2018 NBA Free Agency: Impact Players Who Could Be Bargain-Bin Finds

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2018

2018 NBA Free Agency: Impact Players Who Could Be Bargain-Bin Finds

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press


    Who: NBA free agents.

    What: Select impact players. (Prospective ring-chasers and pay-cut enthusiasts not included.)

    Where: Upscale steakhouses and sushi joints, mostly.

    When: July 1 for most, but right now for anyone willing to risk tampering fines.

    Why: Roughly two-thirds of the league will have little to no cap space over the offseason. And about half of the teams with meaningful spending power aren't far enough into their rebuild—or flush with enough wiggle room—to justify accelerating their process.

    Certain non-star free agents with undefined market values will invariably get squeezed as a result. And some are going to feel the pinch more than others.

    Players working off injury-plagued campaigns or who remain relative unknowns won't be treated to expensive dice rolls. A select few find themselves in an overcrowded class, at an overpopulated position, touting somewhat outmoded skill sets.

    This works in the favor of buyers with limited flexibility or a general reluctance to dole out substantive long-term money. They'll have an opportunity, in some cases, to get more bang than their buck should be worth.

Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 48.1 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics (2016-17): 15.5 player efficiency rating (PER), 54.56 total points added (TPA), 0.53 real plus-minus (RPM)


    Why So Cheap?

    Sitting out for all of 2017-18 with a fracture in his left leg harshes Seth Curry's value by considerable margins. The free-agent market isn't usually kind to players coming back from major injuries—2016 notwithstanding—and this summer's leaguewide shortage of cap space doesn't bode well for non-stars with incomplete resumes.

    Curry needed this season to put the finishing touches on a breakout that began at the end of 2015-16. Missing that opportunity for airtight validation should prevent him from landing a contract that pays serious money.


    Best Potential Destinations

    Charlotte Hornets

    Newly installed general manager/team president Mitch Kupchak could decide to rebuild the Hornets from scratch, in which case a soon-to-be 28-year-old guard wouldn't be on their radar. But their books make it difficult to start over.

    Not one of the long-term pacts on their docket can be shed without attaching sweeteners they don't really have. Unless they're willing to foot big-picture bills through the infancy of a reset after moving Kemba Walker, it makes more sense for the Hornets to try making lemonade.

    Deepening their secondary-playmaker corps is Step 1 of any retool. They scored like the league's worst offense whenever Walker caught a breather this season. That anemia started to subside after the All-Star break, but the Hornets have no business turning away a serviceable passer and sweet shooter who might possibly land in their zero-flexibility-whatsoever price range. 


    Dallas Mavericks

    Dallas could consider itself set in the backcourt with both J.J. Barea and Dennis Smith Jr. under contract next season, and Yogi Ferrell set for Early Bird restricted free agency.

    Then again, the Mavericks have Early Bird rights on Curry as well. He should be noticeably cheaper than Ferrell following a lost season. Plus, head coach Rick Carlisle likes to get weird. He stuck the 6'3" Devin Harris at the 3 for more than 750 possessions before the Mavericks shipped him to the Denver Nuggets, according to Cleaning The Glass.

    Consider this an official endorsement for the (hypothetical) Barea-Smith-Curry tricycle.


    Houston Rockets

    If the Rockets can use part of their taxpayer's mid-level expection to land a combo guard who downs more than 40 percent of his spot-up threes and plays quality pick-and-roll defense, they must absolutely do it. 

    Chris Paul is going on 33 and averaging close to 18 absences per year over the last three seasons. They could use another safety net behind him and James Harden.

    Especially if Eric Gordon gets sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the inevitable LeBron James trade.


    Miami Heat

    Picture this: Seth Curry. Wayne Ellington. In the same offense. Playing under Erik Spoelstra. 

    Did anyone else just get chills?

    Floating Ellington's own $8.2 million free-agent hold drags the Heat up against the luxury tax. They need cost-effective offensive tools to keep their payroll in check or, worst-case scenario, a cheaper alternative to Pinball Ellington. Either way, Curry profiles as a great fit.


    Washington Wizards

    The Wizards continue to burn through backup guards like travel-sized shampoos. And they're no closer to finding a long-term solution.

    Tim Frazier is not the answer. Ty Lawson probably isn't either. Jodie Meeks (player option) should not be initiating half-court sets (and was just handed a 25-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy). Tomas Satoransky fits the bill, and head coach Scott Brooks has been more inclined to stagger Bradley Beal and John Wall. That's not enough.

