It’s been a wild week of free agent signings and trades in the NBA. I asked the Godfather (Michael Schwartz) and Michael Corleone (Kevin Zimmerman) of Valley of the Suns to join me for a 3-on-5 to discuss all the wheeling and dealing as well as the outlook for the Suns.
I hope that analogy doesn’t make me Fredo.
1. Which team most improved its chances of winning a championship through free agent signings or trades?
Schwartz: I hate to go with the easy answer, but in this case it doubles as the right answer. Houston catapulted into the championship race with the acquisition of Dwight Howard after starting the offseason with a roster that screamed “fringe playoff team.” With Harden and Howard forming arguably the league’s best inside-outside duo along with a slew of role players that Daryl Morey has collected over the years, the Rockets finally have departed the treadmill of mediocrity to join the upper crust of the West.
Zimmerman: I can’t say I like any signing other than the Dwight Howard deal. Al Jefferson at very best makes the Bobcats average, and I don’t understand how Josh Smith fits into the Pistons’ long-term future – does he stunt the growth of their young bigs? The Rockets also got a sneaky good signing in Omri Casspi, and I think their offensive model makes a so-so player like that even more impactful. The Iguodala signing in Golden State does get a second-place finish, however.
Weisert: The Clippers have improved the most. While the Howard deal is certainly a game changer, I’m not sure it makes Houston a title contender. The Rockets still have a lot of money invested in Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, neither of whom is guaranteed to make an impact next year. The Clippers on the other hand have one of the best coaches in the league (and one of the biggest coaching upgrades in history.) They have a happy Chris Paul. And they just acquired an elite shooter in J.J. Redick as well as a great all-around player/locker room guy in Jared Dudley. They are right in the mix for the 2nd-best team in the West.
2. Which recently signed (verbally agreed to) free agent is most likely to be viewed as overpaid before his contract is up?
Schwartz: Based on Detroit’s history, probably Josh Smith. He will make $14 million a season for the next four years and could be either forced to play small forward or restrict the development of the Pistons’ two best young players, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Along with Monta Ellis, Smith almost seemed to be destined to be overpaid by his new team, and considering this only takes Detroit from bad to mediocre, I think in a few years they will look back on this deal as an overpay.
Zimmerman: Andre Iguodala is an interesting fit in Golden State but his age seems like it could catch up with him. And while I think he’s the type of athlete whose body probably won’t break down during the next four years where he’ll be paid more than $48 million, he’s already a second or third option. Weisert broke down values of certain roles and skills, but it’s sadly questionable if being a nice guy and smart basketball player is worth that much – and it pains me to write that.
Weisert: I think Jose Calderon is overpaid right now, without ever having played a minute for Dallas. I understand the market for starting point guards is inflated right now, but Calderon is not a Top 15 point guard in the NBA, and there’s no way giving a 31 year old more than $7 million per year for four years is a good idea. Calderon takes great care of the ball and shoots great percentages, but he lacks athleticism and scoring ability, two things Dallas is going to need over the next few seasons as Dirk ages. He is more of a 2-3 year, mid-level kind of player. This deal definitely makes no sense in when you consider the Mavs also signed Devin Harris for three years.
3. Which player(s) acquired via free agency or trade is the worst fit for his new team?
Schwartz: I’m not a fan of the Carl Landry deal, especially for a Kings team that already has DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson upfront. Landry is a solid player who has always played particularly well against the Suns, but mid-level contracts are often the worst kind of deal in the NBA’s salary structure. Sacramento would have been better off saving its money for something more than a backup at a position of strength.
Zimmerman: Josh Smith. I imagine the Pistons will be exciting with a very athletic and dynamic frontcourt. Greg Monroe and Smith are two of the best passers at their respective positions, and Andre Drummond should be able to make them a very good defensive front. Offensively, though, Smith’s lack of consistency on the perimeter makes it very difficult for Detroit to stretch the floor with many of its lineups, at least in my mind.
Weisert: Tyreke Evans with the Pelicans is bad fit. The Pelicans traded Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday. A hotly contested move, but one I supported nonetheless. Then they traded Robin Lopez, who was very productive for them last year, for Evans. Tyreke has proven, over his four years in the NBA, that he’s best when used as a ball-handler. He was a disaster at small forward last year in Sacramento. This acquisition means the Pelicans sacrificed two potential front court mates for Anthony Davis to have three players – Evans, Holiday, and Eric Gordon – who need the ball in their hands to be effective. And they’re paying 8 figures to each of those guys.
4. What should the Suns next move be?
Schwartz: I’ve been saying it for some time, but they need to find a way to turn Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola into young assets. A move might not materialize until the season begins when an injury may force a team into a trade for a big man. Not many teams need a center and possess the kind of young assets the Suns desire, but then again nobody saw the Eric Bledsoe trade either before it happened. Scola could be a great bench scorer for a contender who could provide value later in the season. At this point everything should be pointed toward continuing to accumulate assets for next season.
Zimmerman: I honestly didn’t know what Ryan McDonough could get with the valuable role players the Suns have, but shipping away Jared Dudley proved he could target someone he likes and give up a very reasonable player. So with that, I think pulling off similar trades of a Luis Scola or Marcin Gortat could be next. But it’ll be more interesting, in my opinion, to see if the Suns could – or should – gut the roster of the Morris twins, Kendall Marshall and Michael Beasley. Those guys should be of equal priority, but it’s a wonder if there will be any takers out there.
Weisert: Take a breather and be patient. The Suns’ front office pulled off some shrewd moves drafting Alex Len and acquiring Eric Bledsoe. They have taken a step in the right direction for the first time since getting four draft picks for Steve Nash. The NBA is like a poker tournament. The Suns won some early hands, now they can sit back, pick their spots, and let the shorter stacks battle it out. No one in and around the Suns’ organization believes the team will win as currently constructed which means Phoenix is in position to acquire a great asset in the 2014 draft. All the Suns need to do is build up the trade value of some of its veterans – Gortat, Scola, Beasley – in hopes that some team will want to make a move at the trade deadline.
5. Which team(s) will be the Suns’ biggest competition in the race for the cellar next season?
Schwartz: Teams like Charlotte and Detroit seem to be saying they can’t stay in the cellar forever by signing big-name free agents that likely will take them out of the very bottom of the league. If Boston trades Rondo or has him sit out the bulk of the year, then they will be a prime candidate, and Philly figures to be dreadful as well along with the Magic. In the West I can’t see many teams that should be worse than the Suns, although perhaps Utah could give them a run if the Jazz continue to drop vets.
Zimmerman: I think the Philadelphia 76ers’ odd way of retooling will make them easily the worst team off the bat. But I think Milwaukee could be a darkhorse to be at the bottom of the barrel. They’ve made some very average decisions – little risk, little reward – like the signing of O.J. Mayo. Their front office, which also lost assistant GM Jeff Weltman to Toronto this offseason, is facing some very ugly truths after trading away the young Tobias Harris and hiring a coach that struggled to do anything that impressive with a talented-enough roster in Atlanta.
Weisert: I think the Suns have an excellent shot to repeat as Western Conference cellar dwellers. The only teams that will give them a run for their money are Utah and Sacramento. The Jazz are full of expiring contracts and young players. Trey Burke, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors will get a chance to prove themselves as pros, but I expect they’ll struggle early on. Sacramento worsened the log jam in both their backcourt and frontcourt by acquiring Carl Landry and Greivis Vasquez. The only thing that might hinder their cellar hopes is DeMarcus Cousins playing for a contract. Out East, I expect the Magic and 76ers to be pitiful, while the Cavs and Bobcats should begrudgingly improve from last year.