NBA

Rich getting richer in free agency

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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The fluid properties associated with NBA success often dictate that being good may not be good enough in a few months.
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Even if you've been very good. So, now that the league's top teams are reloading through free agency and deals provoked by salary-cap alarm, let's begin our review of the rich getting richer with a retreat to the 2008 Finals. That series was won in convincing fashion by the Boston Celtics, who — due to the familiar theme of luxury-tax peril — were unable to re-sign key bench contributor James Posey. The Cs also had to absorb the retirements of big-man sub P.J. Brown and sage reserve point-guard Sam Cassell. It also should be noted that picking at the end of Round 1 in the June draft produced nothing more in the way of replacement than J.R. Giddens. Even so, the title-defense season still was moving along reasonably well until the balking of Kevin Garnett's knee. But despite the skills of Glen "Big Baby" Davis began moving toward puberty, the near-star launching of point guard Rajon Rondo and two late-season additions (Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore), Boston barely made it to Round 2 in 2009. To fortify their bench for a run in 2010, the Celtics were thrilled that the ring-hungry motivations of Rasheed Wallace made their mid-level exception seem like satisfactory recompense. Wallace was paid nearly $14 million on the final year of his last contract by the Detroit Pistons, who helped turn the Denver Nuggets into a powerhouse. More on those teams later.
Wallace figures to give the Celtics tremendous baseline flexibility — not to mention veteran, championship-level experience — at both ends of the floor. Anyway, reports also credited Boston with attempting to acquire Pistons guards Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey by offering the rising Rondo and the big contract of twilight-approaching jump shooter Ray Allen. Making that deal seemed a bit farfetched, so the Cs reportedly are zeroing on veteran free agent small forward Grant Hill. After the 2008 Finals pole-axing from the Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers did little to shake up their roster last summer. But shaking really was unnecessary, because they had rapidly evolving 7-foot center Andrew Bynum returning to health and bouncy wing hotshot Trevor Ariza bouncing back from injury. Even though Bynum was hurt again during the ensuing regular season and provided only fleeting glimpses of his potential during the postseason, the Lakers were able to seize the O'Brien trophy. Ariza played a major supporting role. To take a big swing at more hardware, the Lakers have been fighting with their backs against the anticipated 2009 tax threshold. Ariza, an unrestricted free agent, seemed insulted by what the champions were offering in the way of a pay raise and has since agreed to similar terms with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets happened to have an opening at small forward because the always entertaining Ron Artest had agreed to a possibly less-than-market-value deal with the Lakers. In the meantime, Kobe Bryant was skipping his option to kill the final two (and extremely lucrative) years on his current Lakers deal and re-upping for three more. This did little to help the franchise scrape up the cash necessary to re-sign super sixth man Lamar Odom, an unrestricted asset who realizes his best days have occurred in purple and gold. The Lakers came up with some helpful loot by selling their draft-night rights and still appear to have the best chance to land Odom, whose multiple skills are not fetching top dollar in a down NBA economy. At last report, he and his reps are wanting $10 million per year to return, with other contenders ready to pounce if Odom reacts to the Lakers' overtures with an immaturity similar to Ariza's. Our silver medalists from the NBA's 2009 playoffs had a tax issue of their own, so the Orlando Magic unloaded a preemptive strike — and three rotation players — by acquiring volume shooter Vince Carter (and 6-10 sniper Ryan Anderson) from the New Jersey Nets. Carter slides into the vacancy created when free agent Hedo Turkoglu and his threshold-crossing market value inspired threats of offers Orlando couldn't (or wouldn't) match. A year ago, the Magic were able to ease into contention by landing Courtney Lee late in Round 1 of the draft and signing key wing reserve Mickael Pietrus away from Golden State. Now Lee, point guard temp Rafer