The One Player Each NBA Team Should Let Go of Before Next Season
The NBA offseason is the perfect time for optimism, asset collecting and roster purging.
It's the latter portion of that program we're concerned with.
Every franchise enters the summer in a different position on the league's totem pole. Some have nothing more than a few loose ends in need of tying. Others are clearing the remnants of a complete demolition and working on an organization-wide rebuild.
But no matter where these clubs find themselves, they all have one thing in common: There's at least one player on their roster they wouldn't mind getting rid of. In a lot of cases, the sentiment is significantly stronger than that.
Not everyone on this list has disappointed on the stat sheet, although more than a few fit that bill. Rather, each has something about them that works against their franchise. That could be a bad contract now, or perhaps one that's about to grow too expensive. Some players are just awkward fits for their current clubs or barriers to the young talent trapped behind them.
When all 30 teams reconvene for training camp this fall, these are the players their fanbases really don't want to see.
Atlanta Hawks: Pero Antic
The idea of Pero Antic fits perfectly into the Atlanta Hawks' spread-out, egalitarian offense. There aren't many better ways to stretch a defense thin than having someone with legitimate center size (6'11", 260 lbs) who can shoot the three.
But in reality, there's a critical missing piece of that equation. While Antic takes a ton of triples (6.0 per 36 minutes, nearly as many as Kyle Korver's 6.7), the big guy hardly ever converts his long-range looks. Of the 142 players to attempt at least 170 threes this season, only 12 had a worse success rate than Antic's 30.1 three-point percentage.
Compounding that issue is the fact that Antic doesn't really bring anything else to the table. He's neither a rim protector nor a solid rebounder (career 0.5 blocks and 7.3 boards per 36 minutes). He hardly ever moves the needle as a scoring threat inside the arc, as his career 39.2 field-goal percentage shows.
While Antic just completed only his second NBA season, he has zero upside to speak of. He'll turn 33 over the offseason, when Hawks fans have to hope the restricted free agent finds a new basketball home.
Boston Celtics: Gerald Wallace
Guess who was the Boston Celtics' highest-paid player this season? Here's a hint: It's the same person slated to hold that title again in 2015-16.
Maybe spark-plug scorer Isaiah Thomas? Or defensive dynamo Avery Bradley perhaps? Nope. It's 32-year-old Gerald Wallace, who played a total of 286 minutes this year (roughly the equivalent of six full games).
No matter where the Celtics go from here—trying to build off their surprise playoff push or fully embracing a youth movement—Wallace won't help them get there. His contract is so burdensome that the Celtics are reportedly willing to part with a first-round draft pick just to get it off their books, sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler.
It's usually hard to endorse the idea of sacrificing future assets just to get rid of a present problem. But the idea of shelling out another eight-figure salary for Wallace to watch games from the bench is bad enough to make this an exception to that rule.
Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams
Anyone who's watched Deron Williams' downward spiral these past few seasons would have a hard time believing the 30-year-old once stood as the biggest threat to Chris Paul's point-god throne. But Williams was that type of dynamic player—a long time ago.
At this point, it's safe to call Williams a shell of a shell of his former self. A career 44.7 percent shooter, he shot just 38.7 percent from the field this season. Of the 73 players to average at least 30 minutes and 11 field-goal attempts per game, only four had a worse shooting year than Williams.
As bad as that sounds for the Brooklyn Nets, it gets even worse. Williams is scheduled to collect more than $43 million over the next two seasons. Brooklyn could shed that salary by waiving him with the stretch provision, which essentially would entail paying him nearly $9 million per season over the next five years for him not to play.
That's a tough pill for any team to swallow, but ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote, "you can rest assured they'll ponder it." After paying a heavy premium for a low-level playoff team, the Nets desperately need to start a new chapter. The first phase of that process has to involve finding some way to move on from Williams.
Charlotte Hornets: Marvin Williams
This pick might surprise some people. Between Lance Stephenson's sagging statistics (37.6 field-goal percentage, 17.1 percent from three), reported clashes with teammates (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe) and pricey salary ($9 million), Born Ready looks like an obvious choice.
But it's possible for Stephenson to still make a positive impact on the Charlotte Hornets' future. At 24 years old, he might seem worth the risk for another organization, which potentially helps the Hornets net something in return for their investment.
