Hidden Gems on 2014 NBA Free-Agency Market
There's much more to NBA free agency beyond the whereabouts and future plans of the biggest stars in basketball. In the end, the league only has one LeBron James, one Carmelo Anthony and one Dirk Nowitzki to split between 30 teams. And those marquee names, along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, might not be changing teams anyway.
The true intrigue of the Association's "silly season," at least as far as actual roster building is concerned, stems from the pursuit of the game's lesser quantities.
This summer, in particular, should see money trickle down to role players and the rest of those below the top tiers of available players. Jodie Meeks, a solid shooting guard who put together a nice season with the sad Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14, will sign with the Detroit Pistons for $19.5 million over three years once the league's moratorium is lifted later this month, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Trevor Ariza, a streaky shooter by trade, figures to draw an offer that would blow Meeks' out of the water. Shaun Livingston has already found himself a much richer man, now serving as Stephen Curry's backup in Golden State, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.
The key for any general manager is to acquire pieces comparable to these and others who will bring home the bacon this offseason but at a fraction of the price. After all, it's the mid-level free agents—not the max-contract types—who pose the greatest threat to a franchise's cap sheet over the long haul.
These 10 guys all fit the bill as hidden gems, be it for their prospective price tags, their valuable unique skill set, the relative lack of attention they've garnered or some combination of those factors.
The wing is the thing in this year's free-agent class. Between LeBron, 'Melo, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Gordon Hayward, there's no shortage of quality players at shooting guard and small forward who will be filling vaults with Randy Moss money in the months ahead.
But seating will be limited in this particular game of musical chairs, and of all the participants, Evan Turner may be the one left without a comfortable place for his behind. Turner, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, isn't likely to return to the Indiana Pacers following a short but contentious tenure in the Circle City this past season.
He isn't a franchise-changer by any means. His defense and shot selection are chief among those facets of his game that leave much to be desired.
But by and large, Turner is no slouch. He can create shots for himself and his teammates—always a valuable skill in the NBA—and while he's far from a great scorer, he's plenty capable of putting the ball in the basket and not afraid to do so in pressure-packed situations.
Better yet, he doesn't turn 26 until October and has never missed more than four games in a single season since turning pro. Whichever team signs him could, given the proper parameters, get plenty of bang for its Buckeye...
(Get it? Because Turner went to Ohio State. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
As long as we're on the topic of No. 2 picks who have gone bust, we'd be remiss if we didn't consider the curious case of Marvin Williams. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has largely underwhelmed during his nine seasons in the NBA and was essentially dumped by the Atlanta Hawks on the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris two years ago.
Yet, Williams may be among the hottest commodities in the bargain bin of this summer's free-agent class. According to the Deseret News' Jody Genessy, as many as seven teams could already be in the running for Williams' services. The Miami Heat may be among those seven, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
This may seem ludicrous, given Williams' underwhelming career thus far, but it makes perfect sense in the context of where the league is right now and where it's headed. Nowadays, teams value skill and versatility, especially among those who sport both size and shooting ability.
On paper, Williams meets those criteria. At 6'9" and 230 pounds, he has the height, length and athleticism to guard multiple positions and is a passable shooter on the other end, to boot: He hit 35.9 percent of his threes in 2013-14, which checked in just under the league average of 36 percent.
Williams could have contenders busting down his door in relatively short order, but he might not be keen to bail on the Jazz. According to The Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones, Williams would like to continue his career in Utah.
Now, if you're a team in the market for some real quality shooting from a big guy, you've probably put in a call to Channing Frye's people by now. The Arizona product bounced back from a season-ending heart condition in 2012-13 by becoming an all-court threat for the fun-and-gun Phoenix Suns in 2013-14.
On the whole, he shot a sturdy 37 percent from three but was particularly effective in the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy Sports, he hit an astounding 46.1 percent of his threes as a roll man and scored 1.18 points per possession therein—the 17th-best mark in the entire league.
It's no wonder, then, that the Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are already hot on his heels, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. The Portland Trail Blazers could get involved as well, though as The Oregonian's Joe Freeman noted, doing so would require some salary-cap creativity on Rip City's part.
It's unclear whether the Blazers — who only have the midlevel exception and biannual exception to use in free agency — are interested in Frye. But his unique skillset, which includes the ability to shoot three-pointers, would seem to be an ideal fit in a bench role under coach Terry Stotts.
The NBA is a pick-and-roll league nowadays, one in which big guys who can shoot are in greater demand than ever before. And considering both his age (31) and his recent health issues, Frye can probably be had at a more reasonable rate than the 26-year-old Spencer Hawes, whose skill set compares favorably to Frye's.
That being said, there's still a need in the league for bruisers, bangers and old-fashioned rebounders like Kris Humphries.
The former Mr. Kim Kardashian is back on the market after what was arguably his most productive campaign, at least on a minute-by-minute basis. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Humphries averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting a shade over 50 percent from the field for the Boston Celtics in 2013-14.
Humphries, though, wasn't able to carve out more than 20 minutes per game under Brad Stevens. Hence, his raw numbers (8.4 points, 5.9 rebounds) aren't going to blow anyone out of the water.
