Free Agency News: 7/3/12 Roundup

As is the case with free agency every year, it’s been a busy week filled with headlines for numerous stars and the smaller pieces that might go unnoticed. Here’s a quick recap of the major deals and rumors that have gone down in the past week.

Hawks Trade Joe Johnson to Brooklyn Nets:

I already covered this one earlier today, but the Hawks sent their All-Star guard and his not-so-All-Star contract to Brooklyn in exchange for the majority of the Nets’ bench and a future first round pick. Atlanta finally accepted Johnson and Josh Smith weren’t working out and the overpaid Johnson left for Brooklyn in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams and DeStawn Stevenson. The Hawks are looking like they’ll struggle during the 2012-13 season, but their next acquisition might help a little bit.

The Nets didn’t get the All-Star they wanted (Dwight Howard), but got Joe Johnson instead. Now they need to hope Deron Wiliams stays on.

Hawks Acquire Devin Harris from Utah Jazz Trade:

Don’t get too excited, Atlanta. You’re still going to be sorry next season, but at least the acquisition of Devin Harris from Utah will ease the incredible burden that’s been placed on Josh Smith’s shoulders. The Hawks sent Marvin Williams to the Jazz in exchange for Utah’s inconsistent point guard as Atlanta’s new GM Danny Ferry has wasted no time making his intentions clear: getting rid of the the organization’s two peskiest (and overpriced) contracts in Johnson and Williams. With so much money being cleared out, the Hawks are clearly trying to make room to make big moves, possibly for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul should he not resign with the Clippers. Whether high-caliber moves such as these happen this offseason or the next remains to be seen, but Ferry has done an excellent job with these two moves to ensure the Hawks see long term growth. Plus, Harris isn’t a shabby point guard and can certainly help a team out with 3-point shooting when his shot is on. His streaky shooting and overall inconsistent play makes him a bit of a gamble from week to week, but the Hawks need a revival and certainly got the upper hand of this trade with Utah. The move is particularly curious for the Jazz, who gain little from shopping their starting point guard for a former number two draft pick who hasn’t ever lived up to expectations.

The Hawks certainly improved by trading Marvin Williams for Utah’s Devin Harris.

Deron Williams Still Undecided:

At first, Brooklyn’s trade with Atlanta for Joe Johnson was contingent upon whether or not Williams resigned with the Nets. However, the deal went through anyway, leaving the Nets in limbo waiting for their All-Star point guard to decide between resigning or heading to his hometown of Dallas to play with Dirk Nowitzki on the Mavericks. Williams is likely to make his decision known within the next one or two days, either liberating Brooklyn from the ever-growing concern they might only be left with Joe Johnson’s ridiculous contract or turning Dallas into a much more dangerous force in the West. We’ve already been over what the Nets would look like in the backcourt with Johnson and D-Will, but if the Mavericks get their hands on Brooklyn’s star point guard, the combination of Williams and Dirk could get interesting.

Will D-Will stay with Joe Johnson in Brooklyn? Or will he join Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas?

Lamar Odom Goes To Clippers:

A few days ago, the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks worked out a deal that sends Lamar Odom back to his former team in exchange for Mo Williams. As part of a four-team trade, Odom will try to restart his career where it began in Los Angeles as Williams moves on to the Utah Jazz. I don’t see the move as a good one for the Clippers for the time being, but if Odom can play more like the Sixth Man of the Year that he once was, it could prove to be beneficial in the long run. The acquisition of Williams for the Jazz meant they had an extra guard, which might help explain why Devin Harris was shopped for Marvin Williams.

Lamar will get to revitalize his career where it all began in Los Angeles.

Bulls Looking for Veteran Guards:

With Derrick Rose likely missing a significant chunk of the next NBA season, it’s no surprise the Bulls are looking for veteran guards who won’t eat up too much money and can step in to take over while their star point guard recuperates. The Bulls have already reached out to Derek Fisher and Brandon Roy and while there are no solid deals to report on yet, keep your eye on this one. Fisher is also being pursued by the Thunder, Heat and Mavericks while Roy is fielding offers from several teams as well.

With Derrick Rose recovering on the sidelines, the Bulls will need to add another point guard.

