The Reducer: Week 13, Northeast Passage

The First Day of NBA Christmas

Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images Arron Afflalo

The Third Day of NBA Christmas

Day 3: Is Arron Afflalo really worth $50 million?

Note: This could end up being one of the craziest months in NBA history. To celebrate the signings, trades, rumors, roster shuffling, insanity and (almost definitely) ensuing hilarity/incompetence, I have unleashed a special series called “The 12 Days of NBA Christmas.” Every weekday through December 19 (give or take a day), I will be writing about this unexpected NBA Christmas.

Day 1: The Road to Groundhog Day (and more dumb contracts than ever)
Day 2: The Donut Dilemma (the bubble in the center market)
Day 3 (12/6): Is Arron Afflalo really worth $50 million?

After Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler, my favorite 2011 free agent is Arron Afflalo, someone who’s already had a pretty strange career by NBA standards. In the past four years alone he’s been undervalued (Detroit stole him with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft), overvalued (for two years, the Pistons never played him), dismissed entirely (to create enough room to comically overpay Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon in 2009, Detroit gave Afflalo to Denver with cash for a second-round pick), undervalued again (he became an effective bench player in Denver), and then totally undervalued (emerging as a reliable starter last season). He’s also on pace to break the career record for “most times an NBA player’s name has been misspelled or mispronounced.”

Anyway, every NBA junkie scanned the list of free agents this month, made a few faces, laughed a few times, and at some point, had the same reaction: “Ooooooh, I like Arron Afflalo!”

How can you not like him? You’re getting him at age 26, which means he still has a chance to get about 20 percent better. He’s already a classic Table Test guy — he brings a few things to the table and doesn’t take anything off it. On the right team, you can pencil Afflalo in for 30 to 35 minutes per night, excellent defense, 13 to 15 points per game, 50/40/80 shooting percentages (FGs, 3s and FTs), good chemistry and a general efficiency/consistency that makes you totally comfortable. You know what you’re getting with Arron Afflalo. Almost to a tee.

So what’s that worth? I believe someone will pay Afflalo $50 million for four years. I also believe that he’s worth it.

Here’s where you say, “Wait … what???” And I’m with you … on the surface, this seems nuts. Then you start peeling it apart like an onion. We know teams have too much money to spend this month (as we covered in Day 1), and we know restricted offers always skew high. So for Afflalo to reach that $50 million prediction, two dynamics need to be in play.

Dynamic No. 1: The 2-guard landscape needs to be much weaker than anyone realizes.

Hold on, I’m about to freak you out. We’ve taken the 2-guard landscape for granted ever since Jordan’s heyday; there were always enough quality 2-guards to go around. That’s not the case anymore.

FRANCHISE GUYS: Dwyane Wade (turns 30 in January), Kobe Bryant (33)

ALL-STARS: Joe Johnson (30); Manu Ginobili (34)

POTENTIAL ALL-STAR: Eric Gordon (turns 23 this month, please read this footnote1).

SCORERS ONLY: Kevin Martin (28), Monta Ellis (26)

SURE-THING STARTERS: James Harden (22); Wesley Matthews (25); Afflalo (26, free agent)

EFFICIENT VETERANS: Ray Allen (36); Jason Richardson (31 in January, free agent); Jason Terry (34)

We just listed 13 guys, not even a high enough number to cover half the league. Read the rest of these names and ask yourself the following question: If I had a chance to win the title this season, would I want any of the following guys as my starting 2-guard?

UP-AND-COMERS: DeMar DeRozan (22); Nick Young (26, restricted free agent); O.J. Mayo (24)2

COMBO GUARDS: Jamal Crawford (31, free agent); Rodney Stuckey (25, restricted free agent)

THE X-FACTORS: Rip Hamilton (33); Brandon Roy (27); Stephen Jackson (33)

POSSIBLE UPSIDE GUYS: Evan Turner (23); Marcus Thornton (24, restricted free agent); J.R. Smith (26, free agent); Gordon Hayward (21); Klay Thompson (21)

LUXURY ROLE PLAYERS: J.J. Redick (27); Kyle Korver (30); Anthony Morrow (26); JJ Barea (27, free agent)

ROLE PLAYERS: Shannon Brown (26); Ronnie Brewer (26); Francisco Garcia (29); Landry Fields (23); Vince Carter (34, free agent); Anthony Parker (36); DeShawn Stevenson (30); Michael Redd (32, free agent)

OVERPAID UNDERACHIEVERS: John Salmons (32 on December, 12); Ben Gordon (28)

That’s a pretty motley list, right? By my calculations, Afflalo is the 12th-best short-term 2-guard (if you’re trying to win a title this season), and the 10th-best long-term 2-guard (if you’re looking at the next five years). And actually, if the goal is to WIN a title, I’d rather have two-way players like Afflalo, Matthews or Harden over Ellis or Martin (both one-dimensional scorers who couldn’t guard Yi Jianlian’s chair). But that’s just me.

