It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a free agent passed over by the rest of the league can end up making a real difference when it matters most. Last year, that man was Chris Andersen, the Miami Heat center who went from out of the league to a major contributor in just a few short weeks.
Most teams are content dishing out only camp invites and very few actual contracts at this point, so there's a decent chance the following players go unsigned this year. Some have seen the writing on the wall and have bolted overseas to tithe them over while they wait for that phone call.
Still, if enough dominoes fall in their favor and they land with the right team, these players could be the next bargain-bin Birdman.
After striking out in the offseason for a mini mid-level deal, Ivan Johnson signed a deal in China with the Zhejiang Chouzhou basketball club in the CBA.
While most overseas contracts keep players off the NBA radar for a year, the CBA is unique in that it's a three-and-a-half-month season. That means right around the midway point, Johnson will be in playing shape and ready to join a contender for the stretch run.
That's if (and it might be a big if) Johnson can stay out of trouble while in China. Johnson was famously banned from the Korean Basketball League forever, and his tenure with the Hawks was a little bumpy at times. Johnson comes with question marks, but he's a rugged defender with a surprising amount of offensive skill. Like Kenyon Martin did last year for the New York Knicks, he could make an impact at some point.
Like Ivan Johnson, Bobby Brown took his talents to China to play in the CBA with the Dongguan Leopards. It's a somewhat disappointing outcome for Brown, particularly considering the New York Knicks appeared serious about signing him at multiple points this offseason.
Nevertheless, Brown should be firmly on the radar for teams in search of backcourt help during the season. Brown has over 100 games of NBA experience, he's in his prime at 28 years old, and he's coming off the best year of his career, where he won the Euroleague award for the league's best scorer. He's earned another shot in the league.
Leandro Barbosa was one of the many injured guards for the Boston Celtics last season, and we all know how tricky the recovery process from a torn ACL can be. Barbosa was always a player who relied on his blinding speed in the past, and he had already started to slow down and lose effectiveness before his injury.
That said, Barbosa is still only 30 years old, and his experience as a combo guard could come in handy late in the season once he's fully recovered. Barbosa has resumed working out already, but he's unlikely to be signed anytime soon. Don't be surprised if his name pops up again down the line, though.
Jason Collins is certainly on his last legs at 34 years old, and as a pure specialist, teams seem to be balking at the idea of letting him occupy a roster spot for a full season. Collins is a limited player, but he's a high-effort guy and an excellent post defender. Once playoff seeding starts to take shape, a Western Conference contender looking at a matchup with the Houston Rockets might be wise to bring him in as a Dwight Howard stopper.
Bringing on a post defender for 82 games might not be necessary in today's NBA, but in a playoff series armed with six fouls, Collins could provide value.
James Johnson has had workouts with the San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks and others, but he remains unsigned headed into the season. Don't expect that to last for long, though, because Johnson has a lot of things working in his favor.
First off, Johnson has size at 6'9" and the mobility and strength to play either forward spot. He's still young at 26, and his decline in Sacramento can be partially attributed to the disastrous coaching and organization he was working with last season.
Teams that are looking to fill out the end of their rosters want specialists instead of jack-of-all-trades types, so the fact that Johnson can't shoot or score might be able to be overlooked for his defensive ability. Per 36 minutes on his career, Johnson has averaged 1.5 steals and 1.9 blocks, so he can make an impact on that end. In small stretches to cool off a scoring forward, Johnson can be pretty useful.
There was a time when it looked like there was no ceiling for Roddy Beaubois. After an excellent rookie season that saw Beaubois put up per 36 minute averages of 20 points, four rebounds and nearly four assists, it's been a decline ever since.
Beaubois struggled to get out of Rick Carlisle's doghouse in Dallas the last few years, and his overall numbers and play declined in the process. Beaubois has always played a little out of control, but the risk began to outweigh the rewards when he took the court.
Still, it's impossible not to watch Beaubois and wonder what he'd look like in extended minutes with a much longer leash. He's a great athlete and a creative player, and at 24 years old, maybe he can put all his potential together and provide sustained production. For teams in situations like the Philadelphia 76ers who are just looking for lottery tickets, why not take a chance?
I'm probably not going to win any GM jobs by recommending Lamar Odom for any team at any point this season. Rehab, DUI, drug problem, missing and toxic aren't exactly the buzzwords you like to hear regarding a free agent, and this could very well be the end of the line for Odom. He's had a troubled life filled with tragedy, and it would be a shame to see him go out like this.
Still, if there's anyone we shouldn't close the book on, it's Odom. His entire life he's bounced back and recovered from things most people couldn't. If he successfully rehabs, keeps his name out of the headlines and gets in basketball shape, Odom can still provide elite defensive rebounding, very solid pick-and-roll defense and good vision as a passer.
Although it wasn't nearly as public, Chris Andersen had a lot of legal and character questions last offseason as well. Odom shouldn't be touched right now, but if he can get through this, it's not completely out of the question that he makes a return to the NBA at some point.