Author: Ira Winderman

Dwight Howard

Winderman: Despite Dwightmare, we’ve reached NBA slow season


In a non-Dwight year, this is when it tends to stop, in August.

As an NBA executive recently explained, there tend to be four stages to the offseason when it comes to personnel moves:

— The start of the free-agency period and the resulting immediate frenzy.

— The period shortly thereafter when offer sheets are matched or rejected, potentially freeing up what essentially had been frozen money.

— A follow-up period from lower- and minimal-salaried players, primarily those with families, who want to establish in advance their landing spots for the coming season.

— And then the long wait, until just before, or even amid, the start of camps, when, amid depleted cap space, a minimal-salary reality becomes the only reality for those still left on the board.

While the timing of the Olympics and the uncertainly of the Dwight Howard situation make 2012 a bit more complex, the silence currently being experienced is typical.

Oh, there still are those who see more than a minimum-salary reality, such as Mickael Pietrus distancing himself from the Celtics, as well as a few lingering free agents who may yet still cash in, such as fairly recent amnesty additions Andray Blatche and Josh Childress or somewhat-proven veterans such as Carlos Delfino and Kenyon Martin. But most it has become a case of players and teams assessing the prospects of playing time, the only true remaining currency.

That, essentially, is where the best-of-the-rest stand today, free agents such as Matt Barnes, Derek Fisher, Chris Andersen, Darko Milicic, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Anthony Tolliver, Jodie Meeks, Maurice Evans, Anthony Parker, Ryan Gomes and Tracy McGrady.

As for the pool of restricted free agents, that list has been reduced to Atlanta’s Ivan Johnson and Cleveland’s Alonzo Gee, effectively ending offer-sheet season.

At this point, it is likely the NBA’s transaction wire will be busier in September, when camps start to open, than in August, when the assessments could be limited to foreign teams scouting prospects in the Olympics.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Winderman: New CBA means role players will see short-term contracts

Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns

As the NBA adjusts to its new collective-bargaining agreement, we’re beginning to see some short-term returns. Literally.

With a more punitive luxury tax and free agents thinking twice about moving on to new teams (and therefore significantly smaller contracts than by remaining with their incumbent teams), we’re apparently in the era of incremental rebuilds.

Example A this offseason is the one-year Mavericks.

Example B is the two-year Chicago Bulls.

Where four-, five- and six-year contracts previously were de rigueur, the CBA agreed to last December clearly is turning the NBA into a more transient league. Jerseys now are being rented, teams less likely to mortgage their future for supporting players.

Take Dallas, which lost out on Deron Williams and, at best, is left in a holding pattern with Dwight Howard.

Instead of loading up with long-term replacement parts, the Mavericks opted for the short-term recovery program of adding the one-year contracts of Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones, with O.J. Mayo getting a one-year deal that also has a one-year player option.

It is a roster likely to keep the Mavericks in the playoff mix, without stripping salary-cap space for a bigger splash next summer or beyond.

Then there are the Bulls, who essentially face a lost 2012-13, with Derrick Rose expected to be out until at least March in the wake of his postseason knee injury.

Rather than lock themselves in long term before gauging Rose’s recovery, they instead have essentially establishing a two-year holding pattern, with a two-year deal for Kirk Hinrich, a two-year deal for Marco Belinelli and a one-year deal for Nazr Mohammed. Bypassed was matching the Rockets’ long-term offer sheet for Omer Asik, with Carlos Boozer, whose deal runs through 2014-15, a possible amnesty move next summer. There even has been word of trying to offload Rip Hamilton, who has a partial guarantee in 2013-14.

The upshot is a league largely operating on a year-to-year basis, dynasty talk left to the concentrated likes of the Heat, Lakers and possibly Thunder, Nets and Knicks.

Traditionally, July has been a time of teams taking the long view, building toward greater goals, citing teams that have been built to endure.

And then the new CBA and new luxury tax and new contract rules got in the way.

The Mavericks still could be pretty good this season, just as the Bulls, under the relentlessness that is Tom Thibodeau, will find a way to keep themselves somewhere at the top of the East the next two seasons.

But both teams, like many others these days, already are looking toward their next incarnation, because the long term is largely becoming an abstract in the new-CBA NBA.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Winderman: Lin’s offer sheet not problem, Knicks entire payroll is

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony looks on against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York

This is where many get the NBA luxury tax wrong: The third year on the offer sheet extended by the Rockets to Jeremy Lin will not cost the Knicks $43 million when factoring in the luxury tax, as some have extrapolated.

It will cost the Knicks the $15 million on the third year of that contract.

The excess payroll will cost the Knicks $43 million.

And that is a point executives familiar with such situations are quick to point out: Just because a player is the last, or latest, contract added to a team’s salary pool, it doesn’t make it the one that puts the team into — in this case, excessively into — the luxury tax.

It is the sum of the entire payroll.

For now, the debate in New York, and among Lin-sanity observers elsewhere, is whether the Knicks can afford to retain Lin amid such a huge potential luxury-tax hit.

But that also overlooks the bigger picture, that by trading for Carmelo Anthony’s huge salary, by signing Amare Stoudemire to such an excessive salary and by putting so much cash into Tyson Chandler’s limited game, the next big salary on the Knicks’ books was always going to be the one that was going to lead to luxury-tax Armageddon.

