Best Mid-Level Exception Matches Left During 2014 NBA Free Agency

Michael PinaFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

Best Mid-Level Exception Matches Left During 2014 NBA Free Agency

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    The mid-level exception allows teams above the salary cap to operate as if they still had space to sign quality players (key word: "exception").

    Thanks to the exception, each offseason, players with specific skill sets align themselves with organizations that could really use their help. Sometimes the acquisitions tilt entire championship runs, like the Miami Heat using their entire taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Ray Allen two summers ago.

    Thanks to the mid-level exception, Miami was able to win a second championship. It's the contract good teams use to get better, and hitting on it can be extremely beneficial.

    There are three different mid-level exceptions: the non-taxpayer (up to four years, starting at $5.3 million), the taxpayer (up to three years, starting at $3.2 million) and the room exception, for teams under the salary cap (up to two years, starting at $2.7 million).

    Here are five players who should sign for the mid-level exception this summer, matched up with teams that need their help. 

    They're ranked on the likelihood these deals actually happen. 

5. Jordan Hill

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    (Note: Jordan Hill signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers after this post was published.)

    So far, the Raptors have brought back just about all their own meaningful free agents (Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and, of course, Kyle Lowry) and already used part of their mid-level exception on neck-tattooed wild card James Johnson. 

    Raptors used part of MLE to sign James Johnson. Bi-annual was not enough. Might be bit more than reported 2 yrs, $5M total.

    — Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) July 10, 2014

    Their next acquisition should be with one eye on the future. Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes are all on expiring contracts this year, and depth in the frontcourt is needed.

    Jordan Hill is a former lottery pick who’s fallen under the radar after a productive season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He couldn’t fit into Mike D’Antoni’s up-and-down system, but in limited minutes Hill showed he can be productive. Especially on the glass.

    He may be out of Toronto’s price range (depending on how much of its mid-level exception is still available), but he remains a fantastic fit for a team that could definitely use him through next season.

4. Jason Smith

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    It’s hard to look at the San Antonio Spurs and say they need anything. The same roster that’s just a few weeks removed from rolling over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat will take the floor next season.

    Boris Diaw is back. Patty Mills is back. Tim Duncan ages like a turtle, and San Antonio’s first-round draft pick, Kyle Anderson, will further spice things up.

    But the Spurs won’t be punished for being perfect. League rules still afford them use of the non-taxypayer mid-level exception. Will they even use it? Doing so would hard cap them at about $81 million, and that bit of flexibility might be more valuable than another long-term contract.

    But if they do use it, Jason Smith seems like a convenient fit. He’s 28 years old, 7 feet tall and has Dirk Nowitzki’s accuracy on long twos. He’s coming off a season-ending knee injury, but if any team can help extend Smith’s range to the three-point line, it’s San Antonio.

3. Marvin Williams

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    Richard Rowe/Getty Images

    The Thunder got solid use out of Caron Butler in last year’s playoffs, but they need more out of his role. They need a younger athlete who’s more versatile on defense and more effective with the ball.

    In a perfect world, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and some of the team’s other young talent are able to contribute in next year’s playoffs. But the world isn’t perfect, which is why the Thunder should sign Marvin Williams.

    He just turned 28 (he’s not old!) and made 36 percent of his threes on a career-high 3.5 attempts per game last year with the Utah Jazz. It was also the first time he shot over 50 percent on his two-point field goals.

    Two seasons ago, he shot 40 percent from the corner. Ideally, Williams can become Oklahoma City’s Shane Battier.

2. Paul Pierce

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    USA TODAY Sports

    (Note: Vince Carter signed a three-year, $12 million contract with Memphis after this post was published.)

    Spending the full mid-level exception on a player who turns 37 in October is obviously dicey. But Paul Pierce isn't our average 36-year-old. He showed last season with the Brooklyn Nets that he can still have an incredible impact on both ends of the floor, and his slow playing style should match up perfectly with Memphis' pace.

    The Grizzlies have a sore thumb at small forward (Tayshaun Prince) and badly need to replace it if they want to come out of the Western Conference before Marc Gasol becomes an unrestricted free agent. Adding Pierce would help loosen things up on offense without taking a step back on defense.

    As he ages, Pierce might even be able to come off the bench as a sixth-man scoring option. The Grizzlies need someone like him, and their full mid-level exception may get it done.  

1. Anthony Morrow

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Anthony Morrow is far from the biggest name on this list, but the one skill he's extremely good at happens to be arguably the most important characteristic in the league (aside from size).

    From Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin

    If you want to stick in the NBA as a role player, be great at one thing. Anthony Morrow does exactly that — he shot 45.1 percent from three last season. He’s not going to give you a lot of rebounding or defense or much of anything else, but the man can shoot the rock. And a lot of teams could use a guy who can knock down threes, so he has options at this point in free agency.

    He's an extremely accurate three-point shooter. He's 42.8 percent from beyond the arc in his career, and sunk 45.1 percent of 195 total attempts last year (third highest in the league). 

    This signing makes total sense for the Wizards if Trevor Ariza explodes to an unreasonable price, which he very well could. They replace him with an absolute marksman at less than half the price who's capable of spacing the floor for John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat.