Ranking Free Agents with NBA Experience

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2014

Ranking Free Agents with NBA Experience

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    The NBA season is nearly at the midway point and there's still teams that could use some help. The good news is that there are plenty of free agents with substantial NBA experience.

    The bad news? For veteran players without a job, there’s simply not enough openings to go around. Adding to the mix is the allure of younger players in the D-League whose best days may still lie ahead.

    Ranking the best of those who are still available is a subjective choice. Some were stars once while most were not. There are players with a particular skill set and those who have simply toiled in the trenches for years.

    Add the inevitable deterioration that can come with age and injuries. Also add questions about personality, dedication and focus. What about the conditioning and game readiness for those who have been out of the league for an entire season and sometimes more?

    This may not be the definitive list—there will always be questions about who was left out or who is not deserving. Yet, each of the players listed here have made a difference at some point in the past and each has legitimate and valuable NBA experience.  Some have been All-Stars and some have won championships. Others are still hoping and waiting for one last chance for a ring.

    For most, that chance will never come. Still, hope springs eternal as we rank 15 available free agents with NBA experience.

    Stats and data are from Basketball-Reference.

Point Guard No. 3: Jamaal Tinsley

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    Jamaal Tinsley is one of a handful of players on this list that has played in the NBA this season. The veteran point guard was released by the Utah Jazz on November 12 after appearing in just eight games. Interestingly, he started in five of those games.

    At age 35, Tinsley has played for three NBA teams over 11 seasons, including seven with the Indiana Pacers. There have also been a couple gaps in his resume—he missed two of seasons of basketball and has a bit of a checkered past.

    In 2006, Tinsley was present at a gentlemen’s club when Pacers teammate Stephen Jackson fired shots into an outdoor crowd. Tinsley was arrested after a fight outside a bar in 2007, and also present later the same year when shots were fired toward himself and companions outside a club.

    During the 2009-10 season, Pacers management banned Tinsley from team facilities and ultimately waived him. He joined the Memphis Grizzlies the following season as a free agent and played 38 games. He spent some time with the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the D-League in 2011 and signed with the Utah Jazz during the 2011-12 season.

    Despite his sometimes rocky road as well as injuries, Tinsley was a legitimate starting point guard in the NBA for many seasons. He has always been a willing passer and has a career average of 6.1 assists to go along with 8.5 points per game.

    At 6'3", Tinsley has been known over the course of his career for ball-handling skills and excellent court vision. His shooting has never been his strong point.

Point Guard No. 2: Rodrigue Beaubois

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    Rodrigue Beaubois is one of the younger players on this list, having spent just four seasons in the NBA to this point. He is also the only player here to have been with just one NBA team—the Dallas Mavericks.

    Beaubois was the 25th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft by Oklahoma City Thunder and traded immediately to the Mavericks. Dallas hasn't, however, been his only professional basketball home. Born and raised in the French West Indies, Beaubois spent three years with Cholet Basket in the French Pro A League where he was named the French League’s Most Improved Player in 2009.

    As a rookie with the Mavs, Beaubois scored a career-high 40 points including 9-of-11 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. Tim MacMahon for ESPN Dallas tells how:

    Beaubois had more than his share of bad breaks. He fractured his foot while practicing with the French national team the summer after his rookie year, an injury that required two surgeries to fix and essentially wiped out his second season.

    Beaubois did return to action after his first foot surgery, starting 26 out of 28 games. He ultimately required a second surgery, however, and didn’t see any game action during the during the Mavs’ championship run in 2011. During the 2012-13 season, the once-promising point guard suffered a broken hand and played in just 45 games, averaging a career-low four points per game. Dallas elected not to pick up his contract at the end of the season.

    Given all the injuries and the relatively small sample size of experience, why is Beaubois on this list? It’s a matter of potential and talent. He’s still young and not that far out of the game. Teams looking for a quick, athletic point guard who can score the ball will probably have this guy on their list.

Point Guard No. 1: Sebastian Telfair

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    If you’re looking for a point guard with a ton of experience and plenty of speed, Sebastian Telfair may be your guy. Once seen as an NBA star in the making, Telfair has never quite lived up to the hype. He has also been with seven different teams over the course of nine seasons.

    Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Telfair was the subject of a book entitled “The Jump” by Ian O’Connor. The story charted the high school phenomenon’s transition straight into the NBA as the 13th overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2004 NBA draft.

    Telfair spent two seasons in Portland before embarking on a journeyman career. Along the way he’s had two separate stays with the Minnesota Timberwolves plus stops with the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. He’s currently playing in China with Tianjin Ronggang.

