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Utah Jazz Situated to Contend

It wasn’t exactly party time in Salt Lake City, Utah, when the Jazz let all-star power forward Carlos Boozer defect to the Chicago Bulls during this summer’s free agency. After all, it looked like the team was finally putting into play a long-deferred scheme to avoid the luxury tax while suffering some collateral damage on the court. Even Deron Williams, who quietly voiced his displeasure with the organization after Ronnie Brewer was dealt during the season, seemed visually displeased. It was a admission of defeat after a playoff series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in May.

Keeping all that in mind, would it surprise you to read that the Jazz are actually a better team after these moves? Because they most certainly are. Despite expectations that the team would roll over and not reload for the rapidly approaching 2010-2011 season, GM Kevin O’Connor went out and made two key moves to position the Jazz in a position to succeed into June next year. He traded for Minnesota’s bruising center Al Jefferson and signed vicious guard Raja Bell.

And these two moves couldn’t have been more perfect. Revisiting the Lakers-Jazz series, what were Utah’s two primary problems in dealing with the eventual champions? They were (1) a lack of height and toughness down low and (2) the absence of a stopper for Kobe Bryant.

Jefferson, the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett trade, is an instant upgrade over Boozer. First of all, he has two valuable inches on his predecessor, making him much more fit to contend with the likes of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the post. He’s also just as potent a scorer and rebounder; with Williams at the point, he’s almost a shoo-in to put up a 20-and-10 season next year if he stays healthy. While he’s not the greatest defender, he’s no worse than Boozer, who just didn’t have the physical traits to excel on that end.

But Jefferson’s addition is more than just a plus replacement for Boozer. Instead, he enables coach Jerry Sloan to do a lot more mixing and matching with his frontcourt. While in the past he was mostly limited from playing his two most potent offensive forces (Boozer and Paul Millsap) in the post simultaneously lest he be absolutely dismantled down low, he can now play Jefferson and Millsap at the same time and not risk such a terrible fate. While Andrei Kirilenko will probably start at the 4 alongside Jefferson, Millsap and the recovering Mehmet Okur is quite an offensive spark in the second unit.

Against the Lakers last year, Kobe drew attention from two defenders primarily, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews, who encouraged a pick-your-poison scenario with the Black Mamba. If the shorter, weaker Miles was on him, Bryant would undress him in the post and make easy turnaround jumpers. If Sloan put the stronger Matthews out there, Kobe would beat him on the perimeter and finish easily in the lane against middling post defenders. With Bell, though, the Jazz don’t have that problem. An aggressive and mean defender, Bell had his share of conflicts with Kobe while he was a member of the Phoenix Suns. His hard-nosed style of play, long arms, and quick feet all make him a great candidate for guarding Bryant and don’t allow him to take advantage of any particular weakness.

In addition, Bell gives the team an off-the-ball shooter that is hasn’t had in the past. With him in the corner or on the wing, D-Will has another viable option on offense other than feeding a big man, penetrating the lane, or running the pick and roll. Bell will be a dangerous spot-up shooter who will add a much-needed dimension to the offense.

While Bell came at virtually no cost, Minnesota GM David Kahn finagled two future first-round picks out of Utah for Jefferson’s service, sensing their desperation. Does Jefferson’s talent outweigh the damage done to the future of the organization? Well, not really. They still have the solid building blocks locked up in Williams and Jefferson, and when Kirilenko’s massive $17 million expiring contract comes off the books next summer, they’ll have space to work with to add other role players. The draft doesn’t figure to be a main source of talent in the coming years for the Jazz.

So it may have been a week of agony for Utah, but they bounced back. Maybe it’s time that Sloan can come away with his first NBA championship or coach of the year award. Jefferson and Bell certainly don’t hurt.

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Heat’s (Other) Trio of Free Agents a Good Start

Nearly a week after LeBron James decided to join the Miami Heat for the foreseeable future, questions still loom regarding if and how the team will succeed with little remaining money to situate role players around the King, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. That said, in that week, Pat Riley has worked even more executive magic, somehow convincing Udonis Haslem to re-sign in addition to luring sharpshooter Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to South Beach for very little money.

So let’s take a look at each of the three members of Miami’s OTHER trio of free agents and what they bring to the team in terms of support for the three main men:

Udonis Haslem (Previous Team: Miami Heat)

Haslem had only played for one team in his NBA career, but it seemed almost a foregone conclusion after last week’s shocking announcement that he would seek greener pastures considering Miami’s financial restrictions. It became even more a sure thing after the forward got two offers for the full midlevel exception from the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets, in addition to strong interest from other teams, like the desperate New Jersey Nets.

