NBA free agency’s winners and losers
As the rejections and criticisms mounted lately, NBA executives and agents described Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard as “agitated” and “panicked” and even “desperate.” He kept returning to teams with the same proposals, only to be dismissed again and again. All his plans had imploded.
Pritchard has long liked to talk about never laying up on the golf course and burning through cell batteries and the way that the Blazers had outworked and outsmarted the NBA. Few have been terribly impressed with how Pritchard handled the highs of the job, and now there are doubts about how he’s handling its lows.
After the first 10 days of free agency, so far Pritchard stands as the summer’s biggest loser.
Hedo Turkoglu(notes) humiliated him with an 11th-hour dash for Toronto. By then, Trevor Ariza(notes) had already taken the Houston Rockets’ money. Pritchard couldn’t pry Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince(notes) nor Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich(notes). The job wasn’t as hard when owner Paul Allen gave him tens of millions to buy up draft picks, but free agency is a far more level playing field. Truth be told, Pritchard has failed.
All this cap space, all these big plans, and Pritchard offered a $34 million offer sheet for Paul Millsap(notes) to play behind LaMarcus Aldridge(notes). They need a small forward, but he refused to make a bid for the most talented one on the market – the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom(notes).
Odom could’ve been had for the Blazers, but Pritchard has, for now, committed his money to a backup power forward. He could’ve dented the Lakers and met his most pressing need with Odom’s length, athleticism and versatility.
For every advantage Pritchard had in assembling these Blazers, he’s struggling with the next step: managing it all.
Pritchard’s greatest gift has been his ability to persuade owner Paul Allen to spend money. Now, Pritchard is struggling to convince Allen to give Brandon Roy(notes) a full five-year max extension. The process has increasingly stunned and angered Roy. Whatever anyone thinks, no one has had more to do with the Blazers’ revival than Roy.
Beyond that, Pritchard has a problem with one of the most well-regarded coaches in the NBA: Nate McMillan doesn’t want to sign a contract extension. He’s tried to explain his desire for one-year contracts as some kind of self-motivational tool, but no one buys it. It’s clear that McMillan wants to be a free agent in 2011.
“He knows Portland isn’t the last place he’ll be,” a league source said. “Everyone will want him.”
Multiple league sources believe there’s a wedge between Pritchard and McMillan, but both general manager and coach have long denied it. Even so, it makes league officials wonder how deeply McMillan believes in his boss’ blueprint that he refuses to commit long-term to it.
The rapid rise is over in Portland, and now, Kevin Pritchard has to manage his creation. So far, he’s endured the most rugged summer of his executive career. Here’s the rest of the losers and winners in free agency.
• David Lee, Trevor Ariza’s agent
His tough talk and chest thumping bought his client, Trevor Ariza, a one-way ticket to post-Yao lottery land in Houston – for essentially the same contract the Lakers were willing to pay him. Way to earn your 4 percent, David.
• The New York Knicks
So, what happened to everyone dying to play for Mike D’Antoni in New York? So far, the AARP free agents – Jason Kidd(notes) and Grant Hill(notes) – used New York as leverage for more money in Dallas and Phoenix.
Now, the shrinking 2010 salary cap makes the chances of luring LeBron James(notes) even less likely. James would have to take even less money to go the Knicks, and there’s little chance New York will have the room for a second max-out free agent. Without it, New York can forget James.
• Lamar Odom
His agent has been desperately trying to find a sign-and-trade around the league, but there’s little there but the Lakers’ offer of $7 million per season. Odom had a terrific playoffs and Finals on L.A’s championship run, but he has few options to make the Lakers raise their offer. Why has Portland so far sat it out with him? It still makes no sense.
Spurs executives Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford aggressively remade the Spurs into the Lakers biggest challenger again. Now, Duncan, 32, has a legitimate chance to beat Shaq and Kobe to a fifth championship.
Richard Jefferson(notes) gives the Spurs a younger, more athletic scorer and defender. Antonio McDyess(notes) was the Spurs’ top priority in free agency. Perhaps DeJuan Blair’s(notes) knees won’t last a decade in the NBA, but for a minimal second-round investment he could contribute through what’s left of Duncan’s window. They just need Manu Ginobili(notes) to be himself again.
Spurs owner Peter Holt has boldly pushed his franchise into the luxury tax for next season, a small-market owner hell-bent on winning another championship.
As a 12-minute-a-game center for the Orlando Magic, Gortat scored himself a five-year, $34 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks. Nevertheless, two sources familiar with Orlando’s plans believe Magic GM Otis Smith is strongly considering to match the offer and keep the 7-footer.
• Joe Dumars and Bryan Colangelo
This was the summer to get the most out of your money in free agency, and the GMs of the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors understood that waiting for 2010 wasn’t the wisest move.
Dumars gets a terrific young core with free agents Ben Gordon(notes) and Charlie Villanueva(notes) and can still use Prince or Richard Hamilton(notes) as chips for a frontline big man. Utah’s Carlos Boozer(notes) still lingers as a possibility, though Dumars has so far been reluctant to part with Prince for him.
Colangelo stole Turkoglu out of Portland’s clutches, and then worked a sign-and-trade with Orlando to spare his mid-level exception. Colangelo won’t give up on convincing Chris Bosh(notes) to stay with Toronto.
• Eastern contenders
Despite the bleak economic climate, ownership in Boston, Cleveland and Orlando pushed themselves deep into luxury tax for next season. The arms race in the East escalated with Shaquille O’Neal(notes) to the Cavs, Vince Carter(notes) to the Magic and Rasheed Wallace(notes) to the Celtics. Nevertheless, this has been a summer of the haves and have-nots. Those with a chance to win are going for it, and yet a lot of the NBA is determined to cut costs and spare themselves financial losses.