Predicting Final Landing Spots for 10 Best 2014 NBA Free Agents Still Available
The 2014 free-agency period has certainly been an eventful one, but there are still very many talented players waiting for the right opportunity to pop up.
Whether it’s because of the tricky nature of a restricted free agent or because it’s a veteran taking his time, it’s somewhat unique to have this many quality players still available at this point in the offseason.
Some of that may have to do with non-contending teams trending more toward players on rookie-scale contracts, but it’s still a surprise to see valuable contributors like Shawn Marion, Ramon Sessions and plenty of other unrestricted free agents out there.
In addition to those two names, let’s rank the top 10 remaining free agents available based on the level of contribution they can provide solely for this season.
In addition to the final big board ranking, we’ll project the landing spot for each of the top 10 free agents still available.
10. Dante Cunningham
Projected Landing Spot: New Orleans Pelicans
Dante Cunningham is a limited player, but he's a big-time athlete who really thrives in chaos and transition. Add in his polished mid-range jumper, and Cunningham is a pretty serviceable backup big man who should be able to find his way onto a contender.
Cunningham probably won't warrant more than the minimum, but that's perfect for a team like the New Orleans Pelicans, who could use some legitimate size behind Anthony Davis at the 4.
Although Cunningham isn't all that versatile in who he can cover and what positions he can play, having some length at the 4 and another capable shooter off the bench makes sense. He can be their new Jason Smith, who is now with the New York Knicks.
Again, Cunningham isn't necessarily someone you want making decisions out there on the floor, but he's a catch-and-shoot guy who can draw a big man out of the paint and run the floor. He's a solid addition to just about any team's bench, so long as the expectations are kept in line.
9. Jordan Hamilton
Projected Landing Spot: Miami Heat
Jordan Hamilton is one of the most intriguing free agents available, as he's been incredibly productive when he's been able to find playing time. Per 36 minutes over his three-year career, Hamilton is averaging 15.6 points and 7.5 rebounds with a 13.9 player efficiency rating.
It's a little surprising that Hamilton hasn't found a home yet in free agency, because he's a big wing scorer who can rebound incredibly well and shoot from deep at a decent clip (35.8 percent for his career). Those kinds of players usually get snatched up, especially if they can feasibly play three positions like Hamilton can.
There has to be something missing here, as Hamilton isn't a bad defender, either.
A team with an open roster spot and a need for scoring off the bench could really use him, and that's what makes the Miami Heat a logical destination. As it stands, Miami will be relying on a wing rotation with a lot of miles on the odometer (Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger), and so bringing in someone with size who can shoot makes perfect sense.
Hamilton might be holding out for something more than the minimum, which might explain why he's gone unsigned, but there are worse things than playing for a competitive team in a great place like Miami. This is a good fit.
8. Mike Scott
Projected Landing Spot: Atlanta Hawks
It makes sense for Mike Scott to remain with the Atlanta Hawks after two seasons with the team, as Atlanta gave Scott the qualifying offer in order to make him a restricted free agent earlier this offseason.
Even though the Hawks have a bit of a crowded roster, Scott makes sense as a pure scorer who can slot in at the 3 or as a small 4. He'll provide some flexibility off the bench, and his career per-36-minute averages of 18.4 points and 7.6 rebounds provide some hope that he'll grow into a bigger role as time goes on.
It seems clear that the Hawks and head coach Mike Budenholzer value shooting, so a big step in Scott's development will be his ability to expand his range beyond the three-point line. We got a small taste last postseason against the Indiana Pacers of what Scott can look like when he heats up from deep, and that's something that likely wasn't forgotten this offseason.
Even though players like John Jenkins and Mike Muscala have some value for Atlanta, Scott is a better fit with the current roster and probably belongs on the 12-man active list come opening day.
With most teams close to complete and cap space around the league dried up, Atlanta should be safe to negotiate with Scott exclusively or have him accept his one-year qualifying offer.
7. Elton Brand
Projected Landing Spot: Los Angeles Clippers
Elton Brand is on his last legs, but his mind is still sharp and he can still contribute to a contender.
Because Brand is likely to take a minimum contract, finding a legitimate contender that has a shot at winning a ring might be the way to go. Reuniting with the Los Angeles Clippers would be a nice shot of nostalgia, especially since Donald Sterling is now out of the way.
Although Brand would be serving as a fourth or fifth big man, limited playing time is probably best for him now. He can play the role of a veteran mentor, helping to bring along the younger players and show Blake Griffin and Co. a few tricks of the trade.
Brand can still back up the 4 and 5, as he's an excellent post defender even as his quickness has deteriorated. That mid-range jumper from the elbow is still pretty automatic as well, so Brand still serves a real purpose when he's out on the floor.
For teams looking at extra frontcourt depth, Brand represents a solid option who will dutifully fulfill his role on the team.
6. Ramon Sessions
Projected Landing Spot: Utah Jazz
It appears that Sessions was the loser of point guard musical chairs this offseason, as multiple backup jobs have been snatched up already.
Even with that being the case, Sessions should be able to land on a young team looking for a solid scoring option off the bench. Sessions always seems to end up on non-contending teams for some reason, so if that trend continues, backing up Trey Burke for the Utah Jazz would follow suit.
Sessions can add some scoring pop off the bench with his ability to draw fouls, but he’s a pretty serviceable game manager as well. If Burke really struggles or gets injured, Sessions is a guy who can step in and play alongside Dante Exum fairly well.
