While Atlanta didn’t acquire anyone of significance nor did they improve through the draft, they have escaped the first week of free agency unscathed and, ultimately, a team more equipped to win in the long run. In a stroke of genius, Danny Ferry eliminated $81.5 million of future salary commitments while retaining their three most valuable trade chips — Josh Smith’s $13.2 million expiring deal, Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Now they have flexibility and assets. Atlanta won’t contend for a title but they werent’t going to prior to trading Joe Johnson anyway.
Here was my initial reaction to the Johnson deal:
So how did Atlanta win this despite giving up a really talented player in exchange what will likely amount to little on-court production? NBA analysts throw around this term quite often — flexibility. The reprieve that of trading Johnson ostensibly represents a temporary reset button on the entire operation. The prior regime never pushed that reset button, opting to create mediocre teams instead. Ferry finally pushed that reset button. Atlanta’s newfound flexibility — here is that term again — is invaluable.
Now that’s how you win an offseason without actually improving your team in the short-term.
Los Angeles Lakers
Prior to the start of free agency, you couldn’t blame Lakers fans for expecting an uneventful offseason. In theory, with $79.8 million tied up to 10 players, Los Angeles had essentially no cap room to cover up for their deficiencies — namely their depth and point guard play (especially since Ramon Sessions is an unrestricted free agent).
Well, the Lakers remedied the entire situation by utilizing their trade exception, acquired in the Lamar Odom deal last year, to acquire Steve Nash. Nash, as you know, is an elite passer and shooter. There is some questions concerning his ability to cope with Kobe Bryant on the basketball floor and whether Mike Brown will utilize his defined skills in an appropriate manner. But he’s Steve Nash. He’s really, really good. The Lakers should be fine.
I consider Toronto a winner because they traded a future lottery pick and Gary Forbes for a legitimate starting point guard who played at an All-Star level for the first of last season. They may have overpaid Landry Fields but they have put themselves in a good position to make the playoffs. (Remember: Jonas Valanciunas will likely play with Toronto this year. According to people that know more about prospects than me, he should be pretty good.)
With an aggregate winning percentage of 37.8% over the last four years — translated to an 82-game season, that’s a 31-51 record — Toronto is tired of toiling in the metaphorical doldrums. I like where they are headed.
Jeff Green/David Falk
If Green earns a four-year deal worth $40 million, according to a report, it’d be the best performance by an agent without any actual leverage in … awhile. There hasn’t been a ton of interest surrounding Green, who was sidelined the entire 2011-12 season with an aeortic aneurysm. How did he wiggle himself into a deal worth approximately $10 million a year despite playing at an average rate (12.8 PER over first five seasons)? Well done, David Falk (Green’s agent). Well done.
Marc Cuban’s entire modus operandi hinged on one important person — Deron Williams. If he opted to stay in Brooklyn, it’d be a failure from the onset. When Williams re-signed with Brooklyn to a tune of five-years, $100 million; Dallas’ brilliant plan was foiled. What made it worse? Jason Terry fled the team for Boston and Jason Kidd had cold feet before jolting to New York. The remnants aren’t pretty either — Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and not much else. Is this even a playoff team anymore?
Houston was in a similar boat to Dallas with their plans revolving around a superstar — Dwight Howard. They didn’t get screwed as much as Dallas considering they still have a ton of assets to trade. Whether the return is Howard remains to be seen. Howard maintains that he won’t re-sign with Houston, putting a damper on their mood. The questionable move of trading Kyle Lowry, despite losing Goran Gragic to Phoenix, left a gaping hole at the point guard position too.
His primary destination, Brooklyn, doesn’t have any cap room. That fact hasn’t deterred them yet: they remain active in talks with Howard and, conceivably, everyone in the NBA and my grandma too. (She can be had for the mini midlevel exception and is an excellent mentor for any player in the league given that she’s 68 years old.) The Lakers have similarly moved on after acquiring Nash. Dallas suddenly doesn’t have any semblance of their championship foundation. Yup. Nothing is quite coming together for Dwight right now.
(Cue the miniature violins.)