When the Lakers entered free agent negotiations with Dwight Howard, they drew a line in the sand: no sign-and-trade. If Howard decided to leave the Lakers, they were going to make him forfeit $30MM in guaranteed money. End of story.
It’s hardball. And high stakes. If Dwight calls their bluff, as he did, what then? Sure, Dan Gilbert and his cabal of underfunded owners cheered the Lakers for following through. The Lakers scored points in league politics. But what did it really accomplish for the Lakers?
Like every wounded Lakers fan, I felt good about the no-sign-and-trade decision back in July. It felt like the no-bargaining-with-terrorists rule, or the cops-don’t-give-up-their-gun rule. But that was then. And this is now. Three months later, I’m in a different mood.
What if the Lakers had got out front and said, “Dwight, we love you. But if you want to go somewhere else, help us get a good sign-and-trade deal that benefits everyone.” In that case, they might have given themselves a boost in the inevitable rebuilding project. What would Thomas Robinson look like in a Lakers jersey?
Remember, a sign-and-trade forces Houston to pay that extra $30MM. Worst case scenario – Howard is worth every penny. More likely – he’s not. This would actually stick it to Houston, and make their long term cap situation worse. Advantage? Lakers!
And look, let’s get serious: the Howard situation was unique. 9 out of 10 times, a guy takes a max offer with the Lakers. I mean, it’s LA, Showtime, celebs, sun, Magic. No other city can compete. A take-it-or-leave-it policy makes sense for the Bucks, Cavs, and a dozen other NBA cities. (Remember how fast the Kings rescinded Iguoadala’s offer? The quick flash of cash is a long term strategy for dismal market teams.) But the Lakers will probably never be in this silly situation again.
Now, as I said, I supported the stick-it-to-Dwight decision in July. But Mitch K and the Hat are paid the big bucks to be smarter and see farther than me. It sure would be nice to be working with something (draft picks?) other than cap space next summer.
However it works out, the roster churn in Milwaukee is just another sign that small- and mid-market teams still aren’t playing by the same rules as those in the glamour markets. Teams like the Bucks have to get talent when they can because cap space will do them no good.
Everyone looks at the coup that Pat Riley pulled, and thinks that their team can do the same thing. But they can’t, because:
- Miami is a fun, sunny, glamorous place, even if the TV market is smallish
- Bosh and Wade conspired to play together all along. LeBron knew they would ultimately attract a 3rd guy, and figured he should be it.
- Pat Riley
Everyone is proud of their hometown. But you need to be realistic about how the rest of the world sees you. Until you are a contender, like OKC, your unappealing city is out of the hunt for top-shelf free agents. You need to build through the draft, trades, and overpay some journeymen. Do it right, and you turn into today’s Warriors.
The truth is that I don’t know if there was exactly that many options there. Sometimes the offers come and go two hours later. It’s kind of a weird thing.
Knuckleheads in Golden State signed #Iguodala for $12m per yr. Nets got Kirilenko for $3m per yr. There ain’t $9m difference between them.
— Mark Kiszla (@markkiszla) July 12, 2013
There is no rhyme or reason to the contracts this summer. None. Previous years comparables are apparently off the table.
- Recall that Iguodala was offered $13MM per year by the Kings, who rescinded the offer when he failed to jump on it.
- The Pelicans paid $44MM for Tyreke Evans, but Monta Ellis could only wring $29MM from the Mavs (who may have been bidding against themselves).
- Birdman signed with the Heat for $1.7MM. And they are considering spending more on Greg Oden?
- Chris Kamen signs for $3MM?
- Kirilenko reportedly asked everyone in the league for 3 years, $24MM. Which makes sense, given that he opted out of 1 year, $10MM. So then he suddenly signs for $3MM?
There is speculation that Kirilenko has a side deal that will pay him later in Russia. But let’s assume, for the moment, that everything is above board. Maybe, like Calderon, he discovered that the market was weird this year, worried that the game of musical chairs might end without him, and grabbed what was available at the moment.
Say what you want about Kamen. In previous years, Kamen, Kwame Brown, and Sam Dalembert established a “going-rate” for ronin starting centers: $10MM. What happened? Kamen folded early, coming in from the cold for $3MM. Birdman followed. Big Sam is still out there. What do their agents know that we don’t? I’m still thinking this one over…
What happened in Dallas?
