As Kevin noted yesterday, this is the time of year when we hoop geeks emerge from our blacktop pickup games, our bike treks, our summer league sojourns, and/or our hammock hibernations, and start thinking about NBA basketball again. Though Kevin looked to the coming year, Tom Pestak and I will be joined by newly minted Cavs the Blogger, Patrick Redford, for a general discussion of the summer’s events and the season ahead.
Tom and Patrick: how was your summer? I have to admit that I spent a little too much time obsessing over the Cavs. As we rolled from a thrilling playoffs to a lackluster draft, to a very interesting, if perplexing, free agency period, I spent far too much time thinking about what could have been for Cleveland. But we’ll get to that. First, I’d like to know how you thought the off season went around the NBA. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? What really surprised you?
- Atlanta: Probably had my favorite offseason of anyone. They replaced the athletic, mercurial, and inefficient Josh Smith with the massively underrated Paul Millsap who is playing on a bargain contract of $9.5 million. As you and I have noted, Tom, Millsap is one of the better RAPM forwards in the game, and also posts a solid .156 Wins Scores per 48. Combine that with underrated defender Demarre Carroll, Elton Brand, rebounder/bruiser Gustavo Ayón (to replace Zaza), returning Lou Williams, and a sneaky good draft (Schröder has as much potential as anyone). With Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta is building a Spurs-east style organization. I fully expect Horford to have a breakout year, and Atlanta to be much better than most people expect.
- Brooklyn: with no limit to the owner’s pocket book, they got arguably the most competitive player in the game, Kevin Garnett. “The Big Ticket” almost single-handedly held Boston’s defense together last year, and led them to the playoffs when they had no business getting there. Paul Pierce can also be very good if he doesn’t have to log 35 minutes a night. And Jason Kidd will do fine as coach if he can keep his name out of the police blotter. If they can stay healthy and undistracted, the Nets can challenge Miami. I do have $20 on KG slapping Joe Johnson at some point this season, though, and $100 on Carmelo Anthony running away to L.A. next summer, leaving a trail of Nets fans throwing Honey Nut Cheerios in his wake.
- San Antonio: one agonizing made free throw from a championship. They kept the core together affordably, and added Marco Bellineli for another run — if Tim Duncan is as ageless as he appears.
- Jrue Holiday: gets to go to a team with actual three point shooters and a big man who can flush lobs all day long. Put New Orleans on the winners list, too. Pencil in Philly for the Mike Quinn “tank job of the year” trophy come next April.
- J.J. Redick: 4 years, $27 million for a one dimensional, 29 year old player? This was the second worst JJ Redick contract of the summer…
- Golden State: In one of the shadiest trades of the offseason, they found someone (the Jazz) to take on $24 million in contract albatrosses (Biedrens, Jefferson, and Rush) for what will probably amount to only late round draft picks. Then they signed Iguodala, who will have a ton of room to operate off the ball with Curry, Lee, Klay Thompson, Barnes, and Speights, who can all space the floor. Golden State is going to be an even tougher out in next year’s playoffs.
- Carl Landry: four years, $27 million? Who’s his agent?
- Al Jefferson: three years, $41 million, with a second year opt out? He won’t use it. This is a classic, “sign and retire” contract. At least the ‘Cats will get to be the Hornets again some day, and at least they amnestied Tyrus Thomas.
- Pau Gasol: Gets to be an offensive centerpiece again in a contract year. Plus the circus has left LA for the year.
- David West: three years, $35 million. He will be 45 35 in the last year of that contract. Maybe he could have left some money on the table for Indiana to find a backup guard other than C.J. Watson.
- Oklahoma City: They traded an absolute blue chip player within their own division, and watched Harden help form a rival powerhouse. Backfire! Then they lost their third leading scorer, Kevin Martin. For the thousandth time, they should have kept Harden and traded Ibaka. OKC better hope that Jeremy Lamb learned something in the D-League last year.
- Washington Wizards: Spent the last three seasons crippled by dumb contracts, and then spent this offseason signing guys to dumb contracts. Martell Webster for 4 years, $22 million? And I like Martell Webster. John Wall, a max extension? $16 million a year for five years for a guy who: can’t shoot outside of 10 feet, misses 25% of his games, and is an average defender at best? What was the rush? Kyrie Irving saw the signing and thanked Ernie Grunfeld, though.
- Andrei Kirilenko: Ivan Drago’s taller, skinnier brother turned down a $10 million dollar option to go to sign a two year, $6.51 million dollar deal with Brooklyn. AK-47 walked away from an extra $6.5 million this year. Of course, everyone in the NBA thinks that money is waiting for him under a table in Mikhail Prokhorov’s private jet. Maybe it is, but if not, that was a lot of rubles.
- Marreese Speights: turned down a $4.5 million dollar option to make $3.6 million this year with the Warriors. Math is hard.
- George Karl, Lionel Hollins, and Vinny Del Negro: nothing like being fired for winning.
- Minnesota: the Pek deal was dumb. Well, it is Flip Saunders… Why did owner, Glen Taylor, think that the coach who failed miserably in the playoffs for Minnesota and presided over the most dysfunctional team since the Portland Jailblazers would make a good GM? Why did Flip Saunders give Pekovich who’s 27, a five year, $60 million dollar deal? Why in God’s name wouldn’t he save the five year for deal for Rubio? This from the team who refused to give Kevin Love a five year deal? At least they gave 30 year old Kevin Martin four years and $27 million dollars. Put me down for January 11th in the “Kevin Love Demands a Trade” pool.
- Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner: the former is one of the most underrated combo forwards in the league, whose problem is that he doesn’t shoot threes in an era when small forwards need to shoot threes. The latter is promising player who does a lot of things pretty well and nothing great and is in a contract year. They’re both trapped on a team that is actively trying to be awful.
- Denver: Since Masai Uriji went to Toronto, and they fired Karl, I still don’t know who’s running this team, but someone gave away a 24 year old seven footer with a 17 PER (Kosta Koufos) for basically nothing because Kosta was outplaying Javale McGee. Javale McGee makes a lot of money. Kosta was embarrassing people. Then Denver signed the perpetually-out-of-position-on-defense J.J. Hickson for three years, $16.5 million. They have four point guards: Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson, and Randy Foye, who make a combined $21 million a year for the next two years and might be the four worst defensive point guards in the league. This team has more bad contracts than R.I.P.D.
I think we all count Anthony Bennett going No. 1 to the Cavs as among the biggest surprises of the offseason. The other big surprises were the Cavs ability to woo Bynum and the fantastic Jarrett Jack signing. But the Bennett pick, Bynum, Earl Clark, Andy’s health, Dion’s development… they all put the Cavs firmly in the “wait and see” category. We’re not going to know how how good this team is until we know things like: is Cleveland getting last January’s Earl Clark (.496/.545/.706 for FG%/3Pt%/FT%), or the rest of the season’s Earl Clark (.418/.280/.702)? Kyrie’s defense, heck — the whole team’s defense, Bynum’s knees, Dion’s shot selection, Earl and Alonzo’s corner threes, Anthony Bennett’s position or lack thereof, and Mike Brown’s late game coaching. Those things will tell us whether the Cavaliers are a winner or a loser. [Ed: Also the win-loss column.]