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Telfair’s contract in China is positioned for the possibility of a return to the NBA once the Chinese basketball season is over. Telfair’s agent Andy Miller stated, “We wanted to make a move from a position of control, and allow Sebastian the chance to run a team this season before coming back [to the NBA].”

    At 5'11", Telfair has always possessed superb ball-handling skills, although is sometimes viewed as being a little too enamored of keeping the rock in his own hands. His career average of 3.5 assists per game isn’t impressive for a point guard in the NBA.

    Still just 28, Telfair is a known quantity in the league—he can score the ball quickly and provide a lot of energy off the bench.

Shooting Guard No. 3: Sasha Vujacic

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    Sasha Vujacic hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball in nearly three years. So why on earth is he on this list?

    A number of reasons, actually. To begin with, Vujacic played his best NBA ball after being traded to the New Jersey Nets by the Los Angeles Lakers partway through the 2010-11 season. His scoring average of 11.4 points through 56 games with the Nets was by far the highest of his career.

    Additionally, the point guard from Slovenia has kept his hand in the game. During the NBA lockout of 2011, Vujacic elected to sign a two-year deal with Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the Turkish League. During that time he was a key member of the one of top teams in the Euroleague.

    Vujacic returned to Los Angeles this past summer and began working out in hopes for a return to NBA action. So far, it hasn’t happened, even though there have been rumors reported by Ramona Shelburne with ESPN Los Angeles about possible interest from the Los Angeles Clippers and Marc Stein of ESPN about an appearance in the Los Angeles Lakers gym.

    Vujacic can play both guard positions and has one of the purest outside shots in the game. He can create off the dribble as well as catch-and-shoot. He’s a tenacious if somewhat hyperactive defender with a knack for baiting opposing players into silly fouls. And at the charity stripe, he’s almost automatic.

    With an almost ridiculously fastidious eyebrow-grooming free-throw ritual, Vujacic has iced some important freebies during critical games. A case in point was Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics in 2010 in which his free throws helped clinch a win in the closing seconds.

    Per Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Times, Vujacic explained the end to an adversarial series this way:

    We didn't want to give them a chance to come back or make some crazy shots. I had to make two free throws. I did it.  To have my teammates believing in me and coaches think I can seal the deal is a great feeling.

    At 6'7", Vujacic has great height for a combo guard. He was drafted by the Lakers in 2004 and stayed with the team until being traded to the Nets seven seasons later.

Shooting Guard No. 2: Richard Hamilton

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    Richard “Rip” Hamilton is another of this list of players with a championship ring. He was a key member of the Detroit Pistons during their run to the NBA Finals in 2004.

    Hamilton will turn 36 in February, and age is one of the areas of concern for prospective buyers in the free agent marketplace. Drafted in 1999 as the seventh overall pick by the Washington Wizards, Hamilton played 14 seasons in the NBA, almost exclusively as a starter.

    He’s a three-time All-Star, can flat-out score the ball and has a ton of big-game experience. In 2011 when Hamilton joined the Chicago Bulls, Michael Wilbon of ESPN Chicago wrote about the reliability of his scoring:

    It's what he has done for a living his entire NBA career. He led the Pistons in scoring eight times in nine seasons, six of which ended in trips to the conference finals, two of which ended with trips to the NBA Finals, one of which ended in a championship.

    Hamilton has a 17.1 points per game career average with a total 15,708 points in the NBA. That says a lot right there. You won’t get a player you can build around for the future, but for a team looking to strengthen a roster heading into the playoffs, Hamilton is a smart choice.

Shooting Guard No. 1: Shannon Brown

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    Why is Shannon Brown ranked ahead of Richard Hamilton? It's simply based on pure athleticism. Brown has been one of the most explosive guards in the NBA over a seven-year career.

    One of the curiosities about Brown is why he’s without a job at present. His last two seasons were solid, playing for the Phoenix Suns and putting up career highs in minutes played and points scored. One of the league’s human highlight reels for dunks, Brown also had strong seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, coming off the bench and winning championship rings in 2009 and 2010.

    Shortly before the current regular season was about to begin, Paul Coro for the Arizona Republic wrote Brown was thriving in the new Suns system under new Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and new coach Jeff Hornacek. Brown had this to say:

    This is really like the first year where I’ve been having fun from the very, very beginning. A lot of it has to do with maturity. Expectations for myself and the team. Not really expecting anything but going out and seizing every day. I’m having a great time with great teammates and great coaches. It’s just a better vibe around here.

    The better vibe didn’t last long—two weeks after that interview, Brown was part of the Marcin Gortat trade to the Washington Wizards. He was subsequently waived and is still without a gig. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Brown is still looking for a job in the NBA but has become increasingly engaged in China offers.