    Facing another year in the luxury tax, the Wizards need someone, anyone, who can jump-start a half-competent pick-and-roll and moonlight in off-ball flame-throwing without nuking their defense or breaking their dust bunny-filled piggybank.

Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 5.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 58.2 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 15.5 PER, 0.00 TPA, 1.16 RPM


    Why So Cheap?

    The NBA is overrun with big men at a time when combo wings are, rather clearly, the hottest commodities. Capable size will always find a home, but netting lucrative value is difficult when the league is pivoting into a different ideal archetype.

    Ed Davis is among the most difficult towers to peg. He's almost everything teams want in a non-shooter, but he's not Clint Capela. Nor will his own team inflate his price tag.

    The Portland Trail Blazers will wake up on July 1 firmly entrenched in the luxury tax if they ferry free-agent holds for Shabazz Napier ($7.1 million) and Jusuf Nurkic ($8.8 million)—and that's without factoring in Davis' own pre-contract hit ($12.1 million).


    Best Potential Destinations

    Boston Celtics

    Celtics head coach Brad Stevens prefers his bigs to pop rather than roll. That makes Davis an iffy fit in many respects. 

    Under 15 percent of his career field-goal attempts have come outside 10 feet. He canned 44.4 percent of his looks between 10 and 16 feet during the regular season, but that accuracy came on negligible volume. Boston also has the inside track on retaining non-Bird free agent Aron Baynes. He's more pick-and-pop-friendly and has proved to be an effective partner for Al Horford in bigger lineups.

    Employing a patented rim-runner still has its advantages. The Celtics have Horford, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis to dip out toward the top of the key off screens, and Davis' finishing on beelines will soar amid better spacing.


    Dallas Mavericks

    Center remains an interminable need in Dallas.

    Stashing Dirk Nowitzki at the 5 helps. The same goes for Dwight Powell's breakout 2017-18. Lucking into Deandre Ayton during the draft would help even more. But the Mavericks need another body in the middle no matter what.

    Salah Mejri (restricted) and Nerlens Noel (Cleveland has better hot dogs) are both likely goners, and it doesn't appear Maxi Kleber will ever be equipped to hang full-time at the 5. The Mavericks have the cap space to chase splashier names, but the market doesn't warrant all-out infatuations. Capela (restricted) isn't leaving the Rockets, and DeMarcus Cousins is no longer a sure thing after his Achilles injury.

    Signing Davis isn't a permanent fix. It would, however, give the Mavericks cheap proficiency in the middle befitting whatever window—immediate or long-term—they end up favoring.


    Golden State Warriors

    JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia are free agents this summer. Kevon Looney, too. David West plans to call it quits.

    Golden State is vomiting up almost 117 points per 100 possessions when Draymond Green plays center, according to Cleaning The Glass. Kevin Durant's body should never know the toll of manning the 5. Jordan Bell cannot play 40-plus minutes per game.

    So, um, yeah: The Warriors could use another center. Davis won't be in ring-chasing mode at his age, but the going rate for his services might not exceed—or even reach—the taxpayer's mid-level exception ($5.3 million).


    Portland Trail Blazers

    Re-signing Jusuf Nurkic would probably spell the end of Davis' time in Portland unless general manager Neil Olshey can offload Meyers Leonard. But the Blazers could realistically retain Davis and Napier for what it costs to re-up Nurkic alone.

    Perhaps they won't think in those terms. Cutting ties with Nurkic puts their rim protection at risk of a substantive drop-off. And yet, Davis' capacity to chase around 4s uniquely qualifies him to simplify the defensive role of any frontcourt comrade.

    Look no further than his chemistry with Zach Collins. The Blazers outscore opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions whenever they play together, with a strong defensive rating. Olshey and friends have the grounds to prioritize Davis' return—particularly if Nurkic is asking for too much.


    Utah Jazz

    Utah has Rudy Gobert, one of the NBA's absolute best centers. And it can retain Ekpe Udoh (non-guaranteed) at the backup slot for $3.4 million. Shelling out money for another big feels pointless.

    Davis wouldn't be just another big. He can defend 4s—even the ones who are glorified wings. And he'll cost appreciably less than Derrick Favors.

    If the Jazz are looking to lean into Jae-Crowder-at-power-forward arrangements, they can save real money by wishing Favors the best of luck, waiving Udoh and adding Davis.

Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 53.5 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, minus-19.90 TPA, minus-1.72 RPM


    Why So Cheap?

