Restricted free agents: Why did they do it?

Restricted free agents: Why did they do it?
November 9, 2012, 11:42 pm
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The NBA general managers for two perennial playoff teams met shortly after the recent rash of contract extensions signed by young, budding players and shared their befuddlement and delight that their GM compatriots were spending both so prematurely and lavishly.Then again, thats the advantage of operating from a position of sustained excellence: the fear of being fleeced doesnt cast quite the same shadow. Why would teams lock up players now, rather than wait until next summer, when they could see what the actual market value of those players might be, knowing they could keep the player by simply matching whatever offer came their way? Because, real or imagined, they are afraid. Afraid that a powerful or desperate agent will try to leverage his clients way out of that restricted freedom, as Rob Pelinka appears to be doing with Eric Gordon in New Orleans. Afraid that an opposing team will present a poison-pill offer sheet, as the Rockets did to get Omer Asik from the Bulls and Jeremy Lin from the Knicks. Afraid that they might have to go to their owner and explain why they couldve signed the same player before his break-out, price-jumping season. These fears arent new in GM circles, but that they remain indicates the lockout simply reduced the overall cost of teams rolling their financial dice, not the compulsion to throw them.Rather than simply rate the smart and not-so-smart gambles, heres a breakdown of why each team made the offer they did, why they shouldnt have, and the unique catalyst in each situation that may have tipped the scale.Demar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors (4 years, 41 million)
Why They Did It: Its Toronto, as in Canada, where players are like geese theyre born (into the NBA), mature and then head south. When you find one willing to stay, paying a tariff for the honor of keeping him comes with the, uh, territories. Raptors also looked around and didnt see a load of quality shooting guards being on the market and saw it best to keep the one they had.Why They Shouldnt Have: Who exactly had DeRozan targeted? Even with a Toronto source saying the guaranteed sum of the extension is only 36 million, who was going to offer more than that for a slasher with a career three-point shooting percentage of 20.2 percent who has never sniffed an All-Star appearance? Intangible: GM Bryan Colangelo has had an affinity for long, super-athletic wings with sketchy jump shots since his Phoenix days (Shawn Marion). Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls (4 years, 38 million)
Why They Did It: Because the Rockets pilfered their other hard-working big man, Asik, with a third-year lump sum of 14 million in a three-year, 25 million deal, and they didnt want to see that happen again. Besides, retaining Gibson was a must if they want to dangle Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer in trade talks.Why They Shouldnt Have: Now theyre compelled to move one of their three big men because, combined with Derrick Roses max contract and the 14 million Luol Deng makes italnextendital season, the Bulls have little chance of adding backcourt scoring any other way. Gibsons offensive contributions are as inconsistent as Noahs, which means theyve committed 20-25 million to spark-plug players for the next three years.Intangible: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau loves spark-plug players. Cant get enough of em.Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors, (4 years, 44 million)
Why They Did It: Doctors have convinced them the ankle issues have been resolved. Dealing Monta Ellis to Milwaukee meant they were putting their chips on Curry, who fits the profile new owner Joe Lacob seems to have in mind: clean cut, high basketball IQ types. If it means sacrificing some athleticism, so be it. Why They Shouldnt Have: Curry re-injured the ankle in training camp, ample evidence its still vulnerable. The jury also remains out on exactly which guard position best suits him and he doesnt have the prototypical physical attributes for either spot. Under the new CBA, an 11 million player has to be a cornerstone, as in a player who makes the game easier for his less-talented, lesser-paid teammates, can impact the game at both ends, or both. Intangible: The Warriors are looking to move into a pricey new arena in San Francisco by 2017. It certainly will be easier to recruit business alliances if the team is winning and while it can be debated how good Curry actually can be, its not as if free agents have been flocking to Golden State in recent years. As former NuggetsNets GM Kiki Vandeweghe points out in the accompanying podcast, sometimes a signing has to do with staying relevant in a particular market where theres a lot of competition (Giants, As, Raiders, 49ers, Sharks) for the entertainment dollar.Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers (4 years, 41 million)
