Ranking the Most Intriguing 2013 Free-Agent Gambles Remaining on the Market

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2013

Ranking the Most Intriguing 2013 Free-Agent Gambles Remaining on the Market

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    All of the safe bets on the NBA free-agent market were raked in weeks ago, which leaves a table full of available gambles for franchises that have a high risk tolerance.

    There's no shortage of talent among the players who are still available. But in most cases, said talent is obscured by character issues, injuries or a curious history of underachievement. And in rare instances, it's hidden behind all three.

    Despite the uncertainty surrounding them, each member of our rankings has something to offer an NBA team.

    Before diving into the list, a housekeeping note on the ranking criteria is in order: Projected upside and the potential for disaster are both positives here. High-risk, high-reward players will earn the top spots, with slightly safer—though still intriguing options—rounding out the lower ranks.

    Ante up.

Honorable Mention

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    Lamar Odom is facing bigger issues than the possible end of his NBA career right now.

    On the heels of some seriously troubling rumors of substance abuse, the 33-year-old forward got busted for a DUI on Aug. 30.

    Since the Los Angeles Lakers dealt him to the Dallas Mavericks two seasons ago, it's been a messy downward spiral for Odom. After an uninspiring return to the Los Angeles Clippers last year, it looked as though the game had passed him by.

    But now that it seems like his struggles were caused by something other than diminished talent, Odom might still be able to help a team—if he can get his life together off the court.

    He earns honorable mention here because there simply aren't many 6'10" Swiss Army knives out there with championship experience. But because of his profound personal problems, it just feels crass to even include him in this discussion.

    Moving on.

No. 10: Sebastian Telfair

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    For a minute there, it looked like Sebastian Telfair was enjoying a late-career renaissance. After being ignored as a perimeter threat for years, Telfair started drilling mid-range jumpers two seasons ago.

    According to Hoopdata, he nailed 48 percent of his shots from 10-23 feet as a member of the Phoenix Suns in 2011-12 but quickly reverted to his brick-laying ways last season.

    At 28, it's possible that Telfair still has room to improve (or possibly rediscover his stroke). But if a team takes a chance on him and finds out his accuracy was merely a fluke, they'll be stuck with an undersized point guard who can't do much to help on offense.

    We're at the bottom of the list now, so the risks won't be catastrophic yet. But taking a chance on Telfair is hardly the safe play.

No. 9: Marquis Daniels

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    If there were an NBA team that was into creepy tattoos and defense-only wings, Marquis Daniels would have found a home in a hurry.

    But since ill-advised body art and the total lack of an offensive game aren't actually selling points, Daniels remains a member of the league's scrap heap. Yes, he's already 32. And, yes, he shot just 37 percent from the field for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. Both of those facts weigh against the wisdom of signing him to a free-agent contract.

    He's not a completely lost cause, though.

    Daniels can defend. And as long as there are elite scorers out there, there'll be a market for stoppers.

    He could wind up being a waste of a roster spot. But as a 12th man who could come in and play a few minutes of stellar D against the league's top perimeter threats, Daniels has value.

No. 8: Cole Aldrich

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    Cole Aldrich, the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, has played for three teams in three seasons. He has never started a game, turns the ball over entirely too often and can't score if he's more than three feet from the rim.

    Other than that, it's been a great career for the Kansas product.

    Here's the thing, though: Aldrich is seven feet tall and can rebound. That's a combination that has kept even the most hopeless stiffs in the league for a very long time.

    Maybe Aldrich will never add enough polish to his game to do more than bolster the end of a bench. But if a team gives him a chance, he'll haul down boards and block shots at high rates. And now that he knows his lottery selection doesn't count for much anymore, it's possible that the big man will find the desperate motivation he needs to change the course of his career.

    Of course, it's also possible that his next NBA team is his last.

No. 7: Drew Gooden

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    Somebody needs to take a shot on Drew Gooden, if only so the 11-year veteran can up the number of teams for which he's played to an nice, round 10.

    According to ESPN, Gooden has posted a PER above the league average in nine of his 11 seasons, so there's a real track record of production here. His most recent season with the Milwaukee Bucks was his worst by a long shot, though, which is why—thanks to the amnesty provision—he's now available.

    But at 31, it certainly seems like Gooden has something left to give.

    He's still a good mid-range shooter, a solid rebounder and can really take advantage of slower matchups in the frontcourt. Guys who have put up more than a decade of above-average production don't just suddenly lose it.

    If a team is willing to risk using a roster spot on Gooden, there's a good chance he'll reward them with rotation-quality play.

No. 6: Leandro Barbosa

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    We're a long way from Leandro Barbosa's glory days as the spark plug of Steve Nash's "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns.

    The Brazilian blur blew out his knee as a member of the Boston Celtics last February, an injury that has scared off a number of teams. Undaunted, the Dallas Mavericks have had an offer on the table since July.

