7 Best Bargain Buys on the 2014 NBA Free-Agent Market
NBA executives are already forming their strategies and plotting their plans of attack for the annual arms race that is free agency.
While most coverage will center around the most lethal weapons on the market—this is a superstars league, after all—some of the wisest investments are the ones that don't draw front-page attention.
With the tight constraints set forth in the current collective bargaining agreement, teams desperately need to find cheap production. That's what helps balance the books so big-fish pursuits can be carried out.
Bargain buys in the league are no different than in real life. They're not easy to find but instantly gratifying when discovered.
So, what makes a good NBA bargain? When production trumps economic cost, something far easier to do when price tags don't extend beyond a $5 million annual salary.
These players all should stay within that range for a couple different reasons. Some have yet to find a situation that allows them to realize their potential. Others have lingering medical concerns, or have reached the stage in their careers where team success holds more weight than financial gains.
All of these players are unrestricted free agents, as the offer sheets extended to restricted ones are often inflated to dissuade clubs from matching.
For clubs searching for budget contributors, these seven players deserve strong consideration.
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
It was a worst-case scenario contract year for combo guard Jerryd Bayless, which could mean a best-case scenario for teams in the market for a second-team scoring punch.
His 9.3 points-per-game scoring average was the second-best of his career, but his 40.2 field-goal percentage was his lowest since his rookie season. Coupled with a 35.8 three-point percentage and a 2.7 assists average, it was a very underwhelming performance for the 25-year-old.
With a lethal combination of handles, quickness and agility, Bayless is the definition of a tough cover off the bounce. When he's shooting well from deep (he hit 42.3 percent of his threes in 2011-12), he can frustrate a defense from anywhere on the court.
A strong 2013-14 campaign could have netted him a lucrative deal, but the disappointing returns on his stat sheet might paint him into a corner. He could settle for a short-term deal with the hope of restoring his value for his next free-agency foray, or he might take the security of a long-term contract that would almost certainly pay him less than market value.
After disappointing this time around, he could quietly emerge as one of the summer's greatest bargains.
"At the right price, the 25-year-old Bayless provides nice versatility off the bench, but he has strides to make defensively," ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg wrote. "It's easy to forget how young he is and there's still time to mold his game."
For a club that can afford to be patient with him, like the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks, Bayless could be well worth the investment.
DeJuan Blair, PF/C
Energetic big man DeJuan Blair is still waiting for his big break in the NBA.
He never had it during four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and hoped he'd found it with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2013-14 campaign. That never happened, though, as he logged just 15.6 minutes a night for Rick Carlisle's squad, the second-fewest of his career.
That's music to the ears of any potential suitor. No one is backing up a Brink's truck in front of a 25-year-old who's averaged only 18.2 minutes per game for his career.
The 6'7" post player offers little in terms of rim protection (career 0.3 blocks per game), but he's relentless on the glass and instinctive at the offensive end. He has twice finished inside the league's top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage (including a league-leading 14.8 mark in 2010-11), via Basketball-Reference.com, and he averaged an absurd 6.2 boards in just 13.5 minutes a night during six postseason games for the Mavs.
If Blair had his way, he'd be back playing with the Mavericks next season.
"Hopefully I can come back to Dallas and we can get another shot at it," he said, via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
However, with Brandan Wright already on the books, and Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert both expected to return, there may not be a spot for Blair. For teams in need of bargain frontcourt depth, the tenacious big man could certainly scratch that itch.
Aaron Brooks, PG
Aaron Brooks might not have the deepest bag of NBA tricks, but he possesses one easily identifiable NBA skill—the 29-year-old is a scoring machine.
He's not the most efficient shooter in the business (he has a career .413/.368/.847 shooting slash line), but that hasn't kept him from getting buckets. He owns a career 11.1 points-per-game scoring average, a number that becomes far more impressive when considering he's seen only 23.6 minutes a night during his six seasons in the league.
Lightning quick off the dribble and never afraid to mix it up with big bodies under the basket, he plays with the passion needed from a spark-plug reserve. While probably not a starter at this point in his career, although he has made 161 starts in 397 career games, he's capable of creating for others when the situation calls for it.
"He can score; he's proven that over his career," Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said, via Terry Frei of The Denver Post. "He can lead a team, and run a team."
