After examining the biggest losers among NBA players this summer, it’s only right that we examine those that have cashed in.
Centers always have and always will be hot commodities in the NBA, but some of the players below have found themselves in new situations with excellent opportunities.
Sometimes, winning as a free agent is a result of being in the right place at the right time. And sometimes, it requires falling down before dusting yourself off and finding a new beginning. That being said, here are this summer’s biggest winners:
Andray Blatche (PF, Free Agent)
In September 2010, Ernie Grunfeld made the rare move of extending a player on a rookie scale deal long before he had to. Grunfeld gave Blatche a three-year extension worth $28 million, despite the fact that—at the time—Blatche had two years remaining on his current deal. Blatche has shown flashes over the course of his seven-year career, but his work ethic is questionable and the fans in D.C. have soured on him.
After failing to deal him at last season’s March trade deadline, Grunfeld and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis decided to amnesty Blatche, despite owing him more than $25 million over the next three years.
For Blatche, this may be a blessing in disguise. Blatche will receive every penny of his guaranteed salaried but now—after clearing amnesty waivers—is an unrestricted free-agent who can hand pick his next team.
As of right now, the suitors aren’t exactly lining up for Blatche, but rest assured, by the time training camps open up, he will have found a new home. In the NBA, there’s always a market for a 25-year old with immense potential. Blatche was drafted by the Wizards in 2005 and never had veteran leaders to show and teach him how to be a pro and it showed. Now, he’s free to choose his next team and if he makes a wise decision, may end up being a great reclamation project.
Brandon Roy (SG, Minnesota Timberwolves)
Whether or not Brandon Roy will resemble anything close to the player we last remember him being is yet to be seen, but after being amnestied by the Portland Trail Blazers in December, he’ll have an opportunity to show what he has left. The Blazers owe Roy about $34 million over the next two seasons but he will also have the opportunity to earn an additional $10.4 million from the Timberwolves. Though amnestied, Roy’s Trail Blazers salary is fully guaranteed. Though his Timberwolves salary isn’t, Roy will have the opportunity to play alongside Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love and attempt to revive his career in a situation where there won’t be immense pressure and championship expectations.
Roy is a winner because he found a team willing to take a risk on him. And although the fact that Timberwolves’ GM David Kahn was willing to spend up to $10 million on that risk is good for Roy, it’s not as good as the fact that he’ll be playing alongside a legitimate point guard who can create looks and opportunities for him and perhaps help prolong his career.
Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)
The Houston Rockets took two gambles this summer, but a couple of three-year deals on two prospects whose ceiling is yet to be determined isn’t a terrible gamble. After two years in the NBA, Asik has played just 13 minutes per game. That’s not necessarily indicative of his talent level, though. He’s been dealing with a crowded front court situation with the Chicago Bulls, who had Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson manning the pivot.
When called upon, Asik has mostly impressed. And truth be told, I had similar reservations about Marcin Gortat who—back in 2009—signed a five-year, $34 million offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks. His incumbent team—the Orlando Magic—matched the deal and eventually dealt him to the Phoenix Suns. And since then, Gortat has become one of the better bang-for-your-buck centers in the league.
Asik earned just $1.9 million last season but now stands to earn $25 million over the next three years. He’ll have an opportunity start and—hopefully for the Rockets—prove that he’s worth it.
Even if he’s not, though, it’s hard to argue that making $25 million after playing less than 2,000 game minutes isn’t a major score.
Steve Nash (PG, Los Angeles Lakers)
Clearly, the Sun is setting on Steve Nash’s illustrious career (pun intended). Heading into this offseason, his most likely destinations were said to be the New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Toronto Raptors. Nash—who maintains a summer residence in New York—appeared on an ESPN NY radio show and, amongst other things, said that he’d keep an open mind about where he’d wind up finishing his career, but that money was very important to him because he felt that money equates to respect.
We always knew that Nash wanted to win, and at that moment, we found out that he also wanted to continue to be paid handsomely. But he later revealed that the most important thing to him was being close to his children and his ex-wife, who maintain their residence in Phoenix. At the end of the day, Nash signed a three-year deal with the Lakers worth about $27 million.
After battling with Kobe Bryant over the years, Nash will join him and attempt to win a championship. With Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, he’ll have a fighting chance and that’s why he’s one of this summer’s biggest winners.
Brook Lopez (C, Brooklyn Nets)
After four years, Lopez is averaging 18.4ppg, 7.9rpg, and 1.7bpg while shooting 50 percent from the field. The Nets have just been so busy trying to trade him that we’ve forgotten what he’s shown thus far.
