The Top 10 Head Scratchers of the 2009 NBA Offseason

The NBA offseason is by no means over, but the lion’s share is behind us, so it’s a good time to take a look back at a few of the…um…let’s say “questionable” decisions of the summer. Here are my Top 10, in no particular order. Feel free to add to the list if I missed something.

1. Trevor Ariza plays spiteful hardball…and loses.
Let’s get this straight — the Lakers offered Ariza the same deal he was getting on the open market, and he refused since the Lakers could have offered more, but didn’t? Um, okay. David Lee (the agent, not the Knicks forward) says that Ariza wanted to go somewhere where he’d be “appreciated.” Lee overestimated the market for his client, and the Lakers quickly moved on to acquire Ron Artest. Now instead of playing for the world champs, Ariza is stuck in Houston on a team that faces a very uncertain future. Lee now says that Ariza turned down a deal worth $9 million more, but still picked Houston. It sounds to me like he’s just trying to save face.

2. Grizzlies acquire Zach Randolph.
Once the Clippers traded for Randolph (and his toxic contract) last season, I thought the bar for NBA general managers had hit a new low thanks to Mike Dunleavy and his wily ways. But Dunleavy proved that he wasn’t the dumbest GM in the league when he convinced the Memphis Grizzlies to take on the final two years Randolph’s contract at the tune of $33.3 million. Remember that $25 million or so of cap space that the Grizzlies were going to have next summer? Yeah, that’s down to about $8 million with this brilliant move. Just when it looked like Chris Wallace was going to rehab his image after the Pau Gasol trade — Marc Gasol panning out, trading for O.J. Mayo — he goes and does this. Sigh.

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Pistons come to terms with Gordon, Villanueva

The Detroit Pistons have a ton of cap space heading into 2009 NBA free agency, and they apparently aren’t afraid to use it, agreeing in principle to contracts with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Former Bulls guard Gordon will receive a five-year deal for between $55 million and $60 million, while former Bucks forward Villanueva gets a five-year deal for $40 million, sources told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard.

Gordon rejected deals from Chicago in excess of $50 million each of the past two seasons. Milwaukee elected to let the 24-year-old Villanueva become an unrestricted free agent earlier this week, after the Bucks determined that matching any restricted free-agent offers would move the team closer to the luxury tax threshold and limit changing the roster.

It’s not surprising that the Pistons signed both of these players, but the value of the contracts seem a little high when taking the current economic climate into consideration. It seems like GM Joe Dumars is operating in a 2006 or 2007 mindset when the reality is that the demand for these players probably didn’t justify $11 million per season for Gordon and $8 millon per season for Villanueva.

There are only eight teams with significant cap space this summer — the Grizzlies, Pistons, Hawks, Thunder, Kings, Raptors, Blazers and Timberwolves — and Memphis, OKC and Minnesota weren’t expected to be big players this offseason. The Bulls were trying to re-sign Gordon, and they probably were in the same neighborhood of the two deals they offered over the last two years that averaged $10 million and $9 million per season, so Detroit may have felt they had to outbid Chicago to pry him away. But I just don’t think he’s worth it, given his defensive liabilities and his lack of size for an off guard.

As for Villanueva, he was intrigued with the possibility of playing with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal in Cleveland, but they could only offer him a mid-level deal, which would probably start at around $5.5 million per season. Even though his new contract’s $8 million per season average is the first thing to jump out, we need to focus on the first season. The contract could very well start at $6 million and go up $1 million per season for five years, which would add up to $40 million. They needed to outbid the mid-level deal to convince Villanueva to join a non-contender. Still, that’s a big commitment for a player who has a reputation for being a poor defender and has had his work ethic questioned at time. But at 24, Villanueva is still learning and is already a proven scorer.

This Gordon signing may indicate that Rip Hamilton will be moved before next February’s trade deadline. Though he’s getting older, he’s still a highly efficient scorer and he’d definitely be able to help a contender. I doubt that it’s Dumars’ plan to have $22 million locked up per season at one position. If Hamilton is moved, then the Pistons would be building around a lineup of Rodney Stuckey, Gordon, Tayshaun Prince and Villanueva.

