How to Field a Decent Roster for Under $15 Million

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

How to Field a Decent Roster for Under $15 Million

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    If you were an NBA owner and could field a roster of 15 quality, minimum-salary players for under $15 million, who would you pick?

    To be clear, NBA owners are not allowed this option.

    There’s a narrow band between how little a team can spend and how much. If payroll dips below 90% of the current salary cap, owners have to divide up the difference among their players. You know they don’t want to do that—especially if that difference were to be $44 million.

    We can’t be worried about such byzantine rules. This is all about fielding an awesome bargain basement team for purely hypothetical reasons.

    First, another point of financial order.

    The amount of money that a minimum salary player receives from his team is not always his total salary. There are 11 players on this list that are signed to one-year deals and who have been in the league for a number of years. The league mandates that in this case, teams can pay $884,293—the amount for a two-year vet. The league will kick in the rest.

    In the case of Shaun Livingston for the Brooklyn Nets for example, that’s an extra $387,986 based on his nine years in the league.

    Alright already—let’s see what kind of team we can put together for the least possible money. We’ll call it the best of the least.

Starting Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas

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    Isaiah Thomas isn’t the starting point guard for the Sacramento Kings, but he might as well be—he’s the team’s second leading scorer through 14 games at 17 points per game in only 27.5 minutes off the bench.

    Toss in 4.4 assists and you’ve found bargain basement gold for $884,293 per year.

    The only King putting up higher numbers is DeMarcus Cousins at 21.6 points per game.

    Thomas was picked dead last in the 2011 draft.

    He doesn’t get any extra money from the league like the older vets do. Sacramento does, however, have a qualifying offer on him for $1,148,163. You think no other team’s going to try and top that?

    Thomas is one of the league’s true speedsters on the court. Anybody want to bet how fast he’d run toward a higher offer?

Starting Shooting Guard: James Anderson

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    The only player on this list to start every game so far this season is James Anderson.

    He’s under contract to the Philadelphia 76ers for $916,099. He is signed for next season as well, but the cash isn’t guaranteed if he’s waived before June 30, 2014.

    It’s doubtful that will happen—Anderson has delivered solid results, averaging just over 10 points per game in 17 starts, averaging 33.5 minutes.

    These minimum salary deals are a pretty cheap gamble for teams.

    There are various steps and conditions in order for players to "pass go." Anderson was drafted in 2010 and has been waived by the Spurs, the Hawks and the Rockets. He’s also played on three different NBA D-League teams. That’s a lot of bouncing around for a guy who’s just 24 years old.

    As Grant Hughes from Bleacher Report noted, Anderson might have had something to prove when he dropped a career-high 36 points on the Rockets on November 23.

    On that night he was 12-of-16 from the field, 6-of-8 from outside and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.

    Take that Daryl Morey!

Starting Small Forward: Nick Young

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    Sure, Nick Young has usually been a shooting guard during his years in the league—it’s a good place from whence to bomb away.

    Still, Swaggy P will gladly let it rain from any position.

    This season, Young has often operated as a small forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, usually tag-teaming with Wesley Johnson.

    So far, it’s worked out well—he’s started six out of 17 games and is averaging 14 points per game in 25 minutes.

    So far, Young is the second-leading scorer for the Lakers, right behind Pau Gasol.

    That will change when Kobe Bryant returns. For now, Young is Kobe Lite at a dollar store price.

    For the purpose of our $15 million dollar roster, adding Young to the starting lineup gives a nice flavor of firepower. Let’s not worry too much about how Thomas, Anderson and Young decide to share the ball—the results are bound to be entertaining whether it’s a bonanza or disaster.

    The Lakers actually reign supreme when it comes to cost-less players this year—eight members of the roster are on minimum salary deals.

    That’s how it is when you’ve got Kobe and Pau on the team. Plus, management’s looking to keep the books as clean as possible in order to have any shot at luring a max contract type in 2014.

    Young is earning $1,106,942 this season and has a player option for next year.

Starting Power Forward: DeJuan Blair

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    DeJuan Blair plays both the power forward and center positions.

    He’s only 6’7” but is built like the proverbial brick house and won’t hesitate to hurl his 260 pounds straight at a rebound. A player who’s impeding forward progress or the ball itself—he’s averaging 1.7 steals per game, which is a lot for a big man.

    The knock on Blair coming into the league was that he had no anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in either knee—the result of two surgeries while in high school.

    Drafted in 2009 by the San Antonio Spurs, he’s still playing his customary take-no-prisoners game.