Did the Mavs really go all-in on Dwight Howard, with no fallback plan? Because that’s how it looks. They grabbed Calderon early, probably overpaying. A little later they signed Devin Harris at a bargain price. Or so it seemed, until point guard salaries kept falling through the floor… But at least they are set at the point. They also spent on a grab bag of lesser guards, flirted with Andrew Bynum and Sam Dalembert, then blew the last of their wad on Monta Ellis. Monta Ellis? They still don’t have a center, or a backup at power forward. While they dallied with Bynum, Chris Kamen signed with the Lakers. If the Mavs had gotten out front, he surely would have signed the same small deal with them.
On the one hand, they aren’t going to test Dirk’s patience with another 1-year roster. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their new starting 5 is: Calderon, Ellis, Marion, Nowitzki, and a center to be named later. That group will be challenged to make the playoffs, and has no hope for a championship.
If I were Mark Cuban, I would have had a frank talk with Dirk in June. Dwight Howard was Plan A. Plan B could be grab anyone available so Dirk can finish his career with dignity, like Stockton and Malone, Magic and Worthy, Pierce and Garnett (whoops!). Plan C would be to burn it down, trading Dirk to a playoff team. Maybe they had that talk, and maybe Dirk is okay with Plan B.
What is Milwaukee doing?
Okay. Last year they fired the coach that was not getting along with their star point guard. Then they fired his replacement, who was also not getting along with the star point guard. Then they hired a guy who seemed to hit it off with that guard. Then they bid heavily on a RFA who will replace said guard? Err….
But wait, there’s more. They traded one-time all-star Andrew Bogut for non-all-star Monta Ellis. Then offered Ellis a 3 year, $36MM extension, which he turned down. Next, they traded picks and good prospects for JJ Reddick. That only makes sense if you plan on re-signing Reddick in the offseason, using him to replace the outgoing Ellis. Instead, Reddick fled to the Clippers, apparently for less than the Bucks offered, and with help from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade. At this point, you’d think that they would come back hard after Ellis. But no, they let him shuffle off to Dallas at discount rates.
I should note that they hired a coach with a proven record of mediocrity (as did the Pistons). This is a team with no plan. You might lament an obvious tank-job like the Celtics and Jazz, but this looks like old-fashioned incompetence.
What are the Lakers doing?
Specifically, why did they amnesty World Peace? Kobe will return this year, and there is just enough left on the roster to contend (alongside the Mavs) for the 8th spot. If they can’t get terrible (hard to do with psycho-Kobe hanging around), I don’t see the point in being “more mediocre”. Mitch K better have a secret plan to trade Pau for 5 guys on rookie contracts. Otherwise, I really can’t understand.
As I said in part 1, I got a little more invested in Howard than I should have. Just a few weeks ago, I was telling friends that if Howard walked on the Lakers, good riddance. In fact, I said that I was wholly apathetic about Howard. If he signed-back, great. If not, fine. I could be talked into either scenario.
But then it looked like my beloved Warriors might land him, and I crossed the line of rationality. I talked myself into loving Dwight, and everything he stands for.
Time to step back.
Rockets had to grab Dwight, but, “Can’t shoot, bad handle, mediocre passer, short for a center, FTs, back injury” are all concerns.
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) July 7, 2013
Yep. What he said.
Howard is a flawed product. That matters a lot less playing for the Warriors than the Lakers. With the Warriors, we would have been happy to be a contender. With the Lakers, it is all about championships. And Howard is no champion. He may turn out to be an accidental champion, if James Harden is a true champ, and just needs good sidekicks. Howard certainly makes the Rockets relevant for the next few years. But as things stand now, they are only the 5th best team in the West.
Still, I care a lot less about the Rockets than the Lakers. And the Lakers just got totally crushed. Because no matter how flawed Howard is, there is no one else walking through that door. He was the one they could build around, use to bait Lebron or Carmelo, or at least pretend to be a contender, like today’s Rockets.
The Lakers are about to enter the NBA’s Twilight Zone. They will not be able to make the playoffs (or maybe they will – a team with Kobe, Pau, and 10 other guys has got a shot at the playoffs in any given year). They will not get a high lottery pick. They will struggle to attract free agents (who will want to play for a non-Twilight Zone team).
Let’s get real – Lebron is not coming. Lebron will finish his career in Miami.
So, after a lost season, who can the Lakers get next summer to re-ignite hope?
Here’s a name for you: Kevin Love. Personally, I am not a fan. But… he has cachet, he is “available” (as they say in Hollywood), and he would probably thrive in the D’Antoni system. If the Lakers re-sign Kobe and Pau at reasonable rates, land Love, and add a couple of 3-and-D wings, they can at least get in the conversation.
If they miss on Love, they should probably swallow their pride and ask the Warriors about David Lee. This would be in the nature of a salary dump by the Warriors, in which the Lakers get Lee and the Warriors get cap room. The Warriors may not be interested. But I think Lee would do well as a running 4 in D’Antoni’s system.
