While you were barbecuing, partying, working, relaxing or otherwise enjoying your extended July 4 weekend, a total of 14 teams made notable moves ranging from The Dwecision down to the smart or foolish signings of role players. And since we live in a country where instant gratification rules the day and short attention spans allows games like Candy Crush to reap $633,000 a day in revenue, we here at Sheridan Hoops will break everything down for you into bite sized Winners & Losers style pieces.
The Houston Rockets, GM Daryl Morey and Dwight Howard were WINNERS after agreeing to a four-year deal worth $88 million to finally, mercifully, ending the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. It will be interesting to see how Howard’s addition impacts the Rockets’ NBA-best pace numbers from last season. Will they try to slow things down with Howard in the half-court and change things up from their James Harden-led playoff run from last season? How will Howard perform along with Jeremy Lin in the pick-and-roll? How will Howard coexist with Omer Asik, who now reportedly wants out?
At this point, all these questions don’t really matter. Morey set out a year ago to acquire two stars to legitimately compete in this SuperTeam Era that currently rules the NBA and got them in Howard and Harden. Howard can settle down and finally concentrate on, we hope, playing basketball. And as an added bonus, Houston signed Francisco Garcia to a team-friendly contract worth $1.3 million over two years. Garcia could probably replace Carlos Delfino in a spacer-type role for Houston after shooting 37.4 percent from three last season.
Of course, this makes the Los Angeles Lakers the big losers of the weekend for getting nothing out of Howard and looking ridiculous in doing so. They will now try to delude themselves into thinking players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will come next offseason. Good. Freaking. Luck.
Howard’s good friend, Josh Smith, signed with Detroit for four-years and $56 million and Al Jefferson cashed in for three years and $41 million with Charlotte. This brings us to the most interesting question, to this writer at least, of the weekend: Can these players be the highest paid, and best, players for playoff teams? The answer is likely no. But does that mean the teams shouldn’t try?
Smith didn’t have a great season for Atlanta last season. His 4.2 Win Shares and his .075 were his lowest totals since 2006-2007. But he shot 46.5 percent from the field last season, exactly his career average, and he still averaged nearly 18 points, nine rebounds and over four assists per game. He’s still a really good player, so the jury is still out on this signing for Smith and the Pistons.
Smith will make a really good frontcourt with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but do the Pistons have the backcourt to compete? Not right now. In that vein, there’s no doubt that Jefferson is a really, really good player. Anyone who shoots nearly 50 percent from the field and averages nearly 18 points and over nine boards per game is really good. His defense will certainly help an inept Bobcats team in that department, but his offensive rating of 109 last season leaves something to be desired.
Can Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo coexist in the frontcourt? Can Jefferson be the best player on a playoff team? Jefferson has made the playoffs just twice in his nine-season career, losing in the first round on both occasions. Golden State signed David Lee to an enormous contract, and Golden State ended up okay by hitting it big by drafting Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson. Charlotte will have to do that in order to not look foolish with this Jefferson signing, so, again, the jury is still out.
How exciting will the Golden State Warriors be next season with the aforementioned four players along with Andre Iguodala? Win! Iggy won’t have to be the best player for the Warriors, which is good because very much like Smith and Jefferson, he will never be one of the best two players on a legitimate contender.
That having been said, Iguodala shouldn’t get a free pass for the season he had in 2012-2013. His offensive rating and Win Share numbers were the worst of his career, and he shot 57.4 percent from the line last season. But he dished out 5.6 assists per contest and averaged 1.8 steals per game. And Iguodala needs to be really good if the reports are true regarding what the W’s will have to give up to get Iguodala.
This is where the Utah Jazz come in as winners. If we’ve learned anything about the NBA, it’s that teams usually have to hit rock bottom before contending. After losing Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Utah has decided to blow things up. They took on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush along with a pair of first-round selections from Golden State so salary space could be cleared for Iguodala. Utah will be really, really bad next season just in time for that great 2014 draft, all thanks to the Warriors.