Some role players struggle to find their niche, but Brooks has already found his NBA calling. He could provide a major lift to offensively challenged bench mobs like those of the Portland Trail Blazers or Washington Wizards.
Vince Carter, SG/SF
A qualifier must be attached to those interested in acquiring veteran swingman Vince Carter: Contenders need only apply.
"At this point in my career, I just want to play for teams that compete for a championship," he said, via ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. "I just want that opportunity, so that's what I'm looking for."
It's hard to tell if he'll envision such a ceiling with the Mavericks. Dallas squeezed into the Western Conference playoff picture as the No. 8 seed, then promptly pushed the eventual champion Spurs to a full seven games in the opening round.
If Carter expands his search, he should have no shortage of potential landing spots. Although Father Time has made the 37-year-old 95 percent man and 5 percent amazing, he's still a savvy scorer and knockdown shooter from distance (39.4 three-point percentage in 2013-14).
After shooting a career-worst 41.8 percent on two-point field goals, via Basketball-Reference, he's more of a long-range specialist than ever before. However, he's an awfully effective specialist, as evidenced by his 11.9 points per game, third-highest on the team.
Carter doesn't have to leave Dallas to contend for a playoff spot, but he could find a clearer path to prominence with either the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, all three of which should be shopping for a second-team wing scorer.
Jordan Hill, PF/C
Jordan Hill, the eighth overall pick in 2009, has spent five seasons in the NBA, but the book on him has not been officially released.
Is the 26-year-old a draft bust as his career 6.7 scoring average might suggest? Or is he still a high-upside player who has yet to land with the right team?
There's reason to believe—or, at the very least, hope—it could be the latter.
The 6'10" post player has already called three different NBA cities home. He's twice served under former Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who demands perimeter proficiency from his bigs that Hill simply does not possess.
In the right situation, Hill looks like he could be a productive piece of someone's puzzle. He logged a career-high 20.8 minutes a night in 2013-14 and made the most of his expanded opportunity. He posted career-best marks nearly across the board, including points (9.7), rebounds (7.4) and field-goal percentage (54.9).
With D'Antoni out, Hill could opt to keep his Hollywood home and see if he's better utilized in a new system. If not, expect him to pop up on the radar of teams needing a frontcourt lift like the Atlanta Hawks, who have interest in Hill, according to Fox Sports' Sam Amico, or the New Orleans Pelicans, who CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported discussed a deal for Hill at the trade deadline.
Emeka Okafor, C
Any potential suitors for free-agent center Emeka Okafor are sure to proceed with caution.
The 31-year-old missed the entire 2013-14 campaign with a herniated disc in his neck. It's hard to say with any certainty what the big man's body will allow him to do going forward.
Yet, it's that same uncertainty that helped Okafor secure a spot on this list. He might be a high-risk target, but there's potential for his next club to be highly rewarded at a low cost.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding opined that the No. 2 draft pick in 2004 could be a prime target for the Lakers.
"Okafor might well be available on a contract with only one guaranteed year," Ding wrote, "and he is a proven defensive paint presence who covers up others' mistakes."
After having missed so much time, Okafor may be forced to a settle for a prove-it contract. If he finds his way to a clean bill of health, his next employer could prove to be a genius. He's averaged nearly a double-double over his career (12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds) and 1.7 blocks a night.
A retooling team like the Lakers could be a prime spot for him to showcase his skills. If team success drives his decision, Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders said Okafor could be an option for the Heat.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG
Rodney Stuckey needs a fresh start.
After spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Detroit Pistons, it seems like it's time for him to seek out greener pastures elsewhere.
His playing time has decreased in each of the past four seasons. While he's maintained some of his effectiveness, his place in the franchise's plans has appeared to nosedive. Perhaps his price tag has as well.
The fact that Stuckey is not a consistent three-point shooter (28.6 percent for his career) should drive his value even further down.
Why, then, should anyone be interested? Because he's rattled off six straight seasons of double-digit points, averaged 4.8 assists or more three times in his career and always flashed the strength and athleticism to survive among the trees filling the paint.
Teams know he's looking to drive, but they still have trouble stopping him. He shot 46.8 percent on drives this season, via NBA.com's StatVU player tracking data, a better mark than that of All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving (46.7).
Stuckey needs floor spacers around him, which he didn't have in Detroit, so Miami and Golden State could both be intriguing destinations.
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