But Humphries, 29, is still a big, strong guy who can collect caroms at an above-average rate. That's a valuable skill to bring off the bench, especially at a steep discount from the $12 million he took home this past season.
If there's an early front-runner for MVP of this summer's Anthony Randolph All-Stars (i.e., relatively young players whose latent talents will earn them no worse than fliers from potential suitors), it's Ed Davis.
The 25-year-old forward/center is still waiting on his opportunity to shine consistently in the NBA. He showed some promise as an athletic presence in the middle for the Toronto Raptors before he was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2012-13 season. Since then, he's spent most of his time buried on the bench behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos, the last of whom essentially got the nod over Davis to be the third wheel in the Grizzlies frontcourt.
Ed Davis told me: "I still feel I'm a starter in this league and I'm gong to prove a lot of your colleagues wrong."— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) June 30, 2014
As a result, he is now an unrestricted free agent whose remaining upside should garner him interest on the open market. According to the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, the Los Angeles Clippers could kick the tires on Davis, who has averaged better than a double-double per 36 minutes as a pro.
The Clips could use reinforcements for their paper-thin rotation of bigs, and Davis, given his age and physical abilities, might prove a valuable addition in more ways than one.
Those teams that want Ed Davis' skills and productivity without the mystery of whether he'll actually pan out would do well to consider Jordan Hill.
The funny-haired forward found his pro niche during his two-and-a-half seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, even while getting yanked into and out of the rotation by Mike Brown and D'Antoni. Hill averaged an intriguing 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in just less than 21 minutes per game last season, including 13 points (on 55.2 percent shooting) and 8.9 boards in 32 starts.
To be sure, he is probably better off on the bench. His infectious energy and furious hustle play more naturally as a reserve—a role that allows him to serve as a shot in the arm for his squad without getting worn down too quickly.
Those attributes should ensure that he lands somewhere comfortably this month. According to the Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Lakers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks all have eyes for the former Arizona Wildcat.
You might be asking by now, "What about the point guards?"
What about 'em? Oh, right. There are some pretty good ones who can be had as backups at reasonable rates this summer.
Jameer Nelson sits toward the top of that particular heap. The Orlando Magic waived the St. Joe's product—coming at a cost of $2 million, instead of the $8 million he was owed—thereby cutting ties with a guy who had spent 10 years in the Magic Kingdom.
(Kudos to the Magic for sending him off as well as they did, by the way.)
Nelson has struggled with his health and his shot in recent years, but he could still be valuable in fits and spurts off the bench. That would make much more sense for the 32-year-old, who averaged 32 minutes per game this past season despite his injuries, age and waning effectiveness.
There's value in his leadership and experience as a longtime floor general, particularly those stripes of his that were earned in the postseason. Any team in need of spot support behind a top-tier starter would be wise to fit in a word with Nelson's agent.
Now, if you're in the market more for a versatile sixth man than a straight-up second-stringer for your backcourt rotation, might I introduce you to Mo Williams?
The 31-year-old did a solid job of subbing in for Damian Lillard and worked quite well alongside him. According to NBA.com, Lillard actually scored more points per 36 minutes and shot better from three alongside Williams than he did with Mo on the bench.
It helps that Lillard is such a strong shooter off the ball, but don't discount Williams' impact here. He gets guys good shots and is more than capable of scoring the ball if need be. He's still an above-average three-point shooter with a few tricks up his sleeve on the dribble.
Defense isn't his strong suit, but as a member of the second unit, it doesn't have to be to quite the same extent. He has some intriguing on-ball skills and should have little trouble (if any) finding suitors once the transactional chaos dissipates.
Enough of our interlude of guards. Size still matters in the NBA, even if it does so differently nowadays.
Trevor Booker's game suggests that he's not quite so concerned with that. He is an old-fashioned power forward—a big dude who sets screens, shoots mid-range jumpers and crashes the glass. The Washington Wizards declined to make him a qualifying offer, thereby sending him into unrestricted free agency at the relatively tender age of 26.
He has endured some injury issues through his first four seasons in the NBA but has held his own as a spot starter in D.C. Last season he averaged eight points and 6.2 rebounds in 45 starts, many of which came during Nene's own injury hiatus.
Not surprisingly, Booker is already a wanted man. According to The Washington Post's Michael Lee, as many as seven teams could be in on Booker.
We started with a couple of No. 2s, so we might as well end with one: Emeka Okafor.
The only time Okafor saw last season was from the sidelines with the Phoenix Suns. The former Rookie of the Year sat out the entire 2013-14 campaign on account of a back injury. To the Suns, he was little more than an expiring contract, albeit one that came with the first-round pick that became Tyler Ennis.
To another team, he might be a useful player if he comes back healthy. Perhaps a team with minimal fiscal flexibility and a need for a backup-backup big will take a cheap chance on Okafor. He was still productive when last we saw him on the court—9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in 26 minutes (79 games, 77 starts) for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13.
Who else belongs on this list? Tweet me your suggestions!