As the entire league waits for resolution to the interminable Dwight Howard saga, here’s a roundup of analysis on some smaller deals:
• The Hawks sign Lou Williams for the mid-level exception.
Getting Williams, still just 25, at this price is good value, especially because it doesn’t eat up enough of Atlanta’s 2013 cap space to jeopardize any grand plan for a dual Chris Paul/Howard splash next summer. Forward-center Al Horford and John Jenkins, the Hawks’ first-round pick in last month’s draft, are the only players with guaranteed money on the books for the 2013-14 season. It won’t be quite that easy, though, as cap holds for point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Josh Smith will eat up about $22 million of Atlanta’s cap space, theoretically eliminating the possibility of that Paul/Howard double-whammy; those two stars are eligible for a combined first-year maximum salary of about $39.2 million, meaning the Hawks will have to trim their cap number to about $20 million to sign both into cap space.
For the Hawks to add both stars will require some work because Horford’s 2013-14 salary and Smith’s cap hold total about $28 million. Ditching Smith presumably isn’t an option because he’s close with Howard, his former AAU teammate and longtime friend, and would thus serve as a lure for the two stars. Horford is as an attractive asset the Hawks could move if need be, and they could wipe away Teague’s cap hold in a minute if they are confident in signing Paul to play the same position.
Paying Williams $5.3 million in 2013-14 doesn’t move the needle on any of this, really. It also gives the Hawks a young, productive player who can fill Joe Johnson’s spot at shooting guard and can work as backup point guard if the Hawks flip Devin Harris or Teague midseason for an extra asset. (Note: Atlanta did receive point guard Jordan Farmar in the Johnson deal, but he appears headed for a buyout and a new contract to play in Turkey.)
To review: Atlanta has basically traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams on the wing for Lou Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Jenkins and a potential dose of Harris as part of lineups with two point guards. They may also try to find another wing on a veteran’s minimum deal, as they did last season with Willie Green and Tracy McGrady.
The Hawks have lost some major size in this meta-transaction, and with it some of the versatility they had to play big lineups, small lineups and lineups that simultaneously played big and small — with Johnson as a bully shooting guard and Horford as the rangy center. That will hurt on both sides of the floor and on the glass, where Marvin Williams served as a solid rebounder on the wing.
But Lou Williams can replicate some of Johnson’s shot creation and add free throws that Johnson didn’t generate, Morrow provides elite shooting and Stevenson can defend a lot of small forwards. Also, Smith can shift to small forward when coach Larry Drew wants super-big lineups on the floor.
In other words: It shouldn’t surprise at all if the Hawks are again a solid playoff team, even amid all this turmoil. But that isn’t the end goal here, anymore.
• The Heat add Rashard Lewis for the veteran’s minimum.
Lewis was unmotivated in Washington and often forced into playing small forward, the position he played during his bouncy days in Seattle but rarely saw during his years as a stretch power forward in Orlando. He shot just 31 percent from three-point range over parts of two seasons with the Wizards and generally didn’t look all that interested to be there.
But those who played with Lewis in Orlando remember a good teammate and a hard worker whose combination of shooting and size goosed the offense. Lewis turns 33 next month, so he’s not ancient, and shooting generally ages well. Given a more limited role in Miami’s offense, it’s not unreasonable to expect that Lewis could hit 40 percent of his threes while providing the Heat with even more funky positional versatility.
Lewis could play “power forward” in bench units that include a bulky big man at center in place of Chris Bosh. He could play alongside Bosh in starter-heavy units in which LeBron James slides back to his “normal” position at small forward; the Heat have clearly embraced the small-ball approach that won them the title, with James at power forward, but it’s important for Miami to be versatile enough to save the MVP some of the beating that comes with that job over 82 regular-season games.
Heck, Lewis might also play “center” in small-ball lineups with James at power forward. Those lineups look tiny on paper, but James and Dwyane Wade play big as wing defenders, and Miami is going to force most opponents to downsize in order to stay with its speed and shooting.
All of this said, Lewis represents another use of a precious roster spot on an aging player who may not have much left to offer. If he shoots 33 percent from deep again, Lewis has little worth to any team; he’s not a good rebounder or much of a passer, and he’s not exactly a stopper on defense at either forward position. And as much as the Heat appear to have made positional designations irrelevant, other teams will still roll out traditional lineups, and Lewis is going to have to guard somebody.
Miami now has 12 players guaranteed money next season, and that’s before you factor in Eddy Curry, Terrel Harris, Dexter Pittman and Justin Hamilton, a second-round pick acquired from Philadelphia. The Heat could still use a reliable “big” big man to fill out the roster, and the Lewis deal makes finding one a bit more difficult. Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony are still here, but neither is a center in terms of size, Haslem struggled on both ends last season and Anthony is perpetually on the verge of falling out of coach Erik Spolestra’s rotation (and often does). Curry and Pittman are unreliable at this point, to say the least.
There aren’t many great options in the big-man market. Even Celtics restricted free agent Greg Stiemsma could get an offer sheet outside of Miami’s veteran’s minimum price range, and the Heat, unlike the Knicks, are not flush with non-guaranteed deals and other attractive sign-and-trade assets.
