The NBA’s offseason is far from over. And as Chris Bernucca told us Monday, there are still at least 20 free agents out there that can provide value to a number of teams.
Although it’s still pretty early in the summer, it’s not too early to identify some of the offseason’s biggest losers.
And while we fully acknowledge that individual player progression, maturity, and development can improve a team just as much as a splashy free agent signing or witty trade, keep in mind that we’re ranking how individual teams fared in free agency.
What we are not going to take into consideration are things that can happen in the future. So although the Houston Rockets got what will eventually become a high draft pick from the Toronto Raptors in return for Kyle Lowry, something like that wouldn’t come into consideration here. The sentiment is unchanged as it relates to future cap flexibility, as well.
Here, the primary concern is how the product that will take the floor for the 2012-2013 fares in comparison to the team that took the floor in 2011-2012. And in the case of the Thunder, how they fare in relation to the other four or five teams that expect to have a serious chance of winning the NBA’s 2013 crown.
Number 5: Oklahoma City Thunder
Just about everything general manager Sam Presti has touched has turned into gold. But the Thunder’s improbable rise may have been set back since the Lakers managed to acquire Steve Nash without sacrificing any of their core players. The Thunder haven’t lost any players of consequence, but their lack of activity is somewhat disturbing. During the 2012 NBA Finals, they failed to move the ball and couldn’t score consistent points in the paint. They’re expecting Eric Maynor to return from the torn ACL that kept him sidelined for most of the season and they have added Hasheem Thabeet. But it seems as though next summer – when both James Harden and Serge Ibaka will be restricted free agents – has the Thunder in a holding pattern.
On the bright side, the Thunder haven’t lost anyone of consequence, depending on where you value Derek Fisher. But they haven’t gained anyone, either. Rookie Perry Jones III should provide decent value as a late first-round pick, but he’s not the answer.
And since Harden and Ibaka are likely to be among next summer’s most sought-after free agents, it would have been nice to see Presti add a piece or two to see if he could have put this team over the top. Speaking of the top, the cream rises to it, and if the Thunder don’t address some of their offensive deficiencies, they may end up waiting a while before having the opportunity to make last June’s finals loss a distant memory.
Number 4: Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have won about 60 percent of their games over the past four years. Although they have failed to make it past the second round of the East’s playoffs, they have been one of the conference’s better teams.
So much for that.
After signing Joe Johnson to a six-year, $120 million deal back in July 2010, the Hawks literally dumped him on the Brooklyn Nets. They got very little in return and also sent Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris. Atlanta may make some sense as a landing spot for Dwight Howard, and new general manager Danny Ferry seems to be putting his eggs in that basket.
For Ferry, this summer has been about dumping salary and setting up his team to be major players in free agency next summer. For sure, more moves are on the way. But until they happen, it’s fair to label the Hawks as one of this summer’s biggest losers. The bright side for this franchise, though, is that they could easily end up being the biggest winner next summer.
Without Johnson, the Hawks will only go as far as Jeff Teague and newly signed Lou Williams can take them. Without Johnson and Williams, the Hawks have lost two starters and it’s very likely that this will be a long season in A-Town.
Time will tell.
Number 3: Charlotte Bobcats
Agreed, naming the Bobcats as one of the biggest losers in free agency is like shooting fish in a barrel. But still, after finishing the 2011-2012 season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats should have done something to improve their frontcourt. Credit Rich Cho for attempting to sign Goran Dragic and Antawn Jamison, but he ultimately lost out on both of them.
Carl Landry—a player who could certainly fill a void for Charlotte—is still a free agent. Yet, for some reason, the Bobcats seem fixated with continually shuffling their backcourt by trading for Ben Gordon, allowing D.J. Augustin to leave for the Indiana Pacers, and signing Ramon Sessions.
Although Sessions, Gordon, Kemba Walker and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should provide some offense on the perimeter, Charlotte still finds itself in the less than ideal situation of depending on the likes of Tyrus Thomas, Dasagana Diop, Brendan Haywood, Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens for meaningful and consistent production up front. Kidd-Gilchrist should help the Bobcats, but unless he’s the second coming of Tim Duncan, their improvement will be marginal, at most.
With a very young core and good future draft picks, the Bobcats – if managed well – should improve in the coming years.
But it’s impossible to avoid a spot on this list when you’re the worst team ever and continue to make questionable personnel moves.
Number 2: Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers made an improbable run to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and gave the Boston Celtics all they could handle before losing Game 7. It was no secret, though, that their seven playoff wins in 2012 deserved an asterisk; four were against the Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose, and three came against the aging Boston Celtics.
So the 76ers did what most organizations would do when they feel stuck: They pulled the plug. Elton Brand was amnestied and Lou Williams is now a member of the Atlanta Hawks. While the moves do free up minutes for two rookies who could help the 76ers—Moe Harkless and Arnett Moultrie—they have some redundant pieces and are arguably worse off than they were at the conclusion of their last playoff run.
A trade or two could change everything, but after losing their leading scorer in Williams and their only semi-reliable post threat in Brand, the 76ers probably will find themselves battling for the final playoff spot in the East again. After seeing every other team in the division add to their respective cores, it will be interesting to see if the Toronto Raptors can leapfrog the 76ers and leave them in the cellar of the Atlantic Division.
It will also be interesting to see what the club elects to do with Andre Iguodala. Amnestying Brand and letting Williams walk probably means that the Sixers are ready to start over. If that’s the case, it might make sense to move Iguodala—who still has a lot of value—and attempt to get some building blocks in return.
Number 1: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have signed Chicago native Nazr Mohammed and many see that as a prelude to them allowing Omer Asik – who signed a three-year “poison pill” offer sheet with the Houston Rockets – to defect. We’ll know for sure whether that’s the case by 11:59 p.m. tonight.
But even if the Bulls retain Asik – which is not likely – they are expected to be without Derrick Rose until sometime after the All-Star break. They have added Kirk Hinrich, Vladimir Radmanovic and Marco Belinelli but lost some of the key reserves that were instrumental in earning them the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, even without Rose.
C.J. Watson is with the Brooklyn Nets. Kyle Korver is with the Atlanta Hawks. Along with John Lucas III and Ronnie Brewer, they are distant memories in Chi-town.
The latest word out of Chicago is that the Bulls are reluctant to add any long-term money to their ledger because they would like to have the flexibility to add a second max player alongside Rose in the Summer of 2014, when Luol Deng’s contract expires and Carlos Boozer can be jettisoned via the amnesty clause.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers should both improve from last season and the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks have all dramatically upgraded their rosters.
Under coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have been among the best defensive teams in the league, and when you play defense, you have a chance to win games. But Brewer and Asik were a huge part of their defensive success, and they will probably be without each of them.
The Bulls were successful during the regular season sans Rose. But without him in the playoffs, they couldn’t beat the Philadelphia 76ers. Again without him for the lion’s share of this season, the Bulls may very well find themselves battling for one of the East’s bottom four seeds just one season after sporting the conference’s best record.
It’s easy to see that they are Summer of 2012′s biggest loser.
Honorable Mention: Orlando Magic (no way you can lose Dwight Howard and not be worse off in the long run); San Antonio Spurs (another year’s worth of mileage probably means regression); and Eric Gordon (not wise to declare your heart was in another city knowing your incumbent team was likely to match your offer sheet).
Check back later this week, I’ll be bringing you the Five Biggest Winners In Free Agency.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com and will be providing the latest news and commentary during the NBA’s free-agency period. Follow him on Twitter to stay up-to date.