In the end, though, he signed a 5 year, $20 million contract with the Heat, leaving about $14 million on the table to stay with Miami. While Haslem won’t be much more than a vegetable by the end of his deal, he’s a solid complement to the stars on this team in the meantime. Haslem isn’t much of an inside presence, so he’ll give Bosh plenty of room to work on the low block when he wants to. Furthermore, his tendency to shoot jumpers gives plenty of space for hard drives down the middle of the lane by James and Wade. On defense, he’ll be overmatched and undersized if Erik Spoelstra elects to start him at center, but he’s a tough player and good rebounder, so he won’t be too much of a detriment. For the cost, Haslem is a tremendous value acquisition.

Mike Miller (Previous Team: Washington Wizards)

Miller was a hot commodity on the market this summer as a fantastic shooter who wouldn’t cost too much to a team. Again, Pat Riley snatched him up, adding a great candidate for a spot-up shooter role in Miami’s offense next year for only $30 million over five years. With all the double teams Wade and James are going to draw, Miller is going to see a ton of open threes, most of which he will knock down.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Previous Team: Cleveland Cavaliers)

Joining LeBron from Cleveland is Ilgauskas, the massive 7-foot-3 center who has only played for the Cavaliers his entire career. While he hasn’t been much of a statistical contributor his last few years in the league, he’s a solid locker-room presence with a role to fill. And considering his low price, the addition is a fantastic choice.

Ilgauskas makes his living these days making flat-footed open jumpers from about 20 feet, and with the Heat, he’ll get plenty of those. His legs are fairly withered at this point, so he can’t be relied upon for heavy minutes or to play much defense, so he most likely won’t start. That said, he’ll be open more than anyone else on the floor, and he should be able to knock down key shots in crunch time.

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Suns Bounce Back Big

The Phoenix Suns absorbed a big blow to the team earlier during free agency when all-star forward Amar’e Stoudemire skipped town to sign with the New York Knicks. After a deep postseason run that ended in a near series victory over the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers, it became clear that, as constituted, the Suns would not be poised for another such trip without making a change.

And that’s exactly what Robert Sarver did yesterday. The Suns owner who likely squashed his chances at re-signing STAT when he dismissed former GM Steve Kerr went out and acquired two players who immediately recharge a depleted starting lineup, Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu.

Childress spent the last two seasons playing ball in Greece with Olympiakos, but before that he was a solid role player for the Atlanta Hawks, providing a spark of scoring and rebounding in an efficient manner. Though the deal isn’t officially done because Childress is a restricted free agent, the Hawks are extremely unlikely to match, now that Joe Johnson’s mammoth contract has financially handcuffed the team.

Turkoglu will come to the team as part of a trade, and the Suns’ major loss in the deal is Leandro Barbosa, the blinding-quick combo guard and former sixth man of the year. His loss is a tough blow to the shooting and quickness of the Suns team, but Turkoglu’s addition, assuming he plays up to potential, will more than make up for Barbosa’s absence.

Turkoglu leaves Toronto on fairly bad terms, after playing very bad basketball in his one year north of the border. Ideally, his change of scenery will remind him of his play the year prior in Orlando and make him a major contributor to Phoenix. If he does redevelop his skills on the basketball court, he’s a major asset.

At 6-foot-10, Turkoglu has the size of a power forward but the handling and shooting of a guard. As a result, he fits perfectly into the Phoenix run-and-gun system. While he’ll spend a fair amount of time in the post, making up for the void Stoudemire left behind down low, he’ll also be a major figure on the perimeter, taking plenty of three-pointers and running the point forward. This will give the aging Steve Nash a break on offense, allowing him to save his stamina and legs by not having the bring the ball up the court every possession.

Childress adds depth on the wing and an adept scoring touch driving to the rim and as a jump shooter. Expect his scoring numbers to increase playing alongside Nash in an uptempo offense.

While these acquisitions certainly don’t make the squad better than it was last year, it’s nice to see some degree of damage control and respect for Nash. Phoenix could have done nothing and suffered through a mediocre season while Steve Nash wasted away through possibly the final year of his career. Instead, the Suns still have a very good chance to making the playoffs in the West next year.

