So often, the movement of the premier free agents helps to build up competitive teams, all while the value signings passing under the radar ultimately boost the league's contenders; after all, it was one thing for the Heat to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but what really pushed the Heat to the 2012 title was the acquisition of the versatile—and far more affordable—Shane Battier. Behind most every championship team is a useful free agent acquired on the cheap, whether under the assumption of chasing a ring, changing scenery or simply being part of a winning club.
And so, while we chronicle the courtship and landing of Deron Williams with bated breath, so many other teams will see their championship hopes nudged along by the signing of some cost-efficient free agent or another. With 2012 free agency just around the corner, here's a look at who some of those useful bargain-bin free agents might be:
Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns (UFA): Hill's nearly 40 years old, but somehow defends with more vigor than a lion's share of the league's 20-somethings. The 2012 season certainly wasn't Hill's finest, but if he's able to find a more appropriate role on a deeper team, his playmaking from the wing, improved spot-up shooting and late-blooming defensive chops could make him a tremendous pickup.
Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets (UFA): Landry's market value is substantially higher than most of the players on this list, but his unique game still makes him oddly undervalued. Teams in need of frontcourt scoring that can make up for Landry's rebounding deficit at other positions would be wise to chase him; Landry is admittedly imperfect, but prime for a role as a sixth man with the right club.
Delonte West, Dallas Mavericks (UFA): West played for the minimum salary last season for reasons that cannot be explained; even after factoring in West's psychological situation, the fact that he couldn't get more attractive offers—given his on-court success—is a bit baffling. In West, teams have the potential to sign a do-it-all complementary guard. He slashes, he shoots, he attacks off the dribble, he can guard an opponent's best perimeter player and he's tough as a nails. He'd fit best in a team with a good, stable culture, and in such a setting, West is the role player template.
C.J. Watson, Chicago Bulls (UFA): Watson caught a lot of flack for a bone-headed decision that cost the Bulls dearly in the first round of the playoffs, but we shouldn't overlook the fact that he's one of the best defensive guards in the league and had Chicago's offense operating smoothly for the bulk of the regular season. Clearly he's not an ideal option as a lead guard, but when coming off the bench or working alongside a playmaking wing player, Watson could make for a great get.
Brandon Rush, Golden State Warriors (RFA): Rush is a career 41 percent shooter from beyond the arc, a relatively intelligent offensive player and a good team defender. All he needs is the right place to groom and further his mythology as a winner, and he'll be held in much higher regard.
C.J. Miles, Utah Jazz (UFA): Miles isn't the most consistent contributor in the world, but a lanky, 25-year-old, fill-in-the-gaps swingman has very clear value on the NBA stage. Even within his range of production, he's dependable enough to make for a useful cog on a good team.
Lavoy Allen, Philadelphia 76ers (RFA): The Sixers' playoff run would have been dead in the water without the help of an undersized rookie selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. Allen is an insanely affordable option for frontcourt defense and mid-range shooting, and while he may not be a dream prospect, he plays within himself and has the potential to help a number of contenders in need of reserve bigs.