A few teams (Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Miami) decided to clear all of their available cap room in order to make a run at one or more of the most significant free agents in the 2010 class (which includes LeBron James, Dewayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson). The Wizards to the dismay of some of its fans decided to take a decidedly different approach – avoid the big names and try to capitalize on those desperate to make moves to target the big names.
While this is clearly an extremely talented free agent class, one that has not been seen since 1996, a GM must not overreact. The management of a team has to realize that there are a number of forces at play that must be taken into account:
- There are four teams with enough cap room to sign two or more max free agents – CHI, NY, NJ and MIA
- Teams with little (or no) available cap space, still want to improve their teams, have owners who are unafraid to spend money, and are willing (and possibly able) to use current assets to swing sign and trades for one of the power free agents – DAL, HOU and LAC
- The power free agents’ existing teams are still best positioned to offer more money than any potential suitor. In nearly all cases these players can make an additional $30 million, over the course of the new contract, by remaining with their existing team
- Even if all free agents leave their existing teams, there aren’t enough power free agents for each team that wants them – plenty of teams will be left out in the cold
- Desperation increases as power free agents begin to fall off the table
- If your team is able to sign two or three of the best free agents, will you have enough money to surround them with enough talented roll players?
Any GM worth their weight in salt is going to weigh these factors, and many others, as they formulate their strategy for building their team. We can only hope that the strategy is flexible enough to adapt as the environment changes.
From the trade deadline until about June 24, the Wizards had enough money available under the cap that many fans hoped that they would make a serious run at one of the major free agents. That was purely wishful thinking, as all of the power free agents have “talked” about winning championships now – which would mean that they don’t want to play for a rebuilding team. (We will soon see if money or championships is the primary driving force.)
The Wizards started June 24 with three picks (#1, #30 and #35). In the hours leading up to and during the draft they made a couple moves that were generally killed on the Internet and the blogosphere. In part, I believe this was due to some who still had dreams of max free agents still clouding their minds. Just prior to the start of the draft, the Wizards accepted Chicago’s offer of Kirk Hinrich, Kevin Seraphin (17th pick) and $3M in cash for essentially nothing (a future 2nd round pick). Later in the evening the Wizards swapped their 30th and 35th picks to trade up to get Trevor Booker (#23) and back to pick up Hamady N’Diaye (#56) from Minnesota. At the conclusion of the draft, the Wizards finished with 5 players that they feel best fit their needs.
Some of the criticism about these moves revolved around the typical quibbles over one player versus another, to whether or not the Wizards trade was as good as Oklahoma City’s deal, to whether Hinrich’s contract prevents the team from being a player in Free Agency. All of those are legitimate concerns to have during and following the draft. Those of us that consider ourselves fans aren’t privy to the team’s strategy so it is normal for us to criticize based on what we believe the strategy is (or should be) and the moves we feel best compliment our strategy for the team. Ultimately, we know that you can’t judge how successful the draft truly was for you team for about three to five years.
Just prior to the start of free agency, the Wizards traded a back up guard, Quinton Ross, to the New Jersey Nets for Yi Jianlian – a starter for the Nets and likely a back up for the Wiz and $3M in cash. This was a trade that did not immediately make every Wizard fan happy – some in Nets nation even laughed. Clearly Yi has been inconsistent in his relatively short career. He has both struggled and showed flashes with both the Bucks and Nets. He has also had injuries which have affected his performance so far. But for essentially nothing, the Wizards picked up a big (7 ft 250lb Forward) who was talented enough to be a lottery pick, just a few years ago. And while he may never develop into Chris Bosh, it is nice to have someone who will push Andray Blatche to start. And if his role is to come off the bench, he offers the Wizards a skilled 7 footer coming off the bench who has a mid-range jumper.
Start of Free Agency
Once12:01 on July 1 rolled around, the Wizards had eaten into the cap room that some thought would be available for a power free agent. Entering this phase of the off-season the Wizards still need a 3rd PG, 3rd SG, veteran Center and a starting SF. Given their needs, the Wizards could afford to sit out the initial flurry of free agent activity.
With teams going after the power free agents and others like Atlanta, Memphis, etc offering max deals to lock up their prized free agents, which will mean that there will be solid players available after the initial flurry of activity. Some teams, due to max deals that they offer their stars, will likely have to cut players for salary cap reasons that they, under normal circumstances, would like to keep (i.e. Marvin Williams in Atlanta). This type of activity will add to the pool of players that will be available for teams like the Wizards.
And while I am not in the Gilbert Arenas must go crowd – actually I am in the camp that wants him to stay – the Wizards would be fools to not listen to offers. About a month ago, most “experts” laughed that no one would want any part of Gilbert. Well as we pass the first 24 hours of free agency, that tone is changing. It already is beginning to look like New York and New Jersey could very likely get shut out in the power free agent bidding war. The teams that get shut out will need players to show for their efforts. As a result, Gilbert’s name is beginning to come up much more frequently.
In addition, if teams like Chicago or Miami are able to get one or more of the power free agents, then teams like Orlando need to make changes to its roster in order to keep up. The point is that all of a sudden Gilbert is beginning to look like a potential trade asset within the first 24 hours of free agency.
Teams like Miami, Chicago, New Jersey and New York sprinted out in an effort to land LeBron and company. There is the very real possibility that two or more of these teams will be disappointed by the end of free agency. Most of the power free agents will remain with their current teams, leaving Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer as the most likely candidates to move to a new team. The Wizards should continue to look for the best opportunities that are presented to them based on the harried pace created by the “hares” who begin to scramble to fill their roster once most power free agents don’t change teams. Let’s hope that taking a measured approach will continue to pay dividends for the Wizards.