2014 NBA Free Agency: Predicting 6 Biggest Busts and Potential Destinations
All NBA free agents aren't created equal. For every successful addition like LeBron James (Miami Heat) or Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), there are a few disappointments such as Josh Smith (Detroit Pistons) or O.J. Mayo (Milwaukee Bucks) each year.
This summer shouldn't be any different. With a top-heavy free-agent class and so many teams that might be just a player away from changing their fortunes, there expects to be a few bidding wars for potential difference makers.
Whether it's due to a newfound lack of hunger or a bad system fit, a few of the more notable names will inevitably disappoint. To help pinpoint the possible fool's good of this offseason, I comprised a list of the six players that will be free-agent busts.
For the most part, these are all players that will garner serious consideration from a number of suitors and walk away with a nice pay day when it's all said and done. Taking it a step further, I took a stab at where these guys might land.
As always, reader participation is encouraged. If you disagree with someone on this list or feel compelled to make a case for player that should be on here, feel free to drop a comment below.
C Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum is an extremely obvious name, but he made the cut because of the belief he'll get one more shot from a desperate team. That's assuming, of course, the big fella expresses even one iota of desire to be a professional basketball player.
After missing all of last season with the Philadelphia 76ers due to a knee injury, Bynum was arguably the biggest flop of the 2013 offseason. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who initially signed Bynum to a two-year deal, traded the 7-footer to the Chicago Bulls in a midseason deal for Luol Deng.
The Bulls quickly waived Bynum for financial reasons, and he wound up signing with the Indiana Pacers. Midway into the playoffs, the Pacers decided to throw in the towel on the 26-year-old.
This summer, Bynum will hit the open market with concerns about his troublesome knees and whether he still has the heart to play the game that has made him a very rich man. If Bynum decides against hanging it up, someone is bound to take a chance.
Before his season took a downward spiral, he averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds with the Cavs as well as 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in limited action with the Pacers.
The only place where Bynum has had any success was with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's obviously not the player he was prior to being sent to Philly in the Dwight Howard trade, but it's a gamble that makes sense for both parties.
Bynum could use a chance to remove the stench from the past two seasons, and the Lakers could use a cheap big man. However, giving Bynum anything more than a one-year deal for the league minimum would be ridiculous.
SG Thabo Sefolosha
For the right price, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha could be a difference-maker. He's one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and can contribute a little on the offensive end.
However, the key words there are "right price". With so many teams (both contenders and otherwise) in need of an elite wing defender, there could be an auction for the veteran from Switzerland.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, another excellent perimeter defender, nabbed a four-year, $20 million deal to re-up with the team this time last year. That should set the bar for Sefolosha's contract.
Sefolosha is a couple years younger, but he isn't as skilled at either end of the court as Allen is. His regular-season numbers are also down across the board this season compared to last year:
- 2012-13: 7.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 48 percent from the field, just under 42 percent from three, 82.6 percent from the line
- 2013-14: 6.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 41.5 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three, just under 77 percent from the line
Even defensively, Sefolosha let up a little. After holding opponents to an effective field-goal percentage of 46.4 percent last season, he allowed his man to shoot 48.9 percent against him this year, according to 82games.com.
Was it just an off year, or is Sefolosha on the decline?
Regardless, with Allen setting the market for perimeter defenders and teams in need having money to burn, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Sefolosha tops Allen's deal. It would, however, be a mistake.
In a chat a couple months ago, Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry told NewsOK.com that Sefolosha's chances of returning to OKC will depend on his asking price:
By now, the Thunder knows exactly what Thabo can and cannot do. His playoff performance isn't going to change that. And I know the team would like to keep him. But the money is going to be the deciding factor.
Inevitably, I think the Thunder let Sefolosha walk. If that's the case, the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats could use his talents. A return to Chicago to play for the Bulls would make sense as well. My money is on Sefolosha playing in the Windy City next season.
SF Trevor Ariza
For as great as Washington Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza has been this season, you can't overlook his track record for putting up his best numbers when there's a new contract in his sights.
After helping the Los Angeles Lakers win an NBA championship in 2008-09, Ariza parlayed a solid postseason into a five-year, $33.5 million deal with the Houston Rockets. Since signing that contract, Ariza has been traded twice.
This year, he's having the best season of his career. He's averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in the regular season for the Wizards. He's also shot just under 46 percent from the field and nearly 41 percent from behind the arc.
As for Ariza's postseason numbers, he contributed 13.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals pr game. He also shot 48 percent from the field and just under 45 percent from three.
In between his final season with the Lakers and this career year with the Wiz, Ariza's numbers don't leave much to get excited over. He had a good year in his lone season with Houston (14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals), but the rest is pretty ho-hum.
Do you want your team to pay big money to a guy who seems to only get up when there's a new contract on the line?
When he's motivated, Ariza has proved to be a solid two-way talent that could moonlight as a third option for a contender. The problem is there's nothing to suggest he won't coast until it's time for him to get paid again.
As Hardwood Paroxysm's Brian Schroeder tweeted out back on May 9: "Contract Year Ariza is a top 50 player in this league, maybe."
The problem is teams will be paying him to provide more than just one good final season.
The Wizards safeguarded themselves for a potential Ariza departure by re-signing Martell Webster and drafting Otto Porter Jr. last summer. They have leverage if Ariza prices himself out of the nation's capital.
If he doesn't re-sign, the Charlotte Bobcats would be a good fit for the former UCLA forward. They could utilize his defense on the perimeter, and he'd be a nice third option behind Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker...for at least one season, that is.
