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Buyer Beware: Lessons from the FA Class of '08

I want to add a little perspective about the worth of NBA free agents.  This isn't a catch-all scientific analysis of the value of free agency, I just want to reflect on the bigger signings from last year's off-season and the results the teams reaped from their investments.

Baron Davis

The Los Angeles Clippers scored a major coupe when they added this bearded bomber and cap-sized a division rival at the start of free agency.  Unhappy with his relationship with coach Don Nelson (what Golden State player isn't), Baron Davis opted to move on and play for his hometown team to the tune of $65 million over 5 years. 

After the disastrous 23-59 campaign in the 2007-2008 season, the Clippers decided to shore up their biggest need, point guard.  A horrific injury to Shaun Livingston left them with a huge hole in their starting five.  Having locked-up Davis as their franchise facillitator, the Clippers figured to improve their previous season's win total by leaps and bounds.

The end result: four less wins in 2009.

Elton Brand

According to the reports out of Los Angeles, Elton Brand convinced Baron Davis to sign with the Clippers, told him what great teammates they would be, only to bolt for the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.  He opted out of his old contract to land a new 5 year deal that netted him nearly $80 million.

Even though they finished the 2007-2008 season two games below .500, the Philadelphia 76ers snuck into the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference and took their first round series with the Detroit Pistons to six games.  They did this despite the mild statistical contribution from their starting Power Forward, Reggie Evans.  With Brand now in the fold to help mentor a team full of young, emerging talent, the 76ers looked to hit the fast-forward button on their three-year plan.

Despite getting only 29 games out of Elton Brand for the entire 2008-2009 season, Philadelphia managed to improve last season's win total by a whole game.  However, they had the same amount of success in the playoffs: a first round elimination in six games.

Corey Maggette

The LA Clippers' signing of Baron Davis created a ripple effect on the 2008 NBA off-season that carried over to it's own free agents, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.  Feeling jilted by Baron Davis, the Golden State front office went "psycho ex-girlfriend" on his new beau and immediately offered the Clips' Elton Brand a $90 million deal.  When Brand refused, the Warriors turned their attention to LA's other free agent, Corey Maggette.  He signed for $50 million over 5 years.

Unbelievably, the Warriors' 48 win season was not enough to get them in the 2008 post season.  When Baron Davis left the team, it rocked their foundation.  They were left scrambling and ended up with Corey Maggette, a big, athletic wing who figured to flourish in Don Nelson's fast-break oriented style.

The good news for the Warriors in the 2008-2009 season was that they won 10 more games than Baron Davis's new team.  The bad news, it was 19 games less than they won the previous season.

James Posey

James Posey was Doc River's "bench captain" on the Boston Celtics 2008 championship squad.  Riding off this successful run, this defensive-stopping, three-point shooting "glue guy" signed with the New Orleans Hornets for $24 million over 4 years.

The Hornets were the suprise success story in the 2007-2008 NBA season, improving by 17 games to finish with 56 wins.  Lead by emerging superstar Chris Paul, the Hornets cruised through the first round of the playoffs, only to be stunted in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs.  New Orleans' starting five could keep up with anybody, unfortunately their bench left something to be desired.  Adding James Posey to the roster improved their biggest weakness, depth off the bench.

New Orleans finished 2009 with 7 fewer wins then they had in 2008.  Their new-look bench did nothing to help them in the playoffs, as they were demolished in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.

What it all means to the Blazers this off-season

Over-spending in free agency is the worst thing a team can do.  Adding another team's player is not gauranteed to help you the next season.  Often times, you end up over-looking the contributions your own players made to the overall success of your team. 

The New Orleans Hornets are a perfect example of this.  They wanted to improve their bench by signing Posey and in the process they lost one of their own bench players, Chris "Birdman" Anderson, to the Denver Nuggets.  Tyson Chandler's injury, Hilton Armstrong's uselessness, and Anderson's success left the Hornets wishing they had just retained the services of "the Birdman".

A year from now, I hope we don't look back to the 2009 off-season and have similar buyer's remorse about our new players compared to the ones we lost.

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