Michael Walton II writes about the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and burgeoning high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
My first piece on this year’s NBA free agency period discussed all the major moves in the Central Division. As I move from division to division, staying in the Eastern Confernce, I will move on to the Southeastern Division. where some of the more intriguing moves of the summer have taken place. The Washington Wizards showed true franchise stability, Charlotte took steps in the right direction and Pat Riley showed the world that like the rapper French Montana, ‘he ain’t worried bout nothin.’
Since the end goal for all NBA teams is to win a championship, it isn’t shocking that LeBron James’ move to the Cleveland Cavaliers caused a bit of hysteria around the league. I will analyze the moves of each team in the Southeastern Division with my panic meter. The panic meter is on a scale of one to ten. One represents a Gregg Popovich-like calm while 10 represents a full-blown, sweaty, Erik Spoelstra-like freakout.
Panic Level: 1 out of 10 (Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan sharing brews)
Outlook: Somehow, LeBron James was able to resist the slick Don Corleone negotiation tactics of Pat Riley. James took his talents back to Cleveland and many laughed as they expected the always in control Riley to finally be caught in a state of disarray. But before James made his ultimate decision Riley had already moved on to building the post-LeBron Heat as a threat in the new East.
As James made The Decision Vol. 2 Riley had inked deals with veteran forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. After James officially left, Riley re-signed Mario Chalmers, Chris Anderson, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with only Bosh getting a max contract. The last piece softening James’s departure was the signing of free agentLuol Deng to a two-year, $20 million deal, which is basically what Chicago offered him before he was shipped to Cleveland this past January, so Miami didn’t overpay for his services. Though he didn’t reel back in his big fish, Riley took this off-season seriously and made good on another chance to show why he is so highly regarded in the basketball community.
Panic Level: 4 out of 10 (Phil Jackson during negotiations with Carmelo Anthony)
Outlook: The Wizards made a surprising playoff run this past season, their first since 2008. After losing to the Indiana Pacers in the second round, the Wizards decided they were in win-now mode. This offseason they lost Trevor Ariza in a trade to the Houston Rockets, but they somewhat remedied the situation by signing aging-veteran/playoff superhero Paul Pierce for $10 million over two years. The contract makes sense for both sides but the fact that Pierce is turning 37 in October makes me think that perhaps Washington would’ve been better off letting Otto Porter develop as a starter alongside the young back-court of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld made a decent amount of deals that were unquestionably smart. He re-signed Marcin Gortat and traded for DeJuan Blair to bolster the frontcourt, fortifying his rotation for the inevitable mid-season Nene injury to come. Gortat at $12 million a year for five years may have been a slight overpay, but they were better off over-paying Gortat over Ariza. “Three-and-D” wings are easier to replace than solid two-way big men. With continuity and a few new pieces the Wizards have all the makings of a top three team in the new Eastern Conference.
Panic Level: 8 out of 10 (Michael Jordan signing Lance Stephenson)
Outlook: The Charlotte Hornets have been undergoing their change from the Bobcats of old to the new Hornets both mentally and physically. Of course the jerseys have changed, but more importantly owner extraordinaire Michael Jordan and his staff have successfully changed the culture of the franchise. It all stems from last year when Charlotte earned the seventh seed in the playoffs, showing enough promise to spur on a re-loading instead of the usual re-grouping.
The Hornets have lost some of the players from that final Bobcat team, such as Ben Gordon and Josh McRoberts, but they’ve managed to improve, shoring up their backup point guard spot by signing pick-and-roll maestro Brian Roberts (and his weird haircut) from New Orleans. Also some depth on the wings was added by netting athletic forward Marvin Williams on a reported two-year $14 million deal, there’s also the satisfaction of taking him from division rival Atlanta.
But perhaps the second biggest move of NBA free agency this season after LeBron was Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson taking his skills to Charlotte for a deal worth only $200 K more than the one the Indiana pacers offered him. Stephenson will finally be in a situation where he is the alpha dog on a team. The panic level is so high here because this the ultimate risk-reward move by the Hornets. One outcome could see Stephenson being successfully tutored by Jordan and blossoming into one of the best guards in the league, or he could become a huge, erratic sideshow and end up the second coming of Shawn Kemp (remember his disastrous stay in Cleveland, making people know that he left a good thing for himself in Seattle stayed with the Supersonics?).
Panic Level: 9 out of 10 (‘What do you mean no one wants to play in Atlanta?!!!!’)
Outlook: For as long as I can remember the Atlanta Hawks have been stuck in the dreaded NBA no-man’s land, good enough to make the playoffs and lose in the first round, not bad enough to net a high draft pick. After taking the then-struggling Indiana Pacers seven games in the first round Atlanta was rumored to have hopes of pulling in one of the big-name free agents, there was even talk of the Hawks acquiring both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but then everyone slowly came back to reality. The Hawks simply don’t land superstars in free agency.
To their credit, Atlanta didn’t stop its continued building of their well-balanced roster. One of the earliest effective moves in free agency was the Hawks signing defense-first guard Thabo Sefolosha away from Oklahoma City with a three-year, $12 million deal. They also locked up promising young guard Kent Bazemore for two-years and $4 million overall. This emphasis on adding more defensive specialists is a great choice for a team that had a great offense even without their best player (Al Horford) for most of the season. In the end, the Hawks still have reason to panic as it doesn’t seem like they will be making their way out of NBA purgatory anytime soon, mainly because they have little chance of drawing in difference makers to really upgrade their team.
Panic Level: 0 (Ain’t worried about nothin’)
Outlook: The Orlando Magic were one of the worst teams in the league last year, they are clearly in the “rebuilding” phase. Stacking its roster with young talents from the past two drafts, Orlando has a prepubescent big three featuring Victor Oladipo and recent draft picks Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon. This off-season the Magic were active, but frankly I was very stumped by their moves. They signed Channing Frye, which makes sense in terms of adding outside shooting out of the front court, but they also signed Ben Gordon to a two-year, $9 million deal.
TWO YEARS AND NINE MIL FOR THE SAME BEN GORDON WHO RIPPED OUT THE HEARTS OF BULLS FANS WHEN HE RUINED HIS CAREER AND CHICAGO’S TWO-GUARD POSITION AFTER HE LEFT FOR A BIG CONTRACT WITH DETROIT?
THE SAME BEN GORDON WHO SHOT A CAREER-LOW 27.6% FROM 3-POINT RANGE AND PLAYED A CAREER-LOW 19 GAMES LAST YEAR FOR A CHARLOTTE TEAM THAT PLAYED ITS BEST BALL WITHOUT HIM?
It seems Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan was intent on showing that he was the youngest and most inexperienced GM in the NBA by making free agency decisions that seem like they were made by pulling names out of a hat, or through trying to build a strong roster in NBA 2K8 (that’s 2008 for those of you who don’t play 2K, and shame on you if you don’t, by the way). I can easily imagine Hennigan in his office shouting things like ‘Screw it! Let’s sign Willie Green now!’
Only, I don’t have to imagine…the Magic actually claimed Willie Green off waivers. I give up.
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