10 NBA Free Agents Who Could Take Pay Cut to Play for Contender Next Season

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2015

10 NBA Free Agents Who Could Take Pay Cut to Play for Contender Next Season

0 of 11

    Andrea Bargnani and Luis Scola aren't splashy free agents, but they could help round out the bench of a contender.
    Andrea Bargnani and Luis Scola aren't splashy free agents, but they could help round out the bench of a contender.Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Though top-tier stars like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge will command much of the attention heading into 2015 NBA free agency, a number of available veterans could help round out contenders' benches on a discount.

    As this year's playoff run has demonstrated, we shouldn't downplay the significance of these complementary options. Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn't be sniffing the NBA Finals without LeBron James, but ancillary veterans like James Jones have provided much-needed boosts in short bursts too.

    With most contenders projected to be far beyond the 2015-16 salary-cap threshold, it's only more imperative for them to spend wisely in free agency. As the Los Angeles Clippers learned with Spencer Hawes last summer, one slip-up can severely restrict a team's ability to further improve its roster, placing a heavier burden on its star players.

    Finding productive veterans who are willing to sign for the mid-level or bi-annual exception—if not a minimum salary outright—is key to any contender's chances of emerging with the Larry O'Brien Trophy come mid-June. Look no further than Marreese Speights, who the Golden State Warriors signed using the mid-level exception in 2013. Two years later, he came off the bench in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals to help stem his team's bleeding.

    Based on where the following 10 players are in their respective careers—some are in the twilight of their careers, while others are coming off disappointing seasonseach may potentially take a pay cut this summer to sign with a contender in pursuit of an elusive championship ring.

Honorable Mention: Paul Pierce, SF/PF

1 of 11

    If the 37-year-old Paul Pierce opts out, contenders will be falling over each other to sign him.
    If the 37-year-old Paul Pierce opts out, contenders will be falling over each other to sign him.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce is no lock to become a free agent, as he could simply opt into his $5.5 million player option and remove himself from the market. Considering his comments following Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals—"I don't even know if I'm going to play basketball anymore," he told reporters—there's no way to know what Pierce plans on doing this summer.

    If he decides to stave off retirement for one more season, however, Pierce could be a wild card on the free-agent market. "Many around the league believe [he will opt out] and finish his career back home in Los Angeles with the Clippers," NBA.com's David Aldridge wrote.

    On June 1, Robert Morales of the Los Angeles News Group reported the Clippers "remain interested" in signing Pierce if he does decline his player option. Given his relationship with head coach Doc Rivers—the two worked together for nearly a decade with the Boston Celtics—the theoretical interest makes perfect sense.

    A few obstacles remain in the quest to bring Pierce to L.A., however—most notably fiscal restraints. If the Clippers re-sign free-agent center DeAndre Jordan this summer, they figure to be in luxury-tax territory already, which would leave them only the taxpayer mid-level exception ($3.376 million) with which to sign Pierce.

    If money is no object to the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer—and with nearly $185 million in career earnings to date, it likely isn't—taking a discount for one final shot at a ring isn't out of the question. Then again, given the power imbalance between the Eastern and Western Conferences, Pierce might be best suited staying with the Wizards or joining another contender in the East instead.

Amar'e Stoudemire, PF/C

2 of 11

    Amar'e Stoudemire is no longer worth $20 million per year, but he's still productive in short stretches.
    Amar'e Stoudemire is no longer worth $20 million per year, but he's still productive in short stretches.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Amar'e Stoudemire may no longer be a $20-million-per-year player, but his short stint with the Dallas Mavericks proved he can still provide value in small bursts. That should make him a hot commodity this summer, especially as contenders look to bolster their benches with cheap veteran options.

    During his 23 games with Dallas, the six-time All-Star averaged 10.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 16.5 minutes per contest. Stoudemire has never been much of a defensive asset—in fact, he's had a negative rating in defensive box plus/minus over each of the past four seasons—but he remains a dangerous pick-and-pop threat.

    Having already earned more than $140 million over his 13-year career, the 32-year-old isn't focused on money in free agency. Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com reported that during his end-of-season press conference, Stoudemire made clear that he's prioritizing title contention over financial gain:

    I'm already paid in full. Money is great to have, but it’s not what I’m searching for at this point. One is the opportunity to win. I think that’s the main ingredient. Two is being able to perform at a high level and be in a position where I can display my skills. My goal is to graduate from the NBA at a high level. That’s my ultimate plan.

    As Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News suggested, Stoudemire should have "a slew of opportunities around the league" in free agency. If a big man-needy team like the Los Angeles Clippers or Cleveland Cavaliers is able to snag him with a veteran's minimum contract, it could be one of the summer's best value signings.

