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: Is Arron Afflalo Really Worth $50 Million?
Day 4: Where the Hell is Chris Paul Going?
Day 5: Inside Grantland Featuring Blake Griffin, Part II
Day 6: The Day the NBA Lost Its Way
The One Day When the Clippers Actually Mattered (VOIDED BY DAVID STERN)
Day 8: The Chris Paul NBA Hostage Crisis Continues
Day 9: The Might of Dwight
Day 10: The Black Sheep Little Brother’s Revenge
Day 11 (12/16): The Day After The Day The Market Crashed
With the 2011-12 NBA season only nine days away, we just watched the market crash faster than the housing market in 2008. Was it only last week when the following signings happened?
• Detroit re-signed Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko for $46 million combined over four years. This would have been ridiculous even if they didn’t play the same position as Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye who, by the way, both play for the Pistons. I think this was Joe Dumars’ last-ditch attempt to get fired. Next stop: robbing a liquor store.
• Minnesota paid $19 million for four years for J.J. Barea,1 making him the third free agent point guard in three years that they’ve signed for at least $16 million2 (even though they spent three first-round picks on point guards over that same timeframe3) and giving them three point guards for the 2011-12 season.4 I don’t know what to tell you.5
• Caron Butler roofied Clippers’ GM Neil Olshey, stole his corporate Clippers card and wired $24 million into Butler’s checking account before Olshey woke up. Wait, that’s not what happened? Sorry, I got erroneous info there. My bad. Butler really did sign for $24 million over three years, though. The Clippers spun this as “We had to lock it down, the Nets were about to give him $30 million,” which should have been their first red flag: When you’re bidding against a team that splurged on the likes of Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro last year, that’s a pretty good sign you need to back away.
• Sacramento re-signed Marcus Thornton for $33 million over four years, which happened to be $8 million more than Orlando paid Jason Richardson. I thought that was interesting because, if everything breaks right for Thornton over these next four years, he might end up becoming a poor man’s Jason Richardson. Go figure.
• Golden State struck out with Marc Gasol, Nene, Tyson Chandler, tried to overpay DeAndre Jordan (four years, $43 million), then settled on a one-year, $7 million deal for the immortal Kwame Brown. I’m not sure if “settling” is a strong enough word, to be honest. If the newly single Ashton Kutcher spent the night talking to Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Blake Lively, threw the kitchen sink at Kaley Cuoco and went home with a portly cocktail waitress, I don’t think we would use the word “settling.” That’s basically what happened here.
• Orlando dealt Brandon Bass to Boston for Glen “Big Baby” Davis, then gave Davis $26 million over four years. I’m actually glad this happened because it allowed me to have the following exchange with my dad.
Dad: “I’ve always liked Brandon Bass!”
Me: “I know!”
Dad: “Big Baby was our worst player after we traded Perkins, he absolutely killed us!”
Me: “I know!”
Dad: “He couldn’t do anything. He lost the ability to play basketball!”
Me: “I know!”
Dad: “And now we’re paying Bass less money for less years when he’s a better player!”
Me: “I know!”
Dad: “I’m really glad Otis Smith is still in the league!”
Me: “I know!”
Not every move this month was perplexing. Memphis smartly re-signed Marc Gasol (four years, $58 million). Miami spent the right amount of money on Shane “I’m not the same guy I was three years ago, but that’s OK, I can still help” Battier (three years, $9.4 million). Indiana landed yet another overcompetitive guy for their overcompetitive team (David West: two years, $20 million). Dallas swooped in after Lamar Odom asked for a trade and Mitch Kupchak panicked (getting Odom for the impossibly ridiculous price of one year, $8.9 million). The Kings realized that they were building an entire roster of black holes and spent $21 million on a classic “defense-first, does the grunt work, doesn’t care about stats” guy (Chuck Hayes).6
Again, I can’t put Miami’s Battier signing on that level — I thought he slipped pretty noticeably last year as a defender, although he’ll still help the Heat off their bench. Put it this way: Had Battier been out there in the Finals last year instead of Mike Miller, it wouldn’t have changed anything.
