By Andy Roth
The Free Agent Fantasy
Where Politically Correct Opinions Get Rejected
New York, NY (Sports Network) - The quickest way to build a championship
contender is through free agency. That was the message delivered by Donnie
Walsh when he replaced Isiah Thomas as president of basketball operations for
the Knicks in April of 2008. And it seems like many of his fellow NBA
executives believe in that philosophy too. However history says that is not
the formula for building a championship caliber team but rather fool's gold.
Since Tom Chambers became the first-ever unrestricted free agent to sign a
contract in 1988 with the Suns, there has been only one major free agent
signing that directly led to an NBA title -- the Lakers' signing of Shaquille
O'Neal in 1996. Even with Shaq joining fellow superstar Kobe Bryant along with
Derek Fisher and Robert Horry it took LA four years to win a championship. But
there's no argument he was the missing piece to the puzzle.
However, that free agent signing was the exception not the rule to putting
together a championship roster. Since the advent of free agency, the nucleus
of the title teams were built through the draft and trades. The Pistons,
Bulls, Spurs and Lakers are just a few of the examples:
Pistons: Isiah Thomas (draft), Joe Dumars, (draft), Dennis Rodman (trade),
Vinnie Johnson (trade), John Sally (draft)
Bulls: Michael Jordan (draft), Scottie Pippen (draft), Horace Grant (draft),
Toni Kukoc (draft), Rodman (trade)
Spurs: David Robinson (draft), Tim Duncan (draft), Tony Parker (draft), Manu
Lakers: Bryant (trade), Pau Gasol (trade), Andrew Bynum (draft), Lamar Odom
It's not a coincidence that this has been the formula for putting together NBA
championship teams. By building through the draft and trades you keep your
payroll down and give yourself the financial flexibility to add one key player
through free agency as the Lakers did this past season with Ron Artest.
The Bulls, with a nucleus of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj
Gibson in place, and the ability to sign two max players, are the only team
that would put themselves in championship contention by going the free agent
route this time around.
When you look at the supporting casts of the other teams that will be active
in the free agent market, they'll still be a long way from winning a title and
most likely never will even if they add a major player to their roster.
Take the Knicks for example. Does Walsh really believe a lineup of LeBron
James, Amare Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Eddy Curry is
going to put the fear of God into the Lakers?
Walsh failed to inform the media and public to the fact that once you add two
max contracts to a team with a depleted roster you don't have enough money to
fill all the numerous holes to compete for a title. You're left with a good
team that can't be a real player in the free agent market anymore and won't be
drafting high enough to get an impact player.
Certainly no team is going to turn down the chance to bring "The King" in, but
his addition alone will not make the likes of Miami, Dallas, New Jersey, and
the Clippers championship contenders.
Teams that have built through the draft and kept their payroll down like
Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and Portland with
Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden, will eventually be in a
position to land one key player in free agency that could lead to an NBA
Six years, $119 million dollars for playoff bust Joe Johnson? I recommend a
complete psychiatric examination for the Hawks' ownership group. Ditto for
Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, who reportedly will re-sign free agent Rudy
Gay to a five-year, $80 million dollar contract.
Milwaukee is ready to come up the with the bucks (get the play on words) for
John Salmons, who averaged 19.9 points in his 30-game stint after being
acquired from the Bulls. It's a five-year, $39 million dollar deal.
Richard Jefferson opted out of the final year of his contract with the Spurs,
thus forfeiting $15 million. He reportedly wants to return to the New York
area to play for the Knicks or Nets and is seeking a multi-year deal in the $8
million to $10 million dollar range. Nothing like going for the big haul at
the age of 30 when you're coming off your worst season since your rookie year.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.
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