Andrea Bargnani, PF/C

3 of 11

    Andrea Bargnani isn't worth an eight-figure salary, but three-point shooting bigs will always be in demand.
    Andrea Bargnani isn't worth an eight-figure salary, but three-point shooting bigs will always be in demand.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Is Andrea Bargnani worth the $11.5 million he earned during the 2014-15 season? Why don't we ask New York Knicks fans, who were just thrilled when the team recently tweeted out a video of his highlights? (That's a resounding "no.")

    Though Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri pulled a fast one on the Knicks by flipping Bargnani to New York two summers ago, the Italian big man still has a place in the league—just not as a player receiving an eight-figure salary. The 7-footer is a career 35.6 percent shooter from three-point range, which is enough to keep him relevant in today's perimeter-oriented game.

    The Knicks would reportedly "consider bringing Bargnani back because of his offensive talent," but won't dip into their cap space to do so, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Ettore Messina, who coached Bargnani in Italy, told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that the big man is "a good player for the triangle" because "he shoots it well, he's not a bad passer and he sees the game well."

    However, in an interview with Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Berman), Bargnani expressed his interest in joining a contender this offseason. "I am now a veteran in the NBA," he said, "and, you know, I would like to sign with a team that can give me the opportunity to win a ring."

    Unless LeBron James opts out and unexpectedly signs with New York, the Knicks won't be in a position to offer Bargnani what he's seeking. Accordingly, if he's willing to accept a significant enough discount—say, even playing for a veteran's minimum contract—he should have a bevy of suitors chasing after him as a low-usage reserve big man.

Jeremy Lin, PG

4 of 11

    Going to a pick-and-roll-centric contender could help restore Jeremy Lin's reputation.
    Going to a pick-and-roll-centric contender could help restore Jeremy Lin's reputation.Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Jeremy Lin's first year with the Los Angeles Lakers got off to a rocky start and never quite recovered. He and head coach Byron Scott frequently butted heads, particularly clashing over how often the team should run pick-and-rolls, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, casting doubt over his long-term future in L.A.

    Though Lin claims to have not ruled out re-signing with the Lakers—"never say never," he told B/R's Kevin Ding following his exit meeting—the philosophical differences between him and Scott are too significant to ignore. Nearly 40 percent of the Harvard product's plays with L.A. were pick-and-rolls, despite Scott's belief that "everybody is stationary and it's easy to guard" during such plays, per Medina.

    "That's who I am," Lin told Medina. "That’s what allowed me to have success in the past. That's the reason why people are paying me money to play pick-and-roll."

    Now a full three years removed from the Linsanity phenomenon, he likely won't find any team willing to match his $14.9 million salary from this past season in free agency. That doesn't seem to faze the 26-year-old floor general, who told Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times in mid-April that he's "not too worried about the years or a number what I'm getting paid."

    Instead, Lin's top priority in free agency is "to find a good place and hopefully the best place I can fit in," as he said following his exit meeting. If he's willing to accept a role as a backup point guard for a pick-and-roll-centric contender, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team that is willing to burn its mid-level exception on him.

Tayshaun Prince, SF/PF

5 of 11

    Tayshaun Prince could still have value in a reserve three-and-D role for a contender.
    Tayshaun Prince could still have value in a reserve three-and-D role for a contender.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    After the Memphis Grizzlies flipped Tayshaun Prince to the Boston Celtics in January, he seemed like a lock for the buyout market. Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reported in mid-January that the Celtics had begun negotiating a buyout with the 35-year-old forward, but they ultimately held off until the trade deadline.

    That proved prescient, as Boston sent Prince to the Detroit Pistons for Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome. Unlike the Celtics, Detroit had no intention of buying him out, with team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy saying, per Brendan Savage of MLive.com, "If he was going to get bought out, he should have done it in Boston. ... That's not on me to buy him out."

    Had Detroit bought out Prince, he could have "become the most coveted player on the market" in February, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "with the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers promising to be strong contenders." In late March, Prince made clear that while he won't rule out re-signing with the Pistons, he's still hoping to join a contender, per MLive.com's David Mayo:

    I'm not going to jump to conclusions. But as you guys know, and as of my time in Boston before I got traded to Detroit, my intention was to get to a contender. You know, you can never say never, but obviously, at this point in my career, I think that's where I help teams the best.

    No contender will pay him anywhere close to the $7.7 million he earned this past season, but Prince could still help a contender in a limited three-and-D role. As one league source told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald in February: "He knows how to play, and he’s played in big games. Someone hoping to make a playoff run is going to want him, even if it’s just for depth or insurance."

