NBA free agency hits and misses


BY SPENCER DAVIES

It’s been one week since teams have been able to negotiate and sign deals with players and their agents. There have been quite a few trades, some major and some minor. I’ve listed five teams that have hit and five teams that have missed so far in the summer.

Hits

5. Los Angeles Lakers

The tone of the offseason in LakerLand was immediately set with the selection of D’Angelo Russell as the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In desperate need of a successor when Kobe Bryant’s time in Los Angeles is over, the front office took an young, upstart freshman that literally carried Ohio State on his shoulders throughout the season.

In addition to Russell, the Lakers added Larry Nance Jr.– the son of the former NBA great–later in the first round, someone who’s already faced adversity with an ACL tear and come back from it stronger than he ever was.

The most recent additions to the Lakers were great moves, as they swindled former All-Star center Roy Hibbert from the Pacers in a trade and agreed to a multi-year deal with the reigning sixth man of the year, Lou Williams. They also brought in some depth with Brandon Bass to replace Ed Davis, who jettisoned to Portland.

The Lakers starting lineup could potentially look like this: Russell-Clarkson-Bryant-Randle-Hibbert. Although it isn’t a contender this year in the Western Conference, it is certainly a lineup that is a step in the right direction and could make noise in two or three years.

4. New York Knicks

Unlike the previous team I mentioned, the 2015 offseason didn’t get off to the best start, but it’s gotten much better as free agency has rolled along. In the draft, Knicks president Phil Jackson decided to take 19-year-old Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. This was a decision that did not go well with many fans and, frankly, myself.

However later in the night, Jackson won me back when he swindled the Atlanta Hawks for the 19th draft pick in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr. New York ended up nabbing Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant as a result, a player that I believe will flourish in his rookie year and will be starting come October.

The Knicks brought in two free agents that will make an immediate impact on their roster, and those two are Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. Afflalo, a career “three-and-d” guy, has seen his fair share of individual success as a player. Only two seasons ago in Orlando, he averaged a career-high 18.2 points per game on nearly 43 percent beyond the arc.

Lopez isn’t a flashy player by any means, but you can bet he gets the job done. He’ll give you about 10 points and 10 rebounds every night and probably a couple blocks as well. He’s a presence underneath that the Knicks have lacked since the days of Tyson Chandler, and he’ll fit in great with the team.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

In the postseason, the Grizzlies were the only team besides the Cavaliers to give the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors a rough time.

For the most part, it’s been quiet in Memphis but a key re-signing–and that’s an understatement–and the acquisition of a seasoned veteran makes their chances of competing in the stacked West much better.

After being traded to Charlotte for Lance Stephenson, Matt Barnes was moved again by the Hornets in exchange for the pinball of the offseason, Luke Ridnour. The trade had to please Barnes, who’s competed on playoff teams for the majority of his career. He’ll fit in perfectly with the gritty defensive-minded Grizzlies, as well as serve as a threat on the perimeter.

Marc Gasol agreed to a maximum contract extension to stay with the Grizzlies for five more years, a deal that allowed fans of Memphis to breath a sigh of relief. It’s clear that the NBA’s arguably best center wants to be a part of something special with the organization moving forward.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks management has done a tremendous job this offseason, and they didn’t even have to make that many moves to do so. Only two days into free agency, the front office lured Greg Monroe into coming to Milwaukee to be a part of one of the most unique rosters in the NBA. The 25-year-old big man is coming off of his best season as a pro, as he averaged a double-double for the first time in his career (15.9 points/10.2 rebounds per game) playing 31 minutes a night.

Monroe will join a potentially deadly roster of length and versatility as presumably the team’s center, alongside John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Michael Carter-Williams and, of course, the returning Jabari Parker. It’s a potential starting lineup that won’t have any player under 6-foot-6, which will ultimately force mismatches and make coaches throw fits if they can’t figure it out.

Milwaukee also added rookie Rashad Vaughn in the late first-round and traded for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez as well, two moves that will help with depth and scoring off of the bench.

The Bucks were a talented young bunch last season that had a lot of success, and now they’ve just simply gotten better. It’s early to say, but the league better watch out for these guys next year.

1. San Antonio Spurs

My admiration for the Spurs organization continues to grow and grow as each season passes.

It’s a front office that built a dynasty with three core players and built around them so well that it’s equalled out to two championships in the past eight seasons.

San Antonio usually depends primarily on the draft to build their roster, but the team realizes that the core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan isn’t getting any younger. So what do they do? They go out and get the hottest free agent on the market to solidify their future and their chances at another NBA title.

LaMarcus Aldridge, the four-time All-Star power forward, agreed to join the Spurs over the weekend in a colossal move that will shake the league to its core this upcoming season. He’s coming off of one of his best years as a pro, as he averaged a career-best 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the Blazers last season. Not only will this prove to be a smart move for the present, but moving forward Aldridge will slide right in as Duncan’s successor at power forward for years to come.

The team picked up reserve point guard Ray McCallum from the Kings for a second rounder, which will turn up out a steal. As a starter for Sacramento, he averaged 11.2 points and 4.3 assists and had 31 steals in 30 games.

David West also wanted in on the fun, so much that he declined a $12 million dollar player option with the Pacers to take the veteran’s minimum to play in San Antonio. In another smart move by the Spurs, West will provide depth in the frontcourt and add some toughness and grit to a team that it hasn’t had in years’ past.

 

Misses

5. Washington Wizards

Besides the addition of Alan Anderson, the Wizards haven’t made a whole lot of noise yet so far.

