Late NBA Free-Agent Signings That Will Pay Huge Dividends
Chris Paul staying in L.A. to play for Doc Rivers, Josh Smith taking his talents to Motown, Dwight Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers for the upstart Houston Rockets…these are all moves that will make a huge impact in the NBA, but some under-the-radar signings are poised to pay huge dividends for certain teams as well.
Championships aren’t won with one player alone. It takes a team effort from top to bottom, and sometimes role players who entered the season as afterthoughts become fan favorites for their contributions.
The following free-agent signings weren’t splashy moves blowing up news headlines, but their impact could prove to be extremely valuable.
Beno Udrih, New York Knicks
Beno Udrih never lived up to lofty expectations after the Sacramento Kings foolishly gave him a five-year deal in 2008 worth more than $32 million. However, the 31-year-old Slovenian is still a solid option if a team is using him as their backup point guard.
The New York Knicks added Udrih late in the free-agency period on a one-year deal worth approximately $1.2 million. According to Spotrac, only $884,293 of that counts toward the Knicks’ salary cap.
After 10 years in the NBA, Udrih is a career 46.2 percent shooter from the field, 35.2 percent shooter from three-point range and 82.6 percent shooter from the free-throw line.
Per 36 minutes of action last season for both the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic, Udrih averaged 13.3 points, 7.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Not too shabby, especially for a point guard receiving limited minutes.
He’s an above-average rebounder for a point guard, and with the Bucks last season, he actually proved to be a solid defender. When Udrih was on the court for Milwaukee, the offensive rating of opponents was 101.4 points per 100 possessions. That was 4.9 points per possession better than when he was on the bench.
Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni will likely lock down the majority of minutes at the point guard spot yet again this season, but Udrih should make a meaningful impact providing depth if someone gets injured.
Jordan Farmar, Los Angeles Lakers
Perhaps no team in the NBA needed point guard depth quite like the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
Steve Nash missed 32 games in his first season with Lakers after missing just 37 games total with the Phoenix Suns from 2004-2012. (Praise for the Suns training staff goes here.)
Nash’s primary backup, Steve Blake, missed 37 games. As a result, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon combined to play in 94 games for the Lakers. That’s not a recipe for success for a team that had championship aspirations.
Insert former Laker Jordan Farmar.
During 36 career games in Europe, the guard from UCLA averaged 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. In that time, he shot 48.4 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Ideally, Nash will be back to 100 percent from a health standpoint next season. The same goes for Blake. Even if those two miss a fraction of the games they missed last season, though, Farmar is a reliable security blanket.
Elton Brand and DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks' offseason was one of the busiest (and most successful) compared to every other team in the league.
The Hawks finally decided to part ways with Josh Smith, who signed a four-year deal with the Detroit Pistons worth $54 million. They re-signed restricted free agent Jeff Teague, brought Kyle Korver back, signed Paul Millsap to a modest two-year, $19 million deal and had one of the most talked-about drafts. They added rookies Dennis Schröder and Lucas Nogueira, who both appear to be draft-day steals.
All of those offseason happenings have managed to overshadow two key moves in Atlanta. Namely, adding veteran forward Elton Brand as well as the defensive-minded DeMarre Carroll.
Millsap and Al Horford will anchor the Hawks’ frontcourt moving forward, but having Brand as a leader off the bench will be an invaluable addition. As long as he stays healthy, he can be a difference-maker.
Carroll, meanwhile, is one of the most underrated defensive players in basketball. When he was on the court for the Utah Jazz last season, the offensive rating of opponents was 102.9 points per 100 possessions. When he sat on the bench, that number increased to 108.6 points per 100 possessions.
Look for Carroll and Korver to provide a dynamic one-two punch in Atlanta’s rotation. Korver can handle the offense by knocking down threes, while Carroll can change the pace by being a ferocious defender.
Both of these under-the-radar signings should pay big dividends for the Hawks in 2013-14.
Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers were arguably the best defensive team in the NBA last season. They allowed the second-fewest points per game (90.7) and led the league in rebounding by snatching 45.9 boards per contest. They came within one W of making the NBA finals, so logically they’re just a few tweaks away from getting over the hump.
Re-signing locker room leader David West was priority No. 1 for Indy this summer. They also traded for veteran forward Luis Scola to add frontcourt depth. Those two marquee moves make the Pacers a better team. However, they needed to add perimeter offense as well.
Indiana finished 22nd in three-point percentage (34.7 percent) last season. Adding Chris Copeland to the fold instantly improves the team’s outside shooting.
The 29-year-old forward shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc last year as a rookie with the New York Knicks. In the second-round series against the Pacers, Copeland went 11-of-20 from downtown (a scorching 55 percent).
It’s safe to assume the Pacers didn’t want to see any more of this guy unless he was suiting up for them. By signing him, they’ve ensured that when he scores 13 points in 19 minutes—like he did in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals—it will benefit their team.
Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets won the 2013 offseason in the eyes of many when they acquired two future Hall of Famers from the Boston Celtics.
By bringing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to a starting lineup that already features Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, the Nets have become legitimate title contenders in the Eastern Conference. That blockbuster deal, however, has managed to overshadow a move that could prove to be just as important by season’s end.
Andrei Kirilenko, who left approximately $7 million on the table by opting out of his deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, provides the Nets with tremendous depth off the bench. Most importantly, his ability to play long stretches of games at multiple positions will be invaluable, allowing Pierce and Garnett to rest during the regular season.
The 32-year-old Russian said that now is his “time to take a shot at a title,” per Mike Mazzeo of ESPN. His veteran experience and defensive prowess makes him one of the best NBA players who isn’t part of a team’s starting lineup.
It’s downright scary that the Nets will have the luxury of resting Pierce without suffering a huge dropoff in talent. Look for AK47 to do all of the little things to help the Nets win.