Or… look at what the Mavs are doing this summer. They are reloading for a 3-year run with Dirk. But not with marquee free agents. They are signing journeymen. Is that enough to make them championship contenders? Or just enough to ensure playoff appearances?
Friday was fun. I sat in front of my computer, monitoring NBA news. For much of the day, it looked like we had a real chance at landing Dwight Howard.
At the end of the day, the Ws pulled off the epic salary dump trade to Utah, and signed Andre Iguodala! Wow! And then Dwight went to Houston. Sigh.
I got a little more invested in Howard than I intended too. Taking a step back, I think the Warriors will be just fine with Andrew Bogut anchoring our center. Plus, we didn’t have to sacrifice Thompson or Barnes.
And really, the fact that the Ws got on Howard’s short list is great news (as is the fact that Iggy took less money to get here). For too long, the Warriors have shared a bunk with teams like the Bucks: players will come here, but only if they don’t have another offer, and only if we overpay. That, apparently, has changed. We are on the radar now. It helps.
As for Iguodala? I’m excited. I’ve long been an admirer of his game. I wanted the Warriors to trade Monta for him for three straight years (not possible, of course, because Ellis != Iguodala, and the Ws had nothing else to offer). He shores up the biggest weakness in the roster: lack of a quality small forward. Acquiring him at this moment is a “win-now” move, which I always support in the NBA.
And yet… When the Warriors dumped all that salary on Utah, there are other things they might have done with it. For example, they could have re-signed Jack and Landry, and added another mid-level guy, all under the tax line. Or they could have signed-and-traded Jack/Landry. Or… something. The problem with Iggy, as things stand now, is that the Ws paid dearly for him. Effectively, they are paying him $48MM (fair market value) + Jack + Landry + 2 first-round picks. This will come up, over and over, in the years ahead.
If Denver does not come through with a sign-and-trade on reasonable terms, the Warriors will actually spend millions less next year than they had planned on. Less! This will also be discussed endlessly.
The Iguodala deal is not only “win-now”, it is “win-or-else”. I admire the wheeling and dealing. I love Iguodala, the player. But breaking up the band (the Ws just subtracted 5 guys from their great locker room), mortgaging the future, and limiting the ability to deal (no more expirings, no 1st round picks to trade, no good mid-level contracts to offer)? Win or else.
Just putting a stake out there so I can say I told you so later…
The Clips do not have a thought leader. Not since they waived goodbye to Neil Olshey. They are managing by committee now, and committees can never make bold, decisive moves. So the grand Celtics/Clippers trade that is much discussed will not happen.
You heard it here first.
A friend today said the Warriors lost due to a defensive collapse. I said, “no, it was an offensive collapse. One more point. That’s all we needed. Twice.”
Steph Curry was 0-8 in the 4th. Richard Jefferson missed two consecutive free throws. And the rest of the guys also came up small.
By the way, it is hard to defend when the other team is scoring off of turnovers.
There are different kinds of losses. The ones you lose by blowing a 16-point lead in the last 4:31? Those hurt the most.
Can Ellis get a huge deal as a free agent? I doubt it. But maybe something like 3 for $27M on a team desperate for scoring.
I say: “Au contraire, mon frere!”
In a league where:
- Bill Simmons calls out a sudden shortage of 2 guards, and
- Eric Gordon, Nick Batum, and Aaron Afflalo all get big deals at the 2…
I think Monta is sitting in a pretty good spot.
Remember when Baron Davis opted out of a $17MM year, and promptly signed a $60MM deal? I know, I know, it was a different time in the NBA. But then again… Baron was an elite point guard at a moment when the league was starved for quality point guards. Baron just arbitraged his way to a big payday. Monta will do the same. Let the bidding start at 4 years, $40MM.
Remember, when guys opt out, they are not trying to maximize next year’s pay. They want long-term security. And they are right to do it.
That’s what many are saying. But Bill Simmons cautioned yesterday that this might just be a one-time thing. I agree. And I’ll go further: it’s not the CBA’s fault.
Look, there was no Dwight Howard out there. Josh Smith? Please. JJ Reddick? Uh…
Those guys are good, but not max-contract good.When you trade for an expiring deal, you either want the money to fall off the books at the end of the year, or else you plan to pay whatever it takes to re-sign the guy. Now in the case of Josh Smith, it may take a max deal to re-sign him. And most teams, wisely, decided not to give up too much for a guy they didn’t want to overpay. With Reddick, I guess the Bucks are in “make the playoffs” mode. Because there is a really good chance that he’ll sign elsewhere in July. They didn’t give up much for him, but they did give up young guys on cheap deals that might, possibly, get better.