The same can't be said of Marvin Williams. The former No. 2 pick turns 29 in June. At this stage of his career, he is who he is: a volume contributor. He hasn't shot above 44 percent from the field since 2010-11, and his player efficiency rating has graded out below average in five of the last six seasons.
Making matters worse, Williams is a roadblock in Charlotte. The minutes he receives at either forward spot take away from the developmental time of prospects such as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller. The Hornets need to be prioritizing their future, and it will not—or should not, at least—involve Williams.
Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich's biggest fan in the Windy City is out. The Chicago Bulls fired head coach Tom Thibodeau on Thursday, a move that could effectively cost Hinrich his rotation spot.
Thibs saw something he liked in Hinrich. Enough of it, in fact, to live with Hinrich's woeful efficiency numbers (38.3 percent shooting, 9.6 PER the last three years) at the expense of 2013 first-rounder Tony Snell's development.
"Despite overwhelming statistical evidence that Hinrich had no business being on the court, Thibodeau used him liberally because the bespectacled point guard was a stringent follower of the coach's precise defensive rules," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote. "With Thibodeau out, Hinrich's role figures to disappear."
Hinrich has a $2.8 million player option for 2015-16. Bulls fans have to hope that if Hinrich wants to actually play—something that may not be possible under a new head coach—he'll use that desire as fuel to get out of Chicago.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Brendan Haywood
Raise your hand if you knew Brendan Haywood plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He only suited up 22 times for a total of 119 minutes during the regular season, so don't feel bad if you didn't.
Haywood isn't hurting the team by occupying a sideline seat. But that could change if he's still sitting there next season. That would mean Haywood's contract—a non-guaranteed $10.5 million salary for next season—couldn't become something of actual value this summer.
Because there's such a large number next to his name, Haywood could be a pivotal piece of any trade. His massive salary would apply toward the league's salary-matching requirements in a transaction, and if he's moved, his next employer could simply release him and open up more than $10 million in cap space.
The Cavs, who have followed LeBron James' lead back to the NBA Finals, don't have many holes to fill now. But that could change quickly if they lose Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert to free agency. Haywood can help fill a potential void in Cleveland by vacating the city over the summer.
Dallas Mavericks: Rajon Rondo
The Dallas Mavericks' marriage to Rajon Rondo fell apart faster than celebrity nuptials. He arrived as a potential point guard savior in a December deal with the Celtics and stood out as Dallas' biggest weakness by April.
His ball-dominant style disjointed what was a historically proficient free-flowing offense before his arrival. The Mavs were 3.0 points per 100 possessions better when he didn't play during the regular season and outscored by 36 points during Rondo's 37 playoff minutes.
After a ghastly performance in Game 2 of the opening round (four fouls and one turnover in under 10 minutes), Rondo was suddenly ruled out indefinitely with a back injury. As sources later told ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, the mysterious ailment was simply "a favor to try to help the four-time All-Star point guard save face."
Maybe that will help Rondo minimize the monetary damages of his disastrous Dallas stint when he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. But whatever cash Rondo collects won't be coming from the Mavericks. Head coach Rick Carlisle already made that perfectly clear.
Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets are overdue for a reset. Since dismissing then-Coach of the Year George Karl after the 2012-13 campaign, the Nuggets have gone 66-98—not nearly good enough for the playoffs, but not bad enough to bottom out.
Denver desperately needs to build an identity. Sending point guard Ty Lawson somewhere else is the first step toward creating one. Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler believes Lawson's departure might be inevitable:
As good of a piece as Lawson is to build around, his lack of confidence in the direction of the organization has become somewhat problematic. Lawson represents the Nuggets’ best trade asset and it seems both parties are at least open to exploring Lawson’s trade value. For the Nuggets to truly turn the corner, a major trade may be inevitable and Lawson is likely the centerpiece of the deal.
Lawson should fetch something of value. The 27-year-old is one of only three players to average at least 15 points and eight assists in each of the last two seasons. For context, All-Stars Chris Paul and John Wall are the others. Lawson is also priced right at $25.6 million over the next two years, a rate that only grows more reasonable once the salary cap explodes with the new TV money in 2016, as noted by Jonathan Givony of Draft Express.
The Nuggets could find the direction they need by letting their best player go.
Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe is a really skilled player. Only four guys have put up at least 15 points and nine rebounds a night in each of the last four seasons, and the Moose is one of them.
But the 24-year-old plays a throwback style. He's methodical in the post but limited offensively away from it. And, while he's a smart defender, his lack of explosiveness prevents him from providing reliable rim protection.
In the right system, he could thrive. But the Detroit Pistons don't need what he brings inside the lines. More importantly, they could really use the things that he doesn't.
The Pistons need someone to space the floor, especially if they bring Reggie Jackson back in restricted free agency. The point guard, who's only a career 29.4 percent three-point shooter, needs penetration lanes to attack. Andre Drummond, the closest thing Detroit has to a franchise player, gets all of his offense inside the lane. In three NBA seasons, he is shooting just 167-of-510 outside of three feet (32.7 percent).
Monroe played this season for his $5.5 million qualifying offer, which means he's now headed for unrestricted free agency. He hasn't closed the door on a return to the Motor City (via MLive.com's David Mayo), but both sides would look better without one another.
Golden State Warriors: David Lee
One thing has been noticeably absent from the Golden State Warriors' run to the NBA Finals: their highest-paid player.
David Lee, who banked $15 million this season and will make another $15.5 million next year, played 68 minutes during Golden State's three-round trek through the Western Conference. He's cleared double-digit minutes only three times and sat out six of the team's 15 postseason games.
But the startling split between his salary and statistics isn't the reason he's listed here. Rather, the real concern is how Lee's money will affect the Warriors' willingness to retain invaluable restricted free agent Draymond Green.
Golden State's do-it-all forward is bearing down on a Powerball-sized payday. The Warriors can match any offer he receives, but doing so would almost certainly send them into luxury-tax territory if they can't clear some salary first. Considering the negligible returns they're seeing on their investment in Lee, it's painfully obvious where the financial cut needs to come from.
Houston Rockets: Pablo Prigioni
Credit the Houston Rockets for getting a win and (for the most part) competing in the Western Conference Finals. On paper, the series was never one for them to win.
While the Warriors rolled out MVP Stephen Curry at point guard, the Rockets countered with Pablo Prigioni and Jason Terry. Houston's duo averaged 10.6 points and 5.0 assists combined in the series; Curry put up 31.2 points and 5.6 assists per game on his own.
The Rockets need a major upgrade at point guard, even if they bring back dogged defender Patrick Beverley in restricted free agency. James Harden is an otherworldly offensive talent, but Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has to find a secondary playmaker to relieve some of The Beard's burden.
Harden was recently asked if he wants Houston to bolster the backcourt. "Yeah definitely," he said, via ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. "That's one of the conversations that me and Daryl (Morey) are going to have."
The Rockets should look to address the position in either free agency or the draft. But even if they were to stand pat for some reason, they'd still have little use for the 38-year-old Prigioni or his non-guaranteed $1.7 million salary.
Indiana Pacers: Roy Hibbert
There's no reason for Hibbert to leave that money behind. Over the last two seasons, the 7'2" center has averaged just 10.7 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 6.9 rebounds per game. That's an underwhelming scoring mark for a $15 million player, an anemic accuracy rate for a player who spends the majority of his minutes in the paint and unsuitable work on the boards for a starting center.
Hibbert is still a solid defensive presence, but there are too many negatives in his game to justify the cash he'll collect. On top of that, the Pacers are planning on embracing a faster style of play that figures to minimize Hibbert's strengths and exacerbate his many weaknesses.
"We'd like to play a little faster tempo," Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said, per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. "And that means we've got to run a little faster, maybe at times play a little smaller."
In short, Hibbert is about to get more expensive and almost certainly less productive. It's hard to see the Pacers dodging this problem, but fingers will be crossed all over the Circle City that they somehow can.
Los Angeles Clippers: Spencer Hawes
The Los Angeles Clippers had one semi-major card to play last summer: the mid-level exception. They gambled it on stretch center Spencer Hawes, hoping he'd become the third big they were missing behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
It was a nearly $23 million risk, and it could not have gone any worse. Hawes never found his rhythm from the field (39.3 percent) or beyond the arc (31.3). The Clippers were 14.2 points per 100 possessions better when he didn't play.
