Monday, 5 December 2011

Basketball is back: The NBA Free Agency headaches of 2011

It's been too long.

December 9th the NBA will allow it's teams to open training camps for the 2011-12 season. It's brilliant to be able to call it a 2011-12 season and not the 2011 NBA Lockout. It's also brilliant to know that'll be the final time I use the dreaded L-word.

No more boardrooms and offices, no more lawyers and ultimatums. Just pure, unadulterated NBA basketball at the best time of the year, the off-season!

That's right, the rumor mill is back and is churning out rumors like they're going out of fashion. The biggest stories have to be the myriad rumors surrounding Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Orlando Magic's juggernaut center Dwight Howard is due to become a free agent next summer. The Magic ownership will not want to be "Lebron'd" by Howard (leave for nothing) and could look to deal him before the deadline (expected to be in March). Obviously with such a valuable commodity available, many teams in very different situations are throwing their hats into the ring.

The most notable of these teams would be the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The trouble is that these two teams, while presenting some of the best players for Howard to play with, have very little ability to land him in in the first place. The Lakers have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's good, but not great. Bynum is a fantastic talent but is highly inconsistent and prone to meltdowns as we saw when he hit a cheap-shot on J.J. Barea in the West Finals last season. Gasol is also a great player, but he's past his best and is absolutely not the player the Magic should look to rebuild around. The Knicks would seemingly be the ideal place for Howard to team up with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The problem in New York is that they have $40 million committed to those two players alone from next year and with the cap projected at $58 million, Howard would have to take a sizable pay-cut to create a third "Big 3" in the East. No problem, just trade for Howard instead? No. The Knicks were gutted trading for Anthony and Stoudemire and the only way they could give Orlando similar value for Howard in a trade would be to give up Anthony or Stoudemire.

That leaves Howard looking at two of the biggest markets as impossibilities. The reigning defensive player of the year could land in New Jersey in return for Brook Lopez and draft picks, but is that really a fair deal for the Magic? Lopez is good but again is no franchise centerpiece. Howard would then end up in New Jersey (soon to move to Brooklyn) playing with Deron Williams who says he might leave at the end of the season, thrusting Dwight back into a 'same s**t, different day' situation.

Could Chicago be his destination? He would be joining the league's youngest MVP, Derrick Rose. He wouldn't have to be the leading player on the team with Rose there alongside. He'd fit right in to the system the Bulls are running and, being a defensive specialist, he would gel fantastically with coach Tom Thibodeau. With regards to market size, Chicago is one of the traditional "big market cities", presenting Howard with plenty of marketing opportunities. The Magic could get a fair deal for Howard from the Bulls, the Bulls would send Joakim Noah (a Florida native and only slight step-down in quality at center), Luol Deng, another defensive specialist and just hitting his prime, they could take any other player outside of Boozer and Rose and could call it a fair deal.

That trade would leave the Bulls with Rose and a new shooting guard (Rip Hamilton on the mid-level exception?), Howard, Boozer and perhaps Caron Butler in the front court. There you have a core five that could take on and beat the Miami Heat. A Bulls' fan's dream scenario.


Chris Paul in New Orleans brings around a whole new debate before we even look at his possible destinations. The Hornets are owned by the NBA and thus by every team in the league. Trading Chris Paul, by far the most valuable player, reduces the value of the franchise for any potential new owners, calling into question the credibility of trading Paul before a new owner arrives.

Should CP3 leave, he wants to go to the Knicks. He can't, they haven't enough money to sign him off the bat and can't match his value in a trade without giving up Anthony or Stoudemire (the reasons why CP wants to go to New York in the first place). Aside from New York, there aren't many other teams crying out for an elite level point guard. One outside bet could be the L.A Clippers. They will be well under the salary cap next summer when Paul turns into a free agent and could choose to team him with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon. That would propel the Clips towards the top of the Western Conference immediately.


Next on the list of free-agent/trade conundrums is the case of Caron Butler. After playing just 32 games for the Dallas Mavericks and none since January, he is expected to be on his way out of Dallas. The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are just a select few of the teams reportedly interested in Butler's services. Where he lands is anyone's guess as there are teams who can only pay him the $5 million MLE battling against teams who can pay him anything he wants to sign Butler. He could hold the key for several teams one step below championship-favorite status such as the Bulls and Spurs.

There his rumor flying about that Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo is sought after in Chicago. It's understandable as he is the perfect fit for the Bulls at shooting guard and a trade would be possible. Sending Noah to Denver in lieu of Nene leaving and in return for Afflalo is the most commonly proposed trade solution. The Bulls would then have the complete lineup for taking on Miami in the East this season.


No matter who ends up where, this season is pitching up to be another packed full of jaw-dropping moments, career-defining performances and most of all more crazy rumors than you can shake a stick at.

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