The Biggest Remaining Wild Cards in 2013 NBA Free Agency
The biggest remaining wild cards in this summer's free-agent class are a collection of unsigned players potentially capable of making a significant impact on the 2013-14 NBA season.
Despite possessing an undeniable skill set, however, each available free agent is surrounded by questions of consistency and health.
The risks associated with signing the players on this list vary in terms of the financial investment necessary to acquire them. The rewards, though, could be the difference in securing a playoff berth or finishing in the lottery.
The order of the free-agent wild cards is set according to the impact each could make.
No. 5: Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson has been labeled throughout his NBA career as a player who cannot be depended on consistently.
While his defensive lapses and questionable shot selection have earned him that label in part, Robinson has also outperformed his contract each of the last two seasons.
Since being waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder in December 2011, he's signed one-year contracts with the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls.
On a deal worth $1.07 million in Golden State, Robinson averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 assists during his 2011-12 campaign while playing 23.4 minutes per night off the bench.
As a member of the Bulls this past season—while earning $1.15 million—Robinson improved those numbers to 13.1 points and 4.4 assists. He also increased that production during the playoffs for Chicago, averaging 16.3 points and 4.4 dimes.
Despite that postseason run, however—which also included seven games in which he scored 17 points or more—Robinson has yet to generate significant interest as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
For a playoff team in need of guard help off the bench, though, signing Robinson is a risk worth taking.
No. 4: Mo Williams
As a member of the Utah Jazz in 2012-13, Mo Williams appeared in only 46 games.
Despite battling injuries, however, the 30-year-old point guard is still an above-average threat offensively.
Though his scoring numbers have declined since averaging 17.8 points as an All-Star for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009, Williams posted a respectable average of 12.9 points and 6.2 assists in the games he did play for Utah.
If he can remain healthy, Williams could be a difference-maker.
In addition to those health concerns, however, his perceived unwillingness to embrace a reserve role is another concern. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Williams informed the Jazz he would only re-sign if he remains the starting point guard in 2013-14.
If a team could convince him otherwise, Williams seems capable of thriving in a sixth-man role. If that's not an option, though, he might not be worth the gamble at this point in his career.
No. 3: Andrei Kirilenko
Andrei Kirilenko opted out of a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves that would have paid him $10 million for 2013-14.
After averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds on 50.7 percent shooting for Minnesota, there seemed to be a possibility of Kirilenko finding the multiyear contract he was looking for in free agency.
Thus far, however, the 32-year-old forward remains on the market.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the San Antonio Spurs' discussions of a sign-and-trade for Kirilenko have ended without a deal.
Despite his consistent production a season ago, questions linger about how well Kirilenko's body will hold up moving forward. He's a versatile player when healthy, but he has also proven during his time with the Utah Jazz that he's not worth being paid as a top-tier star.
Wherever Kirilenko does land, however, expect him to provide a solid impact off the bench or in a starting role if his body cooperates.
No. 2: Brandon Jennings
I often wonder what the narrative of Brandon Jennings' career with the Milwaukee Bucks would be if he didn't score 55 points seven games into his rookie season.
Following that game against the Golden State Warriors in November 2009, unrealistic expectations for what Jennings could become seem to have clouded all he's accomplished since.
While Jennings has not become an All-NBA player or even an All-Star, he's averaged 17.0 points and 5.7 assists during his four-year NBA career. Those are productive numbers for a 23-year-old who could still have his best professional days ahead of him.
What makes Jennings a wild card, though—beyond his inconsistency shooting the basketball (39.9 percent last year)—is whether he's a known commodity at this point in his career. Is he capable of improving his scoring efficiency to elevate his game to an All-Star level, or will he shoot less than 40 percent for the rest of his career?
If I represented the Bucks or any other team with cap space available in need of a scoring point guard, I'd bet on Jennings' youth, experience and athleticism, and I'd make the necessary investment to the restricted free agent.
No. 1: Monta Ellis
The basketball purist in me would like to see Monta Ellis land on a team with a chance for an NBA championship.
After spending his career on Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks teams that ranged from subpar to average, I've always wondered what Ellis could provide in a winning environment.
Could he manage his shot selection well enough to offer a consistently positive impact, or would he shoot the team toward losses?
For the NBA teams considering Ellis in free agency this summer—a list reported to include the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Bobcats, according to Sam Amick of USA Today—they'll have to ultimately answer that question before investing in a multiyear contract.
Though the Kings and Bobcats are a couple seasons away from playoff contention at least, the Mavericks and Hawks are positioned to contend for a postseason spot in 2013-14.
Alongside Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Al Horford and Paul Millsap in Atlanta, Ellis could be the piece who gets his team over the hump. At the same time, however, he could also be a player who shoots his team into the lottery.