    Brown isn’t a finesse player but he’ll give you all-out effort and is fearless driving to the basket. He draws a lot of fouls in the process and has a solid .811 percentage from the stripe.

Small Forward No. 3: Josh Howard

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    The knock on Josh Howard, unfortunately, is injuries. The veteran small forward tore his right ACL in December 2012, just 11 games after joining the Minnesota Timberwolves. This latest setback followed on the heels of comeback from a torn ACL in his left knee.

    Howard was subsequently waived by the Timberwolves, with coach Rick Adelman expressing concern and disappointment during an injury-filled season—this per the Associated Press:

    I feel really bad for him. He worked so hard to bring himself back. It's just a shock. We need someone like Josh. That's really what we need, especially a backup (small forward) that can guard perimeter people. We better get somebody, but I don't know who that is at this point.

    Howard went through surgery and rehab, and when he didn’t get picked up for the 2013-14 NBA season, decided to play in the D-League with the Austin Toros, a team owned and operated by the San Antonio Spurs.

    Marc J. Spears for Yahoo! Sports writes that Howard, who has invested his NBA money wisely over the years, is now earning a $25,000 salary and changing in a storage room, all for the love of the game:

    Beggars can't be choosy is what my grandma said. I'm just happy to be out there playing. I love the game. Ultimately, this is a game I played as a kid to get outside of the house away from grandma and mama – 'You ain't going to make me vacuum today. I'm going to play ball.' 

    Howard, a former NBA All-Star, was drafted in 2003 by the Dallas Mavericks and spent most of seven seasons with the team before being traded to the Wizards. A starter for most of his career, he has a career scoring average of 14.3 points and 5.7 rebounds.

    Will Howard make it back from the D-League for another shot at the big time? There’s no telling, but he’s certainly a known commodity and plays with a genuine passion.

Small Forward No. 2: Devin Ebanks

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    If some of the players on this list are about experience and dedication, Devin Ebanks is about unrealized potential and question marks.

    Ebanks has only three regular seasons of NBA basketball under his belt and has only played in 63 games during that time. Why is he on this list then? Because he presents a possible upside for the future.

    Ebanks was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. That was Phil Jackson’s last year coaching the team. Ebanks appeared in just 20 games that season as well as six games with the Bakersfield Jam. What was obvious, however, was that he possessed a ton of athleticism and potential.

    Per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times, Jackson, who’s usually loathe to say positive things about rookies, had this to say about the 6'9" prospect after he returned from the D-League:

    His game is probably at par. He's probably playing at a good level and his activity level's good. There's some things he's forgotten, or the nuances, in the last two weeks or so. But he'll be fine. He’s a real athletic kid who can help us out in certain situations.

    Unfortunately, Ebanks didn’t see a big uptick in his usage the following season under coach Mike Brown or the one after that under Mike D’Antoni. He was waived by the team this past October before the regular season began and was signed briefly by the Dallas Mavericks before again being cut.

    Ebanks is a combo shooting guard/small forward, and during his three seasons with the Lakers was often buried in the rotation behind Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes. In 2012, Andy Kamenetzky for ESPN Los Angeles wrote the following after Ebanks was assigned to the D-League again:

    Personally, I think Devin's skill sets and athleticism provides a unique utility for the Lakers, and he started out the season looking pretty good before abruptly being removed from the rotation altogether. Plus, as one of the few young players on the roster—and at a position of weakness to boot—I think it would behoove the Lakers to figure out what they have in him moving forward.

    Ultimately, the Lakers never did figure it out. Ebanks is back in the D-League again, this time with the Texas Legends, and averaging 24.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

Small Forward No. 1: Stephen Jackson

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    Stephen Jackson is one of the few free agents on this list with recent NBA experience. It was, however short-lived—just nine games with the Los Angeles Clippers this season before being waived.

    Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1997, Captain Jack was cut before playing a single game. He spent three years playing internationally and with the CBA before landing with the New Jersey Nets for one season. A long and productive career followed, including an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003 (his first of two stints with the team).

    An immensely talented player, Jackson has a notoriously short fuse, and it can work both for him and against him. He can galvanize teammates into stepping up their energy and also picks up technical fouls at an alarmingly fast rate.

    Jackson has a reputation for making his feelings known to coaches. Writing about Jackson’s signing with the Clippers, Ben Golliver for Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward referenced the veteran’s prior season:

    Jackson, 35, hasn’t played in the NBA since he was released by the Spurs, just days before the start of the playoffs, which culminated in a San Antonio trip to the Finals. A disagreement between coach Gregg Popovich and Jackson over the player’s role reportedly prompted the decision.