By the time the postseason rolled around, the Clippers started trusting the numbers, which said they were better off without him. He sat out six of their first nine playoff games and averaged only 7.1 minutes when his number was called.
The Clippers are still searching for that elusive reserve big, and they're once again short on avenues to find him. They could have as much as $66.8 million on next season's books, and that amount doesn't include the potentially massive deal Jordan could net from them in free agency. If L.A. can find a way to dump Hawes' deal, it might help the team find a suitable substitute center down the line.
Los Angeles Lakers: Carlos Boozer
In a vacuum, Carlos Boozer gave the Los Angeles Lakers fairly good minutes for the minimal commitment required to claim him off the amnesty waiver wire. There aren't a lot of ways to get a non-rookie-scale player who puts up 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds a night for only $3.2 million.
But pull the signing out of that vacuum and the move never made any sense. What use did the 21-win Lakers really have for a declining 33-year-old power forward? He clearly couldn't help them avoid a dreadful present, and he obviously isn't a part of their future.
Boozer's 23.8 minutes per game needed to go elsewhere. Between Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Tarik Black and Ed Davis, the Lakers had a slew of young guys they needed to figure out. They'll have even more next season when Julius Randle returns, and they could grab another post player with the No. 2 overall draft pick.
Boozer's one-year stint in Tinseltown was mildly productive and entirely confusing. The Lakers should leave that experiment behind as they continue creeping closer to the post-Kobe Bryant era.
Memphis Grizzlies: Kosta Koufos
For the Memphis Grizzlies, losing Kosta Koufos isn't about shedding any dead weight. Truth be told, the 26-year-old is one of the best backup bigs in the business.
But that's the problem. He's overqualified for the reserve role the Grizzlies can give him. And he knows it.
"It's no secret within team circles that Koufos...wants to be an NBA starter," ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote. "If that opportunity presents itself elsewhere, on top of a healthy raise from Koufos' $3 million salary last season, well, you can do the math."
It isn't hard to imagine Koufos sniffing out a bigger opportunity and more money elsewhere. He's reportedly on the radar of the Celtics, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings already, sources told EuroHoops.net's Aris Barkas.
Grizzlies fans may like what they've seen out of Koufos, but the possibility of him staying could signal bigger trouble. If he envisions a large enough role to stick around in Memphis, that might mean All-Star center Marc Gasol has sought out greener pastures in unrestricted free agency.
Miami Heat: Henry Walker
The Miami Heat's reserve ranks were a mess by season's end. As the injury bug ripped apart their rotation, they were left throwing anything at the wall—undrafted rookies, D-League call-ups, reclamation projects—and seeing if it would stick.
Henry Walker, formerly known as Bill Walker, was one of those last-ditch efforts to build a bench. The Washington Wizards' second-round pick in 2008, Walker had been out of the NBA since the 2011-12 season.
Desperate measures were needed in those desperate times, and Walker certainly fit that bill. But the Heat have a full summer to get healthier and deeper. With only a non-guaranteed $1.1 million commitment to Walker left, the Heat should move on.
Walker's quick trigger proved problematic, as he hit just 34.5 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from distance. At 27 years old, it's tough to expect any improvements with his shot selection or accuracy. Considering shooting is supposed to be his biggest (only?) strength, the Heat don't have a reason to keep him.
Milwaukee Bucks: Zaza Pachulia
The Milwaukee Bucks are wisely valuing a blindingly bright future over a mediocre present. They made that much clearer when they sent then-leading scorer Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team trade that brought back intriguing-but-organic-granola-raw Michael Carter-Williams.
If the 23-year-old point guard pans out, the Bucks project as a long, athletic, dangerous team down the line. Their nucleus of 23-year-old three-and-D ace Khris Middleton (a restricted free agent), 20-year-old versatile swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo and 20-year-old scoring forward Jabari Parker is swimming in an Olympic-size pool of potential.
Zaza Pachulia doesn't fit that picture. The 31-year-old is a win-now reserve masquerading as a starter for a team that has both eyes focused on the horizon. Even worse, he's blocking 24-year-old big man John Henson from proving whether he can fill a long-term role for this franchise.
