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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brief Thoughts About the Free Agent Feeding Frenzy

I am not sure how all of the dominoes are going to fall after LeBron James makes the Decision, Part II but there is an amusing yet disingenuous quality to so much that is said about the free agency process. Here are a few bullet point thoughts to consider while the basketball world waits with bated breath for James to make one city very happy and several other cities very mad.

1) It is naive beyond belief to say that winning championships is the top priority for James or most of the other big name free agents. If winning championships were James' top priority back in 2010 then he would have stayed in Cleveland and aggressively recruited another star to join him on a squad that had posted the best regular season record in the NBA for two years in a row--or he would have teamed up with Kobe Bryant on the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers. Imagine James plus Chris Bosh paired with a big, deep frontcourt and coached by the defensive-minded Mike Brown--or imagine the two best players in the NBA (James and Bryant) wreaking havoc at both ends of the court, with Pau Gasol being an excellent third option and with Phil Jackson running the show on the sidelines. The reduced workload for Bryant would have conserved his energy and likely preserved his health. Instead, James went to Miami and things certainly turned out well for him overall but let's not pretend that money, endorsements and lifestyle did not play a huge role in his choice; when James announced "The Decision" he said that he was "taking my talents to South Beach," a phrase that revealed a lot about his narcissism and his true motivations for leaving Cleveland and for not sacrificing money/shot attempts/glory to team up with Bryant, who had won the previous two Finals MVPs.

If winning championships is James' top priority right now, then he will contact the San Antonio Spurs and work out a deal with them. James already has made hundreds of millions of dollars, so if he wants to win three or four more titles then why not give up a few million dollars in salary to join forces with the league's reigning champion/model franchise? Yes, James will have a good chance to win a championship wherever he goes because he is the league's best player but his best chance to win in the remaining years of his prime is to work with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich.

Meanwhile, by once again being coy James has raised Cleveland's hopes to a fever pitch. If he leaves Miami then he is abandoning a team that just made four straight trips to the NBA Finals and he is showing no loyalty to Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh--but if he stays in Miami then he will have broken Cleveland's heart for the second time in four years, something that would not have happened if James had just said from the start that he wanted to stay in Miami. James' desire to be the center of attention and to single-handedly hold up the rest of the free agency process  makes it seem like he did not learn much from the mistakes he made during the first "Decision." I am pretty sure that James has had a plan in place for a while or perhaps one plan if Miami won the championship and a second plan if Miami did not win the championship--but he seems to enjoy toying with various franchises and watching billionaire owners scurry around trying to figure out how to entice him to join their teams.

2) I like Derrick Rose's attitude. He will not beg any other star to come play with him in Chicago and he will not publicly disrespect his current teammates by saying that he needs more help. He is confident but not cocky and it is a shame that he has not been healthy for several years.

3) I get the feeling that Phil Jackson would not be terribly disappointed if Carmelo Anthony left New York. I don't believe that Anthony will ever be the best player on a championship team and I think that Jackson understands that reality very well. Jackson is going to keep needling Anthony about taking less money and about diversifying his game until Anthony either begrudgingly accepts Jackson's mentoring or until Anthony flees for a less demanding environment. It would not surprise me if Anthony signs a max deal with New York, then starts complaining halfway through the season, giving Jackson a perfect opportunity to trade Anthony to one of the many teams that overvalues Anthony.

Of course, if Anthony really wants to win more than he wants anything else, there is no reason that he cannot sign with the Spurs. The Spurs have been winning 50-plus games a year for almost two decades; they are always championship contenders, they have made back to back Finals appearances and they just dismantled Miami's "super team" in one of the most lopsided championship series ever. Why isn't every free agent begging to play for the Spurs if winning is truly the most important thing?

4) Chris Bosh will bring an intelligent, all-around skill set and underrated defensive versatility to whichever franchise is fortunate enough to sign him.

5) It is not surprising that Dwayne Wade's game has aged so poorly; he is a muscular, undersized shooting guard with one game plan--bull his way to the hoop for dunks and/or free throw opportunities. He is a below average shooter and he does not have much of a post game. Anyone who ever thought that Wade was a better and/or more complete player than Bryant should take a long, hard look at how limited Wade is now that he cannot just jump over or sprint around other players. Bryant, like Michael Jordan before him, made a seamless transition from high flyer to midrange virtuoso thanks to impeccable footwork and an excellent shooting touch. Jordan and Bryant both played at an MVP level well into their 30s; Wade will either be out of the league or have to accept a much reduced role by the time he is 34 or 35.