Celtics Hoping to Resign Allen, Bass, Green:

Despite the popular opinion that Ray Allen will be in a Miami Heat uniform next season, Danny Ainge has said that the Celtics are making resigning Allen a priority, along with Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, who may be able to return to Boston as a free agent. While the possibility of resigning all three of these Boston regulars may be difficult, I wouldn’t doubt that they get their hands on at least two of those three. Allen has been offered deals with Miami and the Memphis Grizzlies, but would make the most money if he stayed in Boston. It will come down to whether or not he believes he can win with Miami and whether or not he’d be willing to take a pay cut to do so, but for the time being, nothing has been decided regarding Allen, Bass or Green yet.

Will Ray Allen choose the Celtics and more money over the lure of a championship in Miami?

Dwight Howard Drama Continues:

Dwight Howard came out and said there’s only one team on his list earlier this week, and although he wouldn’t say outright that it was the Nets, no one else seemed capable of being that team if not Brooklyn. Until yesterday, that is, when the Nets basically took their names out of the Howard sweepstakes with an ill-advised trade for Johnson, who will take up a considerable chunk of cap space. The Mavericks and Hawks are both clearing room for big offseason acquisitions, so Howard might want to think about adding more teams to his stubbornly short list. Howard said if he doesn’t get traded to the one team on his list, he would play the season out and then explore free agency, although the choice is not his to make if the Magic decide to shop him.

Dwight Howard continues to ruin his legacy by running his mouth about his trade demands.

Steve Nash’s Future Still Unclear:

The Toronto Raptors made Nash a 3-year offer, which Phoenix seems unwilling to do at this point. The Suns are leaning toward a 2-year deal if their All-Star point guard stays, but with the drafting of Kendall Marshall, they seem to be preparing for the worst. Nash says he is keeping his options open, which is a smart decision considering his large number of suitors, which includes the Knicks, Mavericks, Raptors and Suns. At this point it seems more and more unlikely Nash will stay in Phoenix, but to leave one non-contender for another doesn’t seem like something an aging veteran in search of his first title would do (ruling out Toronto).

Nash’s future in Phoenix seems unlikely, but no one else has put a great offer on the table yet.

Roy Hibbert Offered Deal by Portland:

The Portland Trail Blazers are looking to strengthen their frontcourt even further after offering All-Star center Roy Hibbert a four-year deal for $58 million. The Blazers went through a major upheaval last season and had a disappointing year but adding Hibbert to LaMarcus Aldridge would form a formidable team in the paint, especially with rookie Meyers Leonard likely coming off the bench. However, if Hibbert is smart (and not motivated primarily by money), he’ll stay in Indiana. After such a disappointing playoff performance with the Pacers, Hibbert definitely has something to prove to his team, a squad that can actually contend in the East if they continue to mature.

Hibbert has unfinished business in Indiana. It’d be a shame for him to leave for the weaker Blazers just for the money.

That’s all for now, but keep checking back for the latest free agency news and analysis.

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Joe Johnson Heading To Brooklyn

The Atlanta Hawks and the Nets have agreed in principle to a trade that would send All-Star guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. The deal was contingent upon Deron Williams resigning with the Nets at first, but eventually went through anyway, regardless of whether Williams returns or not. Atlanta will clear out a huge amount of cap space with Johnson’s enormous contract out of the way and will receive Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and a 2013 lottery protected first round pick.

In the short term, this seems like a questionable trade for Atlanta, but with the big picture in mind, getting rid of Johnson is the first step in trying to assemble a team that can actually compete for an NBA title in the future. Johnson hasn’t lived up to the giant $119 million contract he signed two years ago with Atlanta and at this point, it seems the Hawks have accepted that they can’t contend for a championship with only Josh Smith and the overpaid Johnson leading the way. Shopping Johnson clears up a large amount of money to put pieces around Josh Smith, and although the likes of Morrow, Farmar and Stevenson does’t give much hope for the 2012-13 season, rest assured the Hawks will put their new draft pick to good use and make some big offseason moves to turn things around.

