Best 2014 NBA Free Agents Who Can Be Signed for Mid-Level Exception

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2014

Best 2014 NBA Free Agents Who Can Be Signed for Mid-Level Exception

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    If it weren't for that pesky salary cap, everyone's favorite team could have its way with the free-agent market.

    But alas, there are rules here. And those rules stipulate that a team can't sign outside talent if it's already spending more than what's allotted by the cap—projected to be about $63.2 million this summer, a nearly $5 million increase over the previous cap.

    There are, however, a few ways to get around the cap.

    The most lucrative such mechanism is the mid-level exception, ordinarily worth in excess of $5 million. That exception allows teams to sign one or more players even if—and only if—said teams are already over the cap.

    The mid-level exception decreases in value for teams that are paying the luxury tax. The Miami Heat, for example, have their full mid-level exception available, but it will only be worth $3,183,000.

    Many teams have already used some portion of their mid-level exception. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers spent $3,250,000 of theirs on Matt Barnes last season. He's owed another $3,396,250 next season, meaning the organization will be unable to spend upward of $5 million on any new free agent.

    So for the purposes of this list, don't assume that every player mentioned hereafter will command over $5 million. Some may only receive a portion thereof.

    Either way, in today's terms, that's a bargain. And a necessary bargain for cap-starved teams in need of immediate talent infusions.

    (Cap and salary information taken from ShamSports.com and HoopsHype.com

10. Kris Humprhies

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    Don't feel too bad for Kim Kardashian's ex.

    For his career, Kris Humphries has made $48,900,233—and an even $12 million this season. That's been a high price to pay for what amounts to solid but underwhelming production. Some of the fault belongs with the Boston Celtics, who played the 29-year-old just 19.9 minutes per contest this season in an effort to develop younger bigs Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

    Despite the limited playing time, Humphries still contributed efficiently while he was on the floor.

    Even so, no one's paying him another $12 mil this time around. As big men go, he could end up being quite a bargain. 

    The 6'9" forward can rebound well and hit a few mid-range jumpers, but he's not especially dynamic on either end of the floor. His consistency will earn him a solid deal but likely one afforded by a team with only its mid-level exception to spend.

    And if Humphries is content with playing around 20 minutes a game, he might even be able to sign on with a winner. If he's looking to pad his stats and earn a more lucrative long-term deal, he's better suited to taking a one-year contract with a bad team that would allow him to shine.

9. Andray Blatche

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    Andray Blatche isn't against the idea of returning to the Brooklyn Nets, but he is opting out of a deal that would have paid him just $1,437,506 next season.

    CBSSports' Matt Moore examines the implications:

    Blatche averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game last season for Brooklyn, while shooting 48 percent with an 18.8 PER. All of his number represented slight dips from his breakout 2013 performance. Luckily for him, as Brooklyn can re-sign him and don't care a single bit about the luxury tax, he could cash in with a huge deal from the Nets. In reality, they have to bring back Blatche because their ability to restock given their cap limitations is already perilous, and that's before whatever happens with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

    If Blatche does look outside, he could get a number of offers. He's a scorer off the bench that can rebound and plays with a chip on his shoulder.

    And that's a fairly rare commodity.

    All the same, it's hard to see Blatche getting a great deal from a great team. If he wants another sure shot at winning, he may have to accept something in the range of $5 million per year. That would constitute a meaningful raise, but it wouldn't break anyone's bank.

8. Rodney Stuckey

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    Rodney Stuckey almost certainly will have to take a cut from the $8.5 million he made this season. The unrestricted free agent was productive this season (13.9 points per game), but he's not as efficient as you'd like him to be—especially as a player who doesn't have very good range.

    Still, the 28-year-old can contribute. He's probably best suited as a sixth man given that he's really an oversized point guard with a shooting guard's instincts. Those combo-guard qualities can be valuable coming off the bench.

    Given that Stuckey is still relatively young, he could probably snag a three- or four-year deal. Just don't expect it to be worth a ton of money.