6) It will be interesting to see where Kevin Love ends up and how he performs not just individually but in terms of elevating a team to contender status. Is he truly as good as his numbers seem to suggest or is he the ultimate Kenny Smith "looter in a riot," a player who pads his statistics without ever having a huge impact in the won/loss column? I don't think that Love is a true "looter" but I also don't think that he can be the best player on a championship team; I could see him as a solid 20-10 second option on a championship team, though.

7) I just do not understand why the Oklahoma City Thunder get blasted for supposedly being cheap and for supposedly making a huge blunder by trading James Harden. What exactly has Harden accomplished so far in Houston, other than convincing a lot of media members to overrate him? The other day, a radio commentator criticized Thunder owner Clay Bennett for being more concerned about profits than winning, contrasting Bennett with Mark Cuban and Mickey Arison. That would be the same Mark Cuban who broke up a championship team to save money and the same Mickey Arison who refused to spend enough money to keep Mike Miller around. The Thunder offered Harden a market value deal, Harden declined and the Thunder made a prudent decision to trade him and build around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. If Westbrook and Ibaka had been healthy in the past two postseasons the Thunder may very well have won at least one championship. I will be surprised if the Thunder have a worse record next season than Harden's Rockets, Cuban's Mavericks or Arison's Heat.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM



At Thursday, July 10, 2014 2:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Agree with most of your thoughts about James. To say he's absolutely ridiculous regarding how he handles free agency is a huge understatement. Though, I disagree with one thing. Just because he wants max money, which he deserves btw, doesn't necessarily mean winning isn't his top priority, though I don't really think it is. Money might just be a really close 2nd priority. He really shouldn't joined the lakers 4 years ago, though, if not the bulls. He talks to Buffett, and often mentions how much money he wants to make. Actually taking a little less than max to go to Miami probably helped him make a lot more than if he stayed in cleveland. No state tax, more endorsements, etc.

2. I like Rose and his demeanor, but he can't stay on court, so he has little pull right now.

3. Can't blame Anthony for incompetent management, but he should leave NY, and he's not an elite player.

4. Whoever gets Bosh will have to greatly overpay for him. It's too bad guys like Parsons/Hayward are getting way too much, really hurts teams in the longrun, and then you have to scratch your head when owners complain about losing money.

6. Good to see you're not as high on Love anymore. Though, if Parker can be the best player on a title team, then Love certainly can be. We've seen guys like Billups, Pierce, Wade, and Dirk as best players on title teams in recent years as well. Wade and Dirk had some great years, but you wouldn't call either top elite players ever, possibly 2nd level elite for a few years. It all depends on who else is on your team and how weak/strong the rest of the leauge is.

7. Oh let's see, Harden has only made 2 AS teams, 3rd all nba, and 1st team all nba. He's averaged 26,5,6,2 over 2 seasons while shooting very efficiently. Led houston to 5th best record. West is just stacked. Spurs also lost in 1st round as #1 seed in recent years. Houston would've been #1 seed in east, while the miami would've struggled to even make the playoffs in the west. Depends who you're playing against and when.

Thunder made a good offer to Harden, but he could make more elsewhere. Can't blame him for that, especially when he's deserving. And now he's got a good roster around him. Should be blasting Howard a lot more than him. Howard's been around a lot longer and is supposedly the leader of that team.

Miller's nothing, 8th man on grizz this year. Cuban wasn't trying to save money, he was trying to get a big-name player by moving assets. The mavs needed some big improvements after 2011 to contend. Needed another star to go with aging Dirk. Remember, Dirk didn't play that great in 2011 finals. James just quit with Terry outplaying him and Stevenson punking him. Thunder were lucky to make it out of 1st round this year. Needed Reggie Jackson of all people to save them. Highly doubtful they would've won anything in 2013, even with a healthy westbrook. Spurs clearly best playoff team this year, thunder weren't winning.

At Thursday, July 10, 2014 4:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


1) If money were a close second priority, then LeBron would have taken the max from Cleveland four years ago and then recruited players to come to Cleveland to join a team that had won 60-plus games two years in a row. Considering how the whole league is in suspended animation right now until James decides where to go, I don't believe that it would have been that hard for James to recruit players to come to Cleveland, despite assertions to the contrary by some commentators; the reality is that James never recruited anyone to Cleveland and he would never commit to staying in Cleveland, so the Cavs could only build through trades and the draft during James' time there. If he didn't like his supporting cast--and he should have liked it, because that cast helped the team to the best record in the league twice--he had no one but himself to blame.