    Jerami Grant would have a case to get puh-aid if his three-point clip didn't dip below 30 percent. He's spent time at all three frontcourt positions this season and is capable of switching onto some 2s in a pinch. 

    Teams might be willing to overlook his shaky outside stroke even now. He's knocking down an absurd percentage of his long twos (in severely limited volume), shooting better than 50 percent on drives and averaging more points per possession as the roll man than Steven Adams.

    That still won't translate to B-lister money. Teams want switchable wing-bigs. They need them. But more reliable spacers will go off the board first, and prospective suitors won't be inspired to overpay him when the Thunder don't have the slush fund for a bidding war.

    Losing Paul George wouldn't change that. Oklahoma City will be fortunate to duck the tax if he leaves—assuming Carmelo Anthony doesn't exercise his $27.9 million early termination option. Having Grant's Bird rights is nice, but paying him anything more than clearance-rack money won't top the list of priorities.


    Best Potential Destinations

    Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets' salary-cap situation is fluid. They have the malleability to dredge up a fair amount of cap space by delaying a new contract for Nikola Jokic (team option) or jettisoning one of their many expiring deals. Their operating costs could also explode.

    Shirking the luxury tax will take a minor miracle if Wilson Chandler picks up his player option and they rope off a max slot for Jokic. And that's before exploring a new agreement for Will Barton—who turned down a four-year, $42 million extension last summer and now sounds like someone looking to cash in with starter money (and minutes).

    "If I would be able to know I would be a starter coming into next season, that would push me in the offseason," he said, per the Denver Post's Gina Mizell. "It's something that I've never been before or done before. That's what makes me who I am and what makes me better every year. That will definitely be a goal of mine."

    Keeping the nucleus together while deepening the wing pool seems like an impossible task. Landing an affordable cross-position option like Jerami Grant would help put the Nuggets at ease when talking turkey with Barton.


    Indiana Pacers

    The Pacers need to be careful this summer. They'll be coming off a picture-perfect season relative to initial expectations. No one saw Victor Oladipo going from overpaid helping hand to All-NBA cornerstone. Their flirtation with 50 victories remains the biggest, baddest, most awesomest surprise of the year.

    It will be tempting to build off this momentum. The Pacers have a clear path to $30-plus million in room—and much more depending on how they handle partial guaranteed contracts for Bojan Bogdanovic ($1.5 million), Darren Collison ($2 million) and Al Jefferson ($4 million), and whether Cory Joseph and Thaddeus Young exercise their player options. If there were ever a summer that marquee free agents would abscond for Indiana, it would be this one, when the leaguewide market is laid bare.

    Indiana first needs to make sure its fast and furious and unfathomable climb is for real before doubling down. Reinvesting in an out-of-nowhere overachiever is good way to mirror the post-2014 Phoenix Suns.

    Picking up on Grant would represent a nice middle ground. He won't cost an arm and a leg, and he fits their attack-attack-attack motif that has fueled a blossoming defense and good-enough offense.


    Memphis Grizzlies

    Not since the days of yore—aka the Rudy Gay era—have the Grizzlies been able to look at their roster and be satisfied with the wing depth.

    Re-signing Tyreke Evans would be a big win. Dillon Brooks has given them a clandestine attacker. Chandler Parsons may yet be available to them for more than half a season. Wayne Selden is not Wayne Ellington, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn that his Wayne-in-arms stayed at once. MarShon Brooks is forever. Top-Three Draft Prospect X could be a wing and will probably be pretty good.

    This off-beat assortment of perimetersmiths isn't enough. The Grizzlies cannot guarantee all of them will be back next season. And none of them have Grant's defensive magnetism. 

    Capped out to Jupiter and back, with a must-keep mandate on Evans after failing to move him at the trade deadline, the Grizzlies have to survive on bargain-bin stabs. They'd be fortunate to come out of the offseason with him eating up a portion of their mid-level exception—provided all of it isn't expended on Evans.


    Minnesota Timberwolves

    Grant would not be the first-choice add-on for the Timberwolves. They need shooting on the wings. 

    Except, they also need wings, period. 

    Reeling in Grant would beautify a defense that subsists on Jimmy Butler's cartilage while giving coach-president Tom Thibodeau the option of deploying more contemporary-looking lineups that feature someone springier than Taj Gibson at the 4.


    Orlando Magic

    Orlando will be working with a next-to-empty purse if it keeps Aaron Gordon. Waiving Shelvin Mack's non-guaranteed deal makes some headway, but not much, and the roster isn't stocked with enough attractive contracts to teach a master class in salary-dumping.

