Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

NBA Free Agency Edition
1. Baron Davis. In less than four seasons in Oakland, Davis helped transform the franchise from perennial disapointment to beloved giant killer. He was the heart and soul and face, nay the beard, of the Golden State Warriors. And, he's gone. Without much warning or speculation by those folks allegedly in the know (meaning actual NBA beat writers and commentators) Davis opted out of the final year of his contract with the Warriors last week and then signed a multi-year pact with the Los Angeles Clippers. The 29-year-old guard left $17.8 million on the Warriors-table next season, the final one on his six-year deal. When players leave teams it is de rigueur to make them the bad guy but I don't think that's really the case here. Davis is from Los Angeles, played his college ball at UCLA and is heavily involved in community work in his hometown. Moreover, he left more money in Oakland (at least for next season) to sign on for long-term security (reportedly five years and $65 million) in LA. Apparently talks of contract extension had not gotten very far with the Warriors and Davis decided to opt out while the opting was good. Given his injury history it's also hard to fault the Warriors for being hesistant about a long-term deal but it's also hard to imagine what that team will look like without Davis. Is Monta Ellis ready to take over? Is Monta Ellis, himself a restricted free agent, even planning on staying? Given the power of his smile to bring in fans and his dribble to get past defenders you would have thought that in spite of the injuries that GS would have tried harder to keep him in the Bay Area.

2. Gilbert Arenas. One of the many planets knocked slightly out of orbit in the aftermath of Baron Davis opting out in Oakland was whatever planet Agent Zero resides on. Negotiating sans agent from China, Arenas (who is easily in my Top 5 players I pay to see when they come to the Garden) reportedly talked the Washington Wizards down from their max contract offer of approximately $127 million over six years to $111 over that same span. With his trademark honesty he asked The Washington Post "What can I do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million?" Suffice to say, Arenas is a one hover-boat sort of guy and you've got to like that about him. All along he said that he wanted to stay in Washington, that he wanted the team to resign All-Star forward Antawn Jamison and that he didn't want his max-deal to handcuff the club for the duration of his time there. Well, it looks like got all three things accomplished. Dan Shanoff, whose daily columns I couldn't recommend any more, has maintained that the Wizards need to re-sign him even if they don't think this Arenas-led-team can actually win a title. After all, if you're a franchise just trying to fill seats and put a good (if not great) product on the floor than what more could ask for (if a championship is not in the offing) than someone as talented and charismatic as Gilbert who can get you to the playoffs every season?

3. Elton Brand. And, the man formerly at the center (or power forward) of the Los Angeles Clippers universe just got himself a new stud teammate. Or did he? When the Warriors went into panic mode after Baron Davis' surprising opt out things, all of a sudden, seemed to be up in the air for Brand as well. Like Davis, he had publicly committed to staying with his team of several years. And provided that he did stay, that franchise seemed poised for a run at respectability, if not prominence with the addition of Davis. But Davis' arrival in Los Angeles set off a chain reaction of events that ended up with a lot of money floating in the ether. The money that Golden State had set aside for the Bearded One was now up for grabs and Warriors GM Chris Mullin looked into giving that cash to Brand. And, wouldn't that have been something? Davis goes to LA to play for a could-be-contender featuring Brand and then Brand leaves LA and takes his old spot in the Bay Area. But, that's not what happened. Although it is connected to what ultimately went down. When Brand didn't immediately dismiss the advances of the Warriors and reaffirm his desire to stay a Clipper it dawned on the other team(s) with available salary cap space that this guy could be had. In swooped the Philadelphia 76ers. They had more money to offer than Golden State, they had a 2007-2008 playoff team that gave the Pistons a good run and they had the Eastern Conference to offer the Peekskill, NY native who won the 1999 Naismith Award during his second (and last) year at Duke University. And, having all of that they woke up this morning to find they also have Elton Brand. He has reportedly agreed to a five-year, $82 million contract with the Sixers.

4. Josh Smith. Originally this was the guy poised to rake in all of that cheesesteak cash from Philadelphia. Until Baron left Golden State and Elton left Los Angeles. This means that Josh is likely left behind in Atlanta. Which is probably best for everyone. And by everyone, I mean for the Hawks, their fans and me. I don't really know how Smith feels about this. This likely development is good for those other parties because Smith is a ridiculously versatile athlete who the Hawks really, really need to keep aboard if they intend to build upon last year's promising first-round playoff loss (only in Atlanta...) to the Celtics. Last season he averaged 17.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game, 1.5 steals per game and 2.8 blocks per game. He stands all of six feet and nine inches tall but he has ranked second behind Marcus Camby in blocked shots in each of the past two seasons. In other words the guy is good at playing basketball. Perhaps most importantly, he is 22 years old and from the Atlanta area (College Park, GA). Which means that he is exactly the sort of guy to help draw fans back to the Omni Phillips Arena. Smith is a restricted free agent, which means the Hawks have the right to match any offer from another club. And, with the Sixers big money going towards whatever movie projects Elton Brand wants to bankroll it looks like Smith will stay in ATL. Unless, of course, the Clippers use their Brand-money to make a run at him. And, so it goes.

5. Randolph Morris. The former Kentucky center and current afterthought is the only Knicks player who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Since he should have been playing in the Development League rather than wallowing and atrophying at the end of Isiah Thomas's bench. He's played a grand total of 225 professional minutes in his two years since jumping from the NCAA tournament to the NBA. Given the fact that he has barely played, I don't know if teams will be banging down his door to sign him away from the Knicks (who have matching-rights as Morris is a restricted free agent). And, if they can sign him to a one or two year deal (meaning no matter what he is off the books by the magical 2010 summer) with the understanding that he is going to join the Knicks D-League affiliate in Reno if he doesn't crack the rotation then I would be happy to re-sign him as a developmental prospect. It's an absolute shame that his first two seasons were wasted. But they were. And, I'm willing to let those sunk costs go and give him another try. Unless of course, some other club sees a diamond in our Garden-rough and offers him a two-plus year deal and some real money. If that happens then, adios Randolph.

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