Although Utah may want a more proven outside shooter, finding a better talent than Sessions would be nearly impossible at this stage in the game.
Sessions is solid and can feasibly back up both guard spots, which is something Utah should covet with two point guards in the starting lineup. Utah is one of the few teams with cap space, a roster spot and a need for depth at point guard, so it’s a logical landing spot for Sessions.
5. Andray Blatche
Projected Landing Spot: Brooklyn Nets
Andray Blatche played a big role in the turnaround for the Brooklyn Nets, and with Kevin Garnett a year older, it makes more sense than ever to retain him.
While there probably shouldn’t be a delay on Brooklyn’s side, it’s possible that Blatche is holding out for something more than the veteran’s minimum. You would think he’d be worth more than that, although teams may be hesitant to take a chance on a big man who tends to float around the perimeter a little too much and play selfish basketball.
Still, Blatche has a high skill level for someone his size, and his mobility was a big factor last year. With Brook Lopez returning at center, Blatche can help at both the 4 and the 5 and provide valuable injury insurance for a fragile frontcourt.
This will likely come down to the money, but Blatche probably won’t find a team that is willing to offer a bigger role and the kind of playing time Brooklyn should. He’d be a huge loss for Brooklyn if he ended up heading elsewhere.
4. Ray Allen
Projected Landing Spot: Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s possible that Ray Allen decides that it’s time to hang ‘em up and retire. He’s had a long and productive career, and there’s no need for him to chase a ring.
With that being said, if Allen still has the itch, he’ll be able to play just about anywhere he wants on a minimum contract. No team is going to pass up his elite perimeter shooting, even though the rest of his game has fallen off.
Allen is probably looking for a team that can provide him with easy opportunities from the outside, and with that in mind, joining LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers might be the way to go. Allen can certainly help space the floor and spot up in the corner while James and Kyrie Irving break down defenses, and staying in the East for a chance at another Finals appearance is probably wise.
Again, Allen is a one-dimensional player with very little left in the tank overall at this point, but you simply can’t leave him open on the perimeter. It’s hard to imagine that James doesn’t want him there, so it’s probably up to Allen and whether he wants to keep his insane regimen for another full season.
3. Shawn Marion
Projected Landing Spot: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are one of the few contending teams with major assets like the mid-level and bi-annual exception left. You have to think they’ll put those to use, and going after a versatile defender like Marion would be a perfect fit.
Although the prospect of Marion playing in the half court isn’t really appealing, Houston loves to get out and run. Marion can still finish very well in transition, and despite losing a step, he can still realistically guard four different positions.
Houston could really use another wing defender in addition to Trevor Ariza, and Marion’s ability to play some small-ball 4 behind Terrence Jones could be an asset as well. So long as Marion is willing to accept a bench role and something closer to 25 minutes a night, this could be an excellent pairing.
It seems like a pretty good bet Marion will stay in Texas one way or another, whether that be returning to the Dallas Mavericks to back up Chandler Parsons or joining the Rockets. The Spurs could theoretically also make a play.
Basically, there are very few teams that couldn’t use Marion’s versatility and defensive ability.
2. Greg Monroe
Projected Landing Spot: Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency has lasted much longer than just about anyone thought, and it’s still difficult to see how all this will end. Here's David Mayo at MLive.com with more:
Which is greater, the Pistons' desire to keep Monroe, or Monroe's desire to leave?
If the answer definitively is the latter, then Monroe either has played his last game as a Piston, or at least his last completely happy one, because if he signs the qualifying offer, he won't be pleased to play for just less than $5.5 million next season.
The long-held idea that Monroe is seeking a maximum contract is true.
The variable, if he gets one, is how much it matters where.
While it’s possible that Monroe decides to accept his qualifying offer of $5.5 million and play one year with the Detroit Pistons in order to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, there is still a chance that he finds a big offer sheet out there somewhere.
There are limited teams that can offer Monroe a deal that he might be willing to accept, however, as it’s unlikely he’d take a reasonable offer sheet that Detroit would just match. Only a team well under the cap like the Philadelphia 76ers could give Monroe a max deal, which might be what it takes for Detroit to balk.
While staying in Detroit long term probably isn’t ideal so long as Josh Smith and Andre Drummond are there, it seems most likely that Monroe remains with the Pistons, whether it be on a longer deal or his qualifying offer. The market just doesn’t appear to be there for his services.
1. Eric Bledsoe
Projected Landing Spot: Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns seem to be playing this situation with Eric Bledsoe just right, as no team has come with the type of huge offer sheet that would force them to match on a max contract.
Phoenix can also operate with leverage after signing point guard Isaiah Thomas. Because he’s on the roster, the Suns don’t have to offer Bledsoe anything they aren’t fully comfortable with. The drafting of Tyler Ennis helps the Suns even more.
Either Bledsoe comes back at the price they want, or he accepts the qualifying offer and plays a year before becoming unrestricted next offseason.
Bledsoe acknowledged to Kyle Burger of Alabamas13.com that he's in a difficult position:
First off I’m going to let my agent Rich Paul handle it. I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.
Similar to Monroe, another high-profile restricted free agent, Bledsoe is stuck playing the waiting game and hoping a team signs him to a huge offer sheet. Short of that, there may not be very many available options for him.
With that in mind, Phoenix remains a strong favorite to retain Bledsoe and figure out its suddenly crowded backcourt situation somewhere down the line.
All roster information is accurate as of 7/28. All stats via Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.