If we're to choose this year's NBA Free Agency MVP, it'll be a tie between Coach Pop and the Los Angeles Clippers' Get DeAndre Back Movement.
Just like any fever, the NBA Free Agency frenzy this year is about to run its course. Almost all the big fish have found a pond to swim in, except for the biggest catch of them all—LeBron James, of course. (And he’s not going anywhere, believe that.)
It’s time, then, to sort out the big winners from the big dreamers—those who swung for the fences, entered the free agency with high hopes, only to end up with an eye-opening reality check.
BIG WINNER: San Antonio Spurs
Reality: Better than expected. Everything worked as planned, and they even got David West to take a massive $11 million paycut to play back-up and chase a championship. We can only imagine the conversation in the West household once David broke the news to his wife.
The Critical Move: The moment coach Gregg Popovich declared before free agency began that, “"I'm not calling anyone at midnight. I'll be in bed. And if that's the difference, then I don't want them." That, kids, is a classic dating move that works 60 percent of the time, all the time.
BIG DREAMER: Los Angeles Lakers
Expectation: It all began with a DeMarcus Cousins trade rumor (fueled by Cousins’ "snakes" tweet) even before free agency started. Then Jimmy Butler reportedly wanted to play for the purple and gold. And DeAndre Jordan was said to be at “50-50” about crossing locker rooms. #LAforLA became a thing (Adam Levine being the campaign’s poster boy) as Aldridge booked the Lakers first on his schedule. With prized draftee D’Angelo Russell at point and the Black Mamba, the stars seemed to align. In the first days of free agency, all roads led to LA.
Reality: When the dust settled, the Lakers ended up with a revamped roster, alright—only with Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams. It’s not exactly as stellar as the Laker fans want, but trust us, this team should be way better than last year. Quick: Name last year’s starters post-All Star break. See the point?
The Critical Move: Aldridge, rumor has it, was turned off by the supposed lack of basketball analytics in the Lakers’ presentation. Now don’t go blaming Kobe on this one. If you have to blame one person, pick former Laker player turned assistant coach Mark Madsen as he’s the guy who bridges their analytics crew to the coaching staff. He’ll happily shake it off with his exquisite dance moves.
Video via Michael Low
BIG WINNER: Los Angeles Clippers
Expectation: They dethroned the Spurs last year but ran out of steam in the next round. So they looked to plug their holes on offense, hoping to lure clutch killers like Paul Pierce to their already contending lineup.
Reality: Their first move was, not to prioritize their own big free agent Jordan, but to trade for Lance Stephenson. That’s no typo. (They lost Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes in that trade but that’s no biggie.) The Clips were also successful on bringing in Pierce at a discount. Then Lob City nearly lost engine two, as DeAndre was almost swooned by Chander Parsons' charm, prompting him to verbally commit to Dallas for a four-year, $80 million deal, and the promise to become the face of the Maverick's franchise. That's until he went calling Doc Rivers to take him back and start the whole DeAndre drama. Luckily for the Clips, Blake Griffin isn't only an NBA All-Star, he's also adept at barricading doors to keep Mark Cuban and Parson's away from his Lob-Town buddy.
The Critical Move: That eleventh hour move by the Clippers, camping out at DeAndre's house in Houston, guarding their center from outside forces. Also, we must also commend JJ Reddick for owning the "Emoji War," and we hope someone from the Clips will teach Pierce how to incorporate them in his tweets!
A spaceship? Really, Paul?
BIG DREAMER: Dallas Mavericks
Expectation: Their main target was Dallas-native Aldridge. Plus, the Mavs wanted to inject a little more youth and athleticism to their aging roster. DeAndre was the obvious match, and Parsons didn’t waste time—taking Jordan out to dinner for five straight nights, and he ALMOST succeeded!
Reality: DeAndre drama aside, the Mavs still had a decent off-season shopping. They replaced disgruntled star Monta Ellis with sharpshooter Wes Matthews, who’s recovering from an Achilles tear, and has now a more flexible cap space to sign/trade for a point guard to fill the space Rajon Rondo has left behind.
