Fourth Of July Free Agency Wrap-Up

In a particularly dry free agency day, one piece of news immediately jumped out and turned the whole day on its head. Here are the major headlines from the Fourth of July:

Steve Nash Heads to Rival Lakers:

The biggest news of the day was Steve Nash’s decision to play with Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix’s biggest and most hated divisional rival. Although calling what the Lakers and Suns have a “rivalry” might not be completely accurate since Los Angeles seems to get the best of Phoenix every time these two teams meet, Nash’s decision quickly dissolved the happy memories of his time in Phoenix into outrage over his decision to put on the yellow and purple colors. Nash explained that the decision was influenced by his desire to be close to his three children in Phoenix and wished the Suns organization nothing but the best for the future, but there’s no question his departure for LA is still a stab in the back to the city of Phoenix. Nash signed a three-year deal with Los Angeles worth around $25 million, instantly turning Los Angeles into title contenders once again. How Nash and Kobe will function on offense remains to be seen, as both guards need the ball to be effective, but there’s no question that having a quality point guard like Nash increases a team’s pick-and-roll game and overall success. Suns management continued to baffle fans with this trade, as the Suns only got four future draft picks for their beloved marquee player who will now leave to join Phoenix’s hated rival. Phoenix received first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second-rounders in 2013 and 2014. Not bad overall, but certainly not worth Nash and definitely not enough to raise a fan base’s faith in their management, especially considering Phoenix’s history of wasting draft picks in exchange for cash considerations. To make matters worse for his former team, Nash will try and talk Grant Hill into joining him in LA. Hill said he would either join the Lakers or retire, but considering the fact that he went to Germany for a knee procedure (the same one that revitalized Kobe Bryant’s knee), it doesn’t seem that Hill is ready to retire just yet. If Hill does head to LA to join Nash, the Lakers could be looking at a potential lineup of Nash, Kobe, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum with Hill, Steve Blake and Jordan Hill on the bench. Not bad at all, especially since the Lakers could look into Dwight Howard either next year or in a trade for Gasol/Bynum. Overall, it was a horrible day for Phoenix fans and a glorious one for LA supporters.

Nash will be joining Kobe in Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of every basketball fan in Phoenix.

Suns Sign Dragic and Beasley:

In a feeble attempt to compensate for Steve Nash’s departure for LA, the Suns signed Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. Dragic was signed to a four-year deal worth $34 million and Beasley was signed to an $18 million deal for three years. Dragic was a very good signing by the Suns, especially now that Nash is gone. Considering how Dragic thrived in Houston as a starter when Kyle Lowry sat out, the Suns are getting a quality player who deserves a better contract as a starting point guard. As an added bonus, Phoenix was always particularly fond of Dragic when he backed up Nash and will be happy to welcome his back. Unfortunately, the signing of Beasley won’t get many (smart) Suns fans excited. Beasley is a decent player at best and considering how many of those are already on the roster, this isn’t the kind of quality player Phoenix needs, especially with Nash and possibly Hill leaving.

Nash is gone, but the Suns got a consolation prize in potential breakout star Goran Dragic.

Houston Offers Jeremy Lin a Deal: 

The Rockets have offered Jeremy Lin a four-year deal worth around $30 million. The Knicks can almost match Houston’s offer (four years, $24.5 million), but have made it clear they would have to think hard about matching other teams’ high offers for the breakout point guard. After losing Dragic to Phoenix, the Rockets could use a quality backup for Kyle Lowry in Lin, but keep in mind that Lin and the Knicks both want a reunion. What offer New York puts on the table could decide where Lin ends up.

Could Jeremy Lin be heading back to the Houston Rockets?

Jason Kidd and Mavs Close to Signing Deal:

Jason Kidd and the Mavericks are closing in on a multi-year deal that will allow the Dallas veteran to end his career where it all began. The amount is unknown, but it will likely be a bit higher than Kidd would normally be worth after the Mavs were unable to bring Deron Williams or Goran Dragic to Dallas.

Jason Kidd will most likely be ending his career in Dallas.