    Now with the Dallas Mavericks, Blair is scoring 8.8 points per game and 7.8 boards in 20.8 minutes.

    Like most of the players on this list, he’s being paid $884,293 for this season by his team. He also gets an extra $63,614 from the league. Blair has no contract in place for next season.

    You want to know why Blair’s starting on this cut-rate roster? Because he’s all about flat-out hustle and living dangerously under the glass. That’s a good thing on a fantasy roster with gunners like Nick Young firing at will.

    Blair will get you that offensive rebound—he may decide to put it in the bucket himself or he may kick it back out. Either way, it works.

Starting Center: Andray Blatche

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    Andray Blatche is another combo center/forward, currently with the Brooklyn Nets.

    He’s 6’11” and 260 pounds and like DuJuan Blair, has been known to throw his weight around.

    Like a number of players on this roster, Blatche is a bit of a wild card.

    He elected to go straight to the draft out of high school in 2005 and dropped to the second round. The Washington Wizards picked him and by September 2010, were so pleased with his progress that they gave him a five-year contract worth $35 million.

    Oops, they did it again.

    The 2010-11 season went just fine and dandy—Blatche started 63 out of 64 games, averaging 16.8 points.

    And then the bottom fell out—he played in only 26 games the following season. The Wizards amnestied him in 2012 with three years and $23 million left on his contract

    All that cash provided a nice incentive for Blatche to sign with the Brooklyn Nets for $1,376,604.

    He played all 82 games last season from the center position. This season he’s mostly operated out of the power forward slot, subbing in for Kevin Garnett and averaging 11.1 points per game in 22.6 minutes. He's a physical presence in the paint and can get buckets in a hurry.

    There’s not one superstar among our starting five of Blatche, Blair, Young, Anderson and Thomas. Still, for $5,168,231, the lineup would be something akin to dropping a 370 horsepower HEMI V8 into a Ford Pinto.

Backcourt Reserve: Jordan Farmar

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    Jordan Farmar has come off the bench in 17 games so far this season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    He usually runs the point but will also play the shooting guard position at times.

    Drafted late in the first round by the Lakers in 2006, Farmar won a couple rings under Phil Jackson.

    He was never truly happy with his role in the triangle offense, however, and signed with the New Jersey Nets in 2010. He played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel during the 2011 NBA lockout, returning to the Nets midseason. Farmar was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 2012 and asked to be bought out of his contract in order to sign a three-year deal with Anadolu Efes in the Turkish league.

    This past summer, Farmar’s contract was bought out once again—this time by the Lakers in order to facilitate a return to his hometown.

    A Taft High and UCLA product, he’s found a perfect fit in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense. The 6'2" guard is averaging just under 10 points per game in 20 minutes.

    Farmar’s one of the quicker guards in the league, has good ball-handling skills and has always had the ability to accelerate through traffic and finish with an underhand flip shot or draw the foul.

    He’s also a good on-ball defender. At $884,293, Farmar’s an easy pick.

Backcourt Reserve: Shaun Livingston

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    Shaun Livingston was signed by the Brooklyn Nets this summer to be Deron Williams’ backup at the point.

    It was a smart move—Williams has seen limited action due to ankle problems while Livingston has started six out of 15 games, averaging just under eight points in nearly 25 minutes per game.

    Drafted out of high school as the fourth overall pick in 2004, Livingston looked like an All-Star in the making.

    The Los Angeles Clippers had a 6’7” point guard with speed, uncanny court vision and athleticism. Three years later, playing against the Charlotte Bobcats, he went up for an attempted layup and landed left-footed—his leg crumpled in a way that you never want to see.

    Since then, Livingston has lived a life marked by surgeries, rehab, setbacks, pain and the uncertain comeback trail.

    The Nets are his eighth NBA team, and he has also played in the D-League. Most of his stays have been short-lived, but he’s continued soldiering on, unwilling to call it a day.

    Writing for the New York Daily News, Stefan Bondy elaborates, "There was no blueprint for Livingston’s rehab, no precedent. He was the guinea pig for an athlete trying to return from such devastation to his knee."

    "Just because it was multiple ligaments, just because of the trauma of the injury, they compared it to like a car accident," Livingston said. "I didn’t have anybody to follow, there was no timetable. I could get better, I could not get better. You just don’t know. People fear what they don’t know. I’m in the dark, and everything is just about faith."

    Livingston’s still just 28 years old.

    Nobody knows how long he’ll play, but he’s one of the smartest, most talented and tallest guards in the league. He’s acquired a lot of patience and discipline over the years and would be a nice compliment to some of the more impetuous guards on our minimum salary roster.