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Our First Taste of John Wall

NBA number one draft pick John Wall (C) holds up a Washington Wizards basketball jersey during a news conference upon his arrival in Washington June 25, 2010. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld stands at left with head coach Flip Saunders at right. The Wizards selected=

Source: Yardbarker.com

Ever since the draft, I’ve been anxious to see more of John Wall’s play on the basketball court. Sunday night I got my first exposure to the post-draft John Wall, albeit a day late thanks to a leg injury Thursday that sidelined Wall for Washington’s first Las Vegas Summer League game on Saturday.

After watching him play, he looked very impressive, although I will reserve more definite judgment until he faces a team other than the Golden State Warriors, whose ragtag collection of Summer Leaguers are no better on defense than their NBA counterparts. Still, there were some things to note.

First of all, the significance of Wall’s injury appeared to fall somewhere between negligible and looking like it never happened, as he was very sharp from an athletic point of view. The remarkable speed we’d grown accustomed to seeing from him day in and day out in college was there, and there were no signs of pain when he tried to press on the gas.

The result was a continued exuberance in the open court, slashing up and down in the transition offense looking for quick buckets. It appears that he will have no trouble succeeding on the fast break at the highest level, if this game was any indicator.

One very good sign was Wall’s incredible chemistry with center JaVale McGee, and the two were in rhythm the entire game. Wall looked great off the pick and roll with McGee, putting pressure on flashing big men and either blowing by them or finding McGee as he dove to the rim. He even connected on several alley-oop attempts with the 7-footer over the course of the game, which got a rise out of the small crowd.

Coming into the league, one of the concerns about Wall was his ability to score from the perimeter with his jump shot. In this game, he looked like he had been working on his stroke. In fact, his shots off the dribble looked beautiful. It was his set shot that looked like it still needed some work. Nevertheless, he’s way ahead of the curb in developing his perimeter game.

In the half-court set, Wall did not look as comfortable on offense, struggling to get to the rim on his own. Most of the time, he resorted to passing to an open teammate, and he racked up 8 assists on the night thanks to his willingness to distribute. That said, he’ll need to work harder on blowing by his man and getting to the cup if he wants to be an elite scorer in the league.

Additionally, Wall’s risk-taking in this game was a red flag, but that’s the nature of Summer League basketball. At times he looked like he was running too fast for his own good, and a couple times lost the ball out of bounds off of a bad dribble in mid-stride. He was also very daring on some of his passes, and that resulted in a number of giveaways. The consequence was a sub-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But like I said, that’s all part of the league. These players are looking to impress and take chances in games that don’t truly matter, and Flip Saunders should enjoy seeing that out of Wall. He’ll need to be an impact player right away for the Wizards, and the more practice he gets at those home-run plays, the more likely he is to convert them come regular season.

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Get Off LeBron’s Back, Cleveland

July 09, 2010 - Miami, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - epa02243319 LeBron James (R) joins with Miami Heat Dwayne Wade (C) and Chris Bosh (L) greet fans during NBA basketball team Miami Heat

Source: Yardbarker.com

The reactions to LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat have, well, varied. Sure, there are all those lounging on the beach in Florida enthralled with the choice, hopeful for the onslaught that James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are likely to provide, but for each one of those, there’s a fan in Cleveland contemplating his or her suicide. And for those who fall into the second category, you’ve got to lay off the guy.

The man who is seen as representative of the city’s collective disgust is Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who hasn’t exactly kept quite about his feelings for the “self-proclaimed former king.” In what has been a most childish display of a misguided sense of superiority, Gilbert has exposed himself with a lengthy letter to fans that chided LeBron’s choice and foolishly declared that his team would win an NBA title before LeBron — a note that screamed immaturity in every way, down to the Comic Sans typeface that he chose to use.

But Gilbert didn’t stop there. In a move he must’ve thought was incredibly clever on his part (or, more likely, one of his brown-nosing assistants suggested it to him), the owner of the Fathead company reduced the price of the remaining LeBron cutouts from $99.99 to $17.41, symbolic of the birth year of Benedict Arnold — the most notable traitor in the history of this country. That’ll show LeBron, right?

But this massive about-face with regard to LeBron’s standing in the city is entirely unwarranted and a tad bit nauseating. The collective opinion is that LeBron, by “defecting” to Miami, stabbed a stake through the heart of “his” city, crippling the basketball team for years to come — and that he was wrong to do that. I ask you, however, why is that wrong?