Alston and post sub Tony Battie are working in New Jersey while Marcin Gortat (Dwight Howard's stand in) checks in as another eventual free-agent goner. Turkoglu seemed willing to help make the young-and-loaded Portland Trail Blazers an instant contender, but settled for a bit more loot (and marital harmony) by agreeing to terms with the Toronto Raptors. In Carter, Orlando has added a potential chemistry challenge, but may finally have a go-to perimeter ace who can create (hopefully positive) scoring opportunities late in shot clocks and games. The team Orlando conquered to reach the Finals actually had the NBA's best regular-season record this past campaign. But the Cleveland Cavaliers also had match-up nightmares with the Magic, whose 6-10 power forward (Rashard Lewis) is much swifter afoot than anyone from the Cavs' regular baseline rotation. Cleveland's first attempted upgrade happened by trading expiring contracts attached to Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns, who have parted with the $20 million getaway year of Shaquille O'Neal. In O'Neal, the Cavs have a low-post presence that still demands game-plan respect from foes, and a gigantic obstacle that (at least) has the strength to deal with outrageously bouncy Orlando center Dwight Howard. The Cavs, whose 2008 summer masterstroke was the acquisition of Mo Williams, are hoping the 2009 maneuvers translate to a more playoff-ready roster. We'll see if this seeming preparation for Orlando will steel them for the likes of Boston or anyone else on the rise. That last-referenced list may not include the Detroit Pistons, who seemingly were fed up with almost reaching the NBA Finals. Shortly after the 2008-2009 season began, they broke up their good-but-not-great lineup by shipping point guard Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess and the expiring contract (about $21 million) of the amazingly selfish Allen Iverson. If Iverson and his star-power clicked, it was reasoned, maybe the Pistons could capture lighting in a bottle. It didn't happen, but team president Joe Dumars -- who wasn't exactly interested in offering extensions to Iverson and Wallace, anyway -- found himself with oodles of cap space. This has been turned into 6-2- shooting guard Ben Gordon and perimeter-oriented power forward Charlie Villanueva. The only entities getting richer in those deals were Gordon and Villanueva. A year ago, the Nuggets prepared to become the Western Conference's second-best team (right) by dumping reasonably priced big man Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for pocket lint. But when Billups arrived shortly after the season tipped off, the Nuggets suddenly began playing defense and making lucid shot attempts. This summer's preparation requires finding enough loot to keep defensive aces Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter and cult hero Chris "Birdman" Andersen. It won't be easy. Birdman doesn't have his Bird rights and Jones is generating at least tepid interest from the Indiana Pacers. Our next stop is San Antonio, where the leg injury of guard Manu Ginobili ruined the Spurs' attempt to ride Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to a bit more glory last spring. The Spurs had propped open their title window a year ago by drafting point guard George Hill and signing free agent shooter Roger Mason in two moves that upgraded their depth and quickness on the perimeter. This year's big move was sending veteran spare parts to the Milwaukee Bucks who unloaded the contract — and star-caliber skill — of small forward Richard Jefferson. The Spurs also used draft-night chutzpah (and some good fortune) to end up with Pitt strongman DeJuan Blair and Miami scoring machine Jack McClinton. Perhaps, instead of referring to summer player movement as the rich getting richer, we should simply consider it the wise getting even wiser.
Tagged: Bucks, Nets, George Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, Magic, Rodney Stuckey, Trail Blazers, Marcus Camby, Spurs, Lamar Odom, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Rajon Rondo, James Posey, Kobe Bryant, Tony Battie, Ben Wallace, Mikki Moore, Charlie Villanueva, Anthony Carter, Andrew Bynum, Marcin Gortat, Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, Trevor Ariza, Kevin Garnett, Ben Gordon, Chauncey Billups, Mickael Pietrus, Metta World Peace, Mo Williams, Celtics, Pelicans, Bulls, Rasheed Wallace, Cavaliers, Ryan Anderson, Nuggets, Pistons, Sasha Pavlovic, Courtney Lee, Rockets, Dahntay Jones, Richard Jefferson, Roger Mason Jr., Clippers, Vince Carter, Lakers

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