Regardless, it’s not crazy to think Afflalo is worth $50 million. When you compare him to the other available 2-guards, he’s four years younger than Richardson (and a much better defender); he’s a much better all-around player than Young or Stuckey (two classic good-stats-on-bad-teams guys); he brings more to the table than Crawford (a valuable bench scorer, but that’s it); he’s a much safer bet than Smith or Thornton; and he’s not washed-up like Redd or Carter. That brings us to Dynamic No. 2.

Dynamic No. 2: You’d need multiple suitors for a good 2-guard who would conceivably drive up the price.

Who might splurge on Afflalo this month? Let’s see …

• We can safely cross off 15 teams for a variety of reasons: Atlanta, Dallas, Golden State, Houston, Memphis, Miami, New York, Oklahoma City, Philly, Portland, San Antonio, Toronto, Utah, the Lakers and the Clippers.

• Chicago can’t afford more than a mid-level exception (starts at $5 million), making it difficult to snare Richardson (a perfect fit) unless he takes a little less than he’s worth. (And he might.) Sorry, Bulls fans … you might be Vinsanity waiting to happen. Unless Richardson takes less OR Rip Hamilton gets amnestied (a possibility).

• Boston and Orlando can’t afford anything higher than the mid-level, but they’re both natural fits for an irrational confidence scorer, a combo guard off the bench, someone who can come in and flip a game around … you know, someone whose name rhymes with “Schamal Prawford.”

• I’m crossing off Phoenix (a perfect match for Afflalo) because the Suns blew their cap space in the summer of 2010 by overpaying Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick AND Josh Childress. Well done, fellas.

• If I were running Minnesota and didn’t have my no. 1 pick next summer, I would amnesty Martell Webster and offer Afflalo $50 million for four years, hope Denver didn’t match, then build my team around Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, Ricky Rubio, Afflalo and Anthony Randolph. (Sorry, Michael Beasley, you didn’t make the cut.) I can’t see the Timberwolves doing this, because it’s actually logical. Let’s cross them off.

• The Nets have spending room (more than $23 million if they amnesty Travis Outlaw), but they’re targeting one of the big-money centers (Nene, Chandler or Gasol). Let’s cross them off in pencil, not pen … you can never rule them out.

• It would be funny if the Pistons overpaid Afflalo after giving him away two years ago, but that’s not happening because they’re already paying $24.1 million combined for Gordon and Hamilton this season (not a misprint). Don’t worry, they might overpay Stuckey instead.

• Even if the Kings are $26.2 million under the cap (and $17.5 million under the total salary minimum), I can’t see them splurging on another 2-guard with Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Garcia and Salmons already aboard. Splurging on Thaddeus Young (another restricted free agent everyone likes)? Different story.

• I can’t cross off New Orleans ($12.6 million under the cap), but I wouldn’t bet on the Hornets spending major money, either. Depends on how fast the Chris Paul trade gets done.

That leaves six candidates who have money to spend AND need a quality 2-guard. In descending order …

6. Charlotte

Status: $5.94 million under the cap ($13 million including DeSagana Diop’s amnesty)
Current 2-guards: Gerald Henderson, Matt Carroll, Michael Jordan

Notes: Would the Bobcats make the playoffs with Afflalo, Corey Maggette, D,J, Augustin, Boris Diaw, Ty Thomas, Kemba Walker and (Marv Albert voice) “Bis-mack Bee-YOMMMMM-bo!!!!!”? Of course not. Are you crazy? Here’s your logical home for Vince Carter: He could sign for more than he deserves, go home to Carolina and be a major part of yet another disappointing Bobcats season. More on this in a second.

5. Milwaukee

Status: $5.2 million under the cap ($12.2 million if the Bucks amnesty Beno Udrih)
Current 2-guards: Stephen Jackson (playing out of position), Carlos Delfino (ditto)

Notes: Could the Bucks make the playoffs with Andrew Bogut, Afflalo, Jackson, Delfino, Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden? Actually, yes. Would they eat $14.3 million of Udrih’s money to do it? Probably not. They’ll probably go after Jason Richardson (and fail), then make Marcus Thornton a four-year offer and hope the Kings don’t match it. If they do? Get ready for an inexorable crawl toward J.R. “I Need Jack Bauer to Get Me Out of China” Smith.