The whole nature of free agency — the reason we have it — is to benefit the players. There’s a reason the Player’s Association grapples tooth and nail with the league and its owners every few years to squeeze everything possible out of a new collective bargaining agreement under the threat of lockout. The players need to have their freedoms. There was a time when players were unconditionally bound to their teams for their entire careers (barring trade) with no power at all. Is that what you’d rather have? Puppets playing with no true free will? I really doubt it. And I’m sure Cleveland fans will agree that not having LeBron is better than not having any basketball at all — which is what would happen if the league and owners stood pat on abolishing or limiting free agency next year.

So the following holds true: LeBron’s decision was completely legitimate. He exercised his freedom to change teams to try and win a championship.

Cleveland fans will argue the details, though. For one, “Gilbert and the team did everything they could to put together a championship-caliber team to help LeBron.” As much as everyone would like that to be true, Mo Williams is not a difference-maker. 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal is not a difference-maker. And Antawn Jamison is not a difference-maker. Cleveland could have done many more things (including using Wally Szczerbiak’s massive expiring contract for talent) to try for the Larry O’Brien trophy in lieu of signing washed-up big men.

Next, Cleveland will argue: “Ohio is his home. He’s destined to win his championship here. We drafted him, so he should repay us.” The most obvious quibble with this argument is that players hardly win for their home teams. Was Kobe Bryant destined to win titles for the 76ers? Was Larry Bird destined to win titles for the Pacers? Was Magic Johnson destined to win titles for the Pistons? The answer is no. As for his being drafted to the Cavaliers, the only reason this is so is because the team sucked enough to get good lottery odds the year before and got lucky with four ping-pong balls. It’s not like they knew some secret about the kid that would have made any other team pass on him. He was one of the biggest players to ever enter the league. He doesn’t owe the city anything. The fans may very well have supported him, but support isn’t everything. Brian Scalabrine might be overwhelmingly supported in Boston, but it doesn’t mean he’s getting everything he wants out of his career.

The one argument that has any worth with regard to LeBron’s decision was the suggestion that his choice to announce the team on live television was a massive slap to the face. While this holds some degree of merit, the fact remains that the proceeds of the telecast went to charity and gave the Boys and Girls Clubs of America a heck of a lot of publicity as the host for the announcement. Is it so wrong that he thought of a way to leverage his incredible fame into a charitable cause? I think not. As for the analogies that this was like having your girlfriend dump you in front of the whole school, it’s not really the same thing. This moment was hyped for literally two years before it actually came to fruition. It’s not like no one would have known about it if he hadn’t announced it on TV. It would have stung just as much to read the news in print in the local newspaper or on ESPN’s BottomLine or to hear it coming out of Stan Verrett or Scott Van Pelt’s mouth. In fact, at least the guy had the guts to confront the audience himself.

In the end, LeBron took less money to go have fun, play with his friends, and situate himself to win a championship. He wasn’t consciously thinking, “How can I screw over the city that got me started in this league?,” he was making a basketball, business, and life decision. And the fact that you loathe him for it now, Cleveland, makes it much more obvious that  his talent was being wasted on a city that can’t appreciate the impending success of one of its own.

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The Heat Could be Great, but it Could Backfire

The cat’s out of the bag.

After two years of wild anticipation, massive media coverage, various rumors, meetings, summits, and behind-the-curtain discussions, LeBron James has sealed his fate for the next several seasons, and he’ll be spending them in the merciless sun of Miami, Florida, with the Heat.

But that’s not all. The King is joining forces with the two next-best players on the market this summer, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who will also be putting their talents on display in South Beach. With one of the most star-studded teams trios in the history of professional sports, this basketball team is redefining the term “superstar.”

With no doubt, this squad has the potential to be one of the greatest of all time. Putting together three players who do nothing but dominate on the hardwood could yield fantastic results. Each of these guys can beat essentially any defender one-on-one, assuring remarkable offensive efficiency for the Heat. Moreover, all three guys are capable of hitting the big shot, so crunch time will be more like lunch time in Miami. Further, still, Wade and James are widely considered solid defenders, and Bosh is halfway decent, so, assuming they put in the effort, they won’t be giving up many points, either. I foresee many games with astronomical scoring margins.

Since the rumors that LeBron would, in fact, go to Miami began to surface, they were immediately paired with reviews of how they gelled together on the USA National Team in the 2008 Olympics, and that they did. James, Wade, and Bosh sliced, diced, and scored with ease as the team went on to win the Gold Medal in those games, putting their various talents together in a memorable synergy.