    Keep in mind that Stuckey has been a productive player on a bad team. So take those solid statistics with a grain of salt.

    And assume he'll be on the move. Back in February, he had this to say to USA Today's Sam Amick:

    'It seems like every year there's new players who you're trying to get accustomed to. It's just trying to figure each other out and all being on the same page. I really don't think right now ...'

    He pauses ever so slightly.

    'We're not on the same page,' he continued. 'It's difficult to try to go out there and try to win games and win games consistently.'

    That sounds like a guy who's tired of losing, a guy who just might be willing to sacrifice some of his paycheck to play for a playoff team.

7. Boris Diaw

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    It's a little hard to imagine Boris Diaw bolting the San Antonio Spurs after playing such an integral role in claiming the franchise's fifth title. The 32-year-old is close friends with teammate Tony Parker and has rejuvenated his career with the Spurs.

    All the same, San Antonio may be tempted to go in a different direction if the price isn't right. The organization also has to make a decision on free agent Patty Mills, who's likely to earn a sizable raise over the $1,133,950 he made this season.

    As for Diaw, he's coming off a season in which he made $4,702,500. There's not much reason to stray from that figure. It fits Diaw's contributions pretty accurately.

    The versatile forward averaged 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists this season. He was especially dynamic in the playoffs, earning an insertion into the starting lineup when head coach Gregg Popovich elected to pursue better floor spacing.

    While odds are Diaw stays right where he is, he'd be a solid pickup for a team looking for a little extra depth along its front line. 

     

6. Nick Young

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    Nick Young can light it up. This much we know.

    The 29-year-old averaged 17.9 points this season on a depleted Los Angeles Lakers roster. Though he's not much of a defender or distributor, he's an intriguing option for any team looking for a pure scorer to electrify its lineup.

    The first order of business is whether Young will stick around the Lakers. 

    At the moment, it sounds like the sharpshooter will opt out of his contract in an attempt to sign a long-term deal and remain with the franchise.

    According to The Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, "Though he considers the Lakers “his first choice,” Young will opt out of his $1.2 million player option before the June 25 deadline. That would allow Young both to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent beginning July 1 and possibly leverage a larger deal with the Lakers."

    Per Medina, Young expressed the desire for a more lucrative contract: "Just more years. I believe I deserve more. That’s up to my agent to do that for me. The Lakers are home, but things could happen. With free agency this year, it’s going to be crazy to see."

    Young will probably cash in, but he won't make as much bank as you might think given his impressive scoring average. The problem is he's just too one dimensional. So if things don't work out in Los Angeles, don't be surprised if a cap-strapped team makes a run at Young. He makes a lot of sense as a primarily scoring sixth man.

5. Vince Carter

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    Vince Carter has certainly said all the right things about wanting to remain with the Dallas Mavericks.

    And the chances are pretty good that's exactly what happens. The Mavs won't find many capable sixth-man candidates who come any cheaper. Carter made just $3,180,000 this season, which is almost certainly less than he was worth.

    But anything can happen in this business.

    In May, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that, "Word is that the Raptors have been kicking around the idea of making a free-agent play this summer to try to bring Vince Carter 'home' by trying to sign the former face of the franchise away from the Mavericks."

    Given that they actually have some cap space, the Raptors wouldn't necessarily have to rely on a mid-level exception unless they first use that space up re-signing the likes of Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson.

    But the point remains: Carter could be had at a very low price. Even if he's earned himself a slight raise over what he made this season, he's still unlikely to command more than $5 million a season. That makes him a perfect target for clubs that are short on cap space and desperate for a proven, veteran scorer.

    Plenty of teams fit that description.

4. Shaun Livingston

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    Shaun Livingston won't wow you in any one statistical category. He does a little bit of everything, and he does it well. In addition to intelligence when running the point, the 28-year-old has fantastic size for a primary ball-handler. He's 6'7" and plenty long, meaning he has the versatility to guard a number of positions and excellent ability to make passes with which smaller point guards might struggle.

    Back in March, Livingston intimated that he might be looking to get paid this summer, according to The New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy:

    (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,” he said. “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.

