Wednesday, July 04, 2012

07/04 (July 4th) Quickie

Deron Williams re-signed with the Nets, bringing star power, legitimacy and a pretty decent chance to get to the NBA's playoff final eight (if not final four).

But the most interesting part about it for me is the Nets' original gamble -- that given a 17-month head-start and, not insubstantially, a franchise relocation to the hippest city in the NBA, they could convince a top-tier NBA player to stay with the team.

It is instructive, because it offers a new path to acquiring stars: Give up a huge package to get players while they are still under your control, then use that time to recruit them. It's a risk, but the expected value feels a hell of a lot safer than rolling the dice as part of the scrum of teams wooing free agents during the 48 hours a player actually is a free agent.

It helps understand why the Rockets are smart to try to put together a package for Dwight Howard, even if he insists he won't resign with them next summer. A year is a long time, and cap space is a fickle thing. Wouldn't you rather have a year, up close and personal, to try to close the deal than be one of 6 teams that will be wooing Dwight next summer?

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis wrote an interesting series of posts this week talking about how acquiring players with time left on their contracts via trade is much more stable (and often more economical) than trying to do battle in the free-agent market, which is only guaranteed to deliver two things: Unpredictability and the lock that you will overpay, probably not even for the A-tier target you wanted.

It's the new Moneyball: Trade for a star with some time left on his deal, then work like crazy to recruit them with the time and opportunity you have.

Not every team has the cachet of Brooklyn to throw around. Not every team has an owner with an unlimited willingness to pay (what luxury tax?) And this all makes sense because Williams picked the Nets; if he had picked the Mavs, we'd be killing the Nets right now.

But regardless of the outcome, the process seems to be a lot safer -- and smarter -- than most pundits were giving them credit for. If your goal is to be elite -- and not merely climb onto the Treadmill of Mediocrity -- then you have to take bold, smart approaches like this.

Good day for Brooklyn. Good day for the NBA. Happy July 4th. Be safe and eat plenty.

-- D.S.

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