4. Cleveland

Status: $5 million over the cap ($8.9 million under if the Cavs amnesty Baron Davis)
Current 2-guards: Amazingly, none

Notes: Now we’re talking. As soon as Cleveland dumps Baron, it can offer Afflalo a four-year deal for a little more than $38 million. I would do this yesterday. Unfortunately for the Cavs, he can do better … which means they’re headed for Nick Young (maybe four years, $32 million)?

3. Washington

Status: $13.3 million under the cap ($34.4 million if the Wizards amnesty Rashard Lewis)
Current 2-guards: Nick Young (restricted free agent), Jordan Crawford, Joe House

Notes: Team up John Wall and Afflalo and you’d really have the makings of something. If I’m running the Wizards, it’s a no-brainer: I’m doing the following three things …

A. Not using my amnesty on Lewis yet. He’s still a serviceable shooter — why pay him the exact same money NOT to be on my team?

B. Offer Afflalo $50 million: $14 million in Year 1, $13 million in Year 2, $12 million in Year 3 and $11 million in Year 4. Anything lower and Denver is probably matching.

C. Get the Celtics to sign-and-trade me Jeff Green for Andray Blatche — a deal that, by the way, makes sense for Boston because Green struggled so mightily coming off the bench, and also because Blatche (a total head case, but possibly redeemable with the right veterans and the right coach) gives them young legs and some much-needed size.3 Wait until the NBA schedule comes out today — if you think this creaky Celtics squad is making it through a “seven games in nine days” stretch (and you’ll see at least one on their schedule), I have some Brad Lohaus rookie cards to sell you.

Here’s Washington’s nucleus with those two moves (and one non-move): Wall, Afflalo, JaVale McGee, Jan Vesely, Green, Crawford and Lewis (as their vessel to a whopping amount of cap space). That’s the foundation of something, right? (Waiting.) Hello? Are you there? ANSWER ME!

2. Indiana

Status: $20.9 million under the cap ($28.5 million if the Pacers amnesty James Posey)
Current 2-guards: Brandon Rush, Jimmy Chitwood

Notes: Since it doesn’t look like they’re getting Nene, Gasol or Chandler, why wouldn’t they upgrade their 2-spot with Afflalo when he’s the perfect fit for that team? Think about what we watched from Indiana last season: smart, efficient, overachieving, always played hard, very good defensively, and most important, flexible. Wouldn’t Afflalo fit in spectacularly with Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough and Rush? What if the Pacers shelled out $50 million for Afflalo, then brought back Josh McRoberts or spent a little more for a center (DeAndre Jordan, Greg Oden, Sam Dalembert, etc)? That’s a real basketball team! Especially for a kooky regular season like this one — 66 games in 120 days — when teams with depth and young legs might have a genuine advantage.

1. Denver

Status: $26.3 million under the cap ($32.6 million if the Nuggets amnesty Al Harrington)
Current 2-guards: Afflalo (restricted free agent), Trey Parker, Matt Stone

Notes: And … here’s why Afflalo is going to get $50 million. Denver actually needs him. Indiana, Washington, Cleveland and everyone else knows this. You aren’t stealing him for $35 million or $40 million or even $45 million. It’s going to take $50 million. At least. And at that point, Denver’s brain trust might blink — as we witnessed during the Carmelo negotiations, they’re all about finding value, conserving cap space and making moves from a position of strength. If the Nuggets lose Nene — and I think they will — they’re going to look at the West and say, “Where are we going here? We can’t possibly compete with what we have.”

So … why not save your amnesty, avoid overpaying anyone, target a couple of bargain free agents (say, Josh Howard and Carl Landry), become a dumping ground for teams that need to clear short-term contracts (say, Chris Kaman), position yourself to strike as soon as a team needs to dump a quality contract (say, Josh Smith or Al Jefferson), pick up a couple of extra draft picks for your troubles (especially if Golden State wants to overpay you to take Andris Biedrins off its hands), shop Andre Miller’s expiring deal when the time comes, build around your young guys (Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler as soon as you can re-sign him), bottom out in 2012 for a high draft pick, and basically start pulling a Sam Presti circa 2007 and 2008?

Without further ado, my predictions for where the best free-agent 2-guards are headed this month …4

10. Anthony Parker

Team: Phoenix
Price: Two years, $6 million
Verdict: Properly paid

Notes: This won’t exactly convince Steve Nash to retire as a Sun.