Spencer Hawes Signs Extension:

Spencer Hawes will be staying in Philadelphia next year after signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Sixers. Nothing much to report here other than the fact that the 76ers could be shaping up to be a pretty consistent threat in the playoffs for the next few years if they continue to keep so many pieces together (especially with so much youth).

Spencer Hawes will be staying in Philly after signing a two-year extension.

Thunder Add Hasheem Thabeet:

The Oklahoma City Thunder signed former number two draft pick Hasheem Thabeet to a two-year deal. Thabeet has never really panned out to be the quality player with potential he promised to be, with career averages of just over two points and two rebounds per game in his limited time on the floor. This is a questionable signing by the Thunder, especially because Serge Ibaka’s return to OKC is not guaranteed at this point.

The Thunder signed Hasheem Thabeet. For some reason.

Resilient Bulls Avoid Elimination

After looking like an injury-plagued team primed for a first round playoff exit, the Chicago Bulls went to battle in front of their home crowd and pulled out a 77-69 win over the 76ers yesterday to send the series back to Philadelphia. Chicago’s Game 5 victory put the series at 3-2 and helped the Bulls avoid elimination as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

In an extremely low scoring contest, no one really stood out on either side except for Luol Deng, who finally accepted his role as Chicago’s leading scorer with Derrick Rose on the sidelines. Deng led the Bulls with 24 points and eight rebounds after a few underwhelming performances that allowed Philadelphia to grab momentum and three straight wins. So even though Rose is done for the postseason and Joakim Noah sat out for the second game in a row, with Luol Deng taking the lead on offense and knocking down shots, the Bulls stayed resilient and did what they had to to win at home. Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but other than that, it was pretty balanced scoring for the Bulls. Despite tweaking his ankle, Taj Gibson was actually Chicago’s third leading scorer off the bench with just eight points. Gibson left into the locker room but returned to action soon after.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer led the Bulls to a huge Game 5 victory.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s going to take an even more resilient effort to get a Game 6 win on the road to send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7. Philadelphia has been in complete control in the two games they’ve played at home and if Luol Deng can’t knock down shots like he did in Game 5 it could be all over for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. C.J. Watson can’t shoot 2-for-10 like he did last night. Richard Hamilton has to score more than six points. Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas and Kyle Korver all have to contribute something off the bench. In a low scoring series, every point you get from your reserves is crucial and could be the difference between extending the series and going home empty-handed. However, the good news is that Joakim Noah is hopeful for Game 6, which will almost eliminate Hawes’ production and provide an offensive boost for the Bulls in the paint.

Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 16 points while Lou Williams had 13 off the bench. Spencer Hawes, who had been dominant against the Bulls with Joakim Noah out, met tougher defense from Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and could only muster 11 points. But the biggest killer for the Sixers was Andre Iguodala, who shot an abysmal 4-of-19 from the floor to finish with 11 points. If the Sixers want to close out the series, they’ll need him to shoot the ball way less. Game 5’s disappointing performance just proved that Philadelphia is not a legitimate playoff team, which is what I’ve been saying all along. Without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Sixers were able to seize momentum and a 3-2 series lead and even with that advantage they’re still not guaranteed victory here. The Bulls are resilient and have bounced back, putting some pressure on Philadelphia to close things out at home, which will be more difficult with Noah most likely taking the floor again. If the Sixers don’t take the series at home, they will face the incredibly difficult task of winning a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum going Chicago’s way in front of a rocking Bulls’ crowd. That is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers and if the series does go to a Game 7, you can almost be certain the Bulls will complete the improbable comeback and move on to the second round.

Andre Iguodala can’t shoot the ball 19 times if Philly wants to win.

Philly Capitalizes On Chicago Injuries

No Derrick Rose. No Joakim Noah. For the Philadelphia 76ers, that meant one thing in Game 4: no problem. The Sixers took advantage of the injury-depleted Bulls and took a 3-1 series lead in their 89-82 victory in front of a home crowd that could smell the blood in the water.