Still, there are countless looming concerns that could render this team one of the most disappointing ever.

The most concrete qualm with this scenario is the lack of talent that will fill out the roster. With these three sizable contracts, the Heat have no choice but to fill out the rest of the team with minimum-salary veterans, per NBA rules. Will the overwhelming talent of the Big Three outweigh the palpable ineptitude of the rest of the players on the roster? They have no real point guard (unless Mario Chalmers qualifies) or center yet, and those are, arguably, the two most positions in the lineup. Will Pat Riley be able to scour the market for players who can fill the roles at least somewhat decently? It’s a fair question. The team will also be astoundingly shallow, and Eric Spoelstra is going to have to try his hardest to keep two of the Big Three on the floor at all times to avoid being completely overwhelmed by other teams’ superior second units.

Then there are the possible problems that could arise with injury. Sure, any key player on any team could go down with a health problem, but with the Heat, the talent is so concentrated, that if one (or, god forbid, two) of them goes down, it could cause major problems with the team’s production, as someone would have to fill the void — and it’s entirely possible there won’t be anyone capable of doing so on that team. They’d better invest some good money in the training staff, because it seems like Wade, at least, misses some number of games every season.

Furthermore, there’s the looming question of compatibility. Yeah, they looked good playing together on Team USA, but this is a different scenario. In international competition, preoccupations with money, fame, stats, and alpha-male status are all put on hold for the good of winning in representing the country. In the NBA, without that patriotic passion, the more nitpicky concerns begin to arise. Will the guy who’s getting paid less handle it well? Who’s going to get the ball in key situations? Who will get the most possessions? Who will pass the ball? Who will be the leader? Will winning be the ultimate concern for these guys, or will superstar tendencies take over?

The other argument that people cite in support of this trio of legends is in reference to the 2008 Boston Celtics. “Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce came together to do it. Why can’t these guys?” they say. But realize that this is not the same thing at all. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all filled different roles. Pierce was the multitalented get-the-ball-in-the-net guy, Allen was the shooting-and-slashing guard, and KG was the tenacious defender, rebounder, and opportune post scorer. Furthermore, their collective egotism certainly wasn’t enough to blow you out of the room like that of the group on Miami. Those guys got it. I’m not sure these guys will.

And moving beyond either of those comparisons, there’s still just the conception of how it will work on the court. Take this into consideration. The median pace factor (number of team possessions per game) last season was 95.0. John Hollinger’s usage rate tracks the number of possessions that a player uses per 40 minutes. Last year, James, Wade, and Bosh all played about 40 minutes a game, and you can expect that to stay about the same or go up in the coming season. Last year, the usage rates for Bosh, James, and Wade were 25.9, 32.2, and 33.2 respectively, for a total of 91.3 possessions per 40 minutes. And that still leaves eight minutes unaccounted for! And that’s without including the other nine (or more) players on the roster. Clearly, there just isn’t enough time for each of them to get his fill.

Accordingly, these guys are going to have to tone down their scoring in order to make it work, and I’m not sure that can happen. If it doesn’t, the results could be catastrophic. They’ll haul totally inefficient shots early in the possession to get more looks, and the team will struggle overall.

All that said, they might get all the chemistry right and take it on to the court and dominate with ease. But combining Bosh, James, and Wade on the same team on the same court could end up being a very dangerous proposition.

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LeBron to Announce Decision Thursday

Free agent LeBron James will put an end to speculation as to where he’ll play next season Thursday, the first day that players can officially sign with teams, on a 9 PM eastern special on ESPN.

LeBron James will announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour special on ESPN Thursday night, ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard has learned through independent sources.

ESPN would only confirm that active discussions for the special are ongoing. But sources tell Broussard that representatives for James contacted the network, proposing that James makes his announcement during a 9 p.m. ET special.

Those sources said that James’ representatives requested they be allowed to sell sponsorship for the one-hour special, with the proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and that ESPN agreed to the proposal but had not been told what James has decided.

While I doubt there’s any substance to it, his decision to publicize his choice in this way suggests he might be leaving Cleveland. It seems like he’d want a quieter, more direct approach if he were re-signing. But no one really knows.