    Targeting Grant looks a little bizarre with both Gordon and Jonathan Isaac on board. One of them would have to police the 3 whenever they play together. That shouldn't dissuade the Magic. They have no identity. Leaning into an interchangeable defensive base gives them some semblance of direction.

    Gordon and Isaac turned in an interstellar defensive rating through the 276 possessions they played together this season, per Cleaning The Glass. Inviting Grant, along with incumbent housemate Jonathon Simmons, to that party would give Orlando the trimmings necessary to prop up a top-10 defense.

Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 52.4 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, 9.40 TPA, minus-0.82 RPM


    Why So Cheap?

    Because Nerlens Noel's stay in Dallas went that poorly. 

    As the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko wrote:

    "You know the old saying: Employees don't normally get fired. They fire themselves with their actions. Coaches only want one thing and that's to win. They want players to be great and help win games. Those who don't do either of those things tend to fall by the wayside. Nerlens Noel has talent. For whatever reason, it wasn't showcased with the Mavericks this year. 

    "The thumb injury had lots to do with that. Then the suspension. But you know what, he wasn't all that effective in Philadelphia, either. Nerlens is a good guy and a good player. But he hasn't found the right connection with a team, a coach or a city yet to bring all that together. Could it still happen here? Maybe. But we all know the Mavericks are trying to upgrade at the center spot in the draft and/or free agency. Could be time to part ways."

    Some team, somewhere, will take a chance on Noel. He might even become the most expensive player on this list. But he doesn't have the leverage to demand a long-term deal and building-block money. One or the other? Maybe. Not both.


    Best Potential Destinations

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Cleveland's interest would be predicated on LeBron James resisting the urge to ride James Harden's beard strands to a fourth championship. It also rests on general manager Koby Altman busting up the awkward Kevin Love-Tristan Thompson-Larry Nance Jr. logjam at the 5. 

    I'm not saying the Cavaliers will tether the Brooklyn Nets pick to Thompson's salary in exchange for a LeBron-approved veteran. 

    I'm not not saying it, either.


    Los Angeles Clippers

    Grab a tissue. Actually, maybe a box of them. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers' explanation of the embrace he exchanged with DeAndre Jordan in the team's final game will give you that many feelz (via Clutch Points' Tomer Azarly)

    "I basically told him I love him. DJ's been great for me. We don't know what he's going to do and that could possibly be the last game. I hope not obviously. DJ and I are very close. I challenged him when I took this job. I asked him to be one of the best defensive players, one of the best rebounders, and he took that title and ran with it. I'm just proud of him. He's like a kid to me."

    Letting Jordan (player option) walk for nothing would sting, but the Clippers have to weigh all their possible scenarios. They earned a mulligan of sorts by pawning Blake Griffin off on the Detroit Pistons. They have the option of starting anew by 2019.

    Jordan and Avery Bradley can both be sent packing this summer. Patrick Beverley (non-guaranteed), Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson (player option), Boban Marjanovic, Austin Rivers (player option) and Milos Teodosic (player option, then qualifying offer in 2019) are entering the final leg of their deals. Lou Williams' three-year, $24 million extension will be super-duper movable when his trade restriction lifts in August. 

    Far be it from the Clippers to eat into the playing time of the greatest big man ever (Boban), but they could use a looksy at a young, developing rim-runner and potential defensive anchor if the going-on-30 Jordan heads elsewhere.


    Los Angeles Lakers

    One of three things is going to happen for the Lakers this summer.

    They could land both Paul George and LeBron James, in which case they'll need a center. They could sign one of George and James, in which case they'll need a center. Or they could poach neither George nor James, in which case they'll need a center.

    Basically, the Lakers need a center.

    Bringing back Julius Randle, who played a great deal of 5 this year, alleviates any urgent need in the middle. He is not a fill-all. 

    Noel helps the Lakers straddle two timelines, unlike many of their other options. He's offered glimpses of high-impact defense and understated passing that could help out an overnight contender, but he's young enough to partake in a full-on rebuild.

    And in the event Los Angeles strikes out entirely on the superstar front, Noel is a strong candidate to get the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope contract—an above-market salary that qualifies as a bargain because it spans only one year.


    Milwaukee Bucks

    Brute force is more important than additional length when trying to glow up the Bucks defense. Someone like Kyle O'Quinn (player option) would be right up their alley.