The Knicks forestalled the initial hit by using an amnesty claim with Chauncey Billups before last season. They then thought they could get by on the cheap at point guard when Baron Davis came along at a minimal salary.

And then Lin-sanity ensued (in retrospect, if only it had been Bibby-sanity . . .).

In 2014-15, the season of excess in the Rockets’ offer sheet to Lin, Anthony and Stoudemire each will be earning $23 million, with Chandler earning $15 million.

That is why the tax is an issue.

Of course, if Lin is retained, an argument could be made about Raymond Felton’s salary not only contributing to the excessive tax overage, but being unnecessary.

With the NBA moving away from offensively limited big men, moving Chandler won’t be easy. With so many injury issues, you can just about forget about moving Stoudemire’s uninsurable deal. And Anthony is the supposed cornerstone.

If those three are the core, then the Knicks just move on from Lin.

But it’s not Lin’s contract, alone, that has created such pause. It’s all the contracts. Collectively. Knicks-sanity, if you will.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Winderman: Max contracts and amnesty, have the owners learned anything?

Brook Lopez

With Elton Brand about to come off the market and Luis Scola about to go on the market, we’re reminded of why there is an NBA amnesty process in the first place: because of large-scale contracts that were shortsighted.

And then we have Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert and Eric Gordon getting maximum-scale offers this summer and we’re left to wonder whether anyone has learned their lockout lesson.

The reality is the new max-level deals are decidedly less cumbersome than the previous, Joe Johnson-level deals. But the third and fourth years of those contracts nonetheless quickly can turn cumbersome if those players don’t turn into perennial All-Stars.

The difference this time is there will be no second chance, no amnesty allowed on contracts signed after the lockout. This time, teams have to live with the luxury-tax consequences.

All of which leads to the debate of max contracts themselves, and the uniqueness of the NBA marketplace.

Sports, especially leagues with salary caps, are the only place where you go shopping, ask how much something costs, and the answer comes back as, “How much you got?”

Lopez, Hibbert and Gordon all found suitors with maximum salary slots available.

This by no means is advocating any sort of statistical metric, with so much in the NBA still non-quantifiable, be it the pass that leads to the assist, stepping out to disrupt the pick and roll, setting crushing screens.

But there sure seem to be enough experts around these days, between the statistical set, the executives and coaches who act as if they invented the game, the recently retired, the Hall of Famers, that perhaps the NBA needs to move to some sort of free-agency tier system, where the most deserving still could max out, but where others couldn’t hold teams hostage just because cap space happens to be available.

Each time a team amnesties a player, it is acknowledging a mistake, no matter how the press release is issued.

We’re currently in the latest round of mea culpa, teams acknowledging they either offered too much money or too many years or simply put too much faith in their medical staffs.

To a degree, amnesty is a market correction.

But the reality is that while amnesty allows for luxury-tax savings, the dollars still are being spent, teams fully on the hook for the balance of those contracts.

When the process is over, when every team utilizes its one-time amnesty allowance in coming years, the NBA needs to analyze each of the amnesty releases, crunch those numbers, establish statistical, medical and age profiles of those players . . . and then hopefully learn going forward.

Because if there’s another league-wide round of amnesty, it will mean there will have been another lockout.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter @IraHeatBeat.

Winderman: Dallas blew it all up for this?

Dallas Mavericks' Nowitzki walks off the court during a timeout against the Oklahoma City Thunder during their NBA Western Conference quarter-final playoff basketball game in Dallas

The Mavericks blew it up for this? To finish as runner-up for Deron Williams?

The Mavericks put aside one of Dirk Nowitzki’s precious few quality remaining seasons on the promise of potential hope?

Yes, the Mavericks still could recover next summer, if Chris Paul doesn’t reach a new deal with the Clippers, if Dwight Howard doesn’t find a home he deems suitable.

And Mark Cuban may yet find a new franchise cornerstone moving forward.

But the reality is Nowitzki is an expiring commodity, one who now won’t play with Deron Williams, because Williams saw a brighter future in Brooklyn than the one Mark Cuban hoped to create in Dallas.

If 2010 free agency is an example, the runner-up tends not to come out of the process in the best of position. Having lost out on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that summer, the Bulls settled for Carlos Boozer. Now there is a chance Boozer eventually is amnestied should the Bulls match the Rockets’ offer sheet for Omer Asik.

In 2010 free agency, when the Knicks failed in their bids for the Heat’s Big Three, their answer was to sign Amare Stoudemire. New York is still trying to make that work, possibly now as the second-best team in their city.

And in 2010 free agency, when the Hawks couldn’t upgrade, they overpaid Joe Johnson and only now are working their way out of that nightmare.

There are exceptions. The Clippers also paid their requisite LeBron visit in 2010, came up empty-handed, but retained enough flexibility to eventually land Paul last season.

There remains the chance the Mavericks can do the same next summer.

The difference is the Clippers had a young core that could wait, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still in their formative years.

Dallas now is looking at Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood and a few other pieces. That’s a lot of years to put on hold.

Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson were allowed to depart last offseason.

Jason Terry is leaving now.

The Mavericks never got to truly defend their championship.

And Nowitzki again has been put on hold.

Such is the gamble tying a franchise’s future to an all-or-nothing element in free agency.

Under Cuban, the Mavericks have avoided the ultimate rebuild endured by teams such as the Heat, Pistons and to a degree even the Nets.

Tuesday, though, may have presented the ultimate challenge.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.