    Keep in mind that this guy only made $1,265,977, a mere pittance for someone who wound up playing 26 minutes per contest and starting 54 games.

    In other words, Livingston is certainly due for a raise.

    That doesn't necessarily mean he'll get more than $5 million a season though. Something in the $3-5 million per year range is probably realistic—especially if he can get a team to ink him for up to four seasons.

    Any club looking for a third guard who creates some lineup options would do well to investigate Livingston.

3. Spencer Hawes

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    Spencer Hawes made $6.5 million this season, and he could be in store for a similar figure next season—potentially making him just a hair too pricey for teams with only a mid-level exception at their disposal. On the other hand, the 26-year-old might be getting fed up with losing after spending his early career with the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Might he be willing to play for closer to $4 million if it meant having a more realistic shot at a deep playoff run?

    Or, might be intrigued with Cleveland's young core and new direction?

    His ability to shoot the ball makes him a valuable commodity in a league where few centers can. Former Cavs head coach Mike Brown had good things to say about him, via The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade

    He's very intense about games and situations and very in-tune. He's an intelligent player. He's long. Obviously, he's shot the three-ball well for us throughout the course of the year. He can pass the basketball. He doesn't necessarily have the athleticism that Blake Griffin has, but his determination and hard work and length and intelligence makes up for what some people may think is a lack of athleticism.

    It goes without saying the Cavaliers aren't the only team in the market for those kind of services. And with big men like Tiago Splitter making more than $8 million a season, Hawes could probably find a fairly lucrative long-term deal out there.

    Again, the question is whether he wants to win—and whether he wants to do so sooner rather than later.

    If he does, a smaller deal is probably in order.

2. Shawn Marion

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    Shawn Marion is sending signs that he's willing to play at a significant discount if it means having a chance at another ring.

    Per Arizona Sports' Vince Marotta, Marion told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, "'I want to play a couple more years,' he said, adding that his preference is to re-sign with Dallas, but he's open to other locales. 'My ultimate goal is to win another championship, so it's wherever I feel is the best chance to win another championship.'"

    Nevertheless, NBC Sports' Kurt Helin suspects that, "In the end, Marion will likely sign where he is offered the most money. I don’t mean that as disrespect to Marion, but it’s a business and he isn’t doing this for free. If a couple teams are close in money offered then winning (and weather and the rest of it) will come into play. The NBA is a business and everybody treats it like such."

    Could Marion just be using the ring-chasing narrative as a ploy to squeeze a little more money out of the Dallas Mavericks?

    A cynical outlook, but certainly possible.

    On the other hand, Marion has already made a lot of money in his career—$133,488,272 according to HoopsHype.com. Last season alone, he made $9,316,796.

    The 36-year-old is still productive, but he's certainly not worth that kind of money any longer. And if he's serious about that "ultimate goal" of acquiring another ring, he could be even more of a bargain.

1. Trevor Ariza

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    Trevor Ariza proved he could still hoop this season. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and had a surprisingly effective first round against the Chicago Bulls. The 28-year-old dropped 30 in Game 4 of that series, converting on 6 of 10 three-point attempts.

    The Washington Wizards will be eager to retain his services, but much may depend on whether the price is right. While the organization could afford to pay him in the neighborhood of the $7,727,280 he made this season, it may shy away from offering a long-term deal on account of having Otto Porter Jr. waiting in the wings at the small forward position.

    Another variable is whether Ariza wants to contend for a title.

    The Wizards have come a long way, but their postseason success had a lot to do with being in the weaker Eastern Conference. This team probably wouldn't have emerged from the first round in the West.

    If Ariza wants to win on the biggest of stages, he could look to take a slight pay cut. If he's looking to get paid while he's still in his prime, he may price himself out of this list.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder could have $5,150,000 to spend, per ShamSports.com, so we can't discount the possibility Ariza would take a little less to play with the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If the Thunder want an upgrade over Thabo Sefolosha on the wing, this could be quite the match.