Wait, there’s more! The Lakers stole Josh McRoberts for $6.1 million over two years, which would have been my single favorite signing if Portland didn’t STEAL Jamal Crawford for $10 million over two years (seriously, where was everyone else on that one?????). The Clippers made the best amnesty claim of all time: Chauncey Billups for the staggeringly low, it’s-almost-like-the-league-tipped-them-off-on-how-high-to-go price of $2 million. Chicago signed Rip Hamilton for the exceedingly fair price of $15 million over three years; assuming Rip has something left in the tank (and I think he does), that ranks alongside Gasol, Billups and Odom as the four biggest “Moves That Will Affect the 2012 Title Picture.”7 Charlotte snared one of my favorite under-the-radar guys for $5 million over two years: Reggie Williams, a gamer and long-range sniper (2010-11: 42.3 percent 3-point FG) who toiled in obscurity for a lousy Warriors team last season. Milwaukee took a two-year, $7.5 million flyer on Mike Dunleavy Jr. If He Can Stay Healthy that I wholeheartedly supported. Dallas (Delonte West), Toronto (Aaron Gray), Phoenix (Shannon Brown), New Jersey (Shawne Williams), Atlanta (Tracy McGrady), Portland (Craig Smith) and Boston (Chris Wilcox) landed solid rotation guys for dirt cheap. And best of all, Miami locked down Mario Chalmers for the measly price of $1.2 million over three years.
Arenas averaged 28.4 points per game during the 2006-07 season. That was only four and a half years ago. How can the Knicks — a team that currently has the single worst backcourt in modern NBA history — not roll the dice on him? Is he THAT nuts? What don’t we know here?
(Hold on what?)
Sorry about that — Chalmers signed for $12 million over three years. I misread that. So if you’re scoring at home, LeBron, Wade and Bosh took less money so Miami could spend $40.5 million over the next three years on Chalmers, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony. Witness!
So who’s left? We’re only nine days away from the start of the 2011-12 season (I know, it’s crazy) and by my calculations
Six quality free agents remain: Arron Afflalo, Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Stuckey, Nick Young, Andrei Kirilenko and Kris Humphries. Poor Humphries: He’s one of the league’s best rebounders, only his unlikable performances on “Kourtney and Kim Take New York” have been so damaging that it actually affected his free-agent value. I’m convinced. No owner wants to be the guy who spends a lot of money on Humphries, then goes home and has his wife or daughter say, “You signed Kris Humphries??? He’s a total asshole! I hate the guy! He told Kim she had a big ass and no talent last week! How could you do that????”
Three quality free agents are trapped in China until March (so you might want to save cap space for them): JR Smith, Aaron Brooks and Wilson Chandler. Expect to see those three names appear a combined 32,000 times in the columns and tweets of Marc Stein, Chad Ford and Chris Broussard over the next three months.
Two intriguing amnesty guys are available: Gilbert Arenas and Baron Davis (out for 6-8 weeks with a herniated disc). If the Knicks don’t sign Baron, I’ll be shocked. And if the Knicks or Lakers don’t take a low-risk flyer on Arenas as a bench scorer, then clearly everyone in the NBA thinks he’s gone insane, because it’s insane NOT to take a flyer on that guy.8
My prediction that Afflalo would get $50 million looks like it’s a little off. The market crashed before it happened. I guess I’m the Jim Kramer of NBA market predictors.
Four players are available if you want to overpay someone who will invariably let you down: Al Thornton, Julian Wright, Yi Jianlan and Yi Jianlan’s chair. I really wanted to throw Nick Young on that list, but he’s probably too talented.
Five super-duper sneaky veterans are still lingering: Kenyon Martin (trapped in China), Michael Redd (couldn’t he drain a few 3s for a contender?), Peja Stojakovic (ditto), DeShawn Stevenson (the LeBron stopper!) and Reggie Evans (last season: 26.5 MPG, 11.5 RPG). If the Celtics don’t sign DeShawn soon, I’m throwing a tantrum. The only thing that stops LeBron better than DeShawn Stevenson is the fourth quarter.
Four other guys that I personally like (and I might be alone here): Jason Smith (a young 7-footer with a whiff of potential); Ike Diogu (a banger who played well for the Clips last year); Sasha Vujacic (trapped overseas, but he’s a relatively competent backup guard, a quality agitator and someone who can ice wins for you at the free-throw line); and Nenad Krstic (also trapped overseas, possibly for as long as three years, but he’s a center who drains 17-footers and isn’t awful). Wait, did I just say I liked Sasha Vujacic? Let’s pretend that never happened. Please. I’m begging you.