2) Houston improved this season primarily because of Howard's impact. Harden played slightly worse this season than he did in his first year in Houston. We are still waiting to see Harden get past the first round outside of OKC and we are still waiting to see him play well consistently in the postseason. If winning were Harden's top priority, then he would have stayed in OKC, much like Ginobili did with the Spurs. Harden is not as good as prime Ginobili but Harden would be a nice third wheel on a championship contender.

3) Cuban's idea was to save money and then rebuild, as opposed to paying more money to try to win it all again. It makes no sense to criticize Bennett and praise Cuban. Bennett made a decision regarding Harden that led to a higher winning percentage for the Thunder, while Cuban broke up a championship team.

4) The Thunder were the best team in the West in 2013 before Westbrook got hurt. I think that they had a great chance to win that championship with a healthy Westbrook. As great as the Spurs were this year, the Thunder spotted them a 2-0 lead sans Ibaka and rallied to 2-2 before losing the series. With a healthy Ibaka for the whole series, I like OKC's chances.

At Thursday, July 10, 2014 4:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Agree with pretty much everything about Lebron like I already said, though I think he was able to make more money outside his contract in miami than if he stayed in cleveland. He's overrated and I can't stand hardly anything about him. But, I just don't think it's fair to blast him for not wanting max money, especially when we're seeing all these other guys getting so much money, and they're not even AS caliber players in some instances. But, the thing with James is that he will complain about supposed lack of help, so he is contradicting himself if he says it's all about winning. I mean if Kobe is all about winning, should he really have taken his last contract? Can you really blame him for taking it though? If the lakers are going to offer him that much money, and he's nearing retirement, how could you turn that down? I have yet to really see an elite player in his prime or near prime turn down huge money, but maybe I'm wrong. You know any examples?

2. Harden's much better now than Ginobili ever was. Harden doesn't have all the skills, though almost nobody does, but he still gets the job done very well. His defense is bad, but it was much better in OKC, and if he played for Brooks, Pop, or some defensive-minded coach, he'd be much better. Defense has a lot to do with the coach. Ginobili was a 3rd wheel at best, playing under 30ppg mostly, and moreso as a 6 man, benefitting from playing 2nd units more. West had 9 of top 11 teams this past year. Not everyone can make 2nd round or deeper or even playoffs at all. Harden has struggled some in playoffs, but he's done extremely well for himself and his team so far in Houston.

Houston wouldn't even made the playoffs in 2013 if Howard replaced Harden on that team. And then if Harden joined Houston for 2014 like Howard did, we could stay the same about Houston's improvement with Harden joining. The lakers did nothing with Kobe/Howard in 2013. And Houston's 2013 cast wasn't any better, if not probably worse, than the lakers cast in 2013.

3. Fair enough about the owners. Though, every situation and team is different. You sometimes have to take a step back in order to go forward. Just to keep the same roster together for Dallas in 2012 would've cost much more. Nearly impossible for them to keep same team, and they weren't better than SA or OKC with that same team for 2012. Cuban's not one to save money. And for the past 10+ years, his teams have always been competitive. Haven't had a losing season since 40-42 in 2000, and they were absolutely awful for nearly a decade prior to that.

4. Injuries happen all the time. OKC still hasn't made it back to the finals without Harden. What we don't see is when a guy like westbrook or ibaka go down, is someone else stepping up like harden could do. The first 2 games in 2014 SA/OKC series were in SA and were blowouts. Game 5 was back in SA, and was a blowout again with Ibaka playing. Ibaka helped, but with or without Ibaka, SA still easily wins. With 3 home games out of 4, OKC won just 2 total. Spurs were playing too good in final 3 rounds. Amazingly, the money-saving cuban mavs put up the best fight against the spurs.

At Friday, July 11, 2014 3:19:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

ad. 1. I'm sick of reading about James' decision again, but... wouldn't you like that feeling when whole NBA world lies at your feet, holding breath and waiting for your next move? :)
Maybe not, but what I mean is I perfectly understand his position. It's immature, so what? That's his kind of pleasure. Can you really blame him? Can you blame Sir Charles for his jokes? That's his way.
I agree that winning is not his top priority, it's nice and all, but attention and money are more important for him I think.
ad.7. Players with big mouths and egos don't deserve such money, unless they also have skill, work ethic and that killer instinct of Jordan or Bryant. But then they wouldn't come off the bench :)

At Friday, July 11, 2014 7:16:00 PM, Anonymous Bill Smith said...