Milwaukee's building blocks are starting to fall into place, but there are major question marks on the interior. Parting with Pachulia and the $5.2 million he'll rake in next season would help the Bucks find a more permanent solution (internally or externally) to fill their missing piece in the middle.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic
After hitting the draft-lottery jackpot, the Minnesota Timberwolves have a tremendous shot at landing a franchise big man. Either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor could potentially anchor this organization for the next decade-plus.
And the Wolves even have a serviceable understudy for either one. Sophomore Gorgui Dieng looked a little overexposed as a starter, but he'd be a tremendous luxury to have off the bench.
But there's another frontcourt player the Wolves have to account for. That would be 29-year-old Nikola Pekovic, who's battled injury problems throughout his career and plays a below-the-rim game on both ends of the floor.
Dieng looked like a much better fit for Minnesota's young, athletic core than Pekovic, and the former's ceiling sits several stories below the top prospects'. In other words, Pekovic's value to Minnesota is decreasing. Unfortunately, his salary is not. He has $35.8 million headed his way over the next three seasons.
The Wolves will likely need to part with an asset to move Pekovic, but that's a price worth paying to let the team's foundation grow.
New Orleans Pelicans: Tyreke Evans
This is a tough call to make. It's not necessarily a knock against Tyreke Evans, but rather a condemnation of keeping three ball-dominant players together on the New Orleans Pelicans' perimeter.
There's a lot more offense coming from the wings than there needs to be. Deposed coach Monty Williams publicly pleaded for soaring superstar Anthony Davis to get more shots, but the Brow was rarely featured enough. Davis had the 11th-highest PER in NBA history (minimum 1,000 minutes played), but he barely took more shots (17.6 per 36 minutes) than Evans (15.6) and Ryan Anderson (15.7).
The Pellies have to run their offense from the inside out. That's hard to do when Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon all need touches to be effective. Any one of the three could be listed here, but Evans stands out for a few reasons.
Evans had the highest usage percentage of the three (26.1), but Holiday had more assists (6.9 to 6.6) and fewer turnovers (2.3 to 3.1). Evans is also the worst long-range shooter of the bunch, so it's easier for defenses to sag off him and help on Davis. Holiday and Gordon both have scary injury histories, but when healthy, they are better fits with Davis than Evans.
New York Knicks: Jose Calderon
The New York Knicks just finished their worst season in franchise history. It's a lot harder to find irreplaceable parts on this roster than expendable ones.
But their best bet for addition by subtraction involves 33-year-old point guard Jose Calderon.
His defense was atrocious. Opposing point guards tallied a 20.8 PER against him, per 82games.com. His matchups shot a whopping 11.1 percent better versus him than they did on average. New York's defense, which was the third-most generous in the league, surrendered an additional 5.9 points per 100 possessions when he played.
But that's not the only reason Knicks fans are ready to see him go. The career 47.5 percent shooter hit a personal-worst 41.5 percent of his attempts this year. He's getting worse on both ends of the floor, which is a troubling trend given that he'll make $15.1 million over the next two seasons.
Plus, there's a fairly decent chance the Knicks use the No. 4 pick on a backcourt player. If Emmanuel Mudiay or D'Angelo Russell are calling Madison Square Garden home next season, the last thing 'Bockers backers want to see is either of those two losing minutes to a rapidly declining Calderon.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeremy Lamb
Inconsistency has been the lone constant in Jeremy Lamb's three-year NBA career.
The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired the former lottery pick in the 2012 trade that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Three years later, the Thunder still aren't exactly sure what they have. Lamb has shown flashes of promise, but former Thunder coach Scott Brooks kept him on a short leash.
Forty-four players logged more than 2,400 minutes this season. Lamb is at 2,318 minutes for his career. He's ready for that to change—in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.
"I just want an opportunity," Lamb said, per Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman. "I'm focused on getting better. If the opportunity is here or it’s somewhere else, I can't really focus on that. I'm just going to try to get better, work on my game, focus on my game and whatever happens, happens."
A trade needs to happen. OKC needs reliable depth on the wing, and it doesn't have many ways to find some. The Thunder have 13 players under contract for next season, and that number could increase if they bring either Enes Kanter or Kyle Singler (or both) back in restricted free agency.
With Kevin Durant inching toward the 2016 free-agent market (and Russell Westbrook following in 2017), the Thunder have to force their way into next season's title race. Swapping out Lamb for someone they'd actually use might help that happen.
