5 Sneaky Good "Plan B" Options for NBA Free Agency
The 2014 free-agent crop has the potential to be a big one with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all having the options to leave Miami and join the fray. That's where most of the hype is coming from.
But if we're being realistic, chances are that New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony will be the one major star who will headline the class, followed by a lot of young restricted free agents like Eric Bledsoe and Gordon Hayward who probably aren't going anywhere.
Since there's only one Anthony, and since the chances of stealing away a guy like Dirk Nowitzki from Dallas are pretty slim, teams are going to have to resort to their backup plans fairly quickly if free agents re-up with their current teams.
For this exercise, we'll list an available free agent at each position that is flying under the radar. These players all fall under this criteria: each player is making less than $2.5 million this season and playing less than 30 minutes a night.
Without further delay, here are 5 of the best "Plan B" options for the 2014 offseason.
All stats are via Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of April 3.
PG: Shaun Livingston
The revival of Shaun Livingston's career has been one of the best stories in the league this season. Very quietly, Livingston has been Brooklyn's best perimeter defender, and his court vision and size have made him a very difficult matchup on the other end as well.
Essentially, Livingston has been the glue guy for the Nets. It's fitting that Livingston, who suffered one of the worst knee injuries in professional sports history with the Los Angeles Clippers, has done whatever it takes to fit in and make it work.
Livingston looks as though he's found a home with the eighth team of his professional career, but he will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. With a career-high PER of 14.8, true shooting percentage of .550 and his solid assist-to-turnover ratio, Livingston will surely attract plenty of attention from teams looking to find a dependable, smart player who can play and cover multiple positions.
Livingston can earn a three-year, $10 million contract via the taxpayer mid-level exception, but it's possible other teams might offer more. At 28 and having bounced around the league, though, Livingston might be ready to stay put with a coach in Jason Kidd that appreciates his skill set and a team that really meshes well with what he does. Here's what Livingston recently told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
(My enjoyment with Brooklyn and how I fit) definitely plays a factor. You have to weigh your situations, your options. The reason I’m in a situation where I can demand a contract is because I’m playing for this team, this coach, this system. I realize that and I’m not over my head. But at the same time, it’s a business. You have to look at it like (the next contract) could always be your last.
There will be younger and more explosive guards on the market, like the Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry and Sacramento Kings' Isaiah Thomas, but Livingston is a great backup option that could be poached away by a team that has stars already in place.
SG: C.J. Miles
Is Cleveland Cavaliers guard C.J. Miles going to be a hot commodity this offseason? Probably not.
Still, once the talent pool starts to get a little more shallow, Miles should pop out as an effective player who can put up a lot of points in a hurry.
Miles is one of the streakier scorers in the game, as he'll go for 30 one night and be held scoreless the next. That being said, his per-36 minute averages this season of 18.4 points, 3.0 three-pointers made and 39.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc should have teams drooling. It doesn't hurt that at 6'6" with good length, Miles can play either wing spot fairly easily.
Durability is a cause of concern, as the 26-year-old forward has only played in 51 games this year and 65 last year. Still, in those two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miles has had a combined PER of 15.6. You can certainly argue he should have been starting in each of the last two seasons, particularly considering what Cleveland has had on the wing.
Perhaps Miles will look elsewhere for more playing time, as he'll be one of the best available shooters that's an unrestricted free agent. Although he doesn't provide a whole lot more than his scoring contributions, Miles' teams have been slightly better defensively when he's on the floor as opposed to when he's been off, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Teams in need of perimeter shooting and some smart off-ball cutting (Miles did play in the Flex offense under Jerry Sloan in Utah, after all) would be wise to go after him this offseason. Put him in a system that relies heavily on three-point shooting, and Miles could pay big dividends.
SF: James Johnson
I'm still a little confused as to how James Johnson started the year unsigned, but everyone else's mistakes have turned into the Memphis Grizzlies' good fortune.
While he’s a solid two-way player, when he’s completely locked in, his one-on-one defense can be more mesmerizing than his versatile offensive game. No steal is too improbable; no block is out of the realm of possibility. Defense is an essential part of Johnson’s identity—as a basketball player, as a person.
With great size, length and athleticism, Johnson could be the perfect type of defender to stay attached to some of the bigger wing scorers in the league, like Paul George, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
That's a pretty valuable skill to bring to the table, but Johnson also has pretty good court vision and the ability to handle the ball a bit. He's a wildly versatile player, even if his lack of perimeter shooting might be the reason some teams shy away.
Still, Johnson's career per-36 numbers of 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.7 steals put him with some serious company. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the only other small forwards to average at least 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.0 blocks over a full season are Josh Smith and Andrei Kirilenko. You simply have to wonder how good Johnson could be with a real slate of minutes.
With Memphis in a tough cap situation and Johnson becoming an unrestricted free agent, it wouldn't be a surprise if teams that missed out on some of the bigger names on the wing gave Johnson a call. There's an awful lot to like here.
PF: Mike Scott
What should a team do if they miss out on Carmelo Anthony? Putting in a bid on restricted free agent Mike Scott might not be a bad idea.
I know it sounds a little blasphemous, but Scott actually has a little bit of Anthony in him.
Although he's not nearly the shooter Anthony is, the 25-year-old Atlanta Hawks forward is of a similar build and really has a knack for scoring. Considering this is essentially Scott's rookie year since he barely played last season, he's shown great flashes both out of the post and with little floaters in the lane.
Scott is averaging 18.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per 36 minutes this year with a solid PER of 15. As he becomes more comfortable stretching out his range (Scott is shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc), there's the definite chance he develops into a really dangerous scorer in the frontcourt who can be paired with a defensive-minded, shot-blocking center.
This year's power forward class is pretty deep, but Scott should be on plenty of lists as a potential target, particularly if the Hawks aren't quite ready to invest in him during this stage of their reloading process.
C: Greg Smith
I don't blame you if Greg Smith isn't on your radar, as there's a good chance he won't be on many general managers' minds either.
Smith is the Houston Rockets' third-string center after all, and he's out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.
That's a scary proposition for a man of Smith's size (6'10", 250 lbs), but at just 23 years old, we shouldn't close the book on his NBA career by any means.
That's especially true when you consider just how good Smith was last year for Houston. With per-36 minute averages of 13.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and a PER of 16.1, Smith proved plenty capable of being a good solid backup center with upside to boot.
The fact Smith is working mostly off natural ability lends to the idea he'll get much better, as most young big men develop pretty late in the game and usually hit their prime around their sixth season or so.
Smith has the foundation, even if some of his mobility might be taken away by this knee injury. With a strong frame, gigantic hands and good instincts around the rim, another team would be smart to poach Smith away from the Rockets by making an offer they might not be prepared to match given their depth at the 5 spot.
Again, there will be bigger names and more established players out there, but Smith offers the type of upside you'd like to get out of your "Plan B" type of player.