Takes From the Last Week in Free Agency

I haven’t had a chance to get on here and blog about some of the recent happenings in the last few days of free agency. Here are my takes on some of the most interesting developments from around the league:

  • JJ Redick, Jared Dudley to the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler to the Suns, picks to Milwaukee. I love this trade for the Clippers and Suns. LA gets back two of the league’s better perimeter shooters, on good contracts, to put around Chris Paul in a new Doc Rivers/Alvin Gentry run offense. Both guys are good team defenders as well, making them both upgrades over the severely one-dimensional Jamal Crawford. Crawford’s ball handling abilities will still have value, but Redick and Dudley are both better fits (and players) next to Chris Paul. From Phoenix’s standpoint, they acquire one of the prized young assets in the league right now. Just about every team with a need at point guard was rumored to be going after Bledsoe at one point or another, but Phoenix is the team that gets him – and they didn’t give up that much. Jared Dudley is a good player, but at age 27 he’s not an ideal player for a rebuilding team. The question now for Phoenix is if they move Goran Dragic or play him and Bledsoe together. In 185 minutes last season, the Clippers were a +11.1 NET-RTG with Bledsoe and Paul on the court together, so it’s clear that Bledsoe can succeed in a 2 point guard alignment. The issue will be with Dragic, who is a much better player with the ball in his hands and who has struggled to play shooting guard in two point guard sets. Milwaukee was the loser of this trade, but not for the trade itself. Losing JJ Redick for second round picks isn’t ideal, but they were going to lose him anyways and did well to at least get minor assets for him. The problem was acquiring Redick in the first place. They parted ways with Tobias Harris, who was impressive late in the season, to get Redick for their meaningless playoff run that ended with a first round shellacking at the hands of the Miami Heat. I hated the trade then, and I don’t like it now.
  • Dwight Howard picks the Houston Rockets. Howard usually lacks any sort of logic when making decisions, but he made the right decision in picking the Rockets in free agency. Laker fans would tell you differently (they’d be the only ones), but Houston is much closer to contending than the Los Angeles is. Daryl Morey has assembled an analytically friendly team led by one of the most efficient scorers in basketball in James Harden. The Lakers are old, old, and old. Nash and Gasol were shells of themselves last season and Kobe is sidelined with his achilles injury. After those three, there isn’t much there. With Howard on the Rockets, Houston becomes a contender in the West. They now have two top-10 players and a host of assets they can flip to put better pieces around them – such as Omer Asik who has been rumored in multiple trade scenarios. For me, the question is what kind of offense will Houston run? Ideally, they run 4 out with Howard as the roll man to James Harden’s ball handling, but Howard expressed his disdain for this style of play last season. He wants to post-up 20 times a game. It will be interesting to see how they re-tool this offense moving forward. There’s no reason why Houston shouldn’t be dominant on both ends of the floor. There will probably be an adjustment period early in the process, but the Rockets will be contending sooner rather than later.
  • Josh Smith gets 4 years $56 million from Detroit. Josh Smith is one of the more intriguing players in basketball. A top 15 defender that nobody knows about, the great parts of Smith’s game are usually overshadowed by his appalling shot selection. That being said, I hate this fit. Unless they move Greg Monroe, Detroit is not a good fit for Smith. With Andre Drummond and Monroe already there, it looks like Smith will play small forward. His defense will be fine, but this team is going to be a complete mess on offense. Drummond can’t shoot a lick and Monroe isn’t a three point threat, making it near impossible for Smith to spend most of his time on offense closer to the basket. With Smith you want to limit his perimeter touches. In Detroit, he’ll probably get more of them, which doesn’t bode well for the Pistons – Smith is a 28.3% career three point shooter and shot 30.5% from mid-range last season.
  • The Knicks re-sign JR Smith and Pablo Prigioni. The Knicks got Smith back on a 4 year $25 million deal with a player option for the final year, which is both good and bad. Good from a year-to-year salary perspective in that about $6 million annually is good value from Smith. Bad in that the Knicks gave him 3 years guaranteed, thus compromising more of their cap room in 2015. Smith’s deal makes the Bargnani trade – thought to be made to clear cap space in 2015 – even more mind-boggling. Regardless, the Knicks will be better off in the short-term with Smith. He was incredibly valuable to them last season, providing positional versatility, passable defense, and shot creating skills that the team badly lacks. It would’ve been very difficult to fill Smith’s spot had he left, but that’s no longer an issue. An equally as important signing, the Knicks also brought back Pablo Prigioni. They had to dip into the taxpayer mid-level to keep Prigioni, so really they were picking between him and Chris Copeland. While I hate the Bargnani trade, it did supply the Knicks with a replacement for Copeland – albeit a worse and more expensive one. With Prigioni back, the Knicks have a more than capable backup, as well as a two point guard lineup combination (with Raymond Felton) that has proven to be very effective.
  • The Bobcats give Al Jefferson 3 years $41 million… OH GOD LOOK AT ALL THE BLOOD. I hate hate hate hate this contract and this fit. There’s no doubt that Jefferson is one of the few NBA centers with above-average back to the basket skills, but offense only big men are really not that valuable unless they’re elite guys like late 2000′s Amar’e Stoudemire. Jefferson is a good, not elite, offensive player and a horrid defender. With Cody Zeller starting alongside Jefferson, Charlotte could be significantly better on offense this season. However, their league worse defense will see little to no improvement and even possibly some regression. The Bobcats have stockpiled a few decent assets, but overall they’re still going to be a bad team. Jefferson isn’t enough to move the needle in a positive direction and Charlotte overpaid badly for him.
