NBA Free Agency 2012: 5 Best Bargains Who Will Sign Cheap to Chase a Ring
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The top NBA veteran free agents have the luxury of picking and choosing among championship contenders during the signing period. While their best days are behind them, these players' decisions could affect the title picture heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.
These former stars have made plenty of money during their time in the NBA, but some are still trying to capture that elusive ring (or trying to win another). They are willing to sacrifice a large salary to contend for a championship as the door closes on their basketball careers.
Steve Nash was the latest marquee veteran to move to a contender when he agreed to a sign-and-trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers. The top franchises have made their pitches to convince the top remaining players. Now all they have to do is wait.
As the summer heats up, so does the 2012 NBA free-agency period. Here is a look at the best bargains who will sign for a shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
5. Gilbert Arenas, PG
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2011-12 NBA team: Memphis Grizzlies
Possible destination: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics
Does Arenas have enough left to contribute to a championship contender? With his career derailed by injuries, the former All-Star has fallen off many people's radars.
Arenas appeared in just 17 games last year, and the last time he played in more than 50 contests was in the 2006-07 season.
With his last huge contract coming off the books, Arenas would be lucky enough just to find a spot on any NBA roster next season. But that doesn't mean that he will be overlooked by contenders looking for a proven scorer who has the ability to knock down the long-range shot.
If Arenas can stay healthy, he can fill a spot off the bench in a contending team's rotation. He has a career scoring average of 20.7 points per game over 11 seasons, so he at least deserves a chance to find out if he could still make an impact.
The most intriguing destination for Arenas would be the Heat, as they'll likely look to add more depth, and Arenas could be a solid fit to their rotation for the right price. Also, if the Celtics don't re-sign Ray Allen, they could likely use Arenas as another wing option behind Avery Bradley and new addition Jason Terry.
4. Grant Hill, SF
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2011-12 NBA team: Phoenix Suns
Possible destinations: Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks
Grant Hill was once among the most talented wing players in the NBA, but his road to stardom hit the skids with numerous injuries. He resurrected his career in the desert as one of Steve Nash's top running mates, and at 39, his time is running short to capture his first championship.
According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News via Twitter, Nash has contacted Hill to persuade him to make one more run at a title in L.A. Hill would likely come off the bench behind Metta World Peace, and his offensive game would complement the Lakers' defensive-minded starting small forward.
Nash and Hill have great chemistry, and the veteran duo shouldn't take long to mesh with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt. If the three players join forces and the Lakers hold onto both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Lakers could become a dangerous contender in the Western Conference.
Critics will say that the aging Lakers still cannot compete with the defending conference champ Oklahoma City Thunder, but think again. Just look at the Boston Celtics' veteran-led squad that pushed the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.
And Boston didn't have a player that compares to Kobe. Bryant has plenty left in the tank to make another run at a title, and Nash is just as hungry to capture his first ring. If Hill joins the party, don't overlook the Lakers.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Hill has drawn interest from Toronto, New York and Phoenix. But as noted, Hill will either sign with the Lakers or retire.
For one more shot at a ring with Nash and Bryant, Hill would be a solid bargain for the Lakers.
3. Kenyon Martin, PF
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2011-12 NBA team: Los Angeles Clippers
Possible destinations: Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks
Kenyon Martin has made a career of being the ultimate role player, and he has NBA Finals experience. He would be a welcome addition to any contender, especially a team with young talent looking to take the next step.
That's why K-Mart would be a perfect fit with the Pacers—if the team decides to let Roy Hibbert sign with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Pacers would have to fill that void with a legitimate center, but adding Martin in the frontcourt to ease the transition would help Indiana maintain its position as one of the top four teams in the East.
Martin is a proven winner who knows his role and plays extremely hard on the defensive end. He doesn't try to do too much on offense, but he cleans up the offensive glass and doesn't disrupt the offensive rhythm.
Martin is not a low-post scorer and has lost a step or two after a 12-year career. But he can still defend elite post players one-on-one for small spurts, and if a team suffers an injury up front, Martin can handle an expanded role for an extended period of time during the season.
The Spurs and Knicks have little frontcourt depth behind their starting big men. If they could convince Martin to sign cheaply, the former No. 1 overall pick could provide much more than his price tag indicates.
2. Marcus Camby, C
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2011-12 NBA team: Houston Rockets
Possible destinations: Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks
Marcus Camby has been a stalwart of NBA defenses during his 16-year career. He owns career averages of 9.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and his average of 2.4 blocks per contest is tops among active players.
Camby was arguably the NBA's best defensive presence in the paint during his prime, but he has plenty of mileage on his 38-year-old body. However, he has enough left in the tank to make an impact off the bench or in the starting lineup for a title contender.
Despite winning the 2011-12 NBA title, the Heat have plenty of room to improve in the frontcourt. The team's primary big men during the playoffs were Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman.
Camby could come in and play 25-plus productive minutes off the bench or even compete for the starting center job in Miami.
With Bulls center Omer Asik likely heading to the Houston Rockets for $25.1 million over three years, Chicago has a major void to fill in its frontcourt. While the Bulls may be a year away from legitimately competing for a title because of Derrick Rose's ACL injury, the Bulls could lure Camby with a multi-year deal to finish his career.
Recent rumors have the 6'11" center linked to the Knicks. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Jared Zwerling, a source close to Camby said that the veteran center would entertain a return to Madison Square Garden, where he played from 1998 to 2002.
1. Ray Allen, SG
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2011-12 NBA team: Boston Celtics
Possible destinations: Celtics, Miami Heat
According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, Allen has ruled out heading to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers, and he visited the Heat on July 5. He has narrowed his decision to two choices: join the enemy in Miami or return to Boston.
The league's all-time leading three-point shooter struggled in the 2012 postseason and appeared to be hampered by an injury, but he still has the ability to knock down long-range shots as consistently as anyone else in the NBA.
If Allen wants to chase one more ring, his best shot is with the Heat. He would come off the bench and likely be one of the five players on the floor in the closing minutes of games.
Allen would get plenty of open looks from beyond the arc playing alongside Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. He would be a vital addition to the defending champs, and he is much more of a clutch shooter than previous sharpshooter Mike Miller.
If Allen returns to the Celtics, he will play another season with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo as Miami's main competition in the Eastern Conference. That group was one game away from reaching the NBA Finals, and the sting of losing Games 6 and 7 in the Eastern Conference finals could be what fuels Allen's return to Boston.
Allen's dilemma may be the toughest decision to make for any player during this summer's free-agency period. However, Allen's best shot at a championship would be to follow the wisdom of a popular phrase:
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
The Celtics had their opportunity to oust Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but this postseason may have been their best shot. Miami is heavily favored to win the East for a third straight season. Adding Allen would widen the gap even more between the Heat and their competition.