The NBA has seen a torrid pace of player transactions since the decision by LeBron James to head back to Cleveland as teams scramble to round out their rosters for the upcoming season this fall.
The New York Knicks signed their star player, Carmelo Anthony, to a new 5 year contract. This move has been very polarizing in the New York metro area with some members of the media and the fan base praising the move, and others being highly critical of this decision by the Knicks.
The group which is critical of the move to re-sign Anthony to this lucrative contract feels that it is too long a term (5 years) to give to a 30 year old player with a recent history of shoulder injuries. This group is also concerned about the amount of money tied up in Anthony and the effect that will have on the overall salary cap for the team in future years.
The group which is very positive about this deal maintain that Anthony is a uniquely talented offensive player who will thrive in the new triangle offense being installed by the Phil Jackson regime and new Knicks coach Derek Fisher. This group will also point out that Carmelo took less money than the maximum contract that the Knicks offered, which he could have taken the max deal. This move by Anthony to take less money allows the Knicks some short term salary cap “wiggle room” as Phil Jackson referred to it.
It is also important to note that the salary cap is going to increase with the new NBA TV deal coming on the horizon and the increased revenues over the course of the Anthony deal, which will make the money dedicated to his spot less cumbersome as time moves on.
The big immediate question for the Knicks is: how are they going to address the surplus amount of guards on their roster? The rumor mill is churning that Phil Jackson is looking to trade one or more of the following players: J.R. Smith, Shane Larkin, and Iman Shumpert.
In this group I could see Smith being traded if there is a strong enough market for him because he was NBA Sixth Man of the Year a couple of years ago. He has a favorable contract too, he has one year and an option year left on his deal. The team obtaining him can play him this season and then decide on his option for 2015-16 which is about $6 million.
I could also see a likely trade of Iman Shumpert because Jackson has reportedly tried to trade him to a number of teams already. Shumpert has not developed offensively in the way the Knicks thought he would progress. He also does not have the right skill set to fit the triangle offense, so that makes him a likely candidate to be traded off this roster.
Either move would allow Shane Larkin (who I think the Knicks should keep) and Tim Hardaway Jr. some additional playing time to grow and develop within the triangle system.
New York used their mid-level exception of $3.25 million to sign Jason Smith, most recently of the New Orleans Pelicans. I like this move because Smith can play pretty good defense and he can hit the mid-range jumper from the elbow area. He has an all-around approach that will fit this new Knicks system well.
South Beach Bounces Back
Following the devastating departure of LeBron James, the Miami Heat rebuilt their roster by retaining current star players Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. They also signed free agent Luol Deng to fill the small forward position.
The Heat also re-signed Chris Anderson, Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole. The other free agent signings, which were made prior to James announcing his plan to return to Cleveland, are Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
The Heat bounced back when their front office could have just rolled up the rugs and went into full on rebuilding mode. However, from a business side and a basketball operations side that did not make sense. They have season ticket holders who are used to seeing a winning team on the floor, it would have been a difficult scenario to sell a rebuilding phase to their fan base at this point.
In my view, the biggest issue the Heat have at this point from a roster perspective is the lack of a true point guard. LeBron James played in the front court, but he handled the ball and distributed the ball like a guard. In his absence this team has to evolve and I do not think playing a small lineup all the time is the answer.
James created his own offensive scoring opportunities, this Heat team next season is going to have to bring some type of motion based element into the system to create open shooting attempts. This is where the issue of not having a true point guard is going to be a problem, no disrespect to Norris Cole, but they need a guy who can pass and penetrate to the rim on the dribble. It remains to be seen how they will obtain that player given their salary cap situation and the current market for point guards. I wrote last week that they should take a look at Jameer Nelson and I also think Mo Williams could be a good fit for them as well.
Pacers Lose Lance
The Indiana Pacers lost Lance Stephenson in free agency to the newly rebranded Charlotte Hornets. Indiana offered Stephenson a 5 year deal worth $44 million but he elected to go to Charlotte for a shorter term of 3 years for the same money about $9 million per season average and $27 million.
My initial thought process about this move was Stephenson took the shorter term deal so that he could negotiate another more lucrative deal in two or three years (the third year of his agreement with the Hornets is an option year) when the new revenues roll in from the before mentioned new television contract.
However, it is reported now that the Pacers also offered him a short term deal with that consideration in mind and he still bolted for the Hornets. The move by Stephenson to leave an upper tier playoff team in the Pacers to go to Charlotte, a young team with a good deal of potential but not a lock to make the playoffs, showed me that those issues in the Pacers locker room are a problem.
Larry Bird, the Pacers team boss, commented to the media that he was concerned about losing Lance and that he has five to six players entering their respective last season under contract, and he has two star players (Roy Hibbert and David West) who can both opt out of their current deals after the upcoming season.
Indiana rebounded from losing Stephenson by adding Rodney Stuckey which will help in the short term, but in the long term I think the Pacers have a laundry list of potential issues. This team could look very different in a couple of years.
The NBA has generated a great deal of headlines this summer already, and the remaining free agents have still yet to sign. In addition, the Kevin Love trade rumors are still swirling. The next few weeks should be interesting.
(Some background information courtesy of NBA.com, CBS Sports.com, and NBC Sports)