The level of scrutiny attached to LeBron James' every move intrigues me. He is tagged as a narcissist for moving to Miami, while Rose is praised for letting his ego get in the way of putting together a team that might contend for a championship? This could be considered a negative quality. LeBron is coy regarding free agency? What about Melo, Chris Bosh and any other free agent who has waited for LeBron's "domino" to fall? Perhaps they should have all announced their intentions early too? None of those players has an obligation to do anything in their business dealings - it's free agency!

I think you're right regarding winning not being the top priority. I think it is up there, but not if the money isn't right. There would also be lifestyle considerations etc that would come into it. This is why everyone doesn't run to the Spurs in the hope that they can win a ring. LeBron/Melo would be crucified by sportswriters/fans if they did this anyway, as they'd be seen as "chasing rings".

Given how LeBron's "decision 2.0" has played out over the past hours, I'd say he played this free agency very well.

Love the blog by the way - I broadly agree with most of what you write :) Good luck with your endeavours outside the blog.

At Monday, September 15, 2014 4:45:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

@Anonymous regarding james harden, he is definitely the most overrated player in the nba right now, maybe even the past 10-20 years. he is still, in my mind as well as many people's minds, just a overpaid, glorified sixth man. my problems with him don't stem from the way he plays defense, but on offense. he flops shamelessly to the hoop seemingly every play. much of the time, if he sees a big man rotating over to block his layup, he won't even attempt to finish and just pull his patented snap back of his neck and throw his arms in the air, getting free throws. even on his way to the basket, he holds the ball out in front of him just inviting defenders to strip him. although he just throws up his arms when defenders get their hands on the ball to get free throws, this is probably why he is always near the top in turnovers per game. it is preposterous to me to see anyone drive to the hoop that way, when conventional basketball knowledge and pure common sense tells you to tuck the ball into your body to protect the ball from defenders. watch anyone play - michael jordan, kobe, derrick rose, wade, lebron, even monta ellis - none of them hold it out in front of them inviting a strip, they all protect the ball close to their body. harden has taken full advantage of how soft the nba has become and is a full time ref baiter. while lebron has gotten a ton of flak for flopping, he has not near the caliber of a ref baiter of a james harden or kevin durant and will always at least try to finish his layups. much of this is why harden has struggled in his last 3 playoff series. because he does not play basketball the right way and depends on the referees more than his own skills, he struggles with the physicality and increased defensive pressure of the playoffs, especially with the refs putting their whistles away more. while wes matthews and nicholas batum are competent defenders, they are by no means "shut down" and if harden really were as good as people said he was, he wouldn't have had so much trouble with them this past playoff series while shooting below 40% FG in his 3rd consecutive playoff series.

in addition to his ref baiting, harden lacks the overall skills to be an elite scorer. he does not have a reliable mid range shot, which we saw on full display these last playoffs. portland would crowd him at the 3 point line, making him pass the ball and often turning it over. they would also bring a big man over to help any time he tried to drive to the hoop while leaving him open in the mid range and he couldn't convert enough shots to have an impact on the game. he is still not a good off the ball player and never cuts to the basket. he just stands at the 3 point line waiting for someone to give him the ball and he will dribble out the shot clock down to 5 seconds, jacking up some stupid shot or passing it off to a surprised jeremy lin. he has no post game like a kobe or wade.

i am not saying all of this just to bash on harden. i am just saying what i think from watching him play. to get an accurate picture of a player, you can't just rely on advanced stats, you have to watch them play. i thought he was a great 6th man but his collapse in the 2012 finals to me exposed his weaknesses that he wasn't fit to be a reliable first option, which i didn't have a problem with at the time because he was just a 6th man anyways. to see him get a max deal from houston is ludicrous. even more ludicrous is people ranking him as a top 5-10 player even above his former teammate westbrook, a player OKC kept instead of harden. harden will probably continue to rack up a lot of regular season numbers, but until he radically changes his game and adds a lot of skills, he's going to continue failing in the playoffs unless he becomes a 2nd or 3rd option.


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