The Critical Move: If only Jordan really did sign for the Mavs, the NBA would have given the Executive Of The Year trophy to Chandler Parsons. Kidding aside, the Mavs almost won this year's free agency, only to get burned hours away before they can sign their prize. Cuban and co. definitely didn't see the Clips going camping on DeAndre's backyard and guarding him like the U.S. Secret Service.
BIG WINNER: Milwaukee Bucks
Expectation: You don’t really expect much from a small market like Milwaukee. There was once a time that free agents spurned the Bucks for greener pastures (exhibit A: Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). So they entered free agency looking to build on their progress by re-signing Khris Middleton and maybe attract a few big names for meetings.
Reality: They just bolstered a playoff team last year with Greg Monroe. Imagine the wonders that a post-scorer and passing big like Monroe can do to a defense-oriented but offense-deprived team like the Bucks. Think Charlotte Bobcats when they acquired Al Jefferson. If only they can do something about Michael Carter-Williams’ outside shooting.
The Critical Move: The tables have turned. Milwaukee, not LA or New York, is now a hot free agent destination because of Coach Jason Kidd’s working formula: build a team of long, lanky, athletic guys wreaking havoc on defense and pushing the pace on offense. A winning present and a bright future trumps a glorious past. Any man who’s had plenty of girlfriends knows that by now.
BIG DREAMER: New York Knicks
Expectation: The prestige of the Big Apple, working under the Zen Master, and playing with Carmelo Anthony. Those were the selling points for free agents who wanted to move to NYC. They sold it to everybody who wanted to listen—Jordan, Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Monroe, West.
Reality: Nobody in their plan A, B, or C bit the bait. Instead, they end up with plan G: Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn. Some are lauding the moves as smart, sneaky good. But we’re not buying. Like the Lakers, the Knicks are still stuck in the thinking that big markets lure big stars because, hey, it’s New York. They’ve done it in the past, they can do it again. Well, here’s an umbrella Knicks fans. The basketball weather for NYC now and in the near future still looks gloomy.
The Critical Move: West said it best in an interview for WTHR.com: that the rumors of him going to New York were ridiculous; that he wants to be with a contender; and that the Knicks don’t qualify as contenders. What did the five fingers say to the face of Phil Jackson and company?
BIG WINNER: Cleveland Cavaliers
Expectation: The Cavaliers’ deep playoff run last season sent the message loud and clear to all interested free agents: LeBron James can carry an injury-ravaged team to the Finals. But to overcome one last hurdle, he needs help. Priority targets were their own bunch of FAs: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova. Because if it ain’t broke, just bring them all back, right?
Reality: Soon as Day 1 of free agency started, the King’s men (except for JR Smith and Tristan Thompson) responded to LeBron’s message. Shumpert re-upped with Cleveland, Love signed a max deal to stay. And just in case Delly leaves, the Cavs already found a more capable replacement in Mo Williams. All that’s left is for LBJ to sign up as well.
The Critical Move: The cabana meeting. Love was in LA to meet with the Lakers. But before the meeting began, LeBron already swooped in with a Godfather offer as the two were photographed in a poolside discussion. Game over, Love was all in. There was business to be taken care of. If you pride yourself in being a leader, learn from LeBron’s example: Go the extra mile to make your teammates feel you can do special things but only when you do it together.
BIG DREAMER: Portland Trail Blazers
Expectation: They entered free agency as the only team that can offer Aldridge the most money. They went ahead with deals to make the team younger by trading Nicolas Batum for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, and signing Al Farouq Aminu on the first day. Plus, they signed Damian Lillard to an extension. And they also took in Mason Plumlee to replace Lopez in the middle—all in the hopes that a more athletic team and a bigger paycheck can persuade Aldridge to stay.
Reality: On the fourth day of free agency, Lillard woke up as the sole remnant of the Blazers’ playoff starters in the last two years. Portland can’t even qualify as a big dreamer, because clearly, this is a nightmare for them. Going from Aldridge to Ed Davis is a major downgrade.
The Critical Move: Portland hoped money could buy Aldridge’s happiness. Well, everybody learned a hard lesson the day LMA signed with San Antonio. To lure stars, you need to satisfy two out of three things they commonly want: money, a bigger role, a chance at a championship. Portland could only provide one. Now Portland fans to LaMarcus be like: Thnks fr th Mmrs.
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