Lewis can help, and probably will. Miami’s only occasional flaw over the past two seasons has been a half-court offense prone to stagnancy and droughts when executed without vigor, and the combination of James at power forward and an army of elite three-point gunners should solve that issue. Like Allen, Lewis has been consistently good from the corners, a hot spot in Miami’s offense, and he has a tricky post-up game he can use against smaller defenders. But there is no guarantee Lewis will shoot at an elite level, and if he doesn’t, the Heat will have wasted a roster spot.
• The Grizzlies tweak on the fringes.
Memphis isn’t far from serious title contention, but when you start the fourth quarter of a Game 7 with center Hamed Haddadi and point guard Gilbert Arenas on the floor (as the Grizzlies did in the first round against the Clippers), you are probably in trouble. And so the cash-strapped Grizzlies have done well to sign power forwards Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur and point guard Jerryd Bayless to deals that will total something around $11.5 million for this season and carry varying options for next season and beyond (the paperwork is still incomplete).
Speights and Arthur provide big-man depth every team needs, especially one with power forward Zach Randolph working to rediscover the form that made him such a force in Memphis’ 2011 playoff run. Arthur’s combination of jump shooting, quickness on defense and explosive cutting was a crucial part of that run, and Memphis badly missed him last season, when he recovered from an Achilles tear. Speights helped fill the gap, and though he’s still a shoot-first, shoot-second gunner with a decent jumper, he worked hard on his all-around game — on the boards, on defense and even on his passing. The progress was slow and fitful, but a big man with a jumper and a willingness to learn is a valuable thing.
Bayless is an interesting signing — a point guard with something of a shooting guard’s mentality. The Grizzlies need both; their backup point guard play was an almost unfathomable disaster last season, and the departure of O.J. Mayo leaves a gaping hole at the two-guard behind Tony Allen. More important, it leaves the Grizzlies with very little outside shooting to space the floor. Mayo wasn’t a knockout shooter, but he merited attention from defenses and became quite good at playing the catch-and-shoot game off screens. Point guard Mike Conley and small forward Rudy Gay are capable three-point shooters, but neither jack them in high volumes or inspire much fear from defenses; Conley still gets a lot of his looks from deep when unworried defenders go under picks. Only two teams, Utah and New Orleans, attempted fewer triples per game last season than Memphis.
Bayless made 42.3 percent of his three-pointers last season with the Raptors and has played as the nominal shooting guard now and then in both Toronto and Portland — something the Grizzlies might try in order to manufacture some spacing. But those lineups were horrific defensively with the Raptors, and those Portland years, where Brandon Roy could essentially act as a second or third point guard, are far in the rear view. And Bayless had never before shot better than 33.6 percent from deep in any season.
Still, this is the kind of tweaking on the fringes good teams need to do to solidify themselves. Something to watch: These moves leave Memphis with about $74 million in committed payroll. That means the Grizz are in line for a $4 million tax hit, a level they’ve never reached. Is there a cost-cutting trade coming down the line? And will it involve one of the four large salaries — Gay, Conley, Randolph and Marc Gasol — tying up Memphis’ cap for years?
• In a three-team trade, the Sixers acquire swingman Dorell Wright from Golden State, the Warriors get point guard Jarrett Jack from the Hornets and New Orleans receives the rights to 28-year-old Bosnian big man Edin Bavcic from Philadelphia.*
This looked like a simple cost-cutting move for the Warriors when initial reports said they would be trading Wright and his $4.1 million expiring contract to the 76ers for the rights to Bavcic, who likely will never play in the NBA. Dumping Wright would allow the Warriors to re-sign Brandon Rush, a swingman who outshot Wright from three-point range last season and proved capable of shifting to small forward, and still be able to use the mid-level exception without going into the luxury tax. It seemed perhaps a bit odd that the Warriors couldn’t get even a second-round pick for Wright, who led the league in made threes just two seasons ago, but one presumes the team did its due diligence in searching for something more.
Turns out that something more was simple: nabbing Jack as part of what is now a three-team trade. Jack moves into Wright’s salary slot, effectively becoming Golden State’s big mid-level acquisition. The Warriors could still use a good chunk of the mid-level and slide in under the tax line, but they don’t need to at this point. Jack fills two nice needs: backup point guard for Stephen Curry, and someone whose ability to defend shooting guards would allow him to play with Curry, freeing Curry to work as an off-ball shooter now and then.
The move opens up $5.4 million of additional cap space for the Hornets, who take back no salary in the deal. New Orleans will have about $9.5 million in cap space that it could use before matching the Suns’ offer sheet for shooting guard Eric Gordon. The Hornets might use it on a point guard because the job now falls to Greivis Vasquez — a player the Hornets like a lot, but also a backup so far in his career — and some combination of Gordon and rookie Austin Rivers.
As for the Sixers: There are bigger things going on here, and we’ll get to them later.
*This post was updated after the Hornets emerged as the third team in the trade between the 76ers and Warriors.