As for the rest of the free agents I don’t like anyone else. Seriously. Cross them all off. Not worth our time.
As for the remaining bidders, obviously any team can grab someone for minimum money. But I wanted to concentrate on the teams that clearly have one move (at least) to make before Opening Night. In no particular order
Needs: One more impact guy. They have the cap space.
Additional Notes: As a Celtics fan, I’m officially terrified of what’s happening in Indiana. Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George (one of my favorite young guys) I mean, they’re a solid forward/center and/or a solid scoring guard from being a bitch in the playoffs. I really, really like this team. You know what may have changed their December game plan, though? Eric Gordon getting thrown into the Chris Paul trade. For years, Clipper insiders were worried about Gordon leaving in 2013 (when he becomes an unrestricted free agent) to play for his hometown Pacers. Shouldn’t the Pacers make a few short-term signings to preserve their 2013 cap room for Gordon?
What They SHOULD Do: Throw the kitchen sink at Afflalo. Something like $42 million for four years.9 Make Denver match it. (They will.) Then, throw a shorter offer at Nick Young and make Washington match it. (They will.) Now you’ve just knocked out your two biggest competitors for the overseas guys in March, which means you can roll the dice with Michael Redd for nothing (already in the works), bide your time until the overseas guys start coming back, then pounce on some short-term scoring punch with J.R. Smith (two years, $12 million) while keeping your eyes on the prize (Gordon in 2013). Either way, I love looking at the Pacers right now — they’re proving that a small-market team can stay competitive with wacky traits like “logic” and “ingenuity.”
We’ve established pretty convincingly over the years that D’Antoni only succeeds with one type of team: an up-and-down offense led by an elite point guard that doesn’t care about defense. Now he’s been handed a loaded frontcourt, terrible point guards and a team that’s better off slowing things down and playing the halfcourt game. That fits his style how? What am I missing here?
Needs: Size. They’re starting Boris Diaw at center this year and can’t even amnesty DeSagana Diop because rookie (Marv Albert voice) “Bis-mack Bee-YOM-bo!” might be trapped in Spain for awhile.
Additional Notes: When your center combo is Boris Diaw and DeSagana Diop, you’re pretty much daring the league to contract you.
What They SHOULD Do: That’s a loaded question. The Bobcats have cap space and DON’T think they need Sam Dalembert. I don’t know what to tell you. Why is this team still in the league?
NEW YORK KNICKS
Needs: Hint their backcourt consists of Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby’s chalk figure right now.
Situation: They have a two-year exception starting at $2.5 million. That’s it.
What They SHOULD Do: Sign Baron AND Arenas for the minimum (why not?), then wait for Jack Bauer to free Aaron Brooks from China (and convince Brooks’ agent that playing in New York for one year, for $2.5 million, on a playoff team that desperately needs him, would be a splendid way for him to show off Aaron Brooks). While we’re here, I wanted to address the following e-mail from Dave H. in New York:
“I love your NBA columns, and The 12 Days of NBA Christmas is awesome on many different levels. I’m your target diehard NBA audience. So I want to know. why are you fucking up and not writing about the potentially biggest signing of the year Tyson Chandler? Is it because you want to see how the Knicks finish constructing their roster, or because you’re just being a dick? Either way, I don’t like it. Stop being a fucking dick. Break down their roster, Dr. Jack Ramsey style! I demand it! And I want the full treatment, with analysis of potential late arrivals like Baron Davis, what it means, AND becaause I had to ask for this, tell us explicitly how scared you are of this team.Thank you.”
Dave, here’s why I am not worried about the Knicks: Mike D’Antoni already proved last season that he has no problem running Amar’e Stoudemire and Amar’e Stoudemire’s uninsurable knees into the ground. This season, D’Antoni has 10 times more pressure on him — not only have the expectations of Knicks fans quadrupled, but Phil Jackson’s 2012-13 shadow is suddenly lingering over everything. There is no hotter coaching seat. (No, not even yours, recently extended, Erik Spoelstra.) That means he’ll stupidly play Amar’e big minutes again, only this time, he’ll be doing it during a shortened season with less rest. How do you think that one’s turning out, Dave? If “five fun weeks for the Knicks, followed by Amar’e breaking down and everyone blaming D’Antoni while simultaneously freaking out that they used up their amnesty already” was a wager, I’d lay some wood on it right now. 10
Even before adding Afflalo and/or Chandler, their current rotation includes Andre Miller, Ty Lawson, Rudy Fernandez, Nene, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, Kenneth Faried and Timofey “Ten Years From Now, We’re All Going to Laugh That I Nearly Held Up The Carmelo Deal” Mosgov.
