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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Shannon Brown to remain a Laker

brown

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Lakers backup point guard Shannon Brown has agreed to a two-year deal worth $4.2 million that includes a player option in the second year. Brown initially impressed Laker fans in the final third of the regular season and saw considerable playing time in the first round of the playoffs against the Jazz.

On a day in which Kobe Bryant spoke out on a variety of topics, including his own contract, the Lakers pared their unrestricted free agents down to one after Brown agreed to take $4.2 million over the next two years, with the second year his option.

Meanwhile, Brown declined a more lucrative offer from Indiana to stay with the Lakers, said his agent, Mark Bartelstein.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Bartelstein said. “The Lakers treated him well during his short time there, and he hopes to continue and improve his game.”

Brown, 23, was a throw-in with Adam Morrison in the February trade that sent Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte, but he became a fan favorite with his hustle and surprisingly powerful dunks. He made $796,000 last season.

Brown went scoreless in the NBA Finals, playing in only three games because of Derek Fisher’s increased playing time, though he had better stats earlier in the playoffs, including 7.2 points a game in the first round against Utah.

This is a great signing for the Lakers who seem to be getting bigger by the year. With the acquisition of Ron Artest, and assuming they resign Lamar Odom, the Lakers will cut quite an imposing figure down low with the aforementioned players, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum.

What they’ve been lacking is a point guard they can rely on. With Derek Fisher in the twilight of his career and Jordan Farmar refusing to live up to his potential, Shannon Brown is a great option. At only 23, Brown has time to develop his game over the next two seasons as he will likely see a fair amount of playing time each game.

The L.A. fans quickly took to Brown due to his hustle and sweet shot. When you’re bench consists of mid-level and overpaid athletes such as Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic, Brown’s $2.1 million a year contract is quite a deal.

Artest to L.A., Ariza to Houston

In a surprising sequence of events, Ron Artest has agreed to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, while Trevor Ariza is headed to Houston with a five-year deal. Both contracts are of the mid-level variety, which are expected to start at about $5.8 million per season.

J.A. Adande writes…

Just as telling is the Lakers’ decision to go with Artest instead of younger Trevor Ariza. It shows they’re putting everything into these next three years and not worrying too much about the future. Ariza would have wanted a five-year contract; Artest was willing to come for three. The end of Artest’s contract coincides with the reported opt-out clause for Bryant. We don’t know whether Kobe will choose to leave in 2012, but we do know this: He’ll be 33 that summer, turning 34 in August. The three years with Artest probably represent Bryant’s last stages of physical superiority over the opposition. He’ll still be ahead of the pack in knowledge and determination, but we’ve already seen some slipping in his athletic ability and it will only decline from here.

So the Lakers are thinking short-term and trying to squeeze in a couple more championships right now. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was even willing to increase his roster’s average age and let one of his best acquisitions walk away, two things general managers are generally loath to do.

Artest gives the Lakers the same qualities as Ariza — perimeter defense and toughness — plus the ability to get his own shot, and a dash of crazy. Ariza wound up in Artest’s old spot in Houston, where he’s actually a better fit. With Yao Ming’s career on pause — at best — the Rockets have to position themselves to be good in a couple of years, perhaps by bringing in a major free agent in 2010 and/or having Yao return from treatment on his feet that might hinder him for the better part of two seasons. Amazing how quickly a team that seemed on the rise in these playoffs now finds itself retooling.

We’ll never know if Ariza was just playing hardball when he expressed frustration that the Lakers wouldn’t offer more than the mid-level because the team called his bluff and moved on. I like this signing for the Rockets, who were originally interested in Orlando big man Marcin Gortat. But when the “Polish Hammer” reportedly made a verbal agreement to join the Mavs, the Rockets moved on to the 24-year-old Ariza.

Artest is a little nutty, and he has the potential to sabotage the Lakers’ season, but it’s not like the team is championship-caliber because they have great chemistry. They don’t. They have more talent than anyone, and when Ariza became irritated with the Lakers’ unwillingness to go over the mid-level, they quickly moved on to their backup plan. Artest will accept his role in L.A. and should fit in just fine, at least defensively. But three years is a long time for him to behave; I expect he’ll have at least one dust up before it’s all said and done.

2009 NBA Free Agency Preview: The top unrestricted free agents

Once the draft is over, the next step of the NBA offseason is the free agency period. Negotiations start July 1, but players have to wait until July 8 to actually sign on the dotted line. Due to the economy, this promises to be an interesting summer, as more franchises seem to be trying to cut payroll than add talent. There are eight teams with significant cap space this summer, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be willing to use it. Teams that are over the cap can add good players in two ways: 1) they can sign a player to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), which will be around $5.8 million per season (and can be split up between two or more players), or 2) they can work out a sign-and-trade with the player’s old team.

Below is a list of the top unrestricted free agents this summer. These are players who can sign with whomever they like. They’re ranked in order of total value, which is based on overall talent, age, injury history and cost.

For each player, I’ll provide his position, age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and an estimate of what kind of contract he’s likely to sign.

1. Carlos Boozer, PF (27 years-old)
PER: 17.28
At press time, Boozer hasn’t officially opted out, but he is expected to. He can play another year for $12.3 million, but he thinks he’s due for a raise, and I don’t think he’s going to get the kind of raise he’s expecting. Boozer is one of the top 20 players in the league when healthy, but it’s that whole “when healthy” part that’s the problem. Over the past five seasons, he has missed a third of his team’s games. At 27, he’s in his prime, and assuming he has the right supporting cast, I think he can be one of a twosome or threesome on a championship-caliber team. Boozer may not get a raise this summer, but he could get long-term security. The Pistons, Raptors, Kings and Thunder all have the space to make a run at him, but Sacramento and OKC might consider themselves too far away from contending to add a big piece like Boozer. The Pistons seem like the best fit, but they are rumored to have more interest in Ben Gordon. There’s always the possibility that another team works out a sign-and-trade with Utah, but I don’t think anyone is going to give him a max deal, not in this economy.
Value: $12.0 – $13.0 million per year

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NBA draft and free agency rumors: Jordan Hill slipping, Ron Artest to Greece and more

DraftExpress is over at the Reebok EuroCamp, and reported some rumors that are making the rounds.

Jordan Hill potentially slipping into the bottom of the top-10 or even possibly slightly beyond. The talk is that the Washington Wizards’ 5th pick could very well end up being claimed by Stephen Curry (whether for them or another team trading up), and that since Minnesota, Golden State, New York and maybe even Toronto appear to be looking at other positional needs, Hill could be on the short end of the stick come draft night.

Hill has a lot of upside, picked up the game late, and still averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game for a NCAA tournament-caliber team in a power conference. He has long arms and a great reach, and he can jump out of the gym. The only concern from his combine numbers is a lack of lateral quickness. He’d be a good fit for the Bucks at #10 and even the Raptors at #9, though Toronto might be interested in finding a banger so that they can move Chris Bosh to power forward full time.

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