For Brooklyn, this deal is extremely questionable. Aside from nearly sending away their entire bench, the Nets may have just eliminated themselves from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes for this year. Even worse, they may not end up with anything now that the deal is underway without Deron Williams committing to Brooklyn first. Williams and Joe Johnson pairing up would make a formidable backcourt, but there’s no question the Nets would rather have had Superman and Williams over Johnson and Williams. And at this point, they might not even get Williams, meaning the Nets could lose their All-Star point guard, miss out on Howard, send away almost all of their reserves and end up with only Joe Johnson’s large contract to show for it. The fate of the Nets lies with Williams now, as they wait for him to make his decision between Brooklyn and his hometown Dallas Mavericks. But for the time being, the Nets’ big offseason plans may end with Johnson and fall well short of any dreams fans had of seeing Dwight Howard and Deron Williams on the floor together.

The Nets acquired Joe Johnson from Atlanta but have ruined their Dwight Howard plans. Things could get really ugly if Deron Williams doesn’t resign with Brooklyn.

James Harden Leads Thunder To Sweep

It wasn’t Kevin Durant that beat the Dallas Mavericks yesterday with backbreaking buckets that sent the Oklahoma City Thunder on to the next round of the playoffs. It wasn’t Russell Westbrook that swept the defending champions in their own arena and broke down their defense with dribble penetration and facilitation. It was James Harden and his epic beard. Despite a monumental effort from Dirk Nowitzki (and a hip injury to Kendrick Perkins), the Thunder rallied from a 13-point deficit to start the fourth quarter as James Harden led the way to a 103-97 victory, ending the Mavericks’ title defense in a convincing sweep.

Harden finished with an all-around stellar stat line of 29 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block coming off the bench, but his game management, his numerous drives to the rim and his ability to find the open man off penetration won Game 4 for OKC. The Mavericks couldn’t stay in front of him when he attacked the basket, including a two-handed monster dunk. They couldn’t defend him when he hit shots from the outside. And when they were able to keep Harden from getting to the rim, they couldn’t close out on the wide open shooters he freed up up by drawing in the defense. Kevin Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds on the night, but the hero of the night was Harden (and his beard). When I wrote about how dangerous the Oklahoma City Thunder are, I stressed that James Harden was the centerpiece: Durant and Russell Westbrook are clearly the team’s superstars, but Harden is the glue that holds them together and makes the Thunder such an incredibly tough playoff team. His dominant Game 4 performance was the perfect illustration of that. When James Harden gets going offensively, the Thunder are a legitimate title contender.

James Harden single-handedly finished off the Mavericks in Game 4.

When the Thunder struggled the most this season, James Harden was not as involved on offense. But last night, Harden was actually running OKC’s half court offense, even with Russell Westbrook and Derek Fisher on the floor. Harden became the team’s quarterback and he didn’t disappoint in that leadership role. The Thunder are most vulnerable when their offense is stagnant, which usually translates into Westbrook and Durant jacking up 3-pointers and tough jump shots. Harden is a highly intelligent basketball player that reminds his team they can attack the rim, which then frees up the jump shots OKC’s superstars love so much. After watching a normally explosive Thunder offense stall for a few games during the regular season when their outside shots weren’t falling, it was a relief to see James Harden continuously get the ball late in the fourth with the game on the line so he could either score or facilitate to the Durantula. And while getting the sweep was good for the Thunder to send a message to rest of the Western Conference, it was also extremely helpful for Kendrick Perkins, who will benefit from additional time to rest and recover from his hip injury. With Perkins out, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison also benefitted from the chance to build playoff experience by guarding a superstar in a close-game situation. If Perkins gets healthy in time for round 2 against either the Lakers or the Nuggets, watch out for this team. They’re nearly impossible to beat between Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

Jason Terry had a rough shooting night, but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd kept the Mavs in the game and were on fire in the third quarter that gave the home team a 13-point advantage heading into the final quarter. Nowtizki finished with 34 while Kidd hit four 3-pointers and chipped in 16 points of his own. From Dallas’ perspective, this sweep was a pretty appropriate finish to an uninspiring year for the reigning NBA champions. Dirk Nowitzki and company were so elated and felt so accomplished after finally winning it all that they never really recovered from that championship hangover and by the time the realized they wanted to win another one, it was too late. Not resigning Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson definitely hurt them, but a lackluster year might be worth it if Mark Cuban can convince Deron Williams to come on down to Texas next year. Unfortunately for Dallas, if they don’t get Deron Williams while still managing to hang on to Jason Terry, they’ll be stuck with too much age and not enough weapons to help Dirk out.

Dirk needs better, younger options around him to share some of the load.