The NBA free agency period has gotten underway, and while none of the big names (LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Amare Staudamire, Joe Johnson, Drik Nowitzki) have signed, there’s still some interesting early movement. Here are the players that have agreed to contracts prior to 4th of July weekend.
Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies: (5yrs/82 Million) I’m not too sure that Gay is a max-player, but unlike a lot of people, I’m sure he would have gotten max money somewhere. LeBron is a max player, same with Wade and Anthony, Durant, Kobe and Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard – lots of max players out there, but I’m not seeing Gay as one of those types of guys. He certainly has great upside though, and his long frame and elite athleticism makes him a solid get by the Grizzlies. But can he win you games? To me, a max player needs to win you games.
Drew Gooden – Milwaukee Bucks: (5yrs/32 Million) The Bucks really needed help down low, some depth for sure. They picked up Tiny Galloon, and athletic and powerful big man with the 47th pick and Larry Sanders, another big athletic upside big man with the 15th pick in the draft. But that wasn’t enough, the Bucks wanted to sure up their weakest position, and they certainly did that by adding Gooden, a big that isn’t great anywhere but plays hard and can make some shots.
John Salmons – Milwaukee Bucks: (5yrs/39 Million) The Bucks made some moves that made sure they’d be okay if Salmons left. But after John took a look around, he liked the look of this Bucks team, and the Bucks liked John enough to offer him 40 million bucks anyway. Corey Maggette was signed to be that scoring threat. Chris Douglas Roberts was traded for to be another scoring option off the bench. So it’s a surprise to a lot of people that the Bucks signed Salmons, but it makes sense to me. John might have been able to get more money elsewhere, but he feels comfortable with this team, and after up and down runs on other clubs, he liked this team make-up. But it will be interesting to see how Milwaukee gets minutes for all three players. Who would have thought the Bucks would be making so many moves?
Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics: (4yrs/61 Million) This deal was all but a sure thing. Paul Pierce got out of his last deal so he could sign for less money and more years, making him a Celtic for life. With as much as Paul was hurt this year, his aging body, and his up and down play throughout the playoffs, I’m not sure this was the best bang for the buck, but it still makes sense from Boston’s perspective, I’m sure, keeping your team leader and a very good player that doesn’t rely on his athleticism all that much anyway. Pierce should be able to hit step back jumpers and spot up threes for at least 4 more years.
Hakim Warrick – Phoenix Suns: (4yrs/18 Million) This is an interesting deal, but you know Steve Nash is going to make Warrick look good. Hakim can work the pick and roll very well for a low-priced option, and since the Suns are almost surely losing Amare, this move could help them offensively. Still, I’m not sure Warrick can replace what Staudamire did – if he does, color the Suns brilliant. This was a good move for a team always looking for a good deal.
Steve Blake – L.A. Lakers: (4yrs/16 Million) I’ve never loved Bart Simpson’s real life human brother, Steve Blake, but the guy can hit the open shot, play with confidence, and he sticks his nose in their defensively as well. At the very least, he’s going to be a better distributor and back-up point guard than Jordan Farmar was. It looks like D-Fish will be back in L.A. so Blake isn’t likely to start, but the Lakers got a pretty good player that has found a way into the line-up everywhere he’s been in his NBA career.
Amir Johnson – Toronto Raptors: (5yrs/34 Million) This seems like a lot of money for somebody like Johnson, but maybe the Raptors ended up getting a pretty good deal? Maybe Toronto knew they wanted to resign Amir so they didn’t give him big time minutes this season? I’m not sure. I know this guy’s teammates say a lot of good things about him, and he’s an elite athlete, but when Toronto heard the Raptors resigned their power forward to a multi-million-dollar 5 year deal, I’m sure they were expecting somebody else to be getting signed.
Channing Frye – Phoenix Suns: (5yrs/30 Million) At least Frye signed with the team that made him a player of interest. Before last year, this guy barely could get a job, signing a 1 to 2 year deal for 1.9 million in Phoenix. Now he’s making 6 million a year because the Suns did their homework and used Frye’s strengths to their maximum potential. He wasn’t as great toward the end of the season, and had some really down games in the playoffs, but this guy really stretches the floor for a Suns team that needs that from all of their players. Solid deal for both sides, but you’d have to wonder if Frye would have ever made 30 million if not for the Suns’ offense.
