The Lakers' deals for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard coupled with the Heat's acquisition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, among other moves this offseason, have lent fuel to the sentiment that the NBA's high-dollar marquee franchises can more or less spend at will to bring in talent.
By and large, though, there's little correlation between teams that were successful last year and those that spent heavily this summer, nor is there a strong connection between those that carried high payrolls last year and those that continued to spend in the offseason. The 10 teams that committed the most money to free agents this offseason, per the Hoops Rumors Free Agent Tracker, averaged just 34.3 wins during last year's lockout-shortened 66-game schedule. The top 5 teams in that category averaged 32.4 wins, for a winning percentage just below .500.
The story is much the same if we look at team salaries as they were calculated for luxury tax purposes last season. Just three out of the top 10 teams on that list are also among the top 10 spenders this summer, and only the Celtics appear among the top five teams on both lists.
The primary reason for this appears to be the salary cap. Though the NBA operates under a "soft" cap, with exceptions that allow teams to go over it for a variety of reasons, it more or less keeps spending in line throughout the league. Teams are also obligated to spend a certain amount each year, so there isn't too much disparity among payrolls from top to bottom.
While the Lakers and Heat had two of the top three payrolls from last season, they were just 13th and 24th, respectively, among spenders this offseason. The Lakers acquired Nash via sign-and-trade using the trade exception they acquired when they shipped Lamar Odom to Dallas, and they got Howard in a straight-up four-way swap. The Heat were successful in convincing Allen and Lewis to accept below-market contracts, just as the Lakers did with Antawn Jamison. L.A. and Miami were shrewd, but they weren't spendthrifts.
For a broader look, here are all 30 teams ranked first by wins, then 2011/12 payroll, and finally by their spending this offseason:
Ranked by wins:
Ranked by 2011/12 payroll:
Ranked by spending:
Storytellers Contracts was used in the creation of this post.