Weekly Countdown (cont.)
3 recent moves worth noting
3. Chris Duhon to the Knicks (two years, $11 million). This makes sense on a number of levels. With a two-year deal, Duhon provides a short-term answer to the Knicks' needs at point guard while coming off the cap in time for 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can become free agents. By promising him an opportunity to start, the Knicks were able to not only lure Duhon away from other long-term offers but also to hasten their divorce from Stephon Marbury, who probably wouldn't be interested in coming off the bench as he plays for a new contract. Odds are that Marbury will be bought out or dealt, but even if he returns for a final season, it will be with the knowledge that it's not about him anymore. For the short term, at least, it's about players like Duhon as the Knicks undertake the baby steps of their new era.
2. Ronny Turiaf to the Warriors (four years, $17 million). The Lakers may yet decide to match the offer for the restricted free agent, even though the luxury tax will double his cost to Los Angeles. Implicit in the Warriors' offer is their belief that Turiaf will be too expensive for L.A. to keep.
"Does the money make sense for the Warriors? That's free agency,'' a rival team executive said. "By rule, you don't pay a restricted free agent what he's worth; you pay him more than he's worth, because otherwise his team will say, 'Thanks a lot!' and match the offer sheet. If you don't overpay, you don't get him.
"But the thing about a front-line guy who plays as hard as Turiaf does every night is that he can be a little bit overpaid and still be moved [in two or three years]. He's a high-energy guy who is physical and productive; he's not a long-minute guy, you're not going to throw ball to him in the post and ask him to score for you, but he's a great seventh or eighth man as a front-line player. Those guys are always at a premium.''
1. Andrew Bogut extended by the Bucks (five years, $60 million). Bogut could make as much as $72.5 million, but the bonuses are difficult to reach and if he winds up making the All-NBA team or leading Milwaukee to the Finals, then the Bucks will be happy to pay the extra amount. The Bucks are quietly confident that new coach Scott Skiles will raise the production of players like Bogut, which could have increased his value as a top restricted free agent next summer. The smart play is to sign good players preemptively, much as the Wizards did by agreeing to a four-year, $50 million extension with Antawn Jamison before the free-agent period began; otherwise, he would have been tempted by a much bigger offer from the Clippers in their need to replace Elton Brand.
2 Teams to watch
2. The Spurs. Having paid 27-year-old former Wizards guard Roger Mason $7 million for two years, San Antonio is one or two more complementary moves away from contending for another championship next season. Do they make another run at acquiring J.R. Smith?
Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn are the only role players under contract who are older than 31; Ian Mahinmi (21) and Matt Bonner (28) could have meaningful roles. The Celtics just won a championship with Ray Allen at 32, Kevin Garnett at 31 and Paul Pierce at 30. By comparison, the Spurs aren't too old at all -- Tim Duncan is 32, Manu Ginobili is 30 and Tony Parker is 26. Bring in another lively body or two to fill in around them and they could be celebrating title No. 5.
1. The Pistons. Who knows when it will happen? But someday the Pistons will pull off a bold move to unload one or more of their household names. Remember that Detroit president Joe Dumars had been targeting Rasheed Wallace for almost a year before landing him in 2004. No doubt he has targeted several possible trade candidates and is patiently waiting for circumstances at those franchises to change to his benefit.
A lot has been made of the expensive free-agent moves of recent days, but none of them will influence the championship in a meaningful way. The Spurs and Pistons remain very close to winning another championship, as do the Lakers, Hornets and other teams who have been quiet thus far. The 2008-09 championship will be affected by the bargain signings of the next month more so than by the high-profile moves of the past week.
1 Move to hope for
1. Ron Artest to the Lakers. I'm not vouching for the rumors or even suggesting that the Lakers are serious about trading for him. I'm saying that it's a move everyone can agree on: Lakers fans will hope that Artest can provide the defense, toughness and big playmaking needed in support of Kobe Bryant; Lakers haters will hope that Artest destabilizes a franchise that was volatile one year ago. Coach Phil Jackson had terrific success in rehabbing the career of Dennis Rodman with the Bulls, but this would be an entirely different kettle of fish, with high levels of mercury and latent piranha-like traits. I thought nonetheless that the Nuggets should have traded for Artest at the deadline last season, and I think the Lakers should try to get him now. He's a risk worth taking.