With Paul Pierce’s departure to Los Angeles to reunite with Doc Rivers, Washington got very young at the small forward position that will feature an improved Otto Porter or rookie Kelly Oubre in the starting lineup. It could possibly be Jared Dudley, too, who was acquired from Milwaukee.

I wouldn’t say that their offseason has been awful, but I think they could have done better in addressing small forward, as well as depth. Kevin Seraphin has been receiving a lot of interest around the league, and that would be another blow to the Wizards if they can’t end up convincing him to stay.

4. Sacramento Kings

I realize that this may be an unpopular opinion, and I totally understand that. On paper, the Kings look like they could be a team that could make some heads turn.

Their frontcourt features Rudy Gay and the duo of former Kentucky Wildcats, DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein, manning down the paint. They got Rajon Rondo to come to Sacramento and persuaded sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and shot-blocker Kosta Koufos to do the same. They also brought James Anderson back from overseas coming off of a solid season as a Euroleague pro.

But something doesn’t sit right with me, and that is who is at the helm for the Kings: George Karl. Obviously, his reputation speaks for itself. He is an old-school coach with a winning attitude, he’s won coach of the year and has coached four All-Star games in his career. However, he’s had a history of not being too fond of edgy personalities — and look who’s on his team.

He’s already been rumored to have tried to shop Cousins around to a better suitor, but those talks died down. The relationship between the two is already rocky, as there have been cryptic tweets that signify Karl is supposedly a “snake in the grass,” something that Carmelo Anthonyand J.R. Smith have said in the past about him. If this team is going to mesh and win ballgames, it’s going to start with the Kings trusting in Karl and him doing the same with his players.

3. Dallas Mavericks

The NBA moratorium period can be your worst enemy if you’re an active team in free agency. In the summer of 2004, Carlos Boozer agreed to a deal to return to the Cavaliers before changing his mind in a last-minute decision to sign with the Jazz. In 2009, the Blazers believed they landed Hedo Turkoglu when he verbally agreed to a contract, but were fooled when the Turkish swingman ended up going to Toronto to play for the Raptors.

Wednesday evening history repeated itself, when Doc Rivers and a platoon of Clippers, old and new, convinced franchise center DeAndre Jordan to stay with his team in lieu of agreeing to play for the Mavericks. In a crushing blow, Dallas now finds itself without a starting center with slim pickings left in the free agent pool.

The good thing for the Mavericks is that they upgraded at shooting guard when Wesley Matthews agreed to a four-year deal. Before his season-ending torn achilles injury, the 28-year-old guard was averaging nearly 16 points per game on 44.8 percent from the field. The bad thing is, Dallas went from having a near All-Star center in Jordan to settling for 31-year-old Zaza Pachulia. They are also without an elite point guard, as they have J.J. Barea starting at the one with the loss of Rondo (getting Deron Williams to Dallas would be a good first step).

The self-proclaimed general manager Chandler Parsons and owner Mark Cuban have to come up with a “Plan B” fast, because names are going to start flying off of the list before they know it–and if Pachulia was the next best thing they could get, the Mavericks could be in a world of hurt next year.

2. Denver Nuggets

Although the hire of Michael Malone was a great move personnel-wise, the Nuggets are in real danger of being a bottom feeder in the league next season. As a team that supposedly wasn’t giving its all last year for then-head coach Brian Shaw, Denver hasn’t made a single move in free agency to help improve its roster.

The front office took a step in leading the team in the right direction when they stole (yes, stole) Emmanuel Mudiay at the number seven overall selection in the draft, a player who I had as a top-five draft pick.

Of course, the move ultimately means the end of Ty Lawson’s tenure in Denver, as the frustrated point guard has made his feelings public about the Nuggets taking a rookie point guard in the draft and feels he is on his way out.

With a young and inexperienced roster that has yet to re-sign one of its bright spots last year in Will Barton, Denver has some serious work to do before it thinks about competing in a crowded Western Conference.

1. Brooklyn Nets

Tied into heavy contracts that the team is trying to unload, the Nets might be in the worst possible situation in the league. Currently, Brooklyn has made it clear that Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are very much available to teams because of its desire to shed their hefty deals.

The good news for the Nets is that they re-signed two major players for their future to long term deals, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. They also brought in rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and veteran backup point guard Steve Blake in exchange for Mason Plumlee.

The bad news is though, they haven’t done much else. Brooklyn’s moves in free agency thus far have been agreements with Shane Larkin and Thomas Robinson. In his two years in the NBA, the 22-year-old Larkin has dealt with a broken leg and really hasn’t gotten all that much of a break yet. Despite 24 minutes a game on a constantly fluctuating New York Knick team, he hasn’t really been able to get his chance.

Ever since being drafted by the Kings in 2012, Robinson has been a journeyman. He’s been on four teams already and hasn’t averaged over 15 minutes per game since his rookie year.

The point is, these are signings based on potential, and potential isn’t what this team needs to have. The Nets were supposed to be championship contenders only two years ago. Thanks to injuries and other unfortunate circumstances, it’s been an absolute trainwreck for the organization.

If the Nets rid themselves of Williams and Johnson, it’s straight to rebuild mode with a young, inexperienced roster. If they don’t, they’ll be right on the cusp of a playoff spot in the East just like last season. Either way, the project in Brooklyn hasn’t gone exactly as planned as they hoped it would three years ago, and it may be time to go back to the drawing board.