Backcourt Reserve: Aaron Brooks

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    Another small, speedy point guard, Aaron Brooks was the 26th draft pick for the Houston Rockets in 2007.

    He started all 82 games in his third season and was named the league’s Most Improved Player. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns the following season and waived 25 games later.

    Brooks knocked around the league and played in China before returning to the NBA.

    He played 46 games before being waived by the Sacramento Kings. Brooks returned to the Rockets for all of seven games at the end of last season. He was subsequently waived in order to free up a few extra bucks for the pursuit of Dwight Howard.

    Sometimes you just can’t get any respect.

    The Rockets signed Brooks to yet one more minimum-salary deal, and once again he’s playing hard and making a difference—on November 23 in a game against the T-Wolves, Brooks came off the bench and scored 26 points in just 24 minutes. Included in that was 6-of-7 treys, five dimes, four boards and two steals. The outside shots aren’t a fluke—Brooks currently boasts a 3-point percentage of .485.

    Brooks will once again be a free agent at the end of the season.

    Maybe the Rockets will offer him $884,293 for another one-year deal. Or maybe he comes on board with our $11 million team and lights up the opposition.

Backcourt Reserve: Anthony Morrow

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    You can never have enough flat-out shooters on a $15 million dollar roster.

    That’s what Anthony Morrow is all about—making it rain from beyond the arc.

    Currently playing for the New Orleans Pelicans, the swing man went undrafted in 2008.

    He was signed by the Golden State Warriors and lead the league in three-point shooting during his rookie season—a first for both the Warriors and the NBA.

    Morrow plays both the shooting guard and small forward positions.

    He was traded to the Nets after his second season, played there for two years and then had stops in Atlanta and Dallas before being signed to a minimum-salary contract this summer by the Pelicans. Morrow appeared in the 2012 All-Star Foot Locker 3-point contest and is currently tied for fifth place among league leaders in 3-point percentage at .500.

    Morrow is averaging 7.5 points in just over 17 minutes off the bench for the Pelicans.

    That stat line doesn’t really tell the story though—Morrow currently ranks No. 10 on the all-time 3-point percentage list and that includes some pretty good company. If you leave him alone in the right-hand corner, he’ll make you pay. It's as simple as that.

Frontcourt Reserve: Wesley Johnson

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    A former No. 4 overall draft pick, Wesley Johnson failed to live up to high expectations as a starter for the Minnesota Timberwolves during his first two years or for the Phoenix Suns the following season.

    The Los Angeles Lakers picked Johnson up on the cheap for $884,293 this past summer, and he’s become one of the team’s core rotation players.

    He’s 6’7” with a 7’1” wingspan and plays multiple positions. Mike D’Antoni used Johnson primarily as a stretch four at the start of the season before moving him back to his natural small forward position. He has started nine out of 17 games this season, often relieved by Nick Young off the bench.

    Through 17 games, Johnson’s 8.5 PPG average may not seem much better than his first three years in the league.

    Look a little closer though—his 3-point percentage has jumped to .446 from a .345 average and his steals and blocks have doubled. On November 29 in Detroit, Johnson lit it up with 6-of-7 from downtown and a season-high total of 27 points.

    If things are working so well with the Lakers, why flip the Johnson/Young tandem for this roster? Hey, it’s not an exact science. Plus, Swaggy P has cooler hair.

Frontcourt Reserve: Michael Beasley

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    You knew Michael Beasley had to be on this list somewhere, right?

    The former No.2 overall draft pick is now back with the Miami Heat—the team that originally selected him in 2008.

    The ensuing years have been an up-and-down ride with team violations and sundry other mishaps, including a propensity for cannabis-related misadventures.

    Two seasons with the Heat, two with the Minnesota Timberwolves and then a three-year, $18 million deal with the Phoenix Suns that lasted just one season—once again, popped for pot.

    It’s not surprising that Beasley wound up being a minimum salary player.

    After all, the bottom of the financial ladder is the NBA’s fastest growing commodity these days and it’s hard to imagine that any NBA owner would pony up large for B-Easy’s services at this point. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s doing well in Miami.

    Beasley can score the ball.

    We always knew that. He’s often been viewed as a liability on the defensive end, however. Back in Miami for his second tour, he’s averaging just 16.3 minutes off the bench—a career low. He’s also showing a willingness to do more than shoot.

    Ethan Skolnick for Bleacher Report writes about the other end of the floor for Beasley:

    Then there's the rebounding. He grabbed just two in his first four appearances, covering 48 minutes. He has 33 in his past six appearances, covering 118 minutes. 

