8 NBA Free Agents Who Could Take Pay Cut to Play for Contender Next Season
By the time July rolls around, the NBA will be awash in the wheelings and dealings of what’s expected to be a frenzied free-agency period.
With Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony being just a few of the big names slated to dominate the news cycle, we could, before all’s said and done, be looking at a drastically different basketball landscape.
And yet, there resides beyond the singular game-changers a slew of solid free agents capable of helping any contender as part of its rotation. Because for every Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—the superstar title guarantor—there’s a P.J. Brown on the 2008 Boston Celtics or a Mike Miller on the 2012 Miami Heat.
What follows are eight veterans who could use free agency to help an upper-echelon team take the next step. Even if it’s at a discount.
For our purposes, we'll refrain from using free agents already on contenders—or teams that have near-contender status—in lieu of the role players facing minimal championship prospects with their current teams.
History is built to honor the championship-winning stars. Truth is, without the seemingly small cogs that help make the engine run, many a seemingly inevitable title would've been lost.
All salary data courtesy of ShamSports.com.
Last Year’s Salary: $4 million
Best Fit: Miami Heat
Following a serviceable one-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, Elton Brand announced—via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution—that he intends to return for a 16th season:
Brand said he started his preparations for another season with Hawks strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watkinson and is currently working out in Pennsylvania in preparation for another year. The NBA free agency period begins July 1 and players can sign contracts starting on July 10.
Brand finished the 2013-14 campaign averaging 10.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, a solid line that will no doubt warrant him a look from plenty of teams.
Depending on how their free-agent Rubik’s Cube shakes out, the Miami Heat would be one team that could stand to benefit from Brand’s low-post presence.
At 35 years old, Brand definitely has more than a little fuel left in the tank. At something at or near a veteran’s minimum, he stands to become a sneaky steal on this summer’s much-ballyhooed market.
Last Year’s Salary: $3.1 million
Best Fit: Golden State Warriors
Two years ago, Bayless was the lone reliable contributor off a Memphis Grizzlies bench notorious for being one of the least dependable in the league. Following a year wallowing in losses with the Boston Celtics, Bayless will doubtless be looking for a change in scenery.
As a third guard and smooth-shooting second-unit scoring option, Bayless—when he’s at his best—knows few rivals.
Which is why he’d make for a perfect fit with the Golden State Warriors, whose bench production suffered mightily after Jarrett Jack’s departure last summer.
Depending on how they choose to parse their slew of team options, the Warriors could have enough room to bring Bayless aboard for a healthy sum—perhaps something in the $3-$4 million range.
As a player to back up Stephen Curry, you could certainly do much worse.
Last Year’s Salary: $15.3 million
Best fits: Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics
If you’re Paul Pierce, how bitter was the taste in your mouth after falling once again to the Miami Heat?
Recall that Pierce and Kevin Garnett took some convincing to okay the trade that brought them from the Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets last summer. And while it’s hard to imagine Pierce walking away from his longtime teammate, another ring would certainly help bolster his Hall of Fame bona fides.
Recently, Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes weighed in on whether or not Pierce should be looking to spurn his most recent employers:
Ultimately, Pierce is justified in looking around this summer. And it's very likely he'll find a situation that offers an opportunity to make a deeper playoff run than he can expect with the Nets.
For all the positives of returning to Brooklyn (an easy road to the postseason being one of them), there's really no chance to win a title with that team. The core is too old, financial flexibility is nonexistent and almost nobody on the roster projects to improve on what they did this past season—with apologies to Mason Plumlee.
With that scenario unlikely to unfold in Brooklyn, Pierce should be weighing his options carefully. If he’s willing to take a financial bath, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs—both of which will have a bit of cap room to spare—could make for intriguing fits.
Pierce would give the Suns the frontcourt scoring punch they desperately need, while his intelligence and veteran moxie could mean a seamless fit with the system-ready Spurs.
Looking for a dark-horse candidate? How about the Celtics? In the event they land Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony, Pierce could return to his longtime home at a steep discount, turning the Celtics from laughingstock to loaded contender almost overnight.
Color us intrigued.
Last Year’s Salary: $6.4 million
Best Fits: Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat
A few weeks back, it was reported that Frye, a longtime Phoenix Suns staple, would opt out of his $6.8 million player option for the 2014-15 season.
I want to talk to the Suns and make sure we're both on the same page about what I want," Frye told AZSportsCentral.com's Paul Coro. "I'd love to stay here. It's up to them and their future and what they want to do. I love wearing this uniform."