Why They Did It: Because he has flourished under, or maybe simply endured, Doug Collins hyper-attentive coaching style. He also has great size (64, 205) for a PG, and shoots the three well (career 38 percent).Why They Shouldnt Have: Other than they could have had a free look for another year, absolutely no reason. Consider: hes the only one in this crop of signings who can say he led his team to the second round of the playoffs last season. Considering what he already has accomplished and his compatibility with center Andrew Bynum, theres a good chance hell be a bargain before this contract ends. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets (4 years, 48 million)
Why They Did It: With every other PG off the market and the Nuggets poised to have a strong season, GM Masai Ujiri didnt like the idea of Lawson being everybodys No. 1 target next summer. His numbers will only improve as Denvers young guns JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari mesh with still-athletic and new addition Andre Iguodala. Hes the perfect PG for the up-and-down team GM Masai Ujiri is building and he demonstrated his willingness to work on his game by going over to Lithuania to play during the lockout. The PG position may be the most loaded, talent-wise, in the league right now and playoff aspirations could die quickly for any team without a high-caliber one. The Nuggets also now have a high-ceiling
Young Big Three corraled: PFC McGee, F Gallinari and Lawson.
Why They Shouldnt Have: Did he really merit the biggest four-year extension in this group of talent? Considering last years truncated 66-game season was his first full one as a starter, why not see how he holds up to the rigors of a full 82-game campaign? The exact maximum offer sheet he couldve received cant be calculated until next summer, but it wouldve been roughly 7 million more than his current deal. Wouldnt that be worth knowing the other 48 million was wisely invested? Intangible: Lawson just changed agents, hiring Happy Walters, and while Walters is considered to be a smart agent who gets his clients taken care of without holding teams hostage or burning bridges, the Nuggets have no history built with him as far as Lawson is concerned, i.e., how hed handle him given multiple suitors in bigger markets.James Harden, Houston Rockets, (5 years, 78 million)
Why They Did It: GM Daryl Morey needed to deliver owner Les Alexander a true superstar to keep his job and part of the sales job appears to have been paying Harden like one. Morey, who took over the spring before the 2007-08 season, is lauded as one of the shining lights of the analytics mavens, but all that higher math and number-crunching hasnt produced a playoff berth three years running and it could be argued the previous two years playoff appearances were off the work of his predecessor, Carroll Dawson. Morey also gave up a load of assets to get Harden from OKC two first-round picks, a young lottery pick in Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin with his 12.9 million expiring contract so locking up Harden a year longer, on the surface, seems like the right move. They also did it with the fifth year only partially guaranteed, allowing the Rockets to hedge their bet. And for all the money spent on Lin, Asik and Harden, the Rockets still will have some cap room to play with next season before Asik and Lins balloon payments come due.Why They Shouldnt Have: One, a team can only hand out one five-year deal under the new CBA, which means Harden ostensibly has to be the Rockets best player. It took trickery and over-paying to get Asik and Lin; they cant realistically use the same stunts to lure more talent to Houston. And will the Asik-Lin-Harden core attract discounted talent over Miami, OKC or the Lakers? Harden, the Thunders former sixth man is good, but is he good enough to make a perennial power out of a surrounding cast of Asik, Lin and a half-dozen no-name forwards? Can he be a defensive stopper as well as a scorer? Thats what max-contract players do if theyre worth it. Morey is so accommodating to the media and beloved by the stat geeks that the second-guessing will remain a murmur, but a wide sampling of GMs tagged Hardens deal as potentially the least sensible of all those signed this summer. The contention is that Morey couldve secured Harden with a four-year max deal and retained the five-year option to lure the quality big man he still desperately needs.Intangible: GMs say Hardens statistical productivity and efficiency makes him a dream boat with a slip right next to LeBron James in the analytics marina, so Morey assuredly had a compelling batch of numbers to seal the deal on Hardens worthiness with Alexander.

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