The NBA free-agent market is one that continually shifts the balance of power in the league.
Look no further than the last three summers to cement that idea, as LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard all changed teams (the last two by trade, with free agency in the minds of their GMs) and helped raise expectations in their new cities around other proven talent.
Paul and Howard headline this year's class of 2013 free agents, but beneath the initial wave of stars, there's going to be guys who don't get initially signed who can really help a team next season.
Unheralded players, if you will.
While CP3, D12, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Monta Ellis and other big names take on most of the attention this offseason, here are four guys you should pay attention to in the rumor mill. One might just end up on your team next year.
SG Wesley Johnson, Phoenix Suns
The fourth overall pick from the 2010 NBA draft has been disappointing at best during his three-year NBA career, but we saw flashes of brilliance from the former Syracuse star after Alvin Gentry was fired from the Phoenix Suns.
In Minnesota, he never really got going. This tweet from Zach Lowe should tell you all you need to know about Johnson's time with the Wolves:
Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA
Minny TV analyst, upon Wes Johnson hitting a 3 last night: "Whenever he makes a shot like that, it's so random and unexpected." No. 4 pick.2012-2-29 12:41:29
Traded to Phoenix last offseason, Johnson's rookie deal has expired, and he'll hit the open market this offseason after stepping up his game over the final two months of the season.
The three-year pro ended his year with modest averages of 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 assists during the 2012-13 season, but stepped his game up when Lindsey Hunter decided to start giving him minutes again down the stretch.
He had five double-digit scoring games in the month of April, and if you only look at the final two months of the season, he was a 12-to-13 point scorer per game on a team that made a late push to stay respectable in the West.
Johnson is what he is—a jump shooter who thrives in a wide-open offense. He can't create his own shot and hasn't shown any ability to play in a true half-court offense consistently, but as a three-point marksman, there are few better on the open market than a guy who is just 25 years old and has plenty of room for growth.
Johnson won't get much press this offseason, but when he does sign with a team, be aware that it hopefully is one that can use his shooting from the outside effectively—like Jim Boeheim did at Syracuse.
SG Alan Anderson, Toronto Raptors
Alan Anderson lost some burn with the Raptors with the addition of rookie Terrence Ross and the acquisition of Rudy Gay in the middle of the season, but he quietly had an impressive campaign as a bench scorer and occasional playmaker for Toronto.
Anderson finished the 2012-13 campaign averaging 10.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists, but his big claim to fame came in the early parts of the year, when he was putting up double-digit scoring games every night in late December.
His playing time fluctuated after that, but Anderson always seemed to have a knack for showing up in big moments.
Anderson's three best scoring games of the season came against teams that are still in the playoffs. He put up 26 points against the New York Knicks in a February win, another 27 against the Chicago Bulls in a January loss and victimized the Knicks again in March.
His 35 points against the Knicks helped put him on the free-agent map for this offseason and could be a calling card of his resume when a team is deciding on which guard angles to pursue this offseason.
With good size (6'6") and a knack for scoring off the bench, it wouldn't be surprising to see Anderson sign a two or three-year deal with a team for somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-8 million. He's a proven scorer with very little career burn—something that should help NBA teams ignore his age (30).
After the first wave of shooting guard talent (O.J. Mayo, J.R. Smith) leaves the market, Anderson could be one of the first bench scorers/spot starters to go.
PF/C J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers
J.J. Hickson is versatile, has spent time in the NBA with some of the best players in the game (see Cleveland) and was actually one of the best centers in the NBA this season, although his true position is power forward.
There were only two centers who averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and 55 percent shooting from the field this season. One was Howard for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the other was Hickson alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in the center spot for Portland.
With no true power forward talent aside from Josh Smith, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in Utah and the aging David West hitting the open market this offseason, Hickson stands to gain from a weak market for back-to-the-basket scoring forwards.
If he doesn't stay with the Blazers, that is (h/t POR on Twitter):
Trail Blazers @trailblazers
"I definitely want to come back. This has been the best season of my career." - @hickson21 #RipCity2013-4-18 18:00:47
If Hickson does indeed decide to stay with the Blazers, then that opens up the possibility of a guy like DeJuan Blair maybe drawing some increased interest. If not, then Hickson stands to be a sleeper pick to be this year's four-year, $20 million contract man, and you can't say he hasn't earned it after his stellar season for the Blazers.
As both a center and a power forward, Hickson makes things happen on the court. Expect interest for his services to be at their peak when the first wave of forwards comes off the board in the early stages of free agency.
PG Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
He might not be when the 2013 postseason is over, but Nate Robinson is the definition of unheralded.
Signing with the Bulls in late July 2012 (h/t NBA.com), Robinson didn't get much interest from teams around the league during last year's free agency period, despite averaging in double figures for the Warriors and being an emotional presence every time he's on the floor.
The Bulls took notice, and it is paying off in the postseason to the tune of some big moments, bigger shots, a first-round series win over the Brooklyn Nets and a Game 1 win over the Miami Heat—if Chicago doesn't win another game this postseason, no one would down what it has done so far.
Robinson is a huge part of that effort.
His 13.1 points in the regular season where the second-highest mark of his professional career, and he's done nothing in the playoffs to dispel the idea that he's going to get paid somewhere this offseason in a J.J. Barea-like way.
Averaging 17.4 points and 4.0 assists in the playoffs, Nate has been the most clutch player for Chicago this postseason. With Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose all ailing, Robinson has stepped up to the plate, putting concerns about his motor, toughness and character aside while playing for a coach that demands all three.
He's played his way out of returning to Chicago.
Other teams won't mind, and Robinson won't either after his small contract with the Bulls this season. If Nate can keep up his 2013 success next season, he'll be an absolute steal on the open market, unless, of course, he gets overpaid by a team that misses out on Chris Paul, Jarrett Jack and Jeff Teague and gets extremely desperate.
He's a playmaker, unheralded as a scorer when it counts and likely earned all the money he'll get this offseason so far this postseason.