Best Bargains of the 2013 NBA Free-Agent Class
NBA teams are throwing around tens of millions of dollars apiece, but there are still cost-efficient free agents to be found.
It's all about identifying undervalued assets on the open market. With that mindset, the free-agency process becomes less about targeting the best players and more about going after guys whose flaws scare other teams more than they scare you.
No basketball player is perfect. Whether it be proneness to injury, one-dimensionality or questionable mental makeup, there will be factors that make GMs wary, causing some maligned talents to adjust their asking price in kind.
The front offices that capitalize on those bargains will win the offseason, and the cheap acquisitions this summer will pay dividends for their new franchises.
DeJuan Blair dropped off the face of the Earth last season, which can't help his negotiating position.
Once Tiago Splitter worked out his chemistry with Tim Duncan, Blair was banished from his role for the San Antonio Spurs. After starting 127 games over the previous two seasons, the 6'7" center got the nod just 16 times in 2012-13 and saw his minutes drop from over 21 to 14 per game.
His size certainly isn't working to his advantage on the open market.
Though he has loads of strength at 270 pounds, Blair's plodding, earthbound style is not very popular in this era of floor spacing and versatility. There's just not much desire for an undersized big who can't stretch in today's game.
But a team with a more traditional approach could get an efficient scorer and an engaged rebounder and defender for just a couple million dollars per year.
Unfortunately, whether that be the Spurs or someone else, Blair's list of potential destinations is short.
UPDATE: The Indiana Pacers took Chris Copeland off the Knicks' hands for a clean two years and $6 million. Only time will tell just how much of a bargain this proves to be, but Frank Vogel will take full advantage of having another hustle-oriented guy on his bench, especially one who can shoot the three.
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A limited sample size is hurting Chris Copeland.
Even though he turned 29 this past March, Cope just completed his rookie season and has played a mere 65 NBA games, including the postseason. That raises the concern that he's a one-year wonder who might not sustain his 20.3 points per 36 minutes.
It also means the rising sophomore's reputation is skewed toward his first impression.
When Cope first entered the New York Knicks rotation, he was a three-point threat with some off-the-bounce game and no defensive acumen—a more versatile Steve Novak, basically.
However, he produced more inside the arc as he grew more comfortable, and he eventually became a serviceable defender as a small-ball power forward. He may have been an old rookie, but he still had a newbie's learning curve.
Yet when Mike Woodson sat Cope for much of the postseason, that development seemed to be forgotten, and now he is being courted as an incomplete, back-of-the-rotation guy.
If the Knicks are able to retain him for the $1.7 million of exception space they have left, it will be a shame for the player and a steal for the team.
The knock on Toney Douglas is that he's not a true point guard. That's a valid assessment.
Douglas has averaged a paltry 4.2 assists per 36 minutes in his four-year career. He has hit at least 37 percent of his threes in three of those seasons, and he has been a heady defender, but he loses playing time due to his inability to run an offense.
Yet with the rise of darling role players like Danny Green who excel primarily at three-point shooting and defense, there must be a place for Douglas.
He can thrive on a team that only asks him to play to his strengths rather than to the prototypical conception of a point guard. Mario Chalmers' role with the Miami Heat is a good example.
Don't expect Douglas to match Chalmers' $4 million price tag for next season, though. He has all the requisite skills to do the same job Chalmers does, but the unproven commodity is always treated more harshly.
Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Let's recap some of the deals sharpshooters are getting this summer.
As part of the Eric Bledsoe transaction, J.J. Redick is getting signed-and-traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for $27 million over four years. Kevin Martin is moving from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a similar four-year, $30 million contract.
Meanwhile, Mike Dunleavy Jr. signed with the Chicago Bulls for two years and $6.5 million according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski..
Nobody is saying Dunleavy is a starting-caliber player anymore, but the 32-year-old took a major pay cut to sign with a contender. For a guy who can knock down nearly 40 percent of his threes and play intelligent team defense, the mini-mid-level exception is highway robbery.
Dunleavy is not yet part of the Juwan Howard Memorial Club, chasing championships long after his ability has left him. That said, he still made the personal choice to eschew money for glory—that's one way for a team to luck into a bargain.
UPDATE: Given the going rate for starting-caliber guys at the 4 and 5 positions, Carl Landry's new deal with the Sacramento Kings may not seem outlandish. It probably doesn't qualify as a bargain either, though.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Landry has agreed on a four-year, $26 million pact with the Kings. For a relatively undersized power forward who won't make a significant impact defensively, that's a nice chunk of change. The real eyebrow-raiser here, though, is we're talking four years. The per-year dollar amount isn't horrendous, but the Kings' cap space, and hence flexibility, will be living with this decision for a while.
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As demand for stretch forwards increases, it becomes easier for traditional bigs to wreak havoc with their post games.
Enter Carl Landry.
With more wings shifting down into the paint to guard Landry, the 6'9", 248-pound power forward has never had more freedom to bang inside.
As a spot starter for the Golden State Warriors last season, he averaged 16.8 points and 9.3 boards per 36 minutes and shot 54 percent from the field. His power game simply becomes an efficiency machine when he faces finesse defenders.
That size advantage is a double-edged sword, however.
Already a willing but mediocre defender, his life becomes even more difficult when he has to chase quicker marks outside the paint and contain them off the bounce. Landry's liability can offset and even negate his strength on any given night.
Deployed by a team that can platoon him with a defensive alternative, Landry is well worth the full mid-level exception. As long as his weaknesses are covered, he can outperform that contract with his offensive production.
J.R. Smith, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, just re-upped with the Knicks for $24.7 million over four years. He is three years younger than Kevin Martin, and yet he is making over a million less per year on a long-term deal.
There are two seemingly simple reasons for this: consistency and reliability.
Whereas Martin is known for his spot-up shooting and high conversion rates, Smith is notorious for his maverick shot selection and haphazard decision-making. You know exactly what you're going to get from Martin on any given night, but the bust potential is considerable for Smith.
But let's flip that thought process on its head.
As Martin ages, his off-the-bounce offense will diminish further and his defender will have no reason to give him any space. He'll give you the same production every night, but that production will come by way of low double-digit scoring with little defensive game.
Smith is the type of player who can win games for you when he's on. He scored at least 20 points on 29 occasions last season, he did so with an explosive and varied offensive attack, and he showed the discipline to apply his athleticism on the defensive end when he was at his best.
Of course, Smith's best isn't an issue here; the eye test is all you need to see how dominant he was in March versus how feckless he became in the postseason.
That's short-term bias at work. Smith seems like the inferior option because the recent thing we have seen him do is fail—and fail much more conspicuously and spectacularly than Martin, who also was off his game in the playoffs.
As the guy with the higher ceiling, Smith is the better long-term signing here. He's perceived as riskier than Martin, but that just makes him a bigger bargain in reality.
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