    You know things are getting rough when a productive player gets his walking papers on the eve of the playoffs. That’s Jackson though—in with a bang and out with a bang. Other issues have included a 30-game suspension after the Malice at the Palace brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in 2004, and an arrest in 2006 for firing his gun during an altercation outside a gentlemen’s club.

    Jackson can score the ball in a hurry. He nailed seven three-pointers in a first-round playoff game with the Golden State Warriors during 2007 and six three-pointers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 2012 while with the Spurs. He has a career average of 15.1 points per game and a .333 career percentage from beyond the arc.

    When it comes down to it, Jackson can make a difference for a team. He steps up the energy level on both ends of the floor and can pick an opponent’s pocket with the best of them. In a midseason free agent market that’s not especially deep, he ranks at the top of the small forward list.

Power Forward No. 3: Shawne Williams

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    After a wildly inconsistent NBA career, Shawne Williams seemed to have found a role with the Los Angeles Lakers this season. Shortly before his veteran’s minimum salary would have been guaranteed for the full season however, he was waived.

    Williams is a bit undersized for the power forward position, but he plays hard and can also stretch the floor with a decent if not wholly reliable outside shot. He was playing 20.2 minutes per game this season and was a favorite of Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

    Per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, his coach had this to say about the loss of a core rotation player:

    It's hard for everybody. You do get attached to guys you enjoy walking down an alley with. He will fight for you in a heartbeat and he was a voice in the locker room for us. I could trust him basketball-wise anything I told him. He did the best he could do. He was good. I'll miss him.

    Williams also played well for D’Antoni during the 2010-11 season with the New York Knicks, averaging 7.1 points per game in 20.7 minutes. He’s not a guy who fills up the stat sheets but he alters shots on the defensive end and does a lot of the little things right.

    Unfortunately, Williams has had his share of off-court issues and has had a hard time sticking with teams. Taken as the 15th pick in the 2005 draft, he’s bounced around the league, being variously traded or waived. He has been relatively injury free though, and at age 28 still has some potential upside ahead of him.

Power Forward No. 2: Chris Wilcox

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    A combo center/power forward, Chris Wilcox has a lot of NBA experience having played for six teams over the course of 11 seasons.

    At 6'10", Wilcox has a fundamentally solid low-post game, runs the floor well and will get after offensive rebounds and loose balls. During his last season with the Boston Celtics in 2012-13, he started in seven out of 61 games and averaged a career-best field-goal percentage of .719 according to Basketball-Reference. That particular stat was way beyond his career average of .541.

    One of the big knocks on Wilcox has been health issues, including back spasms, Achilles strain, hamstring problems, a torn thumb ligament and surgery to repair an enlarged aorta. To date, he has only played a full 82-game season once in his career and has often played considerably fewer games due to injury.

    In late November, Marc Stein of ESPN reported on possible interest in Wilcox from the Los Angeles Clippers who were also considering Lamar Odom. Both players began their NBA careers with the Clippers.

    Sources close to the situation say that Wilcox, who Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows well after their time together in Boston, is in L.A.'s thoughts as a fallback options should it ultimately decide to pass on bringing back Odom. 

    To date, neither player has found a new home. Wilcox is a decent finisher at the rim and also has a streaky jumper that extends to about the 15-foot range.

Power Forward No. 1: Lamar Odom

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    Lamar Odom’s stock in the NBA has plunged since being named the Sixth Man of the Year in 2011. Still, he’s a name that often comes up in free agency rumors.

    When it comes to skill sets, Odom had plenty in the NBA. At 6'10", he could play all five positions and often brought the ball up the length of the floor, throwing the timing of defenders off with a hesitation move and then driving to the basket to finish with a lefty hook.

    Drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers as the fourth overall pick in 1999, Odom spent 14 seasons in the NBA. He won two NBA Finals rings with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010, but the wheels eventually fell off the bus.

    Just prior to training camp in 2012, Odom was offered by the Lakers as part of a trade package for Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. The deal was voided by the league, and Odom was left with a team he felt no longer valued him. During a phone interview with Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Times, Odom offered this:

    “Maybe I’ll see you there tomorrow [at practice], but I doubt it. You don’t want to go to no place you’re not wanted.”

    Odom was subsequently dealt to the Dallas Mavericks but asked to be released from his contract after 50 games. He signed with the Clippers the following season and while playing all 82 games, posted a career-low scoring average of just four points per game.

    At age 34, there are numerous questions that come with Odom as a free agent. He’s dealt with a number of injuries, has logged a lot of minutes over the years and simply hasn’t looked like the same player during his last two seasons. Odom has also dealt with personal and family issues off the court.

