Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Thabo Sefolosha in 2014 Offseason
He was a forgotten man during the 2014 Western Conference Finals, but we should remember a few things about unrestricted free agent Thabo Sefolosha.
He started 61 games this season for a team that won 59 of its contests. Indeed, the 30-year-old has started in all but one of the games he played with the Oklahoma City Thunder since the 2008-09 season. There aren't many swingmen who can brag about playing such an integral role on such a consistently outstanding team.
Now would be a good time to mention that—despite all his contributions—it appears Sefolosha's days in OKC are numbered. The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater recently noted, "It already seemed unlikely the Thunder would bring him back. And his eroding playing time and that late benching, which seemed to irritate Sefolosha, only strengthened that narrative."
Separately, Slater and Ryan Aber wrote in The Oklahoman that, "With the starting lineup expected to stay the same moving forward, there’s now a decent possibility that the long-time OKC forward has played his final minutes in Thunder blue."
That starting lineup is one in which Reggie Jackson replaced Sefolosha at shooting guard, a move head coach Scott Brooks made halfway through the conference finals.
It's telling that Sefolosha spoke of his time with the team in the past-tense, saying (per Slater), "It was a great time. The organization, the teammates, the friendships that I’ve built here with the guys. It’s nothing but positive things. Looking back, we did some amazing things."
Sefolosha's calling card is perimeter defense, and he comes at a nice price.
Sefolosha made just $3.9 million this season, so he should be affordable for virtually any team. At most, he'd command a good chunk of a midlevel exception. Expect the market to yield anywhere from $2-5 million for his services, likely on a two or three-year deal.
Sefolosha won't break the bank, and that could be music to the ears of a number of teams.
Including the following.
5. Sacramento Kings
Most of the teams on this list are either contenders or on the brink of doing great things in the postseason.
The Sacramento Kings aren't one of them.
But if Sefolosha wants to help a younger team find its way into the playoffs, these Kings may be an intriguing destination. On paper, Sacramento could use a shooting guard to ease some of the pressure on second-year guard Ben McLemore.
The Kings could also use a defensive specialist to help show McLemore the ropes, to ensure he doesn't become just another one-dimensional scorer in a league that's full of them. For all of Sacramento's young talent, this roster is short of mentors.
It's also short of guys who can defend.
Sacramento allowed 103.4 points per contest this season, good for just 24th best in the league. Defense has long been a problem for these young Kings, and Sefolosha would be the first step toward correcting it. He alone won't change the culture, but he'd make an appreciable difference.
According to The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater, Sefolosha said at season's end "I like winning." That may preclude a deal with the Kings, at least if the franchise's recent history is any indication of what's to come.
But if Sefolosha has the patience to be part of a turnaround, this is a place to go. Indeed, with the right kind of help in the rotation, Sacramento could be turning things around before we know it.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers' bench made huge strides in 2013-14, thanks in large part to the additions of Mo Williams and Dorell Wright. But when push came to shove in the postseason, that bench all but disappeared—albeit due to injury in Williams' case.
At the moment, inexperienced Will Barton is the closest thing to a backup shooting guard. And that speaks to a larger problem with Portland's bench—it's awfully short on veteran talent.
There's plenty to like about youngsters like Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard. But these aren't the kind of guys you trust in the playoffs, at least not yet.
Now that the Blazers are actually in position to make deep postseason runs, this is a problem worth addressing. No one wants to stunt the development of the young folks, but there's a time and place for them to become more polished.
And it's not the playoffs.
Sefolosha would be a solid backup for Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum. He wouldn't threaten the team's floor spacing, and he'd improve a defense that looked lost against the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals.
The difference between those semifinals and a legitimate title run may hinge on relatively minor roster adjustments. This could be one that makes the difference.
3. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have a number of swingmen who are about to become free agents, including Jordan Hamilton and Omri Casspi. There are a couple of reasons Sefolosha might make sense as a replacement.
First, the Rockets could use some veteran leadership—someone who's been around the playoff block and knows what it takes to get past the first round. Houston is on the verge of doing just that, and the right role player or two could go a long way in helping.
Second, the Rockets need some depth. Excepting Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, Houston didn't have many reliable options coming off the bench this season.
Much of the talk will surround Houston's pursuit of another star-caliber player. The organization has been linked to Carmelo Anthony among others, so someone like Sefolosha might sound like a detour at this point—or, worse yet, a threat to Houston's cap flexibility.
But if this season's Finals taught us anything, it's that a supporting cast can be every bit as valuable as the big names.
A Sefolosha signing wouldn't turn many heads in Houston, but it could be a wise one. As the Rockets look to follow in Oklahoma City's footsteps, one of its castaways may be part of the solution.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers desperately need to instill a defensive identity. Responsibility to construct that identity will largely fall upon the next coach, whoever that might be.
But adding a savvy veteran to the rotation certainly couldn't hurt, especially if that savvy veteran comes cheap.
Virtually everyone—save Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre—on Los Angeles' roster is either a free agent or subject to an option that would make him a free agent. A number of those guys play on the wing, but none has the defensive chops that have defined Sefolosha's career.
To be clear, this isn't a move that would single-handedly change the Lakers' fortunes. It's a step in the right direction, the kind of move that would send a statement to the rest of the roster. If Bryant has any shot at one more title, the Lakers have to play better defense. They have to exercise the demons from a brief Mike D'Antoni era in which defense was an afterthought.
So a statement like signing Sefolosha just might resonate. It just might set a tone, reminding other role players that the franchise has a new set of priorities.
It certainly wouldn't hurt that Sefolosha has an extensive playoff pedigree. He's knows what it means to defend the league's best scorers on the biggest stages.
The Lakers plan to be back in those playoffs sooner rather than later. Now's the time to find guys who have been there before.
1. Miami Heat
Miami needs an improved supporting cast. The 2014 NBA Finals revealed as much, as the San Antonio Spurs' superior depth often seemed to be the difference in the series.
Though there's a case to be made in getting younger, Miami doesn't want to get too young. This is still very much a contender, and incoming talent should be ready to contend. After watching his team do battle with OKC in the 2012 Finals, Heat president Pat Riley knows Sefolosha would be ready for the job.
That job is simple enough: defend and spot up in the corner.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will handle the rest.
Sefolosha is no Ray Allen from beyond the arc, but he's a better defender than anyone currently playing on Miami's bench. That could take some of the pressure off James and Wade to defend the other team's best scorer, saving some of their energy for the offensive end.
The Heat have a lot to sort out at the moment, including the status of their own free agents. But there's one role that Sefolosha could try to fill already and that's Shane Battier's. The retiring Battier has been one of this team's glue guys. He never put up a ton of shots, but he did the little things that helped translate into titles.
Sefolosha isn't quite as long as Battier, nor is he as consistent a shooter, but he could do the job better than many on the free-agent market. More importantly, he might do it at a price the Heat could actually afford.