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Signing Stoudemire Nothing to Love

April 03, 2010 Milwaukee, WI. Bradley Center..Phoenix Suns Amar

Source: Yardbarker.com

Free agency can produce a number of outcomes for the teams that depend on it each year. First, there’s the super-duper-fantastic result, awarding a team with everything it could have hoped for (see the 1996 Los Angeles Lakers). Then there are those teams who get completely shafted, either because of regrettable tactics or because there just isn’t enough to go around (see 2008 Philadelphia 76ers). Further, still, are the teams that fall somewhere in the middle — nothing to scoff about and nothing to pop the champagne for.

The New York Knicks have apparently come to an agreement with inside force Amar’e Stoudemire, and the’ll pay him $100 million over the next five seasons to sport the blue and orange. Don’t get me wrong: in light of the city’s deprivation of even halfway-decent basketball this decade, this move shouldn’t make the Knick faithful drown themselves in the tears they’ve accumulated over the last several years.

That said, given the risky contracts extended to players like Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, and Steve Francis in recent seasons, one might figure Donnie Walsh would be slightly more cautious in extending a maximum contract to a player who lacks the ability to transform a down-in-the-dumps franchise.

Stoudemire is a great NBA player. He’s ruthless (borderline unguardable) on the offensive end when he’s got his head right, and his supernatural athleticism puts asses in the seats. In that regard alone, he’s beneficial for the Knicks. Furthermore, inking STAT might slightly increase the odds that the Knicks can bring in a true superstar (e.g., LeBron James or Dwyane Wade) to really transform the team. But honestly, it would have been much wiser to have gone in reverse, as it’s hardly a guarantee either of those guys will join Stoudemire in MSG next season.

And if one of them doesn’t come? Then there are some problems. Considering Stoudemire’s size, strength, and athleticism, he’s really a mediocre rebounder, as he struggles to haul in eight a game. Moreover, he’s virtually absent on the defensive end, tending to avoid midair contests altogether and blocking fewer shots than he should. Hmm … Good offense and bad defense?

Sounds like a guy who played power forward for New York last season — a Mr. David Lee! While Lee might give up a few points to Stoudemire on a nightly basis, he’s just as much of a “defender,” and he’ll rebound the pants off of Amar’e any night out of the year. Wouldn’t it have been better to pursue re-signing Lee and his comparable production at a fraction of Stoudemire’s price?

And who knows? Stoudemire’s offensive production might not even be what it was in Phoenix. It’s quite clear his best moments came zooming off picks on the receiving end of incomprehensible passes from Steve Nash. But Nash isn’t around anymore, and Stoudemire is yet unproven away from the wizard’s side. Who’s going to make those passes in New York? Chris Duhon? I don’t think so. The Knicks better hope Stoudemire can create some more offense on his own, or he could end up being even worse than Lee on the offensive end.

Then there’s the largest problem of all — the injury concerns. Amar’e has possibly the most questionable health history of any of the major players in free agency this July. Two micro-fracture knees and a worrisome retina. An unfortunate poke, an awkward landing, or just too much tread on the tires could confine the $100 million player to an Armani suit sitting in the first row behind the bench.

Now, I started by saying that this deal put the Knicks in the middle ground of free-agency results, and despite my fierce protestation of the decision, I stick by that. First of all, a sidelining injury could happen to anyone. Just because the problems are more noteworthy for Stoudemire doesn’t mean he’s going to ride the pine the whole season.

More importantly, it’s just that the Knicks can’t do any worse. Signing Amar’e instantly propels them to a high-30-win team, and that’s before their subsequent adjustments this summer. With some careful additions from here on in, they might be in sniffing distance of the playoffs, and that’s enough to pique the city’s interest again.

Lastly, should this not work out, the team has a potential security blanket. Layered deep beneath the three-way deal that brought Tracy McGrady to the Knicks was a stipulation that the Rockets have the option to swap picks with the Knicks in the 2011 draft … so long as the pick isn’t No. 1. Highlighting next year’s draft class is UNC freshman phenom Harrison Barnes, who has already drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant himself. So if the Knicks flop this year and end up with the top pick in the draft, that’ll be another major building block to lay for the years to come.

