Summer Preview: Uncertain Market Ahead

No more playoffs. And by the end of next week, the draft, too, will disappear into the past. But fear not, NBA fan, or casual observer on the fence: There’s plenty to pay attention to this summer. It’s no 2010, but the summer of 2009 is by no means short on suspense. Starting with, appropriately enough, the last two teams left standing in 2008-09. ↵
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↵Finals Flight: I wasn’t the only person to figure out that the Lakers need to keep Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza around if they’re hoping to give Phil Jackson another three-peat. In what some grouchy old person might consider a dour commentary on the times, it was a recurring theme in the telecast. ↵
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↵But Hedo Turkoglu's opt-out might be an even more dire matter, with none of the sentimental strings attached. Contrast Turkoglu’s unceremonious announcement with the Ariza/Odom situation. Hedo’s testing the market, and at this point, the whole league knows how good he is. But, as we saw in this postseason, he’s absolutely invaluable to the Magic. Look at the playoffs; they can win without Nelson, but when Hedo’s not himself, they stumble, as in the Orlando-Boston series. ↵
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↵The Magic were a lot of things: A developing team that got there a little early; a team that had to make due with an incomplete version of itself; a team that learned a lot about itself at just the right time. Kevin Garnett’s guarantees notwithstanding, I can easily imagine a rematch in the 2010 Finals. That assumes that both teams take care of these key players. ↵
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↵Let's Get This 2010 Pre-Party Started: This summer is the new next summer, when the future belongs to LeBron James, with a dash of Dwyane Wade. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: They both signed shorter-than-usual contracts to put pressure on their respective front offices. ↵
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↵So how’s that going? The Cavs thought they’d gotten LeBron what he needed in the form of Mo Williams, but now we all know that wasn’t enough. Hence, these rumors of a Cleveland trade for Shaq, which would be a complete and total disaster. To convince James, the Cavs need to win a championship next season, or come really, really close. A Krakatoa-like trade would be a really good way to get there—or at least make a good figurative gesture. ↵
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↵The Heat are Wade and nothingness. Not sure if that means the Heat have to do even more, or have the luxury of just starting down the path toward salvation. However, they can offer players South Beach, and no amount of King James murals could make Cleveland a destination. If the Heat end up with Boozer, and the Cavs get Chris Bosh (or Chris Kaman), next summer could be a non-story. ↵
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↵The Uncertain Market: Remember when Nene and Tyson Chandler both got those eight-figure deals long before they deserved them? That was back when each summer’s free-agent market was a brand new world, like in the draft some years when there’s a run on a position. ↵
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↵These days, everyone’s looking forward to 2010, teams have no money to risk violating the luxury tax, and no one wants to be stuck long-term with a Jerome James deal. ↵
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↵So what does this mean for free agents like Odom, Ariza, and Turkoglu? Not only might they end up sticking around out of sheer inertia; they might not even be able to get other teams to help them in negotiations. The irony is that this summer’s class is full of the kind of player whose final figure is difficult to estimate, since it depends so much on bidding wars, or one team falling in love with their potential. ↵
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↵In other words, this summer, there may not be such a thing as stock on the market, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor to print. ↵
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↵It sucks to be one of those guys -- let’s also pour some out for Paul Millsap, David Lee, Marcin Gortat and restricted FA Marvin Williams -- but it might end up being good for us fans. One of those corrective measures that accidentally results in a bunch of reasonable contracts. And, if you’ll let me dream a little here, something like a consistent sense of who’s worth what around the league, which might even mean blokes like yours truly could stop spending so much time poring over team’s salary situations. ↵
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↵Or on the other hand. . . ↵
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↵The Bargain Hunters: Notice, I assumed that in the absence of demand or competition, players would still get fair contracts. But really, how do we know what "fair" is without the market setting the terms? Or, to look at it another way, if we compare this summer’s contracts to those signed in headier times, won’t they appear paltry? ↵
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↵That’s why I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see some big-brained, or at least exceedingly pragmatic, GM give up on 2010 and try and snag some very good players at a very reasonable price in the coming months. ↵
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↵While we always assume that max contracts bring down a team, it’s overpaying role players that wrecks a cap. Any moron can sign a max player (and most can recognize them); every team gets one, and it’s by no means outlandish to build a roster around two. It’s the details that make this whole business so tricky, like accessories at the prom. ↵
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↵Note: If you’re wondering, Kevin Pritchard’s got to save money to secure his young nucleus, and this summer has the single-minded responsibility of trying to sign a veteran point guard like Andre Miller or Mike Bibby. Daryl Morey can't wheel and deal unless he finds a taker for Tracy McGrady's contract. Sam Presti also needs to save money for the future, but will sneak away with something or other. ↵
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↵The most likely culprit? Get ready for a Joe Dumars revival, as he shows these whiz kids how it's done.
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↵For more NBA coverage, visit SportingNews.com's new NBA blog, The Baseline.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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