    Just going for it, Beasley said. Chris (Bosh) and Bird need help, and I ain't really got nothing else better to do.

    Word to Beasley—don’t concern yourself with the Miami Heat—come join the Black Friday version of professional basketball with a roster that costs less than LeBron.

Frontcourt Reserve: Chris Andersen

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    The basketball world has come to expect the unexpected from Chris “the Birdman” Andersen.

    From his full-neck Technicolor tattoo to off-court trials and tribulations, the man with the Mohawk has blazed an erratic orbit over the course of his career.

    Andersen grew up in roughneck Iola, Texas—played a little college ball, was never drafted and drifted around the periphery of professional basketball, from the IBL to the D-League. He was the first ever D-Leaguer to get called up to the NBA—by the Denver Nuggets.

    One of the league’s true sky walkers, the Birdman provided an extended, painful-to-watch and unintentionally hilarious stretch of the most epic failed slam attempts ever in the 2005 All-Star dunk contest.

    He was banned from the league in 2006 for substance abuse and reportedly listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Back My Bullets” relentlessly as he plugged away at an improbable return. And return he did—Andersen may be one of the league’s enduring knuckleheads, but he’s also a shot-blocking machine. He will alter shots and clean up the glass like few other players.

    There’s a reason the Miami Heat re-signed Andersen this past summer. He’s the most expensive player on our roster at $1,399,507 and worth every ink-stained penny of it.

    Birdman could easily be a starter with this wild bunch, but he’s just so good off the bench.

Inactive List: Devin Harris

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    Not that long ago, Devin Harris was viewed as one of the next great guards.

    He almost got there. Drafted No. 5 by the Dallas Mavericks in 2004, Harris became a starter in his third season. In 2008 however, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets as part of a multi-player swap that brought Jason Kidd to the Mavericks.

    Harris was a starter, co-captain and eventually captain of the Nets.

    He was also an All-Star for the first time in 2009. For whatever reason (injuries certainly played a part), that seemed to be his apex—Harris’ production began to decline the following season and has continued down the wrong path ever since. He was traded to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams in 2011 and traded again to the Atlanta Hawks in 2012.

    This past summer, Harris landed a deal to return to the Mavericks for $9 million over three years.

    Unfortunately, a lingering toe issue required offseason surgery, voiding the contract. Harris did receive a new one-year offer from the Mavericks—for $884,293. That’s a difference of over $8 million.

    For a guy used to being a starter, being chosen for the inactive list of our minimum-salary roster can’t be his proudest moment.

Inactive List: Antawn Jamison

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    At age 37, Antawn Jamison is the oldest player on our list.

    He’s now in his 16th year in the league and until two seasons ago, was a perennial starter. He plays both forward positions and can get points in a hurry.

    Why do we need a geriatric case like this with all the fire power that’s already on board?

    Because experience counts for something and you never know—our Bad News Bears may make the playoffs, and then you’re going to want a couple of wise oldsters for their sage ways.

    Jamison hasn’t actually won any rings—he joined the Lakers last season for a sure-fire championship run with the Dwight Howard-powered model, and we all know how that went.

    Now he’s sitting on the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers, largely ignored by the new coach in town, Doc Rivers.

    Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most convincing case for inclusion on our list. Let’s try it another way.

    Jamison has scored just shy of 20,000 points during his career. That puts him at No. 9 on the scoring list for active players. It’s a pretty good list. He knows what he’s doing—enough said.

Inactive List: Kenyon Martin

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    You didn’t think we’d get to the end without mentioning K-Mart, did you?

    This guy went through the dreaded microfracture surgery on both knees, one in 2005 and the other in 2006. And he’s still playing!

    Granted, Martin isn’t the explosive dunker or the defensive stopper he once was.

    Martin used to be one of the NBA’s big money guys.

    In 2004, he was signed by the New Jersey Nets for $91 million for seven years. That was back in the day of really long deals.

    He was making financial history as recently as 2011 when he signed the biggest CBA deal ever—$2.65 million for five months of playing time with China’s Xinjiang Guanghui. Now, Martin’s being paid $884, 293 for one year by the New York Knicks. That’s less than one percent of the huge contract he signed in 2004.

    No matter, Martin’s started six of 14 games for the New York Knicks, averaging just under 18 minutes per game. He’s still making his presence felt and still possesses one of the most intimidating dead-eyed stares in sports.

    That’s it, basketball fans—how to field a decent (and wildly entertaining) roster for a grand total of $14,637,700.