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Free Agent List

Below is a list of the prominent free agents for this summer’s class. The list will be updated with each signing, and it will also be available as a page in the toolbar:

Name

2009-2010 Team 2010-2011 Team Contract
Ray Allen Boston Celtics Boston Celtics 2 years, $20 million
Steve Blake LA Clippers LA Lakers 4 years, $16 million
Carlos Boozer Utah Jazz Chicago Bulls 5 years, $80 million
Chris Bosh Toronto Raptors Miami Heat ?
Rudy Gay Memphis Grizzlies Memphis Grizzlies 5 years, $82 million
Drew Gooden LA Clippers Milwaukee Bucks 5 years, $32 million
Udonis Haslem Miami Heat ? ?
Brendan Haywood Dallas Mavericks Dallas Mavericks 6 years, $55 million
Grant Hill Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Player Option
Josh Howard Washington Wizards ? Team Option
LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers Miami Heat ?
Richard Jefferson San Antonio Spurs ? Player Option
Amir Johnson Toronto Raptors Toronto Raptors 5 years, $34 million
Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks Atlanta Hawks 6 years, $119 million
David Lee New York Knicks Golden State Warriors 6 years, $80 million
Tracy McGrady New York Knicks ? ?
Darko Milicic Minnesota Timberwolves Minnesota Timberwolves 4 years, $20 million
Yao Ming Houston Rockets Houston Rockets Player Option
Dirk Nowitzki Dallas Mavericks Dallas Mavericks 4 years, $80 million
Jermaine O’Neal Miami Heat Boston Celtics 2 years, $11.5 million
Shaquille O’Neal Cleveland Cavaliers ? ?
Paul Pierce Boston Celtics Boston Celtics 4 years, $61 million
J.J. Redick Orlando Magic ? ?
John Salmons Milwaukee Bucks Milwaukee Bucks 5 years, $40 million
Luis Scola Houston Rockets ? ?
Amar’e Stoudemire Phoenix Suns New York Knicks 5 years, $100 million
Tyrus Thomas Charlotte Bobcats Charlotte Bobcats 5 years, $40 million
Dwyane Wade Miami Heat Miami Heat ?
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Free Agency Delusions

The first two days of 2010 free agency haven’t been devoid of excitement, to say the least. But given the two years of mounting expectation and anticipation, it really wouldn’t be fair to get anything else, would it?

Already we’ve seen countless moves spanning from the brilliant to the regrettable to the shocking, and the biggest names haven’t even made their decisions yet. We should be in store for a lot more before the week is out. With that said, to follow is a list of the biggest delusions in the minds of the public before and after free agency began. We’ll start with the biggest one.

Delusion #1: LeBron James will be the first domino to fall

Before free agency began, it was essentially a foregone conclusion that megastar LeBron James would be the first to decide which team he would play with next year and all the others would follow shortly thereafter. Everyone wanted a shot to play with the King, so it would only be fitting to make a decision based on where he would play for the next five or six seasons.

Already, though, we’ve seen a number of minor signings ranging across the league. Moreover, among the top candidates, three appear to have already sealed their fates. Rudy Gay (Memphis Grizzlies), Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), and Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) all seem content on re-signing with their current squads. Further, still, though, there are suggestions that two of the biggest stars are on their way to making up their minds. Dwyane Wade seems peculiarly interested in the Chicago Bulls, and Amar’e Stoudemire is flirting with a defection to New York and a reunion with Mike D’Antoni.

So much for waiting for LeBron. Apparently, all these desperate teams searching for talent to bolster their title chances are a tad more convincing than these players expected. No longer are they expecting James to pace the field; they’re now set on making up their own minds.

Consequently, this could end up making the decision a lot easier for the King. If Wade goes to Chicago, that will presumably eliminate the Miami Heat as contenders for LeBron’s services. It would also sweeten the possibility that James could go to the Bulls, where he’d play alongside another great, but Chicago still needs to clear a little cap space to make that happen. In the same vein, LeBron could go to New York knowing that STAT will be waiting there for him, but Donnie Walsh’s mediocre presentation has reportedly turned LeBron away.

Delusion #2: Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson are worth max deals

The first two notable deals of the summer were Gay and Johnson’s agreements with their current teams, the Grizzlies and Hawks. They both seem to have gotten what they wanted, a max deal, and to tell you the truth, both seem like horrible commitments. They say it’s a buyer’s market, but there’s a point where desperation melts into stupidity.

First off, let’s look at Gay’s situation. To get one thing straight, Gay is a good, not great, offensive player. He’s incredibly athletic and he can hit the long-range shot. However, he is an absolutely dismal defender. Shawn Bradley could probably get by him off the dribble if he really wanted to. To suggest that Gay’s above-average offense is worth an amount of money in the neighborhood of what James and Chris Bosh are going to get is a crock, especially when his addition assures that the roster that couldn’t even crack the playoffs this season is going to remain the same.

