar, because he usually comes off the bench for Los Angeles — though that offers special opportunity for recognition later in the season.

Already a Sixth Man of the Year winner (2015 with the Raptors), Williams leads eligible players in win shares this season:

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Williams and Dwight Powell (Mavericks) are the only reserves leading their teams in win shares.

In fact, Williams has been so much better than his teammates, he could maintain his team lead even if traded. His 5.1 win shares rank well ahead of the 3.3 by Nick Young (another trade candidate) and 2.2 by Larry Nance Jr.

But there’s still a relatively high likelihood he gets moved. The Lakers are focusing more on player development, and the 30-year-old Williams could help a team ready to win now.

He’s locked in for a bargain $7 million next season. So, his more-than-just-a-rental status could help the Lakers land a first-round pick.

“I just go out and play,” Williams said. “I let the powers make deals or if they don’t.”

There’s a patience in Williams’ game that has developed in recent years. He attributes some of it to a torn ACL in 2013. No longer as quick, the pick-and-roll ace has been forced to play smarter.

Williams has mostly eliminated long 2s from his game, getting more shots at the rim, 3-pointers and free throws. His craftiness fits the modern game.

But there are still concerns about how he’ll translate to a better team.

He’s a defensive liability, and his size limits paths to reliability on that end. Not only is he 6-foot-1, he often needs to play shooting guard because his playmaking for others is only so-so for a point guard.

But as poor as he’s been defensively (400th of 450 players in defensive real plus-minus), he has been even better offensively (13th in offensive real plus-minus behind only All-Stars and Nikola Jokic). Still, he relies heavily on drawing fouls, and his tricks might not be so effective during a playoff series with plenty of time to scout him.

There are risks in acquiring Williams. But getting another player having a special season — like, say, Jimmy Butler — would be tremendously more costly. As long as a team has a plan to accentuate Williams’ strengths and hide his weaknesses, he might be one of the best bargains on the trade market.

Paul George says he’s not motivated by opportunity to earn higher max

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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NEW ORLEANS — The Pacers have already granted a standing max offer to Paul George.

So, if he wants to stay in Indiana, his potential paths look relatively straightforward:

If he makes an All-NBA team this season, he can sign a designated-veteran-player extension that would kick in in 2018-19 and projects be worth about $209 million over five years (about $42 million annually).

If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he can wait to sign and try again to make one next season. If he does, he can sign a new contract in 2018 that would be worth the same $209 million or so over the same five-year period.

I think it’s this simple: If he becomes eligible to become a designated veteran player, he’ll sign then. If not, 2018 free agency projects to offer a choice of about $179 million over five years (about $36 million annually) to re-sign or about $133 million over four years (about $33 million annually) to sign elsewhere — a more difficult decision.

George says he’s not thinking about earning the higher max.

“You want to be one of the best,” George said. “And that’s the only motivation. You want to be All-NBA. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you want to play for, to be recognized as one of the league’s best players.”

That’s no small challenge for George, who was one of 12 All-Star forwards this year, joining:

With only six All-NBA forward spots, George faces long odds this season — and no easy path next season.

But at least eligibility for the higher max coincides with one of his goals.

“It’s nice. It’s nice,” George said. “But that’s not the motivation you want to play for”