Marcus Thornton, SG

6 of 11

    Marcus Thornton hardly cracked the rotation after landing in Phoenix at the trade deadline.
    Marcus Thornton hardly cracked the rotation after landing in Phoenix at the trade deadline.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Fresh off a four-year, $31.15 million contract, Marcus Thornton might not have any choice but to take a discount in free agency. After the Boston Celtics sent him to the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline, he played just 81 minutes, often failing to crack head coach Jeff Hornacek's rotation.

    When he did play, the returns weren't promising—he hit just 13 of his 40 field-goal attempts (32.5 percent) while shooting 10.5 percent (2-of-19) from deep. The LSU product simply never found his footing with the Suns, which could wind up diminishing his demand in the free-agent market.

    Based on how his time in Phoenix unfolded, Thornton doesn't appear likely to return for a second go-round. When Gerald Bourguet of Valley of the Suns asked him about his likelihood of re-signing with the Phoenix, he replied, "Uh, who knows? Who knows? Just go in and work this summer and let the chips fall where they may and see what happens."

    Thornton has yet to record a positive mark in defensive box plus/minus at any of his five career stops, so any team expecting him to develop into a three-and-D wing will be sorely disappointed. He has the "three" part of that equation down pat, though, having knocked down 36.2 percent of his 1,701 attempted triples over the past six years.

    In mid-January, Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears reported the Celtics were "getting a lot of interest" in Thornton, but teams were "concerned about his $8.6 million salary." With that bloated contract no longer an obstacle, Thornton could decide to sign with a contender on a discount to resurrect his career.

Chuck Hayes, PF/C

7 of 11

    Chuck Hayes spent most of the year riding the pine in Toronto.
    Chuck Hayes spent most of the year riding the pine in Toronto.Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    After making just 29 appearances for the Toronto Raptors this past season, Chuck Hayes will almost assuredly attempt to find a new team in free agency. The 10-year veteran came to Toronto as part of the six-player Rudy Gay trade in December 2013, but his lack of playing time doesn't portend a promising future with the Raptors.

    Following Toronto's first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler reported the Raptors are expected to renounce their rights to Hayes this summer. That will leave him to sign with the team of his choosing, albeit for nowhere close to the nearly $6 million he earned in 2014-15.

    Hayes isn't the type of flashy, stat-sheet-stuffing signing that teams trumpet as a marquee free-agent acquisition, but he's capable of providing value as a backup big. His teams have been at least 4.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court over each of the past three seasons, and he's never posted a negative mark in defensive box plus/minus over his 10-year career.

    With the NBA putting such a heavy premium on small-ball lineups, trotting out a 6'6" player at center is less insane than it was even a few years ago. Hayes won't help space the floor—he's missed all 14 of his career three-point attempts—but he remains a gritty glass-cleaner, having posted one of the league's highest marks in contested rebound percentage this past season.

    The Sacramento Bee's Ron Agostini summed up Hayes' free-agent prospects succinctly: "If someone sees value in a veteran leader and good defender at a bargain price, he’ll check in with Hayes." If the former Kentucky Wildcat is willing to sign a veteran's minimum contract, he shouldn't have trouble latching on with a big man-needy contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Clippers.

Jason Terry, PG/SG

8 of 11

    At 37 years old, Jason Terry still has some jet fuel left in his engine.
    At 37 years old, Jason Terry still has some jet fuel left in his engine.Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    Sixteen years into his NBA career, Jason Terry has no plans of fading quietly into the night. Prior to Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets 2-guard told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that he "100 percent" intended on continuing his career beyond this season.

    Given how the 37-year-old contributed to Houston's conference final run, who can blame him? With starting point guard Patrick Beverley sidelined by torn ligaments in his left wrist, Terry slid into the Rockets' starting lineup and averaged 9.2 points, 2.8 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.6 treys per game during the postseason.

    Additionally, he became "one of the Rockets' strongest locker room voices," according to Stein, which has Houston hoping to bring him back as a free agent this summer. The feeling appears to be mutual, as the former Arizona Wildcat told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle, "I want another opportunity to fight for a championship, and Houston right now is the best fit for me."

    Terry turns 38 in September, so any team—Houston or otherwise—would be insane to award him anywhere near the $5.45 million salary he earned this past season. He's never once posted a positive mark in defensive box plus/minus and hasn't recorded a positive plus/minus net per 100 possessions since winning a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11.

    The Jet remains lethal behind the three-point arc, however, knocking in 39.0 percent of his 323 attempted treys during the regular season. Any contender looking for some instant offense off the bench—from a 2-guard capable of sliding to the point in a pinch—could do far worse than signing Terry to a veteran's minimum contract or to the bi-annual exception ($2.139 million).