Without Joakim Noah in the interior for Chicago, Spencer Hawes had another productive game, leading the Sixers with 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Jrue Holiday, who struggled with his shot for the majority of the game, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to extend a one point lead to seven. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds and although C.J. Watson finally had a good offensive game with 17 points, six rebounds and 4 assists, the Bulls still looked out of place without two of their leaders on the floor. Luol Deng once again had a mediocre night and only scored 11 points, which was made even worse by Richard Hamilton’s seven-point performance. Omer Asik got the start with Noah sitting out, but he looked completely clueless as a defender and Hawes ate him up. Hawes hasn’t produced for the Sixers in months, so it’s a guarantee that against a quality center in the next round, he will sink back down to the level of production he saw against Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson provided a crucial boost for Chicago in the first half and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but no Rose, no Noah and an unimpressive Deng really gave the Bulls no chance on the road.

Spencer Hawes and Sixers look good right now. Don’t be fooled, though.

At this point, it would be a miracle for Chicago to win this series. The entire team and the city of Chicago is in a state of shock after the events that have transpired in the past week and how fast their chances of winning a championship have evaporated. They might get a win at home in Game 5 to keep their fans from completely keeling over, but Philly has all the momentum right now and if Noah can’t go again, Hawes will kill the Bulls on the inside just like he has in the past five quarters with Chicago’s center sidelined. Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been able to rally the troops with all these disheartening injuries and the Sixers have taken advantage of Chicago’s weaknesses and injury problems as any playoff team should. But Atlanta and Boston should have no problem in the second round revealing this mediocre Philly team for what it is.

Andre Iguodala, Holiday and Hawes all looked impressive today in Philly’s Game 4 win. Evan Turner and Lou Williams have looked like quality scorers ever since Game 2. But up against an actual contender with a healthy starting lineup? The Sixers don’t stand a chance. Don’t forget how easily Chicago dismantled this team in Game 1 with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah actually on the court. Doug Collins has done a good job preaching defense to his young team and he’s done what he’s needed to by keeping his team motivated to move toward pulling this upset off. But Philadelphia can’t score enough points to contend with anyone else in the East, especially against the defensively-sound Boston Celtics, who will likely be their opponent in the next round.

Joakim Noah had to cheer his team on from the sideline as the Sixers grabbed a 3-1 lead.

Injury Report

Here are some injury updates on some key players around the league:

Danilo Gallinari -Gallinari still has about three weeks left until returning from a chip fracture in his left ankle. He was having a great season with Denver until the injury, and the Nuggets need him back as they have lost four of their last six without him.

Derrick Rose – D-Rose is still listed as day-to-day and saw a back specialist earlier in the week, but he’s been listed as day-to-day since the back spasms were first reported, so you’re going to want to check back on this one often. The Bulls have done fine without Rose recently, but will need him healthy to keep it going.

Chauncey Billups – Billups’ Achilles surgery was successful and he says he will be in the NBA after recovery. Whether or not that will be for the 2012-13 season remains to be seen, but he’s definitely done for the year. This is a big blow to the Clippers, who were starting to look like big contenders in the West with the helpful addition of Kenyon Martin. The team will have to rely on more leadership from Chris Paul, especially when the playoffs come around.

Zach Randolph – Z-Bo has been cleared for non-contact drills in practice and is looking at returning to the court in the first or second week of March. He has only played in four games this season thanks to his MCL tear back in January and will likely be a little rusty, so it could take some time for him to get back into the swing of things.

Carmelo Anthony – Melo and the Knicks aren’t going to rush the groin injury because Lin has been taking care of business. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Mavs, but you should probably expect him back in the lineup sometime next week.

Spencer Hawes will miss extended time as he will be spending the next two weeks in a walking boot for his strained Achilles. You can look for him to be back in March after the All-Star break. Brandon Bass and Emeka Okafor will also sit out until after the All-Star break, although their returns looks like they will be more imminent.

Andrea Bargnani’s timetable for a return is still unknown at this point. He was leading the team in scoring but has only played in two games since January 13.
Anderson Varejao will miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured wrist. This definitely won’t help an already lackluster Cavs squad.
Jason Terry sat out last night against the 76ers for personal reasons but should be back for Sunday’s game against the Knicks.
LaMarcus Aldridge is considered a game-time decision for Saturday’s game.
Nene has missed the last three games but is still listed as day-to-day with the calf injury. Keep an eye on this one moving forward.