(And just in case you think this is the bitter rantings of a threatened Celtics fan )
Needs: Yikes, what don’t they need? They’re starting Jermaine O’Neal at center. The third guard is Keyon Dooling. The best bench swingman (Jeff Green) might be out for the season with a “mystery ailment” (that’s never good). As a Boston buddy of mine texted last night, “It’s starting to feel like 1991.” That’s not a good thing.
Additional Notes: They’re over the cap and already used this year’s exception. The good news is that Green’s murky situation is holding them hostage indefinitely.
What They SHOULD Do: Sign Arenas for nothing. Why not? If that doesn’t work, try to survive for two months until the overseas guys (Brooks, Vujacic, Kenyon Martin, etc.) come back, then try to steal one or two of them for cheap you know, assuming Pierce, Garnett and Allen haven’t been destroyed by the shortened season by then. I want to throw up.
Needs: Backups for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Unless they plan on playing those guys 48 minutes a game.
Additional Notes: Lob City’s payroll creeped toward the tax line ($70 million) after the Jordan/Butler/Billups signings. With Chris Paul and Billups aboard, they definitely don’t need Randy Foye (one year: $4.25 million) AND Mo Williams (two years: $17 million), right? They could try to trade one for an expiring big guy (Mehmet Okur or Jermaine O’Neal); they could amnesty Williams (I wouldn’t do that, by the way); they could re-sign Diogu (I hope they do, actually) and figure it out later; or they could go with the Erick Dampier/Troy Murphy/Etan Thomas veteran pu pu platter. Sadly, they can’t get creative and push for a sign-and-trade with New Jersey — Mo Williams and a future no. 1 for Humphries — because Humphries looks just enough like Blake Griffin that it would be too confusing.
What They SHOULD Do: Sign Diogu, then flip Foye to Washington for Ronny Turiaf. Done. Let’s make it happen today, Lob City. Thank you.
NEW JERSEY NETS
Needs: Dwight Howard.
Additional Notes: Dwight Howard or bust.
What They SHOULD Do: Sign one-year dudes so they can preserve their cap space for Howard. Pretty sure that’s what they’re doing, actually: They just made history by amnestying Travis Outlaw (signed in the summer of 2010, no less!); now it looks like they’re going to offer Kirilenko a giant one-year deal, if only so Mikhail Prokhorov has someone to go out drinking with when he’s visiting New Jersey. Stay tuned.
Needs: A certain two-guard with a badly misspelled name.
Additional notes: I hated the final price for Nene (five years, $67 million) for purely selfish reasons — it was just low enough that I can’t make fun of it, just high enough that they’ll probably regret it, and yet, a price they probably had to pay. I don’t think there’s ever been more money spent on a snark-proof, praise-proof free-agent signing.
What They SHOULD Do: Sign Afflalo before someone else overpays him, but make sure they leave enough cap space to match any Chandler offer as soon as he comes back. By the way? Don’t sleep on the Nuggets as a surprise contender — they have a chance to go 10-deep11 during a shortened season that gives young/deep teams a genuine competitive advantage. In fact, I’m penciling them into the playoffs, along with the Grizzlies, Spurs, Mavericks, Clippers, Zombie Sonics and Blazers. That leaves one spot for the Lakers, Rockets, Suns, Warriors or Hornets. Should be a tight race.12
Sorry, baiting Laker fans is really fun. I can’t stop doing it.
