It’s that time of year again, where the shuffling of players around the league allows us basketball fans to argue about which teams have found bargains, which have overpaid, and why the hell guys like Paul Millsap and David Lee are still available.
I’m going to take a look at four of the most recent reported signings in the NBA. Two of them exemplify GM’s overpaying to re-sign guys who only appear to be invaluable to their teams, and two of them show smart franchises recognizing under-heralded talent that can be valuable pieces on a winning team, and signing them at the right price.
Let’s take a look, first, at everybody’s favourite former drug user, Chris Anderson. The Birdman bounced back from a multi-year suspension to become a regular in Denver’s excellent big man rotation last year. He deserved all the attention he got last year. He deserved the praise. He deserves your respect.
But he doesn’t deserve a five-year contract, and I’ll tell you why.
Everything positive that Anderson does on the floor is a result of his athletic ability. That’s fine, we love him for it. It’s his energy and hustle and jumping ability that makes him effective. It’s his ability to make his presence known the moment he steps out on the floor that made me tell anyone who would listen that my hometown Raptors should sign him last summer. But I’m telling anyone who will listen, now, that he’s going to be just about useless in a couple of years. The Birdman that we saw this past season is the best Birdman that we will ever see. He turned 31 two days ago. This is about the time where NBA players tend to lose their athletic ability. When this happens to Anderson, he won’t be able to contribute. He is a player who annoys the other team by being a nuisance, flying around the court with reckless abandon. He gets weak-side blocks. He gets put-back dunks. He gets the crowd going. I bet he’ll still be able to do this next year, but I wouldn’t bet on it after that. More importantly, I don’t see him ever becoming a player who plays good post defense, hits open jump shots, or passes deftly. And that’s how older big men survive in the NBA.
I’m not here to rip on the Nuggets too harshly. I understand the rationale for this move. They have a team that can contend for a title right now and they want to bring their key pieces back. Couple that with the fact they have little room to maneuvre, and you get this kind of signing. I’m just saying that it’ll look bad in a couple of years. Plus, there were better players available.
Anderson Varejao, like the Birdman, recently received a contract extension with his current team. It’s for 6 years and worth $50 mililon. Also, like the Birdman, he is not a basketball player who we can call “skilled”. He doesn’t bring much to the table, offensively. I’d call him an annoyance. You don’t want to play against him. He will be physical with you, flop, and then complain to the referee if the call doesn’t go his way. Sometimes, in the case of Bruce Bowen from a few years back, you really want someone like that on your side. In Varejao’s case, I’m not sure that you do. If I had one thing to say to Varejao supporters, it would be this John Wooden quote: “never mistake activity for achievement.”
He’s active, yes. He flails around out there. He is very noticeable, but he’s not always doing the right things. I would scream at the TV last year, asking him to simply play solid defense instead of trying to draw a foul at every opportunity. He’s athletic enough to do so. Some TV commentators will praise him for his hustle and energy, but I’m sure coach Mike Brown was frustrated by his decision-making ability, at both ends. To me, this is an example of a very average role player making well above-average money. He’ll be on a very good team next season, one that has a shot at winning the chip, especially with Shaquille O’Neal playing the minutes that used to go to Ben Wallace and Anthony Parker playing those that went to Wally Szczerbiak (more on that in a minute). If this happens, then you could say it’s worth it. If the Cavs fall short once again, I don’t see this deal helping to convince LeBron James that Cleveland is the place where he’ll have the best chance to win, long-term.
Cleveland, though, has impressed with their other recent deal, involving now-former Raptor Anthony Parker. It’s been reported (or at least tweeted) that he will receive a two-year deal from Cleveland, netting him $6 million. That, in my eyes, is very fair.
Parker is an aging but skilled two-guard who no longer deserves a starting role on a good NBA team. He’s not the defensive stopper he once was, nor is he as consistent a scorer. However, at $3 million per, this is a steal. The Cavs needed a taller shooting guard than Delonte West not named Wally Szczerbiak or Tarence Kinsey. They need guys in their system who can hit open shots. They need guys who can help them win, now. Parker needs to be on a team where he is not asked to do too much. He needs to be on a team with good players who attract a lot of attention and allow him to hit open shots or hit open teammates with crisp passes. A guy like him, heading to a team with the best creator in the league and two legitimate 7-foot-plus centers who can play in the post? That’s a dream. Just a perfect fit. Well done, Danny Ferry, and all the best to you, AP. From a Raptors fan.
San Antonio’s pick-up of Antonio McDyess for the mid-level exception is a move that mirrors what Cleveland has done with Parker. McDyess is another player who is past his prime, especially athletically, but still has something to give a team that is trying to compete for a championship. All those things I mentioned Chris Anderson can’t do, Antonio McDyess can. He hits his open jumpers. He plays post defense. He makes smart decisions almost all of the time. This is a guy who will not hurt you out there, despite being 34 years of age. In a finely tuned system like the Spurs, where everybody embraces their roles, all McDyess has to do is fit in and continue to do the things he does well. He’s well worth the NBA’s average salary for the next two seasons. Apparently, the third season is only partially guaranteed, and that’s the way it should be. He will continue to be effective, but no one lasts forever. It’s amazing, really, what the Spurs have done this off-season, in picking up Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, and possibly bringing back some of the players they shipped out in the Jefferson deal. You have to love it. If all organizations were like the Spurs, I’d have nothing to complain about.
-Vittorio De Zen