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The Bizarre Summer Part Deux

With training camp not too far from now, Matt John explains the ‘other’ bizarre storylines we’ve seen over the summer.

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What? You thought all the bizarreness stopped on Monday? Oh, no, dear friends. We’ve got some more to cover.

The following plotlines that are soon to be mentioned below are not as wild as the ones that were mentioned on Monday. However, they still fit the ongoing theme of oddities that much be mentioned.

Teams spent… wisely this time?

Something that was particularly worrisome this summer was that teams were going to have more cap space. If we remember the acid trip that was free agency in 2016, we know that the general population of front offices are capable of throwing their money at just about anyone.

There were three categories of overpaid contracts created from the bonanza of 2016:

  • The Evan Turner Contract — aka: “He definitely adds something to the roster, but they paid him a lot more than they needed to” deal
  • The Bismack Biyombo Contract — aka: “A few good playoff games gave this guy $20-30+ million more than he was worth” deal.
  • The Timofey Mozgov Contract — aka: “They were clearly bidding against themselves because nobody else was even considering that much money” deal.

But, surprisingly, we didn’t see that last month.

Not a whole lot of ill-advised long-term contracts came to fruition when the free agency bell rang. Most of the players who got three- to four-year deals were star players — those who received deals of that length that weren’t stars were paid adequately for their worth. Maybe the length was a little iffy, but does anyone really have a serious problem with the money that Seth Curry or Terrence Ross made this summer?

The one team that definitely spent more than necessary was Sacramento, which is the usual. But it doesn’t matter, largely, because the Kings spent their money on players that won’t get in the way of their now-promising future. Maybe Harrison Barnes doesn’t deserve $85 million over four years, but they weren’t going to let him leave and who were they going to spend that money on?

The Kings may have gotten a little carefree with their money — but they’re a postseason contender for the first time in what feels like a lifetime. This attempt, at least, shouldn’t hurt them in the long run.

Despite front offices almost unanimously experiencing some new wave of intelligent team operations, the New York Knicks somehow managed to pull off some head-scratchers. They may have avoided investing in any Tim Hardaway Jr.-esque contracts, but they managed to spend almost $100 million on four players – Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris – who are all best used at power forward.

Honestly, that’s pretty impressive. New York may not have handed out any albatross contracts, but it was still able to stay on brand. The New York Knicks: Finding new ways to confuse their fans since 2001!

But that’s beside the point. This summer proved that teams around the associations may have actually learned from their previous mistakes. That or they are just prepping themselves for the summer of Giannis Antetokounmpo two years from now.

Either way, seeing teams handle themselves more with care – as odd as it is because usually, the opposite happens – is such a welcome change of pace.

Overpaid contracts overshadowed underrated additions

The fact that most teams spent their money well makes the few that did not stand out like a sore thumb.

Charlotte and Phoenix were among the teams most criticized for who they decided to spend their money on. What separates the previously mentioned Kings — who, again, spent more money than they needed to — from the Suns and the Hornets is that the former is in a much better place than the latter two.

After failing to re-sign Kemba Walker, the Hornets decided to fill his spot by giving near-$60 million over three years to Terry Rozier after a lackluster year as the Celtics’ back-up point guard. When everyone was screaming at the Suns to get a point guard, they finally got Devin Booker a running mate by adding Ricky Rubio — also coming off of a not-so-great year with the Jazz — for $51 million over three years.

After the seasons they’ve had, it’s hard to argue that those deals were justified. Maybe they didn’t deserve that much money, but when you put how much they paid for those guys aside, Rozier and Rubio were solid additions.

Let’s start with Rozier. Losing Walker, the best player this franchise has ever had, is not easy. But with the roster that Charlotte had, it wasn’t going anywhere without a significant splash. Walker’s departure meant it was time to go young and Rozier fits the mold.

