If we’ve learned anything from this wet, hot free agency summer, it’s that neither Hassan Whiteside nor his great, great grandchildren will ever go hungry. That’s because the Miami Heat will pay him $98 million over the next four years. Not a bad deal if you can get it.
Basketball fans were too astounded by the nine-figure salaries being flashed upon our scrolling TV tickers to complain about them. Oh, another player I’ve never heard of just landed a hundred million dollar deal? Ho hum! Timofey Mosgov, a makeshift, Russian center who LeBron was gracious enough to include in his Cleveland circle of trust, signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Lakers. Timofey now has enough money to spell his first name correctly.
To put things in their proper perspective, Magic Johnson, who has a statue in his honor outside the building in which Timofey Mosgov will now play, didn’t make that much money playing for the L.A. over his entire career. Mosgov should probably give that statue a good polish every time he walks in the door, not to mention send LeBron a thank you card.
Mosgov wasn’t the only one getting paid. NBA free agency set off more fireworks than your nearest Independence Day outing. The Memphis Grizzlies paid Mike Conley a record-setting five-year, $153 million dollar deal and he’s not even one of the league’s top ten point guards. When it comes to NBA contracts, timing is everything.
Obviously the biggest news is that the Golden State Warriors shook up the world by winning the Kevin Durant sweepstakes but we’ll get to that in a bit. By popular demand, I have decided to break down what I feel are the winners and losers of this NBA free agency summer.
Golden State Warriors
I hosted a Kevin Durant crystal ball contest asking my readers to predict where the big guy would end up out of all his numerous prospective suitors. I even mentioned the Golden State Warriors as one potential landing spot. Nobody got it right. That’s right, KD is taking his talents to Oakland and now the good people of Oklahoma City have been suddenly reminded that they have nothing to live for as they count down the days until Russell Westbrook leaves town too. With all the teams out there showering him with flowers and candy, KD had plenty of options to swipe right. Apparently his camp convinced him that Golden State was the most likely place to win a championship. I have this image of a 78-year old Jerry West combing his hair while looking at his reflection in the mirror and bragging “Yeah, I still got it.” Golden State still has some pieces they’ll need to add (more on that later… in the Losers section) but since they landed the big fish, that makes them this off-season’s biggest winner. They also signed an aging David West who has been angrily chasing a championship ring now for about ten years. They’ll need him.
New York Knicks
I’m going to keep saying this ‘til I’m blue in the face. I am all in on the Knicks. It took some forty years of the Knicks fan within me dying to get out and it’s finally here. You’ve been warned. I look forward to watching their every game this year. I may even buy myself the NBA ticket just to be able to watch all 82 of ‘em. I’m not saying they’ll beat the Cavs in the East but damn if they didn’t give themselves a much better chance of doing so by adding both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Heck, the Knicks were like a Jewish girl on a shopping spree this summer. They also wanted Durant and Dwayne Wade but couldn’t afford them once they maxed out daddy’s credit card. They’re not going to beat the Cavs (I don’t think), at least not in their first year. Health among New York’s big three is an obvious concern. But being is a Knicks fan is about suffering and I will embrace it wholeheartedly. By landing Rose and Noah, at least they made a move in the right direction which is more than can be said about a franchise that’s been stagnant for about twenty years.
The Cavs are free agency winners simply by doing nothing. They didn’t need to. They have all their core pieces intact and could afford to sit back and polish their championship rings while every other team in the league re-proportioned their rosters in order to beat them. The road to the Finals in the East will once go through Cleveland as you can pretty much pencil LeBron in for his seventh straight Finals appearance. Here’s hoping we’ll get to see some team in the East at least present some sort of a challenge on his way there.
I’m not too sure the Mavericks can compete in the West but they did manage to keep Dirk Nowitzki in a Dallas uniform. Memo to the Miami Heat, sometimes it’s better to do the right thing. Like a big man running the floor on a fast break, reward the guy that got you there. Dallas also picked up Harrison Barnes who, while young, might be able to bring some title experience, and Golden State insider trading, into a locker room that could definitely use a breath of fresh air.
I was worried all last season that a young Celtics team on the rise would add a player that would disrupt their momentum, i.e., Dwight Howard. They passed on that, Ainge understanding that he was on the right track and a free agency (and particularly whiny) Band-Aid might do more harm than good. It might not be this year, it might not be the next but ultimately LeBron will grow old. These young upstart Celtics could be the ones to eventually show him the door. So what do they do this off-season? They get one of the steadiest power forwards in the game. Al Horford was a fantastic pickup for this team, one that will lead Celtic youth without upsetting the applecart. Horford is a fifteen and ten guy night in and night out. He will be a stabilizing force in the middle to allow Boston’s other young talent to do what they do best: win basketball games.
