By Flint Wheeler
Now that we’re a few days into July, the dust has settled – except for the eventual return of LeBron James to the Cavaliers – on what has been a very active opening week of NBA free agency.
Here are a few of the ways in which the frenzy of megamillion-dollar deals will alter the league’s landscape:
It’s not often the Spurs go after the biggest prizes in free agency. In 2003, they very nearly managed to lure Jason Kidd away from the Nets. This time, the Spurs got their man, convincing LaMarcus Aldridge to leave the Trail Blazers and return to his native Texas – he’s from Dallas and played in college at the University of Texas – for a four-year max contract.
Because the Spurs were somehow able to convince Danny Green to take a significantly below-market contract, re-signing him for four years and $44 million, and waiting until this summer to give Kawhi Leonard his max contract instead of doing it last year, they were able to add a multiple-time All-Star in Aldridge. The Spurs only had to sacrifice a couple of role players: Tiago Splitter went to the Hawks in a trade to clear cap space, and Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes left in free agency.
San Antonio still has work left to do. The bench took further shape Monday when Manu Ginobili announced he would return for another season and veteran forward David West agreed to a join up for the veteran’s minimum. West had rejected a $12 million player option with the Pacers. It’s rare for any player to take such a drastic pay cut, and it’s a testament to West that he’s willing to do so to try to win a title. But him choosing San Antonio also is a by-product of them reloading by landing Aldridge.
Their work over the last few days has planted the Spurs firmly in the middle of the title conversation (again) going into next season and given them quite a bridge to the post-Tim Duncan Era with Leonard and Aldridge. Not a bad few days’ worth of work.
Owner Mark Cuban and the rest of the Mavericks – led by Chandler Parsons, who was instrumental in recruiting Howard to the Rockets two summers ago – were geniuses in how they pitched Jordan on coming to the Mavericks. Jordan craved a chance to be the man for a team, to take on a bigger responsibility than he ever was going to get with the Clippers, where Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the unquestioned top dogs.
Dallas sold Jordan on becoming the force Howard was in Orlando: surrounding him with 3-point shooters like fellow free-agent signee Wes Matthews, Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki. Therefore…
Jordan was a massive pickup for the Mavericks, but his loss was an even bigger deal to the Clippers, who went from being one of four or five legitimate title contenders to being a potential lottery team next season. You might scoff at that notion. The Clippers still have two of the top 15 players in the league in Paul and Griffin.
Here’s the problem for the Clippers: Griffin is the only big man they have under contract, and they have basically no way to add an impact one now. Doc Rivers deciding to sign Paul Pierce now appears to be similar to Miami signing Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger last summer, moves they hoped would appeal to LeBron James. Instead, the Clippers are down to a couple million from their mid-level exception and minimum contracts to fill out their big man rotation.
Will the likes of Glen Davis, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kendrick Perkins be enough to get the Clippers into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference? It’s hard to see. It’s a stunning fall for a team that just a couple of months ago appeared on the verge of making the Western Conference Finals, only to collapse and lose the final three games of their series to the Rockets.
The Knicks and Lakers failed to land any of the big-name players available — or even any of the second-tier free agents.
If a veteran such as Aldridge has the opportunity to join the Spurs, or someone such as Greg Monroe can join an up-and-coming Bucks team with a roster full of young, intriguing talent, why not go there instead? Times-they are ‘a changin’.