SF Rudy Gay
(Note: To become a free agent, Rudy Gay would have to pass on accepting a player option that would pay him $19.3 million to stay in Sacramento next season.)
This slide becomes moot if Sacramento Kings forward makes the smart decision to opt in to his $19.3 million player option. In an interview with ESPN's Marc Stein back in February, Gay still seemed conflicted on what the future holds:
I'm not sure. I have to go into the summer with my people, think about everything, weigh out the pros and cons. I don't know yet. But Sacramento's been great to me thus far. Obviously I'm trying to tune it all out right now. All I can think about right now is how great Sacramento's been to me.
As of late March, Gay was still undecided, according to NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper:
What does my gut tell me? I don't know. My gut tells me different things every day. Right now, I’m at the age where I can still make a good team great. Rebuilding, I possibly could do that too. Those are the things I have to weigh. Do I want to be on the rebuilding side? Do I want to make a good team great?
While Gay's future in Sac-Town is up in the air, one thing is certain: If he opts out, he's not making $19 million a year with the Kings or anywhere else.
Gay is a productive scorer, but it's the method of which he gets his points that should make teams balk at paying out huge money to the 27-year-old this summer.
Gay averaged 20 points per game this season between playing for the Kings and the Toronto Raptors. He also averaged 16.2 field-goal attempts a night to get there. In fairness, he was better with the Kings than he was with the Raptors, but he's still not the most efficient scorer in the league.
There's also the fact that teams seem to get better once Gay leaves. Memphis didn't miss a beat after they shipped Gay to Toronto. The Raptors vaulted to the No. 3 seed in the East after sending him to Sacramento.
For all of his talents, he hasn't shown that he can, as he said, "make a good team great". Could he be a excellent No. 2 somewhere? Sure. Would you bank on that team's chances of winning a championship? Probably not.
Unless he absolutely hates it in Sacramento, it's hard to fathom Gay turning down taking the $19 million and sticking around for one more season. However, if Gay values chasing a title and having some kind of stable home, he might decide to chase the dollars elsewhere.
If that's the case, the Cleveland Cavaliers have the cap space and could use Gay to improve an offense that averaged 98.2 points per game. The Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks would be intriguing spots as well.
G/F Gordon Hayward
Utah Jazz guard/forward and restricted free agent Gordon Hayward should be in high demand this summer. He's only 24 years old and has averaged double digits in scoring during his last three years with the Jazz.
This past season, he averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. He also shot 41 percent from the field, but struggled a bit from behind the arc (career-low 30 percent from three).
Still, Hayward's only scratching the surface of his potential. The question is, how much is that potential worth? According to current Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, the former Butler star is worth "a little bit more than the mid-level exception," according to The Salt Lake Tribune's Aaron Falk:
There are a lot of people out there that seemed to think this guy was going to go for near max money. I don’t see that, myself. I think he’s a very good player, very athletic, can do a lot of things. But I think the way the game is going, a perimeter guy who is not a good shooter, not a real good shooter, I think that limits his value in today’s game.
Van Gundy's assessment seems fair. Hayward has the skills to be a star but, four years in, he hasn't proved to be one yet. An offer of around $7 million annually makes sense. However, potential suitors are sure to make extravagant offers to force Utah not to match.
The Jazz have $31 million in cap room, according to Spotrac.com, and could probably match any offer. However, if Utah gets lucky enough in the lottery, they could let Hayward walk and replace him for much cheaper with someone like Duke's Jabari Parker or Kansas' Andrew Wiggins.
That won't stop Hayward from being one of the most overpaid free agents this summer. Can he handle the pressure that would come with a huge contract?
The most obvious landing spot for Hayward is the Boston. The Celtics have the cap space, and they need more talent to put around superstar point guard Rajon Rondo. Plus, they have Hayward's old college coach in Brad Stevens.
SG Lance Stephenson
This season, Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson made a huge leap from scrappy role player to an NBA's Most Improved Player candidate. He averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in the regular season and has put up similar numbers in the playoffs (13.5 points, 7.4 rebounds).
According to 82games.com, opponents have shot 46.1 percent against Stephenson this season.
Those are the positives. Here are the negatives.
Stephenson has gotten into altercations with teammates on two different occasions. First, he and point guard George Hill exchanged pleasantries during a "verbal confrontation" back in March, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
A month later, Stephenson and Evan Turner got into a fight during a Pacers practice, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. These incidents are sure to affect Stephenson's bottom line when he hits the open market this summer.
"Stephenson is a guy who has talent, but if you have a young team and you’re building up a culture, you have to consider that before you pursue a guy who might affect your locker room negatively," one GM told Sporting News' Sean Deveney. "You have to do your due diligence."
A team will likely look past Stephenson's recent transgressions and pay him handsomely. After all, he's only 23 years old and there aren't too many guards that play both ends of the court or rebound like Stephenson does.
While the potential reward is there, the risk is in the financial terms. A deal in the $6-8 million a year range makes sense for a guy that has put together one noteworthy year in four seasons. When you start talking double digits annually, you're talking about a huge gamble for someone who could be a troublemaker.
Stephenson has the talent to be a rising star, but his potential will always be contingent on what's going on between his ears. A team is bound to roll the dice, but how big of a disappointment Stephenson turns out to be will depend on the kind of money he inevitably gets.
If it's the money he craves, the Detroit Pistons have the cap space and could use an upgrade at shooting guard. Plus, the team has a history of taking chances on players with a troubled past (Rasheed Wallace, Josh Smith, to name a couple).