It’s hard to pull one over on Pat Riley but the Chicago Bulls did just that. Of course, they had the advantage of having money and Dwayne Wade’s birthplace. At this point, we’re not sure how much Wade has left in the tank but if history has proven anything, it’s that you’d rather have him on your roster than not. The Bulls also landed Rajon Rondo so while they won’t have Golden State’s 1-2-3 punch of Curry, Thompson and Durant, their combination of Rondo-Wade-Butler isn’t half-bad.
Looking into my crystal ball, here are your eight playoff teams in both the East and the West
East: Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Washington, Indiana
West: Golden State, San Antonio, Clippers, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Portland, Memphis, Utah
Thursday was a sad, sad day in Miami and not just because it was overcast for the first time in the city’s history. The party is officially over. If the Miami Heat’s window didn’t officially slam shut when LeBron James went back home to Cleveland, it’s pretty darned close to closed right now. Three years ago, this team was raising banners and hosting white out parties inside American Airlines Arena with dazzling regularity. With Wade now gone, I’m guessing this season’s attendance numbers will dip just a wee bit. Hey, but at least they have Hassan Whiteside. That’s right, Miami fans, Dwyane Wade has left the building. As much as it probably pained him to leave, the Chicago Bulls were able to offer him two things Miami couldn’t: the opportunity to play in his home town and cash dollar bills. Pat Riley picked Wade out of a Marquette gym years ago, convinced him he was the best player in the league and then made him prove it. He did, so much so that LeBron James had to turn to D-Wade to learn how to win. Now Dwyane Wade will be playing in Chicago which means the Heat will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 2008. For Miami, it is now back to the drawing board after a fairly, lengthy mourning period
Golden State Warriors
How can I list the Golden State Warriors in both the winners and the losers section, you ask? Here’s how. I’m not about to jump on the Reggie Miller-Charles Barkley-Stephen A. Smith bandwagon and trash KD for being “weak” or taking the easy way out. Last time I checked, winning an NBA championship wasn’t easy. Joining this Golden State Warriors team guarantees Durant nothing but a paycheck. Las Vegas (thinks the wagering public) is so high on the Warriors, their over/under win total for next season is 68.5! Bettors beware! On the way to signing Kevin Durant, the Warriors lost some key pieces and now have limited size down low. People seem to forget that a) Andrew Bogut was a number one draft pick and b) he blocked five shots in Game Two and another three in Game Five before going down with an injury. No Bogut, no title. Being a center doesn’t mean having to score, particularly in this day and age where we haven’t seen a good center in over a decade. It does mean establishing a defensive presence so that guys like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving can waltz through the lane as they very well please. Golden State better find that presence or a second title won’t be in the cards, even with Kevin Durant.
Los Angeles Clippers
How is it that the Clippers could not woo Durant away from Golden State? This is a team that needed a small forward more than any other team in the league. They have ALL the other pieces in place. All we heard from the Durant camp two weeks ago was how he was “wowed” by what L.A. had to say. Well, apparently Golden State was a little wowier. So basically what the Clippers have in store for this season is what they’ve had in store for the past few: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan trying to stay healthy enough to reach the Western Conference Finals. This will once again be a very talented team, just not talented enough to win a championship.
So the Hawks thought it would be a good idea to lose Al Horford and add the perennial, problem-child Dwight Howard which is such an Atlanta Hawks thing to do. It’s no wonder this team has been woefully irrelevant pretty much forever. How anyone would offer Dwight Howard twenty million dollars a year at this point is beyond me but he once again pulled the eyes over another NBA team. It’s as if Hawk’s ownership hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in the league for the past fifteen years. Oh, that’s right. They haven’t.
That’s it! I am officially over being an Orlando Magic fan which is a shame considering I’ve been rooting for them since their very first year, that’s right, the Terry Catledge days. If my records indicate correctly, and I’m pretty sure they do, the Orlando Magic are the only team to have the good fortune and absolute bullheadedness to have squandered THREE number one draft picks into not a single championship. If that’s not futility then I don’t know what is. To top things off, they just traded their number three draft pick of a few years ago, Victor Oladipo, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a center that you don’t know will be any good without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook by his side. I’m not saying Oladipo is the player Orlando should have built a franchise around but why blow a third pick in the draft only to trade him a few years later? This year’s Orlando Magic may very well have the worst record in the league. The good news is that means they may land another top draft pick. The bad news is they won’t know what to do with it.