Luis Scola, PF

9 of 11

    Luis Scola could be a nice pick-and-pop threat off the bench for a contender.
    Luis Scola could be a nice pick-and-pop threat off the bench for a contender.Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Luis Scola struggled during his first campaign with the Indiana Pacers in 2013-14, but he bounced back in his second go-round. Though the big man shot a career-low 46.7 percent from the field, he made up for it by averaging a career-high 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

    At this point in the 35-year-old's career, his main value is twofold. First, Scola remains an effective rebounder, having snagged 2.6 contested boards per game this past season. On the other end of the court, he's still a viable pick-and-pop threat, as he proved by attempting more than one-third of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line.

    Scola knocked down a career-low 40.0 percent of those attempts, but having a big man capable of hitting mid-range jumpers at even that clip helps provide valuable floor spacing. As the Argentine told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com, he wouldn't mind continuing his tenure in Indiana doing just that:

    This is a great place and I believe it's going to be a very good team next year. It's not up to me, you know? We'll see if the guys in the front office are happy with what I did and then we'll talk. Every team that wants you to stay, it's a good thing. It means you did well and they like you and think you can help them. So I'm looking forward to getting a positive nod on that and then move on from that. I don't know what's going to happen.

    Team president Larry Bird told reporters he hopes to re-sign Scola, per Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports, but cautioned that "you never know." Though the eight-year veteran isn't likely to command anywhere close to his $4.9 million salary from this past season, he could help fill out a contender's frontcourt rotation off the bench at a discount if he so desires.

Mo Williams, PG

10 of 11

    Mo Williams can still be a prolific microwave scorer off the bench.
    Mo Williams can still be a prolific microwave scorer off the bench.Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    At this point in his career, you know what you're getting with Mo Williams: a high-volume, low-efficiency, score-first point guard. He's still capable of pouring in buckets, as he proved with a career-high 52 points against the Indiana Pacers back on Jan. 13, but he shot just 39.7 percent on the year, his second-lowest career mark.

    Couple that lack of offensive efficiency with his struggles on defense—he's never posted a positive defensive box plus/minus—and the odds of him landing a starting job in free agency are minimal. Though he performed well as a starter this past season, averaging 17.8 points on 41.9 percent shooting and 7.6 assists, he's also turning 33 in December, which doesn't bode well for his long-term prospects.

    Williams seems to recognize that he's most valuable now as a microwave scorer off the bench, similar to players like Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry. Charlotte Hornets big man Al Jefferson showered his diminutive teammate in praise when speaking with Sam Perley of Hornets.com:

    He’s a smart player, veteran guy, been around a long time. Seen a lot of different offenses. For him to come in and do what he's done and fit well in our offense doesn't surprise me at all. That's the kind of guy he is, the kind of leader he is and the kind of scorer he is.

    Williams suggested to Perley that he's open to returning to Charlotte:

    “Next year, the goal is the playoffs and [we] got to put together a unit that coexists with each other for one and get it done at a high level. We do have some talent, especially some young talent. They develop the right way, they should be able to help this team.”

    But there's no guarantee the Hornets are preparing to keep him around. If the 12-year veteran is willing to take a discount on the $3.8 million he earned this past season, he'd be a promising signing for a contender in need of a backup floor general. (Perhaps a return to Cleveland is in order?)

Jason Richardson, SG

11 of 11

    Jason Richardson could adopt a James Jones-esque role for a contender.
    Jason Richardson could adopt a James Jones-esque role for a contender.Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Jason Richardson is likely to be an afterthought in free agency, having played just 52 games over the past three seasons combined. Cartilage damage to his left knee cost him the entire 2013-14 campaign, while a stress fracture in his right foot further limited his return to the court.

    The 34-year-old finally made his debut following this year's All-Star break, averaging 9.1 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists over 19 contests. Despite his shooting struggles, Richardson has no plans to hang up his basketball shoes for good, as he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    For me, [this season] gave me hope and determination to come back from the injury that I did without really any practice time. And to be on the court, that gave me a lot of hope for my future. I can play a few more years in this league. …I had some moments this year where I showed what I could still do. But other moments [weren't] so great. … I need to have time to develop my skills like I normally do in the summertime.

    Though he clearly has some rust to shake off, Richardson is a career 37 percent shooter from deep, which could pique the interest of some suitors in free agency. In March, however, he told Pompey that he's "not the type of guy who is going to chase a championship" and if he did go to a title contender, he wanted "it to mean something, not just [as] a bench player."

    Richardson isn't likely to carve out that sort of role for any team, contender or not, and especially not at the $6.6 million salary he earned in 2014-15. If he abandons his reluctance to join a contender in a limited role, his shooting ability could give him value as a cheap James Jones-esque option off the bench.

    All salary information via Spotrac.com. All information about salary-cap exceptions via Larry Coon's CBA FAQ. All statistics via NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com.

    Follow @btoporek