And while the ostensible goal is to sign a long-term extension with Phoenix, the franchise’s moves this summer could make for a complicated situation on that front.
With a bevy of draft picks and plenty of cap space at their disposal, the Suns—who against all odds finished with 48-wins and just barely missing the playoffs—find themselves in an enviable position this summer. How Frye figures into the long-term plans, needless to say, remains to be seen.
Still, Frye’s frontcourt versatility could prove a big boon on the right team—a team, it should be noted, that is a bit closer to contention than these Suns.
Both the Pacers and the Heat stand to be in need of some bench help next season—something Frye (can't you see a rich man's Rashard Lewis?) could contribute in spades. Especially for the Pacers, who too often watched would-be wins disappear amidst nonexistent production from their reserves.
Last Year’s Salary: $6.2 million
Best Fits: Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs
To date, Jason Richardson has made close to $100 million playing in the NBA. What his otherwise solid resume doesn't include, however, is a NBA championship.
Richardson is coming off something of a lost season with the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that could most politely be described as “rebuilding.” Now, Richardson could exercise his $6.8 million player option. Question is, to what end?
The Sixers have a slew of draft picks—picks they’ll be using to bolster every facet of their roster, including the backcourt. Does Richardson want to risk playing second fiddle to a developing rookie? Or would he rather take his chances on the open market and the attendant opportunity of joning a contender?
The Pacers' lack of bench punch is well noted, making Richardson an almost automatic good fit. The Spurs, meanwhile, seem tailor-made for Richardson’s brand of perimeter play—precisely the kind of spot-up, knock-down shooter Gregg Popovich loves to employ.
Last Year’s Salary: $3.1 million
Best Fits: Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder
Let’s face it: Knowing what we know about Chris Kaman—i.e., he enjoys hunting very, very much—Los Angeles probably wasn’t the best fit for him.
And yet, the veteran center still managed to register 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds with a PER of 17.1 during the 2013-14 season. If that doesn’t scream “serviceable,” what does?
Kaman’s never been much of a defensive stalwart, but as a frontcourt sparkplug off the bench, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable option. That off the bat makes him a perfect fit for both the Pacers and the Thunder, albeit for slightly different reasons.
The Pacers, as we’ve noted ad nauseum, are in desperate need of rotational depth. To say Kaman would represent an upgrade over Ian Mahinmi—owed $8 million over the next two seasons, but still tradable—would be an understatement.
Ditto the Thunder and Kendrick Perkins, who isn’t exactly receiving the most robust vote of confidence from head coach Scott Brooks.
Here, Kaman would give the Thunder a flexibility at center they haven’t had—someone both capable of scoring efficiently in the low post but expendable enough to take a back seat whenever small ball beckons.
Last Year’s Salary: $9.3 million
Best Fits: Oklahoma City Thunder
Shawn Marion has a decision to make: Stay loyal to the team that won him a ring, or try outfitting his hand in a slightly better situation.
There’s a good chance Marion will be brought back to the Dallas Mavericks by hook, crook or Mark Cuban’s good graces. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options out there for the versatile, veteran forward—assuming, of course, he’s ready and willing to take a pay cut.
Once again, the Thunder offer a compelling possibility. Not only would Marion’s multipositional prowess help shore up OKC’s defense; he would be the perfect cog in a small-ball lineup featuring Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka.
Can you imagine how lethal the Thunder’s perimeter switches could be with both Marion and Ibaka in the fray? The mind recoils.
Couple all that with the fact that OKC rests just a few hours drive from Dallas, Marion could be looking at a situation that is both fruitful and practical.
Last Year’s Salary: $12 million
Best Fits: Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs
Pop culture-wise, Kris Humphries is about as polarizing as it gets. Basketball-wise? He’s still pretty talented.
On a Celtics team that wasn’t exactly interested in putting its best foot forward, Humphries still managed a PER of 18.2—this in spite of head coach Brad Steven’s propensity for yo-yoing the forward’s role.
At $12 million, Humphries was flagrantly overpaid, no question about it. But at just 29 years old, he’s exactly the kind high-energy bench guy contending teams should be looking to land.
For the Spurs, Humphries would be a significant spot-minute upgrade over Aron Baynes. The Pacers, meanwhile, could desperately use a Tyler Hansbrough-type contributor—an instigator who can get boards and bang bodies with the best of them—off the bench.
With his cultural cachet all but used up, Humphries won’t be getting near the tawdry tender he’s enjoyed these past few seasons. But in the right organization—one preferably immune to the trappings of trivial celebrity—his steadfast production would pay immediate and lasting dividends.