When Dwight Howard hit the pause button on his grand entrance into free agency, the Summer of 2012 became Deron Williams' show. It's a drama that will begin in earnest July 11th, when Williams becomes eligible to sign an extension. That's a date Wizards fans have an eye on, as well; the amnesty clause can only be exercised from July 11th to the 17th, I believe.
The ramifications of any superstar's signing can extend far beyond the immediate teams involved, shaping an entire trade market. And contrary to most beliefs, there are more teams ready to take a swing for D-Will than the Big 3 of NBA owners, the titular Fates as it were, but Part One of this series looks hard at the big boys.
The Big Boys
The Nets: Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov is ready to throw down with Mark Cuban and he very well might have to. Life on the hardwood was very lonely this year for the Dallas native, even moreso than anticipated due to Brook Lopez's fifth metatarsal (that's the pinky toe, y'all...and serious business for a big man). The paucity of household name free agents this year might have had something to do with the panic acquisition of swapping what is now the #6 pick for Gerald Wallace. Something on the order of two number three bananas is as good as a number two, maybe? Or perhaps Wallace was acquired to be part of a trade package as both talent and contract size to balance a move for Dwight Howard?
In any case, the Nyets have plenty of expiring money to offer; both Anthony Morrow ($4 million) and Johan Petro ($3.5 million) will come off the books. Assuming Jordan Farmar exercises his player option ($4.25 million) this year, he'll be a trade chip as well. If Lopez, Wallace and Williams were to leave without compensation, Brooklyn currently projects a 2013/14 roster of Marshon Brooks, Damion James and Jordan Williams.
What this means is the Nets are building from the foundation up, there are no bad contracts. You know what I'm really wondering? Why isn't the major media talking about how much a Brook Lopez for Josh Smith trade makes sense when the Dwight Howard deal falls through? The Nets tack on whatever expiring contracts it takes and maybe their second rounder to get a star looking for a change of scenery anyway. The Hawks move Al Horford to his natural position at power forward with their center of the future safely locked up. It's not Williams/Howard(/Turkoglu), but a Williams/Wallace?/Smith core is a nice consolation prize that combined with their salary cap situation, gives the Nets the ability to build their roster whatever way they want to while granting (some of) the star power they crave.
The Mavericks: Mark Cuban hung the 'Deron Williams or Bust' sign on the Mabs' 2012 season when he let Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler walk without even a 'So Long and Thanks for all the Fish!' Brendan Haywood's albatross of a contract doth lie heavy upon the cap and it only gets worse. A universe where this cripples Cuban's vanity project when the amnesty option beckons like the call of angels is about as likely as Mikhail Prohorov renouncing his worldly possessions and entering into Buddha. However, the required timing of pushing the amnesty button on Haywood's deal demands some kind of indication from Williams' camp on or around that date circled in red, July 11th.
Dallas isn't as cap healthy as the Nets, either. They have significant cap holds courtesy of the Jasons (Kidd and Terry) and are on the hook for the next $18 million/2 years of Shawn Marion's deal. While they can veto one, or both, they could also elect to use their draft pick (#17) and perhaps a cash inducement to send Marion to a small forward-starved team such as the Wizards or the Kings netting cap freedom and maybe a respectable second rounder in return (with attendent non-guaranteed contract). Should Dallas amnesty Haywood and dump Marion, their roster is 2012/13 is Dirk Nowitzki, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones. That's a foundation for a pass-the-torch scenario while easing the pain of coming to a new team by pairing D-Will with a superstar who defined clutch for LeBron James by example.
Bring back Jason Terry, sign Gerald Wallace away (ha), plug in Marcus Camby. Or go after the Nicks (Batum and Young). Again, this team has created massive flexibility when the time comes to recreate itself and we'll just have to see how it plays out. Steve Nash might be the back-up plan...but for now Mark Cuban is Team Williams.
The Lakers: Everytime there's buzz about a superstar on the block, L.A. gets a mention. Death, taxes and superstars in L.A./New York. The Lakers make plenty of sense as a destination for Williams...but what do they have to offer? Pau Gasol? Now if Mitch Kupchak were to offer Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Billy King would have to consider it. But would D-Will sign off? How many seasons of title contention before Kobe Bryant is ineffectual or (/eyebrow) amnestied and it's back to the 'Deron Williams and Brook Lopez VERSUS' show again? The Lakers face a difficult time reloading and if D-Will has the patience to wait, why not wait in Brooklyn where he is already the face of the franchise?
The Lakers face an unhappy cap situation in which the team is on the hook for Metta World Peace through the next two seasons to the tune of $15 million. Pau Gasol is owed $38 million and Kobe gets $57 million in the same span. I have to be objective in that I have little notion of how to calculate Gasol's trade value at this point. A significant fraction of Lakers fans are convinced he can be the centerpiece of a deal that brings back another superstar a la...Pau Gasol. Some even want Memphis to facilitate. Ah, such beautiful dreamers I have not seen.
But when it comes to building, L.A. is the worst-suited of the three. Get past the fact that Bryant, Gasol, World Peace and Steve Blake are on the wrong side of their court value relative to the salary cap. There is $61 million in projected, guaranteed 2013/14 salary between four players before negotiations begin with Andrew Bynum. When there's been talk about the Chris Wallace dealing Rudy Gay, a big chunk of the reasoning comes courtesy of future cap difficulties with a core that may not be able to contend. Well, L.A. as constructed can certainly no longer contend with the Thunder in the West and has worse contracts with older players. A deal could work out...but if I'm running the Nets I want Andrew Bynum and if I'm running the Lakers I want to dump Pau Gasol and if I'm Deron Williams and they agree to swap both so everyone gets what they want, I'm stuck in another holding pattern. This deal needs a third party to see life, but with megablockbusters are the lifeblood of pipe dreams. The Rockets were interested in Gasol once upon a time, but I just don't know what he's worth at this point. And no, you can't say Rashard Lewis. Because you can't.
Part Two will examine the dark horses in this race, starting with the Phoenix Suns.