Apr. 14, 2010 - Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - epa02117334 Memphis Grizzlies player Rudy Gay goes in for a dunk against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half of the game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, 14 April 2010.

Source: Yardbarker.com

The team’s front office is sending mixed signals. They handed Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers on a silver platter to shave salary, but they they go out and get Zach Randolph and now ink Gay. Seems like they don’t really know what they’re doing. Moreover, it appears they forgot that Gay was a RESTRICTED free agent — any offer extended to Gay could have been matched, and they would have automatically retained his services. If Memphis had waited things out, an opposing team could have offered him far less money, and the Grizz could have kept him for cheap. In the worst of circumstances, another team could offer him the max, and if they were so content on keeping him, they could have matched and been no worse off than they are now.

As for Johnson, it’s understandable to think that the team would suffer a major setback by losing him to free agency this season. But to give maximum money to a player who fades in the playoffs and couldn’t lead a YMCA team is purely a bad decision, especially with such a stacked roster, and a starting-caliber shooting guard in Jamal Crawford still on the depth chart. Like the Grizzlies, they will have basically the same squad for a second year in a row, and this year they showed that they can’t do any better than getting torched by a Finals contender.

Delusion #3: All the free agents are going to follow the money

June 16, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02205919 Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce answers reporters questions prior to team practice at the Staples Center in Los Angeles California, USA 16 June 2010. The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Boston Celtics in game seven of the NBA playoffs 17 June 2010.

Source: Yardbarker.com

So far, we’ve already seen some vexing decisions by players who elected to avoid guaranteed money by opting out of contracts and seeking new deals. No one really figured that players might have an eye on the future and the impending negotiations for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Many are discussing the validity of Richard Jefferson and Paul Pierce’s choices to throw away the final years ($15.2 million and $21.5 million, respectively) of their incredibly lucrative deals, but in the interest of the long term, it makes sense.

Pierce seems to have a deal in place for $61 million over the next four years, in which he’ll make $6 million less than he would have made next season if he opted in. Similarly, RJ will not get $15 million on any deal he signs after his subpar production with the Spurs.

But players are wary of the their potentially worse situations after the negotiations for the new CBA, and even though they’re sacrificing one year of improved financial security, they know it might be better in the long run to assure that money’s coming in at a lower rate for several more years.

Before free agency began, it was essentially a foregone conclusion that megastar LeBron James would be the first to decide which team he would play with next year and all the others would follow shortly thereafter. Everyone wanted a shot to play with the King, so it would only be fitting to make a decision based on where he would play for the next five or six seasons.

Already, though, we’ve seen a number of minor signings ranging across the league. Moreover, among the top candidates, three appear to have already sealed their fates. Rudy Gay (Memphis Grizzlies), Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), and Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) all seem content on re-signing with their current squads. Further, still, though, there are suggestions that two of the biggest stars are on their way to making up their minds. Dwyane Wade seems peculiarly interested in the Chicago Bulls, and Amar’e Stoudemire is flirting with a defection to New York and a reunion with Mike D’Antoni.

So much for waiting for LeBron. Apparently, all these desperate teams searching for talent to bolster their title chances are a tad more convincing than these players expected. No longer are they expecting James to pace the field; they’re now set on making up their own minds.

Consequently, this could end up making the decision a lot easier for the King. If Wade goes to Chicago, that will presumably eliminate the Miami Heat as contenders for LeBron’s services. It would also sweeten the possibility that James could go to the Bulls, where he’d play alongside another great, but Chicago still needs to clear a little cap space to make that happen. In the same vein, LeBron could go to New York knowing that STAT will be waiting there for him, but Donnie Walsh’s mediocre presentation has reportedly turned LeBron away.

Delusion #2: Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson are worth max deals

The first two notable deals of the summer were Gay and Johnson’s agreements with their current teams, the Grizzlies and Hawks. They both seem to have gotten what they wanted, a max deal, and to tell you the truth, both seem like horrible commitments. They say it’s a buyer’s market, but there’s a point where desperation melts into stupidity.

First off, let’s look at Gay’s situation. To get one thing straight, Gay is a good, not great, offensive player. He’s incredibly athletic and he can hit the long-range shot. However, he is an absolutely dismal defender. Shawn Bradley could probably get by him off the dribble if he really wanted to. To suggest that Gay’s above-average offense is worth an amount of money in the neighborhood of what James and Chris Bosh are going to get is a crock, especially when his addition assures that the roster that couldn’t even crack the playoffs this season is going to remain the same.