The Charlotte Bobcats were waiting in the wings to offer Lopez a maximum offer sheet, and Brooklyn—weary of losing Lopez to the Bobcats—opted to reward his productivity with a four-year deal worth about $60 million.
So now, instead of being in Orlando and being forced to live up to the expectations that being “the guy that was traded for Dwight Howard,” Lopez will have an opportunity to play with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace and prove that he can be a legitimate NBA center on a top team.
That may change come December, but for now, that Lopez is a max. player after missing all but five games last season, is nothing short of spectacular.
Lamar Odom (PF, Los Angeles Clippers)
It’s amazing how quickly Lamar Odom has fallen from grace. After winning consecutive championships with the Lakers and winning a Sixth Man of the Year award, Odom was eventually traded to the Dallas Mavericks and lasted all of 50 games before being cut in an acrimonious divorce. Odom—who was drafted by the Clippers in 1999—spent 11 of his 12 years playing in Los Angeles before being dealt to Dallas, and there, he struggled mightily.
The Mavericks ended up banishing Odom prior to the end of the season, even though they had to pay his $8.9 million salary. In 2012-2013, after being traded to the Clippers, things have come full circle for Odom. They will pay him $8.2 million this season.
When healthy, Odom—one of the NBA’s most versatile players—is clearly worth the price tag. However, had the Clippers not managed to acquire him in a three-team deal that saw them send Mo Williams to the Utah Jazz, the Mavericks would have probably bought Odom’s final season out. His contract was partially guaranteed and only required the Mavericks to pay him $2.4 million to become a free agent. Had that happened, Odom would have hit the open market at an awful time and would have either had to take a low salary to latch on with a contender or chase the dollars and play for a losing team.
Instead? He goes back to Los Angeles, will play with one of the best point guards in the game, for the team I believe had the best offseason, and will have an opportunity to not only earn $8.2 million this season, but also prove that he has something left in the tank so that next summer—when he’s 33 years old—he’ll have a shot at one more decent payday.
Jeremy Lin (PG, Houston Rockets)
Because of Jeremy Lin, everyone now knows what an “Early Bird” free agent is, and just how damning the NBA’s new luxury tax and “poison pill” contracts are. But what has gotten lost in the midst of “Linsanity 2.0″ is that Lin is actually a pretty good basketball player. Those that assume that Lin is a flash in the pan don’t acknowledge that most NBA players that show flashes as great as Lin usually improve—not regress—over time.
But it’d be nothing short of an embarrassment to pretend as though Lin—though brilliant for his 25 starts, has somehow “earned” $1 million for each one of them that he’s made. $25 million over three-years isn’t too shabby. Lin’s new teammate, Omer Asik, agrees.
Lin was once hours away from being waived by the Knicks. Today, after the Knicks declined to match the rich offer the Houston Rockets extended him, Lin is the captain of his own ship, will be marketed and treated like a star, and will be paid handsomely for his services. That Texas doesn’t have any state income-tax is icing on the cake.
In Houston, Lin will not have a realistic chance of competing for a championship anytime soon, but without the pressure of performing in New York and the obvious chemistry concerns with Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson, Lin can focus on developing as a basketball player along with Terrance Jones and Jeremy Lamb.
Landry Fields (SF, Toronto Raptors)
After being drafted by the New York Knicks with the 39th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Landry Fields ran with the likes of Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire en route to becoming one of the NBA’s most renowned rookies. That year, Fields made the All-Rookie first team and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. By the end of his second season, though, it was fairly obvious that Fields’ best gifts were his ability to move without the ball, his passing off the dribble, and his better-than-advertised athleticism. His jumper has become woefully inconsistent and his second season, he shot just 26 percent from behind the arc after shooting 40 percent in his rookie year.
Fields’ struggles coincided with Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in New York, and many believe that Fields’s struggles are somewhat attributable to Anthony’s “ball stopping,” but even if true, his 9.3ppg, 5.4rpg, and 2.2apg hardly justify the rich contract that the Raptors awarded him. Though many feel that the Raptors only extended Fields such a rich offer in an attempt to keep Steve Nash away from the Knicks, the Raptors are still indebted to Fields.
He’s arguably this summer’s most overpaid player, and in 2012-2013, will earn more than Ray Allen, Jason Terry, O.J. Mayo, and Courtney Lee. His three-year, $20 million deal makes him a winner in a big way.
Honorable Mention: Goran Dragic (a better point guard than most give him credit for, he’ll be playing in a system that will facilitate growth), Deron Williams (he’s got a legit running mate in Joe Johnson and a team that—if healthy—should battle for a top four seed out East), and Roy Hibbert (he’s only 25 and received a max deal after notching his first All-Star appearance in a contract year… Gotta love the NBA).
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.