Orlando Magic: Maurice Harkless
Maurice Harkless is not a part of the Orlando Magic's future. If he was, his minutes wouldn't have decreased in each of the last two seasons.
But there's a chance the lanky forward still holds some intrigue around the league. A bouncy 6'9", 215-pound specimen, he looks the part of a defensive menace and above-the-rim finisher. But his offensive game disappeared and took his playing time with it this season.
"Harkless has not developed offensively, lacking confidence that’s obvious on the floor," wrote Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. "He is unable to create his own shot consistently. Most of his points have come on offensive rebounds and hustle plays."
Harkless shot just 39.9 percent from the field, 17.9 percent from distance and 53.7 percent at the foul line in 2014-15. It will take a leap of faith for any team to believe there's untapped offensive potential somewhere in there.
That's why the Magic need to move him now. He could once again be buried behind Aaron Gordon and Tobias Harris (if they re-sign him) next season, or Harkless' offensive issues could grow more apparent in a bigger role. Regardless of what the Magic can get for him now, it might be a higher price than they'll fetch for him later.
Philadelphia 76ers: Jason Richardson
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie's unsightly (but potentially very effective) and rigorous rebuilding method is years away from its completion.
For now, they have a lot of placeholders on their roster. Jason Richardson should no longer be one of them—for his sake and theirs.
The 34-year-old fought hard to recover from cartilage damage in his left knee and a stress fracture in his foot, injuries that sidelined him for more than two calendar years (Jan. 2013 to Feb. 2015). His comeback was fun to watch and all kinds of inspirational. Less than two weeks after his return, he torched the Oklahoma City Thunder for 29 points and six boards.
But, assuming there's anything left in the tank, Richardson needs to find his way to a contender. He's made his money, piled up his stats and filled his highlight reels already; winning should be all that matters now. Since the Sixers have no plans of doing that for a while, they should let the free agent leave and fill his spot with a developing prospect.
Phoenix Suns: Marcus Thornton
Marcus Thornton is a gunner. Scoring brought him to the NBA, and the potential of it is the reason he sees the floor.
He understands his role...a little too well. He struggled to hold a permanent rotation place with either the Celtics (where he started the season) or the Phoenix Suns (where he finished it), but he still ended the year with 17.2 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes.
If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Of the 339 players who averaged at least 15 minutes, only 23 fired up more looks per 36 minutes.
Teams want spark-plug scorers to actively and aggressively hunt for shots. But Thornton never provided much of a spark. For the second consecutive season, he shot below 41 percent from the field. His career 36.2 three-point percentage also isn't as high as it needs to be given how much time he spends beyond the arc.
The Suns don't need more scoring. Especially not a 27-year-old's inefficient scoring. When the unrestricted free-agent market opens for Thornton, Phoenix's executives should be nowhere in sight.
Portland Trail Blazers: Steve Blake
There's a relatively valuable role for Steve Blake to play on the Portland Trail Blazers next season. As a sage veteran and emergency option off the bench, the 35-year-old might be able to earn his $2.2 million player option.
That role looked right for Blake this season, yet he wound up playing the sixth-most minutes on the team. He also shot 37.3 percent from the field—which, believe it or not, is only the third-worst shooting rate of his career—and posted a paltry 9.5 PER (his fourth-lowest).
When the postseason started, he nearly played his way out of the rotation. In 43 minutes, he scored just seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Blazers were 20.4 points per 100 possessions better without him in their first-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Portland needs all of the offseason savings it can find with LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews all headed to unrestricted free agency. Assuming Blake exercises his option, Blazers fans can only hope his presence won't impede emerging combo guard C.J. McCollum's development.
Sacramento Kings: Jason Thompson
Moving Jason Thompson would be the end of a Sacramento Kings' era. After all, he is (somehow) the longest-tenured player in franchise history.
Thompson has spent seven seasons in Sacramento. His next taste of playoff basketball—or even a 30-win campaign—will be his first. Closing this chapter, in other words, would hardly be a tragedy.
But this isn't about stepping away from the past. It's not necessarily even about Thompson himself. He's a decent player, as his slightly below-average career 13.5 PER can attest.
However, he's not what DeMarcus Cousins needs next to him in the frontcourt. Boogie's ideal running mate is either a stretch shooter or a shot-blocker. Thompson is 1-of-27 from distance and averages 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes for his career.
With an elite talent like Cousins, the Kings have a chance to build something special. But they need some breathing room in both their financial books and their frontcourt. The similarly skilled Carl Landry should also be dangled on the trade market, but we're guessing the 31-year-old's value is a tad lower than the 28-year-old Thompson's.
San Antonio Spurs: Cory Joseph
The San Antonio Spurs' team-first mantra makes it tough to find any dispensable parts. You never know which piece of Gregg Popovich's assembly line, if removed, would bring the entire thing to a halt.
That being said, Cory Joseph's skill set seems like one the Spurs could replace. He's a really good defender, but guards who can't shoot consistently—Joseph owns a 31.4 career three-point percentage—are having a harder time seeing action in today's pace-and-space league.
Joseph does enough things well that he'll still hold value in the eyes of other clubs. Add his age (23) and restricted free-agent status to the equation, and you're probably looking at a pretty pricey player. The Spurs can't afford to overpay for a third point guard, which is what Joseph became in the postseason behind Tony Parker and Patty Mills.
San Antonio needs to spend wisely this summer. Kawhi Leonard is definitely getting a max deal, both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili might be back for another round, and the Spurs might set their sights on a star such as Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge. Joseph is solid, but he's a pretty easy casualty to stomach if it means retaining more critical players or adding some notable new ones.
Toronto Raptors: Amir Johnson
If the Toronto Raptors could get the healthy Amir Johnson back, they'd take him in a second. But his nagging ankle issues might keep him from ever returning.
Johnson hasn't looked right for a while. This season was the first in three years that he failed to average double-digit points. It was also his least productive campaign on the glass since 2009-10.
But his value has rarely been tied to his individual contributions. During his six seasons spent north of the border, he's had his greatest impact in elevating teammates. He couldn't do that this year. The Raptors were 1.9 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor.
A former preps-to-pros leaper, the 28-year-old's body is older than his age. As such, this might be his last crack at a major contract. With replacement options already in tow (Patrick Patterson and James Johnson), this feels like the right time for the Raptors to let Johnson go and focus their summer spending on getting their defense to a championship level.
Utah Jazz: Trevor Booker
There's a lot to like about this Utah Jazz roster. It didn't steamroll to a 19-10 record after the All-Star break by accident.
The Jazz are young, long and uber-disruptive on defense. None of those descriptions fit Trevor Booker. He's 27 years old and a little undersized as an NBA power forward (6'8", 230 lbs). Smaller 4s are getting easier to play, but it helps when they can shoot—Booker is 30-of-94 for his career from downtown.
Defensively, he doesn't have a lot to offer. He hasn't averaged more than 1.0 block per 36 minutes since 2011-12. This season, he tied for 344th out of 474 players with a minus-1.51 defensive real plus-minus (via ESPN.com). And remember, Booker shared a frontcourt with rim-protecting monsters Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
Booker has a non-guaranteed $4.7 million salary for 2015-16. That, more than anything, is why Utah fans wouldn't mind seeing him go. The Jazz might use their strong second half as a reason to accelerate their rebuild with a trade for an established veteran. If Booker isn't in Salt Lake City for training camp, that probably means his cap-friendly contract was put to good use.
Washington Wizards: DeJuan Blair
The Washington Wizards have no use for DeJuan Blair. They were barely calling his number during the regular season, trotting him out only 29 times for a total of 180 minutes. Then the playoffs rolled around and head coach Randy Wittman had an epiphany that there might be some value in using Paul Pierce as a floor-spacing 4.
Assuming the Wizards ride this three-point wave into next season, Blair is beyond expendable. He makes his money by banging on the low block. But Washington needs shooters to stretch the defense for John Wall and Bradley Beal to penetrate and Marcin Gortat to crash the lane off pick-and-rolls.
Even if Wittman goes with a traditional look, the Wizards have other bruisers to deploy: Gortat, Nene, Kris Humphries and (if he's re-signed) Kevin Seraphin. Barring injury to those in front of him, Blair would likely make his $2 million salary by observing action from the sideline.
Blair battles on the interior, and he has produced when given the chance (career 14.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per 36 minutes). If some team still sees potential in the 26-year-old, the Wizards have to take what they can get.