  • The Mavericks acquire all of the point guards. After missing out on Howard, the Mavs have gone all David Kahn circa 2008 on the league. Before Howard’s decision, they had drafted point guard Shane Larkin from Miami and brought over Israeli triggerman Gal Mekel. After missing out on Howard, they brought in Jose Calderon and Devin Harris. He isn’t good at defense, but I don’t think Calderon’s 4 year $29 million contract is an overpay. Harris is likely the primary shooting guard, a move I like a lot. And despite acquiring 7,000 point guards, I think I kind of like what they’ve done. Do these moves make Dallas a contender? Absolutely not. There doesn’t seem to be a clear long-term plan, and Dallas is scrambling to put a team together for next season. What’s to like? They’re now stockpiling their assets, while leaving good cap flexibility for the future.They’ll have less than $20 million in guaranteed salary on the books at the start of next off-season. With Calderon, Harris, Larkin and Mekel all on longer contracts, they don’t have to worry about building a backcourt for the next few seasons – unless those guys are really bad, but I don’t see that happening. I’m a sucker for two point guard lineups and I think there are some interesting backcourt combinations Rick Carlisle can run out there. If the Mavericks do go out and get Andrew Bynum, they’ll have plenty of guys who can get him the ball in the paint. Dallas won’t be a contender, but I think they’ve got some interesting pieces moving forward.
  • Warriors get Andre Iguodala. I absolutely love this move for a few reasons. In a vacuum, Iguodala is a fantastic team player. His half-court offense is shaky, but he’s electric in transition and he’s one of the elite perimeter defenders in basketball. His 4 year $48 million contract is fantastic value for him. In signing Iguodala, Golden State could very well be ushering in a new era of analytic friendly small-ball style play – the same style that was the catalyst for their post-season run. In adding another 2/3 wing, the Warriors now have the flexibility to move Harrison Barnes to the four spot permanently, something they should do, but probably won’t right away. Detractors of this move will point to the steep price tag Golden State paid to sign Iguodala. They sacrificed a handful of draft picks and had to renounce the rights to Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack to make space for Iggy, but I think it was all worth it. An issue that will be harder to solve is what to do with David Lee and his mammoth contract. It’s clear that small-ball is the way to go for these Warriors, but Lee doesn’t fit into that at all. With 3 years and $44 million left on his deal, it’s quite unlikely that Golden State finds a trade partner for his services. I think they probably start the game with him and Bogut on the court, but limit Bogut’s minutes and fill them with Lee at center. They’ll get killed inside, but they’ll score a ton of points as well. With Lee at center, Golden State will be banking on Iguodala, Barnes, and Thompson to compensate on the defensive end of the floor. Make no mistake, the Warriors are far from a finished product. They need to figure out what to do with Lee, find a legitimate 32 minute per game center, a backup point guard, and overall just add more depth. But the Iguodala signing is a great move for a franchise on the rise.
  • Cleveland signs Jarrett Jack. While I’m not a huge Jarrett Jack guy, I love this signing. He got a 4 year $25 million deal with a team option on his fourth year, which I think is a pretty fair contract. In Jack, Cleveland gets another guard that can initiate the offense, along with their young backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. He’s a guy that can play as your primary ball handler, but also shoots well enough to play off the ball alongside Irving. I think he actually compliments both Irving and Waiters well, especially Waiters. The former Syracuse guard has point guard skills, but will be helped by playing alongside another guard who can create for him. Jack is a big upgrade over the Boobie Gibson/Shaun Livingston backup point guard situation the Cavaliers had last season.
  • Sacramento signs Carl Landry. This is an interesting move, in that Landry really doesn’t fill a need for Sacramento. It’s hard to evaluate exactly how Landry will fit, because there are corresponding moves to be made. The Kings front-court is suddenly crowded with power forwards and it would be truly mind-boggling if they didn’t get rid of at least one of them. Either way, Landry had a pretty good year with the Warriors last season. If this was the Kings old-regime, I’d be fearful of how this signing would work out. During his first stint in Sacramento, Landry was too jumper happy. Given that Mike Malone has coached Landry at New Orleans and Golden State – where he shot fewer jump shots and was more properly utilized – I don’t think this will be an issue the second time around. He’s a really efficient scorer, though he does nothing for a notoriously bad Kings defense. In a vacuum  he’s better than what Sacramento has at the position, though the other guys all do similar things well. I think he’s one of the first pieces in what will be a total overhaul from the Kings, and so I can’t exactly say he’s a poor fit or that this is a bad signing. If the season started tomorrow, Landry would be a poor fit, but they’re going through an overhaul in Sacramento. Only time will tell if this is a good or bad move.

As free agency progresses, I’ll be giving more takes everything going on in NBA land. If there are any moves I didn’t touch on that you would like to hear my take on, hit me up on twitter or send me a note in the comment section and I’ll get back to you.