My buddy House is a die-hard Washington fan. Here’s his take: “I’m probably drunk on Leonsis ‘Destination DC’ juice (see today’s story in WaPo), but I slightly disagree with Simmons. Sure, there is presently an incomplete team surrounding @JimmyWa here in Chocolate City. And I think Afflalo is EXACTLY the kind of free-agent that makes sense. But I also happen to think the Washington Professional Basketball Team is better served by sitting tight. Deploying the Lewis-Amnesty Prize now required the team to spend $$$$$$$ to get up to the salary floor. Not only does that likely translate into a couple crappy 3-year deals for a couple overrated veterans, it also potentially impedes the team’s ability to re-sign JaVale, a RFA at the end of this season (this is the year it all comes together for him, right? RIGHT?!??), and extend their only asset that matters as soon as they can (Mr. Wall). My vote: the almost-Boules keep their cap-powder dry to see what emerges in the still-to-come trade market. At a minimum, that cap space affords the ability to join a mega-trade as a 3rd or 4th partner & maybe get young assets or picks that way. DESTINATION DC OR BUST!!!
Needs: To play in a league that’s not rigged.
Additional Notes: They spent three years stacking enough assets to make that Pau Gasol trade. There was no Plan B. Might be time to bottom out and rebuild. In the meantime, they’ll probably lock down Dalembert for short money (maybe $13-14 million for two years).
What They SHOULD Do: Make a Godfather offer to Boston — Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic for Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal and the rights to that Clippers pick that becomes unprotected in 2016. I hate giving up Rondo and wouldn’t do it — I think he’s headed for a monster eff-you season — but wouldn’t the Celtics at least have to have a couple of long meetings about that offer? And did you know that, when future Houston GM Daryl Morey was working for Boston during the 2006 regular season (before Houston hired him away in April), Rondo was his favorite 2006 draft prospect and the reason Danny Ainge traded for Rondo’s rights?
Needs: Um good players?
Additional Notes: I can’t figure out Les Boules. They could have amnestied Rashard Lewis, created globs of cap space and cherry-picked two or three of the remaining quality guys in a market that just crashed. Why not make a run at Afflalo and Wilson Chandler (when he becomes available) and gun for the playoffs right now, especially when John Wall is the odds-on favorite to become this season’s breakout star (a la Blake Griffin last year)? Potentially, they can sign two quality guys for a discount price. How does a nucleus of Wall, Afflalo, Javale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Jan Vesely, Jordan Crawford, Turiaf and Whatever They Get From Andray Blatche sound? Why wait?
What They SHOULD Do: It’s too late they never amnestied Lewis. Now that the Clippers are finally good, I’d like to nominate Washington as the league’s new laughingstock-for-decades franchise.13
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Again — so much fun to bait the Lakers fans. That canceled Paul trade, followed by the Odom trade, was really like Christmas come early for me. I didn’t even ask for any other gifts.
Needs: More players, new owners, a week that goes by without a massive conflict of interest.
Additional notes: Lost in the Lob City hysteria — did you notice the Hornets suddenly have a half-decent team? They have two legitimately competent low-post scorers (Carl Landry and Chris “It Can’t Be Forgotten That I’m in a Contract Year” Kaman), a shot-blocker/rebounder (Emeka Okafor), a half-decent point guard (Jarrett Jack), an elite swing defender (Trevor Ariza), an athletic forward with upside (Al-Farouq Aminu), a potential top-ten scorer poised to make The Leap (Eric Gordon), Minnesota’s 2012 draft pick (trade chip!) and enough financial flexibility to sign one more decent free agent. For a shortened season, I might like the 2011-12 Hornets’ nucleus more than the 2011-12 Lakers’ nucleus.14
There’s a chance this contract might get voided because the Kings reportedly found a heart abnormality during Hayes’ physical. Hopefully he’s OK.
What They SHOULD Do: Wait for one of the overseas guys (Brooks?), then ride Chris Paul’s Ewing Theory potential to an improbable playoff spot. Do you know how many playoff series Chris Paul won for New Orleans in six years? One. It’s true. Look, there’s no bigger Chris Paul fan than me, but the Ewing Theory is the Ewing Theory. The 2011-12 Hornets absolutely qualify.
Is this leading to the 2012 Hornets winning the title, then a sobbing David Stern handing the trophy to himself? Probably not. OK, definitely not. But what if the Lakers battled some injuries and some dissension, and suddenly the league-owned Hornets and the screwed-by-the-league Lakers were battling for the eighth playoff seed with a week to go? I’m moving this scenario to the top of my Christmas list. Enjoy the weekend.
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: