Best Potential 2015 Free-Agent Landing Spots for Tayshaun Prince
After being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Boston Celtics as part of a three-team deal that was first reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Prince is on track to become the league's equivalent of a mercenary.
Sources tell Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix the Celtics are negotiating a buyout on his expiring deal. Nothing has been made official, but this release would leave the 13-year veteran free to sign with the team of his choice.
And as a battle-tested NBA champion, he's going to have choices.
"He's been impactful to winning for a long time," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, via NESN's Zack Cox, "and guys like that are invaluable."
Boston isn't a good landing spot for a player like Prince on the backside of his career. He's better off playing for a postseason-bound squad or legitimate championship contender. Court time and team need will also be paramount in sorting through ideal destinations.
Basically, we need to ask: Which teams are both relevant and most likely to play Prince?
Get out those replica Cupid arrows and quivers: It's time to play NBA matchmaker.
5. Toronto Raptors
Go with me on this.
Defense has been a sore spot for the Toronto Raptors of late, and their points-prevention prowess isn't getting any better. They rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, 24th in defensive rebounding percentage and 20th in points allowed in the paint, per TeamRankings.com.
The Raptors have been particularly porous over their last six games, five of which they've lost. They're 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions and have struggled when forced to defend teams that run and space the floor, like the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns.
Signing Prince gives them the stretch 4 they don't have. Neither Amir Johnson nor Tyler Hansbrough possesses the quickness necessary to lock down perimeter scorers, and Patrick Patterson is best left guarding more traditional power forwards.
Prince, meanwhile, is seeing a career-high 37 percent of his minutes come at the 4 spot. He spaces the floor with his three-point stroke (45.5 percent on the season), and opposing power forwards are registering a player efficiency rating well below the league average when being defended by him (11.5), per 82games.com.
While the rangy 34-year-old won't turn the Raptors into an intrepid defensive force, he's a valuable asset to have for the stretch run—as both an NBA champion and a veteran who fills a glaring need.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Something about Prince joining the San Antonio Spurs just feels right. They value streetwise veterans who can play defense and space the floor. And, well, that's exactly what Prince can do.
Kawhi Leonard also hasn't played since Dec. 15 while tending to an injured right hand. Though he's expected back soon, according to the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald, that's been the party line for some time.
Playing without him has been detrimental to the Spurs' Western Conference standing. They've dropped to seventh place and are only one game ahead of the eighth-place Phoenix Suns. And when Leonard isn't on the floor, they go from allowing a league-best 94.4 points per 100 possessions to a 17th-placed 103.5.
Adding Prince in the interim gives the Spurs more rotation options, provided they're willing to dispatch Austin Daye or Jeff Ayres. As someone who can play and defend the 3 and 4 slots, he's an asset even after Leonard returns for those times when San Antonio decides to field smaller lineups.
Part of this is admittedly an offshoot of the intrigue factor. Seeing Prince play within an offensive system that eschews mid-range jumpers should work wonders for his two-way stock. He's burying 45.5 percent of his treys this season, but nearly one-third of his shots come between 16 feet and the three-point line.
The Spurs have taken veterans seemingly on their last legs (Boris Diaw) and transformed them into prominent contributors before. Prince could be next.
3. Miami Heat
Insufficient depth was a problem for the Miami Heat even with LeBron James representing South Florida. Now that he's gone, it's a titanic pitfall.
Only four Heat players—Mario Chalmers, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade—are averaging double figures in points this season. The team also ranks 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions, while its second unit is in the bottom eight of both offensive and defensive efficiency, per HoopsStats.com.
Spacing the floor and policing the perimeter have proved especially problematic for the Heat. They're 23rd in three-point defense and 17th in three-point shooting. Acquiring depth that bolsters their performance on both ends of the floor is imperative if they wish to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Josh Smith was initially a target for the Heat when the Detroit Pistons waived him, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, and Prince is an extension of that interest. He's shown he can defend power forwards and exist within Memphis' stingy defensive blueprint, and he's a serviceable off-rock complement to the ball-dominant Wade—who is now dealing with a strained hamstring, according to ESPN.com's Michael Wallace—and Bosh.
Around 64 percent of Prince's made buckets have come off assists this season. He's also drilling 48.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities. Plug him into the second unit—or even small-ball starting lineups—and the Heat have themselves an older version of Luol Deng...who can actually shoot.
Midseason signings aren't going to get any better.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
This just in: The Los Angeles Clippers are acting weird.
It's safe to say this season has been a disappointment for Doc Rivers' crew. They're firmly inside the Western Conference's playoff bubble, but sixth place is an unremarkable achievement.
Shoddy defense has been the fountainhead of their decline thus far. They're 17th in points allowed per 100 possessions, one season after a top-seven finish. And while their defensive warts don't boil down to one specific vice, their beanpole small-forward rotation can be considered Patient Zero, per 82games.com:
Someone like Prince would seem to fit the bill for what the Clippers need. He can knock down threes off the catch, and unlike many of the team's frontcourt weapons—Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Spencer Hawes, etc.—he'll play a lick of defense.
But the Clippers are hard-capped, planning to sign Dahntay Jones and trying like mad to acquire Austin Rivers, Doc's son, from the Celtics, according to Wojnarowski. They're already struggling to run with pace as well—they're 15th in possessions used per 48 minutes—and Prince has never really played an uptempo style of basketball.
Any attempts by the Clippers to increase their speed would wreak hell on Prince's 34-going-on-35-year-old body; if they decide to revert back to the kind of breakneck basketball that won them 57 games last season, he becomes a questionable—if not outright horrible—fit for their system.
Still, the gaping hole at small forward cannot be ignored. What the Clippers have now isn't working, and neither Rivers nor Jones figures to fix anything.
Contending in the super-duper, brutally built Western Conference takes depth this team doesn't have. And while Prince wouldn't be a cure-all, he's the closest thing to a positional panacea the capped-out, asset-hollow Clippers can get.
1. Portland Trail Blazers
Let the talent-rich get richer.
Already tied for the NBA's second-best record, the Portland Trail Blazers do have a need for the lanky Prince. Their bench is below-average on both the offensive and defensive ends, per HoopsStats.com, Nicolas Batum is having the worst statistical season of his career and Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson have provided only brief frontcourt relief.
Deepening coach Terry Stotts' rotation will be a pivotal part of the Blazers' continued success. They're one of just three teams that rank in the top eight of offensive and defensive efficiency, but this balanced blueprint may prove unsustainable given their dependency on six or seven players—especially on defense.
As Willy Raedy wrote for Blazer's Edge:
The Trail Blazers are on pace to allow the lowest shooting percentage from three (28.6%) since the Detroit Pistons in 1989, one of the greatest defensive teams of all time in a league that averaged 32% from deep. Portland hasn't been contesting shots at an elite rate so it didn't make sense that opponents were shooting so poorly. It was fun while it lasted but the law of averages meant a couple hot shooting nights were bound to bring the Blazers' defense back down to earth.
Logic has yet to catch up with the Blazers. They still rank third in defensive efficiency, and the foundation of their system—screen anticipation and court-vision obstruction—is humming along with few signs of slowing. But they still need help, if only to treat regression before it starts.
Zach Lowe of Grantland has loosely linked the Blazers to Denver's Wilson Chandler, but Prince is cheaper. He won't cost a first-round draft pick, he's a good fit for the Blazers' methodically paced offense and he'll solidify their status as one of the league's eighth-most dangerous spot-up shooting teams.
To put it another way: It would behoove both the Blazers and Prince to get on that Tinder craze, find each other and swipe right.