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NBA Free Agents 2014: Top Unrestricted Players Who Won't Break the Bank

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NBA Free Agents 2014: Top Unrestricted Players Who Won't Break the Bank
Associated Press
This summer features several quality, affordable, unrestricted free agents, with Kyle Lowry joined by a two-time champion veteran and a headcase shooting guard.

With the NBA still recovering from the seismic activity set off by the opt-out news regarding superstars Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, not to mention the intoxication caused by the new NBAers who will be chosen in Thursday's draft, some teams have to remember that there are other completely unrestricted free agents available who can make a big difference on the right team.

They won't even max out the payroll in the process.

 

Kyle Lowry, PG

Best Fit: L.A. Lakers

As NBA.com's David Aldridge wrote on June 23, the Toronto Raptors "have a decent shot at keeping Kyle Lowry, but there will be suitorsand the Lakers are at the top of the list."

With the 40-year-old Steve Nash aging as one would expect—poorly—Lowry could provide a steady presence at the point while the Lakers potentially groom a rookie at the position.

Retired basketball writer Peter Vecsey estimated Lowry's market value in the range of $10-12 million:

It's hard to imagine living in a world where Lowry earns more per year than Stephen Curry, aka the best shooter in the history of the solar system, so Lowry should not bother dreaming about landing a max contract.

According to ShamSports.com, Curry's salary for the next three seasons will be $10.6 million, $11.3 million and $12.1 million. Also, most teams already have a competent starting point guard.

After Lowry saw a slight regression in his output from the 2011-12 season with the Houston Rockets to the next year with the Raptors, he turned in a career year in 2013-14. Lowry not only posted career highs in points and assists (17.9 and 7.4 per game), he also set career highs in player efficiency rating, effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage.

While some teams lust after the league's top forwards available on the open market, Lowry could help the Lakers or some other squad for a reasonable cost.

 

Pau Gasol, PF

Best Fit: Chicago Bulls

At times last season, it was hard not to feel for Pau Gasol. With Kobe Bryant and Nash sidelined for much of the year, many nights saw Gasol starting alongside the flotsam and jetsam of the Lakers roster.

Sometimes, the Lakers scored plenty of points, but they usually gave up even more than that.

Gasol turns 34 on July 6, which will help keep his price tag depressed, but he looked strong during his team's disappointing 2013-14 campaign. Measured per 100 possessions, he produced his highest scoring mark since the 2006-07 season and the highest defensive rebounding total of his career.

USA TODAY Sports

Gasol does not like losing. As he told Spain's Marca.com (h/t Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy), only a handful of teams interest him, including the Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.

That's why he would be a great fit on the Bulls.

While pairing him with brother Marc Gasol on the Grizz would be a fun proposition at this point in their careers, Pau would be better served by a move to the Eastern Conference if the two-time champion is intent on pursuing another title.

Recently, the Bulls have held their very own version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring former MVP point guard Derrick Rose, who has seen injuries deprive Chicago of his services in each of the previous three postseasons, leaving a talented roster with too little scoring and too little depth.

With the relentless motor of Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and the budding play of Taj Gibson, Gasol's veteran savvy and finesse from multiple areas of the court would bolster the Bulls nicely up front.

Now they just need to find a team willing to take Carlos Boozer's expiring contract.

 

Lance Stephenson, SG

Best Fit: Charlotte Hornets

OK, with Sir Lancelot comes a certain trade-off.

The team that signs him gets a discount, but only because Stephenson is coming off a postseason that saw him put on a full display of head-shaking antics that at no point proved the worth of his gamesmanship.

During Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Stephenson made a "choke" sign with regard to a missed free throw by LeBron.

He subsequently apologized for the gesture, telling The Associated Press (h/t NBA.com), "I was wrong and disrespectful to my teammates, the Miami Heat and their organization. I'm sorry that I did that. It was very disrespectful. I'll never do it again."

USA TODAY Sports

In Game 5, Stephenson blew in LeBron's ear, launching a thousand Internet memes and further proving he does not have his head completely in the game. 

USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt asked Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird if he was bothered by Stephenson's childish action. Bird confirmed via text, "Yes I am."

For his part, Stephenson seemed to view it all as part of a continuing learning experience. Providing the rope with which to hang himself, Stephenson implied that he is not yet a "real pro" despite logging four years in the NBA: "I've been learning since I got (to) the league. I've come a long way and I'm going to keep learning until I get to that point where I'm a real pro." 

Despite leading the league in triple-doubles last season, the lasting images of Stephenson will concern his antics in the ECF, which seemed to trouble his own coaches and teammates much more than the opponent in question.

Such immature behavior may well have cost him big money in free agency. 

According to Zillgitt:

One league GM told USA TODAY Sports he didn't like that Stephenson blew in James' ear and said he would have said something to the player.

Another executive wasn't a fan and another brought up the point that escapes Stephenson: There is a difference between gamesmanship and sportsmanship and until Stephenson figures out the difference, he will continue to interject himself into the story negatively.

Which unrestricted FA will offer the best bargain for the cost?

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In terms of pure production, Stephenson offers a unique talent. He put up 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, all while playing stout defense with the energy and size (6'5", 230 lbs) to guard anyone from the 1 to the 3.

For all of his positives, Stephenson's behavior will hamper his ability to seek big money, and some teams will want nothing to do with him. That means a fantastic bargain can be had by the right bidder.

The Hornets made the playoffs last season and looked like a legitimate threat in the East, though Michael Kidd-Gilchrist cannot do much on the offensive end. Stephenson would be a good fit playing under the imposing eyes of Michael Jordan, who certainly would not take any guff.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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