NBA Free Agency Rumors: Turk, Charlie V, Millsap and more

Pistons, Blazers interested in Hedo Turkoglu.

The Oregonian reports Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and assistant general manager Tom Penn called agent Lon Babby last night to begin the courtship of Hedo Turkoglu.

With Carlos Boozer out of the picture, an NBA source tells the Chicago Sun-Times that Turkoglu is now the Pistons’ first choice in free agency.

While the Blazers’ interest has long been rumored, Detroit’s interest is a little surprising. They already have a very good small forward on the roster in Tayshaun Prince, so unless they’re planning to play Turkoglu at the four, someone is going to lose some minutes. Of the two teams, the Pistons have more cap space, so if they want him, they can get him. (And what about Ben Gordon?)

Charlie V ahead of Turkoglu on the Pistons’ wishlist?

Chicago’s Ben Gordon remains the backcourt player deeply coveted by the Pistons, but the prospect of a Gordon-and-Villanueva combo likely would be slightly cheaper than trying to sign Gordon and Turkoglu with Detroit’s nearly $19 million in projected salary-cap space.

The Pistons may also be interested in Paul Millsap, but anytime a team signs a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, that money is tied up for a week while his current team decides to match. That makes signing an RFA a dicey prospect.

I wonder if the Bucks are regretting letting Villanueva given the amount of interest he’s generating from their division rivals (Detroit and Cleveland).

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NBA Free Agency Rumors: Kidd, Turk, Gordon and much more

Pistons not willing to pony up for Boozer?

The Pistons would love to sign Carlos Boozer should he decide today to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Jazz and become a free agent.

However, if Boozer opts out, he would leave $12.6 million on the table in Utah. Thus, there is a good chance Boozer, as has been widely speculated, would look to start his next contract at $14 million or $15 million.

If that is the case, the Pistons most likely would walk away.

Just because a guy asks for a contract starting at $14-$15 million doesn’t mean that the Pistons have to give it to him. If Boozer opts out, the Pistons are his most likely landing spot, so they set the market, not him. If he wants an unreasonable deal, they shouldn’t walk away, they should make an offer and give him some time to find a better one. Chances are that he won’t, and he’ll end up taking Detroit’s deal.

Assuming Boozer does not dramatically reduce his asking price, the Pistons would go after Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva.

Villanueva will turn 25 in August and is coming off his best season. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Bucks.

The Pistons could conceivably sign Gordon and Villanueva and still have money left over to pursue re-signing Antonio McDyess.

I estimate Gordon’s value to be about $9 million, though he has turned down bigger offers from the Bulls in the past. Villanueva will probably get lots of MLE offers, so the Pistons would likely have to trump those to convince him to play in Detroit instead of Cleveland (or for another contender). So if Detroit signs both, expect them to pay at least $15.5-$16.0 million combined. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for McDyess.

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Bucks let Charlie Villanueva go

Unless the guy is a major disappointment, a team will usually extend the qualifying offer required to make a player a restricted free agent. In the last year of their rookie contract, players are generally still affordable, so average to decent players usually end up as RFAs for a year before hitting unrestricted free agency the following summer.

I told you all of that to tell you this — the Bucks elected not to make the qualifying offer of $4.6 million to perimeter-oriented power forward Charlie Villanueva, who averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. In 47 games as a starter, he averaged 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. He can now sign with any team he likes and the Bucks will receive no compensation. I expect that he’ll garner at least a mid-level deal on the open market. His defense is definitely suspect, but he’s young (24) and can really put the ball in the hole.

I sure hope that general manager John Hammond explored all of his options before making this decision. It seems like Villanueva holds enough value to pry a first round pick or a prospect away from a contender (how about a J.J. Hickson-for-Villanueva swap with Cleveland?), but this decision, coupled with the Richard Jefferson giveaway last week indicate that the Bucks are in serious cost cutting mode.

The good news is that, with the move, Milwaukee should be better able to match offers for Ramon Sessions, who is a TSR fave.

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