9. Vince Carter

Team: Charlotte
Price: Two years, $13 million
Verdict: Overpaid

Notes: Can’t you see a slew of “Vince comes home!” and “Once considered the next MJ, now he’s playing for MJ” stories, thousands of fantasy owners taking him too high … and then the inevitable eight-week DL stint, followed by either (a) Charlotte flipping him to a contender, then Vince sucking in the playoffs for that contender, or (b) Charlotte quietly exercising its $1 million buyout of Vince’s deal before Year 2?

8. J.R. Smith (trapped in China)

Team: Houston
Price: Three years, $16 million
Verdict: Properly paid

Notes: I’m predicting a sign-and-trade here for Terrence Williams and Jordan Hill (two expiring deals). Oh, you don’t think I can make up sign-and-trades in a hypothetical column? Think again. Semi-related: I still think Smith will have one — repeat: ONE — meaningful moment for a playoff contender before everything’s said and done.

7. Jose Juan Barea

Team: Dallas
Price: Four years, $20 million
Verdict: Slightly overpaid

Notes: There’s no way Mark Cuban would ever lose Barea, just like there’s no way I’d ever lose Robert “Baby Bear” Mays from Grantland. There are certain guys you just need on your team, whether they’re diminutive Puerto Rican gunners or bearded Bears fans who get their clothes stolen from the dryer in their own apartment building.

6. Marcus Thornton (restricted)

Team: Milwaukee
Price: Four years, $24 million
Verdict: Properly paid

Notes: I like this hypothetical signing!

5. Nick Young

Team: Washington
Price: Four years, $30 million (matching Cleveland’s offer)
Verdict: Overpaid

Notes: I don’t like this hypothetical signing!

4. Rodney Stuckey (restricted)

Team: New Orleans
Price: Four years, $35 million
Verdict: Overpaid

Notes: Chris Paul’s semi-replacement for a trade that hasn’t happened yet (but will). Couldn’t you see the Hornets flipping Paul and Emeka Okafor for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, saving $5.2 million (and dumping the last $40.9 million of Okafor’s deal), using most of that money on Stuckey, then building your team around Bynum, Odom, Trevor Ariza, Stuckey, Jarrett Jack and a free-agent rebounder to be named (say, Kris Humphries)? How much fun would it be to have Odom and Humphries on the same team? Or two combo guards (Stuckey and Jack) just vacillating back and forth between the 1 and the 2 as our heads spin? For the record, I’ll be making fun of this contract (or whichever team overpays Stuckey) in about three months.

3. Jamal Crawford

Team: New Jersey
Price: Four years, $36 million
Verdict: Overpaid

Notes: Just a gut feeling — the Nets are somehow ending up with Crawford and Nene this month. I don’t think Mikhail Prokhorov can wait. He’s like a degenerate gambler who hasn’t been to Vegas for a while and can’t even make it out of McCarran Airport without gambling on a couple of slot machines. I see the Nets spending recklessly every offseason and figuring out the consequences later.

2. Jason Richardson

Team: Chicago
Price: Four years, full mid-level ($22m)
Verdict: Underpaid

Notes: If you’re taking less to win a title, you’re doing it after you made a ton of money (Richardson’s career earnings: $81 million), if you came close at least once (like Richardson did with Phoenix in 2010), and if you’re a competitive dude (which he is). And by the way, that’s a monster signing for the Bulls. Now we’ll see if they can really pull off this supposed blockbuster for Dwight Howard that they keep leaking to everyone (probably as a tactical ploy with no basis in truth, but whatever). If you’re Orlando, would you trade Howard and Hedo Turkoglu’s carcass for Joakim Noah, Omer Asik, Luol Deng, a cap filler and $3 million to cover up the cap filler? You’d have to at least THINK about it, right?

1. Arron Afflalo (restricted)

Team: Indiana
Price: Four years, $50 million
Verdict: Properly paid (not really, but you know what I mean)

Notes: Perfect team, perfect fit. I love when this stuff works out hypothetically.

To recap: That’s four “properly paids,” one “slightly overpaid,” four “overpaids” and one “underpaid.” We actually made progress from Monday’s center-bubble column — only 50 percent of these signings were bad. Until tomorrow.

Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.

Previously from Bill Simmons:

It’s a Black Friday Half-Mailbag
The Sports Guy’s Thanksgiving Picks
Business Vs. Personal

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, NBA, People, Simmons, Sports

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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