Money Doesn't Buy Championships

We're 5 days into the free agency period and we've already seen 4 major players resign with their home teams. Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, and Paul Pierce are off the market with huge contracts and huge aspirations. I'm wondering how the liberal spending of these teams will impact their franchise. I'm skeptical about all of these signings except for 1.

It is worth noting that the first two on this list were purely business decisions because the Hawks and Mavs weren't far enough under the cap to lure a big name free agent. So, rather than rebuild and start from scratch, they decided to keep what they had and hope for the best.

Joe Johnson: Johnson was clearly a benefactor of all of the hoopla about this summer's free agency class. As Johnson's name kept coming up as one of the main targets on teams' free agent wish list, it was almost certain that he was going to cash in on all the positive publicity. He did, and the Hawks find themselves right where they left off after losing to the Magic in historic fashion in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. Johnson's deal is worth $119 million over 6 years.
Don't get me wrong. Johnson is a great player. With averages of 21.9ppg, 4.9 assts, and a steal, he is an upper echelon player in the league, however, these types of averages don't seem to work for the Hawks. Their young core has yet to make a splash in the playoffs since taking the 2008 Boston Celtics team to 7 games. Simply put, this team isn't good enough. They needed a surefire player who could lead them. Joe Johnson hasn't been outspoken enough to bring his team to the next level. He doesn't posess the killer instinct that #1 options on championship calibur teams have. I'm also worried about Johnson's inconsistency. There are games where he looks unstoppable, and games where he is more than forgettable. Undoubtedly, he is a #2 option on an elite team, which explains why the Knicks and Bulls went after Johnson first so that they could include him in their sales pitch to Lebron, Bosh, and Wade.
The bright side for the Hawks is if they can reintegrate Josh Childress after his stint in Greece and new coach Larry Drew can help develop Johnson as a leader, they might be able to compete for a top spot in the East. If only they could have had Chris Paul instead of Marvin Williams...this would have been so much easier.

Dirk Nowitzki: Clearly loyalty played a huge factor in this decision. Mark Cuban believed in Dirk when the entire city of Dallas was crushing the team for passing up on Paul Pierce. They lived through the ups and downs together and Cuban has never backed down from defending Dirk. There was no other choice for Dirk except to go back if Dallas extended the offer. They did, and the Mavs will be putting on a very similar act that we have seen many times before. Again, this team is amazing on paper. They got their versatile swingman in Shawn Marion, one of the best point guards in NBA history with Jason Kidd, an annual contender for 6th man of the year in Jason Terry, and a constant influx of new raw talent coming in every year. Their only hole right now is filling the center spot due to the uncertainty with Brendan Haywood's free agency and the almost certain waiving of Dampier.
Dirk has shown that he is an elite player in the league, however, he has not shown that he can take his team over the top. He has a solid supporting cast and a willing owner who is ready to spend whatever it takes to win, but Nowitzki hasn't produced in big moments. After their famous flameout in the first round in the 2007 playoffs, to Golden State, a series that I still defend to this day as the biggest upset in sports history, the Mavs have never quite regained their footing. They lost this year again in the first round to the Spurs which fuels the fire against Dirk. In the end, the Mavs figured that there is too much history with Dirk and this franchise to give up on him now. If somehow the Mavs won the title with Dirk as the lead man, it would mean so much more than to bring in a new franchise player and start over. As it stands now, the team is virtually the same team that has left the floor before June every year since 2006, and has never come up with the trophy in hand. I don't see that changing, and neither do you.

Rudy Gay: By far the worst signing of the free agency period. I'm actually still having convulsions from time to time thinking about this. Lets put this in perspective, here we have a guy who has never brought his team to the playoffs, never been an All-Star, and never been a leader and is getting paid $80 million over 5 years. Not to mention that Gay isn't even definitively the best player on the Grizzlies. Granted, there are a ton of overpaid players in the league who aren't even worth close to what they get paid, but that is a reason for the Grizzlies to take a step back and learn from this mistakes.
If you look at it from the Grizzlies' perspective, they are just happy that they retained Gay. They weren't going to land any big name free agent so they just had a pile of money lying around and decided to spend it where they knew they were going to get some value. Gay brings great energy to the floor, he is a top tier athlete and a proven scorer. Definitely someone you want to have on your team, but he is commonly referred to as a "poor man's Danny Granger", and not your top 30 players to give the ball to in the last 1:30 of a close game. In the overall landscape of the league, this signing is pretty meaningless, but sometimes it just makes you wonder why you couldn't have been a standout player at a major school and land on a small market team with a ton of money in a year before the Collective Bargaining Agreement would be renegotiated. Damn.

Paul Pierce: Of course, this is the best signing so far. The Celtics believe that they were one Kendrick Perkins injury away from a Game 7 victory over the Lakers. Why would you mess with something like that? Danny Ainge had a no-brainer here. Pierce is their clutch player who gets to the foul line, has a versatile offensive game, and a solid defensive game. He has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 1996, and has been part of the rebuilding process through the late 90s until he won the Finals MVP in 2008. The Celtics are clearly contenders for the 2011 NBA title as long as they retain Ray Allen which is expected to happen. Resigning Pierce was just a formality. He is the one free agent who has proven he can win and deserves a raise from the team that has helped define his legacy. No arguments here. Just have to see if the Celtics can cash in this time. Most likely, this is the Celtics' last shot at it with this crew.

We've only just hit the surface of this free agency period. There is a lot more to come, and we're all hoping to be surprised.


1 comment:

Buckets said...

Do you think Joe Johnson is even a top ten player in the NBA? Probably not, but he's still making the most.