    Clearly, at least one team is willing to take on the risk of signing him. And there's plenty of risk here, by the way.

    Barbosa's main offensive value is tied to his speed. Coming off of a severe knee injury, there's no way to know whether he'll ever be the same again. Still, the guy is a career 39 percent shooter from long range. So even if some of Barbosa's quickness doesn't return, he could last a few more years as a spot-up specialist.

    Damaged goods are always scary, but Barbosa has played key roles on very good teams in the past. That might make him worth the risk.

No. 5: Rodrigue Beaubois

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    It's appropriate that we now transition to Rodrigue Beaubois because the former Mavs project was supposed to be something like Barbosa 2.0.

    The French import burst onto the scene in 2010-11, averaging 7.1 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field in just 12.5 minutes per game. Dallas thought it had captured lightning in a bottle.

    But a failure to develop and a foot injury robbed Roddy of much of his quickness. Without blazing speed, he just wasn't the same transition threat. But at 25, it's much too early to write off the former rising star.

    The risk with Beaubois is that his sparkling rookie year was a complete mirage. Signing him could amount to a complete waste of time.

    But he has nowhere to go but up, and if he can rediscover even a hint of his incredible athleticism, he could be a real find.

No. 4: Stephen Jackson

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    The San Antonio Spurs said "thanks, but no thanks" to Stephen Jackson last year, opting instead to bring aboard the withered husk of Tracy McGrady for the playoff run.

    It's easy to understand why the Spurs let Captain Jack walk; he had managed to hit just 37 percent of his shots from the field in 55 games, a poor mark even for the historically inaccurate Jackson.

    There's no getting around the facts that Jackson is already 35 and has had more than a few run-ins with the law. But it's also true that he is almost universally regarded as a guy with whom teammates would gladly go to war.

    Plus, given the right situation, Jackson can absolutely make the players around him better. His confidence is infectious, he'll always take the big shot and he still sees the court well.

    If there's a team out there that could use a little bit of an edge, Jackson is worth a look.

No. 3: Richard Hamilton

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    It's easy to see the potential rewards with Richard Hamilton.

    He's been around forever, can still hit a mid-range jumper and has more playoff experience than he knows what to do with. There's real value there.

    But unearthing the risks attached to the masked shooting guard requires a bit more digging.

    Hamilton was accused of quitting on the Detroit Pistons in 2010 when he found himself demoted to the bench. And the ouster of former Pistons head coach John Kuester came about after some behind-the-scenes complaining from Hamilton.

    When the Chicago Bulls dropped him out of the rotation last year, he wasn't happy about it either.

    So if a team takes a chance on Rip as a free agent, it had better be prepared to deal with a few gripes when the veteran becomes dissatisfied with his limited role. That kind of thing is locker-room poison and can't be taken lightly.

    Hamilton could fit in as an end-of-the-bench piece on the right team. But he could also quietly tear up a club's chemistry. Suitors should tread lightly.

No. 2: Xavier Henry

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    There are no chemistry concerns to up the "risk" factor with Xavier Henry. Instead, he ranks so highly on the list because of the intrigue surrounding his untapped potential.

    Henry went to the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 12 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and at the time, the Kansas product looked to be a possible star. He had it all: athleticism, great size at 6'6" and 220 pounds, and even a three-point shooting mark of 42 percent in his lone college season.

    But the efficiency disappeared and Henry proved to be an utter black hole on offense. His assist rates as a pro have been comically low, he hasn't shot better than 64 percent from the foul line in any season, and he hasn't shown even an inkling of rediscovering his three-point shot.

    Despite all that, the Lakers are reportedly interested in signing him.

    Why? Because big guards who have the potential to defend at an extremely high level don't typically flame out the way Henry has. There's a sense that at age 22, he could still become a very valuable piece on the right team.

    He'll have to iron out his shot, but he's got the frame and mobility of a great perimeter stopper. With some work, he could start to resemble guys like Thabo Sefolosha or Tony Allen.

    Sounds like a good gamble to me.

No. 1: Michael Beasley

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    Of course Michael Beasley is the most intriguing gamble on our list.

    He has lottery talent, an ever-lengthening rap sheet and some of the worst judgment we've seen from an NBA player in a long time.

    Now a washout in all three of his NBA stops, Beasley is getting dangerously close to his last NBA chance. Perhaps that reality will help him finally appreciate the seriousness of his situation.

    His game's not perfect; Beasley still completely falls asleep on defense and hasn't yet figured out how to be remotely efficient on offense. But his raw skill is undeniable, and 6'10" players who can hit a corner three are only becoming more valuable in today's NBA.

    Somebody is going to take on the risk of signing Beasley. He's still too young and too talented to ignore.