You know what I think? The league is just getting smarter. After watching smartly run programs like San Antonio, Portland, and Utah find quality guys in the draft every year, that’s the direction everyone else it turning. Blame it on Kevin Pritchard. When he ran the Blazers, he bought or traded for any available draft pick. Other teams thought they were making money selling second-round picks, or dumping dead money in guaranteed late first-round picks. Pritchard used those picks to build a young, deep team. If Oden and Roy had stayed healthy, they would be a perennial championship contender.
Another thing Simmons noted yesterday is there there is an army of bloggers, internet journalists, radio shows, and cable tv talking heads to examine any deal these days. The overwhelming amount of free analysis out there is making everyone smarter. Including owners.
And sure, the supertax is looming. Owners are looking to get their payroll in order. This will happen over the next year or two. After that, trading will resume as usual. There will be buyers and sellers, just like before. Look at what the Kings did this week: sent their #5 pick to the Rockets for a bag of magic beans. Oh, and $4MM in payroll reduction. Yeah. The Rockets, let us note, already had their payroll in order.
The key to fun trade deadlines is a mix of teams that need to shed money, and teams that have money to spend. This year, the Rockets had money. Next year, more teams will. As we go forward, teams will oscillate against the repeater tax, and look to dump money. Teams below the tax line will take on extra money for a year or two, before looking to dump themselves. We’ll have a good mix, interesting player movement, fun for all (except the guys, who have to uproot their families).
Let me just add that, technically, the tax is not in the CBA. It is a separate revenue-sharing agreement among the owners. The CBA establishes the soft salary cap. The higher tax line is set by the revenue-sharing agreement. But obviously, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Why does David Stern love small markets?
I don’t recall who first pointed this out, but the issue was raised in the last 12 months, and I’ve been paying attention since then. No doubt, Stern is oddly committed to small markets.
I can rationalize this. But first, the evidence…
- Vancouver failed, so Stern supported a move to…Memphis?
- Charlotte got a replacement franchise after the first franchise left. Still hasn’t demonstrated any ability to support a team.
- Stern gave his blessing to the Sonics move to Oklahoma City.
- Stern, in effect, forced the Maloofs to wait for Sacramento to get its stuff together.
- And… Stern refused to sell the Hornets to anyone who wanted to move the team from its host city of 350,000.
His fascination with small markets goes way longer than that brief timeline. I mean, he allowed a team in Charlotte in the first place. He let Sacramento have a team. Probably his only mis-step has been letting the Clippers flee San Diego.
It is obvious to me, and probably many others, that the league would be healthier if a few teams moved to share large markets (NY, Chicago, and the Bay Area can all support an extra team), and a couple of teams just go away (contraction).
But, David Stern is a clever, clever man. Surely he sees something we don’t?
Actually, yes. He probably does.
The key to prosperity is growth: growing revenue, and growing profits. To some extent, this happens organically, due to inflation, and as the population of the USA grows. But Stern, like all savvy businessmen, wants more than organic growth. For that, you need to expand your market.
In the NFL, the dominate revenue stream is national television rights fees, which are shared equally across all franchises. This allows teams in backwaters like Green Bay, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and New Orleans to participate as equals. Not so in the NBA, where the dominant revenue stream is local tv rights fees, which are hoarded by individual franchises.
Baseball has the same revenue dilemma. But in baseball, a low-payroll team can occasionally contend for the title. This actually happens often enough to keep the league relevant, and afloat. In the NBA, evidence points the other way: low-spenders never contend for titles. In fact, they never even make the playoffs.
Stern has talked for years about expanding internationally. To Europe. Or China. Or somewhere. But it keeps not happening. I think that Stern is painfully aware of this. So, instead, he is trying to push the NBA out into the hinterlands. It is his only real option.
I bet Stern has a map in his office that shows all the TV markets served by the NBA. He sees the blobs of color covering the North East, flaring across the South, and climbing up the West Coast. He wants to fill in all the empty parts. He wants all of North America to identify with an NBA team. It’s not a terrible vision, really.
Problems come when a long term vision collides with urgent issues of the moment. For example: when negotiating a new CBA. It becomes awkward to assert that revenues are low, when relocation to larger urban centers is an obvious solution. But Stern ducked that bullet, and the next CBA will be Adam Silver’s problem.
(It is lucky that Sacramento’s fight for the Kings is occurring while Stern still holds the scepter. Clay Bennet heads the relocation committee, and he is Stern’s man. So if Kevin Johnson can raise $525 MM, and a stadium plan, I have no doubt the Kings will stay put.)