    Despite everything he’s been through, Odom is an intriguing possibility as an available free agent with a wealth of playoff experience. One of the most versatile big men to ever play the game, he can score, rebound, run the floor and deliver precision passes.

Center No. 3: Marcus Camby

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The big caveat with Marcus Camby is his age and questions of durability. Although often injured, he played 17 seasons in the NBA and is now 39 years old.

    Does Camby have anything left in the tank? Is he even interested in coming back for another season?

    The answer to the latter question is yes, according to Mark Berman for Fox 26 Sports who relayed text messages from Camby that he’s on target to return to the NBA during the 2014 season:

    “I'm doing good. I'm able to jog on a treadmill now. So just still in therapy. Hoping in another month or so to start back on the court.”

    Camby was waived by the Houston Rockets in October and subsequently had surgery to repair a torn plantar fascia. According to the Fox report, Camby has a home in Pearland, Texas and would prefer to play for the Rockets.

    The NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, Camby joined the Rockets' training camp before the start of the current season but was struggling with his foot injury. Camby last played for the New York Knicks, appearing in 24 regular season games during the 2012-13 season. His averages were the lowest of his career at just 1.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in just over 10 minutes.

    In his prime, Camby was one of the top rebounders and shot-blockers in the league. He still holds a career average of 9.8 boards and 2.4 blocks per game. He has blocked 11 shots on two separate occasions—for the Toronto Raptors against the New Jersey Nets on April 14, 1998 and a decade later for the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz on January 17, 2008.

    The question always, of course, is not what you did then but what can you do now? Camby has always been one of the most clever big men in the game, using timing and anticipation to counter bigger, stronger players. It’s not unreasonable to expect he can still help a team in spot minutes.

Center No. 2: Lou Amundson

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    Lou Amundson is included here as a center, but he’s also frequently played the power forward position during eight seasons in the NBA. Amundson was waived by the New Orleans Pelicans on December 31, 2013 after appearing in 18 games.

    The NBA D-League Rookie of the Year in 2007, Amundson is a prototypical journeyman role player. He wasn’t drafted into the NBA and has had a number of short stays throughout his career. His longest and most productive tenure has been with the Phoenix Suns for two season from 2008-10.

    At 6'9", Amundson is undersized for the center position, but he has a solid work ethic and plays hard in the paint. He’s on this list because he’s the quintessential insurance chip—he doesn’t cost much, won’t present any problems and accepts whatever role is given him.

    If you’re looking for an energy player who will crash the offensive boards and deliver hard fouls willingly, Amundson is your guy. The nature of his unselfish play will probably keep him employed in the league more frequently than some of the others on this list—although not necessarily for longer stays.

    It’s typical of this traveling big man’s career that he was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers on October 26, 2013 and then signed by the Pelicans on November 12. According to Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie, the Pelicans didn’t even have time to sew Amundson’s name onto his jersey before pressing him into action that night against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Center No. 1: Andrew Bynum

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    Somebody will probably sign Andrew Bynum before too long. The real question is whether he actually wants to play or whether he’s simply looking for a little extra cash to add to what he’s already made.

    Bynum was once one of the NBA’s most dominant centers. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago. In August of 2012, Bynum was part of a massive four-team trade that sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets and Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    At that point, Bynum, a 7-foot, 285-pound giant, had just come off his best season in the NBA, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

    The following season, the new 76ers centerpiece played exactly zero games and earned $16,889,000. After trying for most of the season to rehab his chronically aching knees, Bynum ultimately underwent double-knee arthroscopic surgery.

    This season found Bynum dragging his baggage to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he signed a $24 million contract for two years, albeit one that was loaded with options.

    Bynum was able to play 24 games for the Cavs, averaging 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds over 20 minutes per game. It was at least a return to some semblance of productivity. His stay ended, however, with a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, followed by a trade to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng. The Bulls immediately waived Bynum, thus avoiding the deadline at which the remainder of his season’s salary would have been guaranteed.

    Why’s Bynum ranked as the top available center in this list? Because his actual stats this year have been better than any of our other available big men, and because there’s a reasonable possibility he could be signed for an amount that is ridiculously less than anyone might have imagined two years ago.

    A two-time NBA champion, Bynum was widely viewed as the second best center in the league after Dwight Howard not that long ago. He’s still an imposing defender under the basket and has a nice arsenal of hook shots and baby jumpers out to about 12 feet from the basket.

    The biggest liability, of course, are Bynum’s chronically messed-up knees, his lackadaisical attitude and whatever causes a guy to be immediately suspended from a team for detrimental conduct.