Forget LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the real money of 2014 NBA free agency is in the Boris Diaws of the world.
While big names can shift the landscape of the league and help to form rare super teams, the quality players being nonchalantly swept under the rug in the wake of major decisions will have their revenge at one point or another.
After a quiet career far from the spotlight, Diaw joined the San Antonio Spurs and recently helped lead the team to a title while taking down Miami's Big Three. Not every team can be the Spurs, but the right fit in an environment for an unheralded name makes all the difference.
With that in mind, here are three players who should be receiving more attention, plus their perfect landing spot.
One of the most polarizing names in the current basketball landscape happens to be Lance Stephenson, formerly of the Indiana Pacers.
At 23 years old, it's hard to tell just how great Stephenson can be, or if he will ever mature. But his numbers through four years speak for themselves and note why fans should be paying plenty of attention to his next destination:
By most accounts, such as one presented by Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star, Stephenson sounds destined to return to Larry Bird and Co. at some point:
I think it's clear here from Larry Bird Lance Stephenson ain't getting away unless someone completely overpays: http://t.co/t4zkrunnQk— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) June 27, 2014
But Bird directly mentions the tax in this bit from Vigilant Sports' Scott Agness, suggesting the Pacers are not willing to break the bank for any one player this offseason:
The only reason we didn’t pick a player is because we don’t know what is going to happen in free agency. And this is one year we are tight on money. If our guy wasn’t there, we weren’t going to take a stab at it because we got Lance [Stephenson], we got Lavoy [Allen], we got some other guys we’re looking at. In free agency, you never know where we’re going to be. Our owner (Herb Simon) said we can spend up to the tax. That’s what we’re looking forward to do.
In other words, another team may very well come knocking with an offer the Pacers won't want to match.
If Stephenson is lucky, that team will be the Atlanta Hawks. A starting gig is most certainly available with Kyle Korver and Lou Williams not very effectively holding down the 2-spot, and the Hawks have cap room to play with.
Better yet, the Hawks are contenders in the weak East and have a strong veteran core led by Al Horford and Paul Millsap that can nurture the Cincinnati product as he matures into the superstar he can be.
A lineup featuring Jeff Teague, Stephenson, Millsap and Horford with rotational pieces like Korver and rookie Adreian Payne off the bench is quite formidable.
Ideal fit: Atlanta Hawks
What, forget that Pau Gasol was still in the league?
Gasol is 34 years old and was lost in one of the worst seasons in franchise history a year ago with the Los Angeles Lakers, but still improved his per-game averages of points, rebounds and blocks from the year prior—17.4, 9.7 and 1.5, respectively.
A re-up with the rebuilding Lakers is hard to imagine for Gasol, who surely wants to contend for a title as he takes a final bow—even if he has not ruled it out.
Should the Suns pursue Gasol?
New York seems to be a popular narrative as Gasol would have the chance to reconnect with Phil Jackson, but given the uncertainty around Anthony and the roster in general, it's not exactly a place for him to go and compete for a title.
How about Phoenix? The Suns tossed around the idea of trading for the big man last year and now won't have to give up any assets in return. Better yet, they have the most practical cap space in the NBA, per Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.
But above all else, the Suns just barely missed the postseason at 48–34 last season and added three first-round prospects (T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Bogdan Bogdanovic) to the fold. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal put it best:
But the best option for him would be to join the Phoenix Suns, taking his talents to the desert in an effort to add a legitimate post presence to a Western Conference squad on the rise. The rivalry between the Suns and Lakers would make that a somewhat controversial move, but basketball reasons make it a good one.
If Gasol want another shot at a title and fair compensation, the Suns make too much sense.
Ideal fit: Phoenix Suns
Fresh off a season in which he posted averages of 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists, Florida product Chandler Parsons is set to hit the market, per ESPN's Marc Stein:
The Rockets have told Chandler Parsons they have officially declined his 4th-year option next season thus making him a RFA, a source said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) June 28, 2014
The Houston Rockets' ambition to lure someone like Anthony to town will bite them in a big way, as Parsons just became one of the most important names on the market.
"I feel like I'm in a win-win situation because it's happening a year early," Parsons said, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. "I think a lot of teams could be interested. With the way I play and my versatility, I feel I can pretty much help any team."
Spears notes that the Lakers have their crosshairs on Parsons should they be unable to lure Anthony to town, which seems unlikely at this point given the vast amount of suitors for his services.
Best spot for Parsons?
Once that falls through, don't be shocked if Parsons makes his way to Los Angeles on a deal Houston may not want to match. At 25 years old, he is the best small forward on the market not named Anthony or James and would create quite an intriguing lineup with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle.
It's impossible to know what the Lakers plan on doing with Nick Young, but there is certainly a future where the two can coexist if that's the route the front office decides to go. Parsons is a building block who would be a star in one of the biggest markets of all. What's not to like?
Ideal fit: Los Angeles Lakers