For all the people spelling doom and gloom for the Atlanta Hawks, they ended up doing a pretty good job in replacing Smith with Paul Millsap on a two-year deal worth $19 million. In fact, Millsap was better than Smith and a player I’d rather have on my team. If you compare the most recent seasons the two players had, Millsap was more efficient, had a better PER, more Win Shares and nearly identical scoring and rebounding stats per 36 minutes. And Atlanta did a nice job in signing DeMarre Carroll to an affordable contract after putting up a nice 15.5 PER season with a 116 offensive rating and a season where he shot 46 percent from the field. Call the Hawks winners.
Speaking of middling Eastern Conference teams, did the Milwaukee Bucks really give O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia a combined $39 million? I went through why giving Mayo a lot of money was a mistake, but even I could not envision a contract paying Mayo $8 million per season. Pachulia is a nice bench player who averaged over 10 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, but nice bench players shouldn’t be given three-year contracts at $5 million per. Signing Delfino was a really nice move, but it doesn’t save the Bucks from being one of the weekend’s losers.
It’s now clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers, weekend winners, are fully intent on making the playoffs next season, wisely spending $34 million on Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark. Jack is coming off the two best seasons of his career. He shot over 40 percent from three last season and averaged more than 17 points per game in 12 postseason games with the Warriors last season. His defense has never been very good, his 108 defensive rating was actually a career best, but he’s an offensive force right now who will pair nicely with Kyrie Irving and spell the developing Dion Waiters.
Clark finally played significant minutes for the first time in his career and did quite well for the Lakers when they were ravaged with injuries. He can be a strong role player for the Cavs as well if given the chance. Los Angeles was 37-22 in games Clark played in, and 24-12 in games Clark started. Sounds like a winner to me. And if Cleveland can sign Andrew Bynum to a one-year, low-risk contract? Now we’re really cookin’.
Masai Ujiri may not be in charge anymore in Denver, but the Nuggets got a big win after signing J.J. Hickson to a bizarrely affordable three-year contract worth $15 million to essentially replace Iguodala. By anyone’s standards, Hickson had a fantastic season for the Blazers. He started all 80 games he played in, shot 56.2 percent from the field and averaged nearly 13 points and over 10 rebounds per game. He put up career highs in Win Shares (6.9, just 0.8 fewer than Jefferson had last season, and certainly more than Smith), PER, True Shooting percentage and Effective Field goal percentage. Hickson will provide the team big minutes inside, especially after Kosta Koufos was dealt to Memphis on draft night.
Speaking of draft night, I remember when the Dallas Mavericks took Shane Larkin and it was viewed among people I talked with at the Barclays Center as a very successful pick. So then Dallas strikes out on Howard and Chris Paul and decides to spend $38 million on two more point guards (even if they’re good ones) in Jose Calderon and Devin Harris. The Mavs are trying to load up on point guards and sign veteran players for a final run with Dirk Nowitzki? Is anyone really sure what Dallas’ plan is right now? Mark Cuban? Needless to say, Dallas was a huge loser this past weekend.
The jury is still out on the Sacramento Kings. Replacing Tyreke Evans with Greivis Vasquez was a good choice, as outlined earlier, but overpaying a good fit in Carl Landry (four years and $27 million) is a bit of a mixed bag. Anyone who could average 11 points and six rebounds on 54 percent shooting in just over 23 minutes played per game is a nice asset, but nearly $7 million is a lot for a player like that. Of course, the Kings will instantly become losers if they follow through on this heavily rumored signing of Monta Ellis.
Winning Budget Signings
Portland- I’ll repeat myself: Neil Olshey is building a nice team with the Blazers around Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. C.J. McCollum and Robin Lopez fit in well, and so does Dorell Wright. Wright, who signed for two years and $6 million, shot over 37 percent from three last season and put up a career-high 16 PER.
LA Clippers- The Clips continues to amass really good depth at really cheap prices by signing Darren Collison and Matt Barnes to cap-friendly deals. Put it this way: what’s the difference between Collison and Eric Bledsoe? Barnes and Caron Butler? Not very much, and L.A. got J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley out of the deal to supplement their stars. Bravo!
New Orleans- I’m not so crazy about their signing of Evans, but anytime you can sign a young player who averaged nearly eight points and eight boards to a contract worth only $3.17 million, that‘s a big win. That’s what the Pelicans did with Al-Farouq Aminu, who clearly had the best season of his short career across the board.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.