It’s easy to forget that just one year prior, Rozier was a major contributor for an Eastern Conference Finals team. At just 23, he averaged 16/6/5 on 41/35/82 splits for a squad that were only a few missed shots away from a finals berth. He’s probably not going to make any All-Star teams — but if Scary Terry returns strong for the Hornets, he’s a suitable point guard for a young team.

Rubio is in a similar boat. In his first year in Utah, we saw him improve as a scorer, putting up his best scoring average and field goal percentage as a player. Add that to his passing repertoire/above-average defense and he made for a good addition for the Jazz. He took a noticeable step back the following year, but his strides in that department in 2018 had to make the Suns feel optimistic when they signed him.

So the evident commonality is: If the Hornets and Suns are paying this much for the Terry Rozier and Ricky Rubio from 2018 respectively, then those are passable additions for what they are worth. That’s obviously not a guarantee, but it could have been much worse. The bizarre aspect is that the lack of bad contracts made these look worse than they might actually be.

But even if those two do work out as well as Charlotte and Phoenix could hope for, they’ve still got a lot more issues to take care of.

We were bored to the extreme

As exciting as this free agency period was, all of the hysteria pretty much ended the second the Kawhi Leonard saga concluded. The players deserve credit for already making their choices ahead of time before Day 1 but, by doing so, most of it was wrapped up within a week.

The only other major headline after the frantic period was the Russell Westbrook trade. There is always a sabbatical in the offseason, but this time it felt longer than it ever has before. Things got so boring that there was actually a debate over how enthusiastic LeBron James should be when he watches his kids’ basketball games. Sigh.

August, well, it has been a long month. In order to entertain ourselves until training camp commences, this summer, we witnessed a theme of the comeback.

First, we got an internet campaign to bring back Carmelo Anthony, even though he struggled the last time he was in the NBA with Houston. Then, and more recently, there was a strange effort to bring back Joe Johnson, even though he also had more downs than ups in his last professional stint, coincidentally with the Rockets as well.

The one player who honestly probably deserved more than he got was Jeremy Lin. The long-time contributor was having a productive year — just like all of his healthy seasons that came prior — in Atlanta before he was waived and joined Toronto. Since he saw little time as a Raptor, apparently that was enough for no one to want his services.

Even though he’s just 31 and probably has more left in the tank than Melo or Iso Joe combined, Lin’s now headed to China.

It’s mystifying to see the internet begging for players to get back in the NBA based more on their younger reputations rather than players who are still clearly in their prime.

August is usually the worst month of the year for NBA lovers because hardly anything important ever happens at this time. What makes this summer stand out was that it felt longer than ever. That’s why we need to be more grateful for the creation of the BIG 3 League.

And why we should be grateful that the month of August is almost over.

About Dwight and Carmelo…

This conversation all started with Dwight and now it’s going to end with Dwight. And Carmelo too, but it’s all relative.

We all wondered what was going to happen to these two now that both had been exiled yet again by their previous teams. Now, Howard is starting his second stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, on a very short leash, mind you, while Anthony may not be on the market for much longer.

The Lakers gave Howard a second chance only because DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL. It appears that Brooklyn may only be interested in Anthony now because Wilson Chandler got suspended for using PEDs.

This is bizarre because we never expected it to go this way for Howard and Anthony when they were at the tail end of their careers. At the ages that they’re at now, they were supposed to be in decline, but not this steeply. Former stars at their age are usually grizzled veterans that teams could add to aid in their playoff hopes. Instead, they’ve become “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” fill-ins.

Compare them to Vince Carter. At 42 years old, someone at least wanted Carter on their team for his veteran presence. Howard and Anthony were not wanted this summer until parties who were interested in their services ran out of options. Even odder, they’ve been reduced to having to go on TV to make their case for why they should still be in the league.

Maybe this is the start of a trend for aging superstars in the league nowadays — or maybe it’s a warning to young stars that believe they have the world in the palm of their hand. In the NBA, those paychecks and opportunities can dry up without much warning — so watch out!

Either way, it’s another bizarre thread in a sweater that’s had plenty of them.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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