Darko Milicic – Minnesota Timberwolves: (4yrs/20 Million) Say what you want about Darko, but the kid is still young, and he’s still a physically gifted guy for a 7 footer. He works well in a triangle scheme that needs good passing big men, and I can think of bigger wastes of money over the years.
Round 2 is already underway as the Cleveland Cavaliers ousted the Boston Celtics on Saturday Night, despite an 11 point deficit at the half. LeBron was big time, going for 35 points in the opening game of what should be a great series. But after Boston played a perfect first half, and Cleveland took it by 8 anyway, it will be interesting to see how far the Celtics can push the Cavs. And despite another Round 2 game getting underway on Sunday (Jazz @ Lakers) there’s still a first round match-up yet to be decided – and I’ll give my prediction on that right now.
Milwaukee Bucks (+9.5) @ Atlanta Hawks: I think Milwaukee’s chances are slim, and getting this far has been impressive all by itself – especially when you consider their most consistent player, and big man, Andrew Bogut, has been out for the entire series. I think the Hawks have finally woken up and they should win at home in Game 7. However, 9.5 points seems like an awful lot considering the way the Bucks have played Atlanta all series long. Milwaukee is tough, and tough +9.5 points seems like a solid chance to take.
Utah Jazz @ LA Lakers (-7): Where Okur’s absence didn’t hurt the Jazz much against Denver, it will kill them against the Lakers bigs. Tell me who is going to guard Bynum and Gasol? Boozer and Fesenko? Sounds like a good match-up… psshhh… I don’t like the Lakers, not one bit, and honestly, Kobe is one of the easier guys to like on that team – if that tells you anything. But they are good, damn good, and the Jazz just don’t have the bigs, or the defense to play with LA. If they had Andrei Kirilenko playing, and Mehmet Okur healthy – then maybe, just maybe – but with both those awkwardly tall white guys out, seems like the Jazz will have their struggles in LA.
I promised I’d throw some NBA games out with my college picks this week, and that’s what I’m doing with the Celtics and Bucks on Tuesday Night. However, the game that I’m most interested in is the Red Storm/Huskies game in Round 1 of the Big East Tournament. For the Huskies, they have to do a lot in this tournament, maybe even win the thing, to get into the Big Dance. That’s a lot of pressure, but at least they have the talent to get it done. In the NBA, the Bucks are making a playoff run and they have some very unheralded players playing good basketball of late. The Celtics have won a few games in a row after really struggling – but this is a big one for both teams, and there’s a lot to like about the match-up.
St. John’s Red Storm @ Connecticut Huskies (-4) (2:00pm ET, 3-9 – ESPN2): I’m sure it’s going to be a huge public favorite, but I have to take the Huskies here. St. John’s has nothing to lose, really, as nobody expects them to win, and they’ll have to take a roster sans enough talent to pull off 4 Big East games in a row, and win the Championship to dance. UConn might have to do the same, but this team was supposed to challenge for a Big East Title – and one thing that’s great about college basketball, even if you have a bad regular season, you almost always have a chance to challenge for a title. Look for UConn to get some big performances out of their stars and win this won by 10.
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks (-1) (3-9: 8:00 PM ET): I like the Bucks. Nobody really knows them, most people don’t even realize that Jerry Stackhouse is on their team and playing good minutes for this unlikely playoff squad. Most don’t realize that Bogut is one of the more dominant big men in the league. Most don’t know that Carlos Delfino is doing it all at the small forward position, scoring, rebounding, assisting – everything. The only guy people seem to know is Brandon Jennings, and he’s struggled a bit since his hot start – but he’s starting to come around a bit too. This Bucks team could be dangerous. Especially for the Celtics. Boston is older and slower, and the Bucks are younger and faster. Boston is on a nice little run, but the Bucks should win at home – and I’m taking them -1.
Milwaukee Bucks (+7) @ Philadelphia 76ers Free NBA Pick: I’ve had a rough go to start the NBA season, but I think that will turn around soon. I like the Milwaukee Bucks here, something I probably won’t write all that often as the NBA season goes forward. I just don’t think the 76ers are completely sure of what they are doing, and that’s enough for me to go against them, especially when they are a favorite. Brandon Jennings is a very good young PG, and despite what people have been saying about the Bucks, they have some young players that can put the ball in the basket. Hakim Warrick and Andrew Bogut can both score on the post, and Jennings can really attack the basket. The Bucks move fast, and there chances of covering against a 76ers team that looks confused at best is pretty good. I’ll take the dogs here, looking to get my Week 1 record back up to par.