    Still, Noel's defensive rebounding rate through 52 combined appearances with the Mavericks would have paced Milwaukee this season in the non-Plumlee division. And his quick reflexes in the passing lanes would work wonders for whatever aspects of their handsy defense carry over to their next head coach.


    New York Knicks

    Could...could the Knicks actually need another big man?

    Enes Kanter told reporters he's leaning toward a trip to free agency. O'Quinn has a $4.3 million escape clause he's played well enough to exercise. Willy Hernangomez is in Charlotte. Joakim Noah could play more under a new head coach if the Knicks don't stretch him, but he doesn't fit their timeline.

    Noel does. And he promises the added bonus of effectively complementing Kristaps Porzingis. The latter needs to see more run at center once he returns from a torn left ACL, but he and Noel are defensively interchangeable at the 4 and 5.

    Dallas used Noel as Dirk Nowitzki cover-up when he first arrived last season, and it seemed to work. That model crashed and burned through 15 appearances this year, but it'll be easier for Noel to play alongside Porzingis, a battle-tested rim protector and sneakily OK switcher. 

Lucas Nogueira, Toronto Raptors

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    Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 2.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks, 61.3 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 17.3 PER, 46.65 TPA, 2.02 RPM

    Why So Cheap?

    Lucas Nogueira doesn't project as a priority for the Toronto Raptors. They'll blow past the luxury tax before even thinking about his next deal, and keeping point guard Fred VanVleet, also a restricted free agent, is far more important to their cause with big men Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas on the docket.

    Buyers scouring the landscape for help in the middle will look at Nogueira. He's been a promising rim-runner and defensive party-crasher in small bursts. He's averaging 1.8 steals and 3.0 blocks per 36 minutes for his career and placed in the 89th percentile or better as the roll man through each of the last two seasons. 

    A sub-2,000-minute sample works against him, as does a checkered health bill that includes ankle and calf issues. His occasional adventures beyond the arc will pique the interest of a few squads, but he's not in line for life-changing money (by NBA standards).


    Best Potential Destinations

    Atlanta Hawks

    Let's call this Dewayne Dedmon insurance. Atlanta will need another stopgap big should he decide to test free agency.

    Mike Muscala (player option) alone doesn't cut the mustard, and the Hawks are yet built to float a defense with John Collins soaking up massive chunks of time at the 5. Winning the draft lottery May 15 and selecting Arizona's Deandre Ayton will give them their frontcourt fix, but unless they're warming up to all things Miles Plumlee, they still need another body at the 5.

    Who better to fill that mantle than a 25-year-old slow-motion knockoff of Dedmon sans some rebounding?


    Brooklyn Nets

    Jarrett Allen has the Nets' "Center of the Future" title on lock. But they could use another lanky big behind him.

    Timofey Mozgov is unplayable against most present-day offenses. The Jahlil Okafor experiment came and went, and it won't be coming back. Using Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the 5 is a measured-dose solution.

    Nogueira isn't a nimble as Allen when rotating into space, but he's pretty good at using his long arms to keep ball-handlers in front of him. His rebounding issues aren't as much of a concern to a Nets system that emphasizes Russell Westbrook boards (guard rebounds), and he's a righteous fit for the offense so long as he's content to jack up more corner threes.


    Portland Trail Blazers

    Odds are the Blazers will lose Ed Davis or Jusuf Nurkic if they don't outsource one of their less savory deals. Zach Collins should be ready for a bigger role in his second year, but he hasn't needed to tussle with many centers this season. (Props, again, to Davis.) The thought of needing Meyers Leonard to play significant minutes is harrowing.

    Nogueira could fall outside the Blazers' price range. They're headed for the luxury tax, and he'll need to have a shortage of other offers to accept whatever part of the mid-level exception they'd be open to giving him. But he's not 100 percent outside their means in a jam-packed big-man market, and he'd be a nice frontcourt flier to take if the current one is torched.


    San Antonio Spurs

    San Antonio already has the couch-potato-speed version of Manu Ginobili in Kyle Anderson. Getting the slowpoke doppelganger of former reclamation project Dedmon is only right.


    Toronto Raptors

    Yes, the Raptors. 

    If they're looking to skirt the tax while re-signing VanVleet, trying to move Ibaka (two years, $45 million) or Valanciunas (two years, $34.1 million, including player option) is the way to go. They could shop Norman Powell as well. He's not as likely to require a sweetener. 

    But the Raptors aren't overloaded with wings they can just ditch. They have the ancillary devices up front to stomach the loss of Ibaka and Valanciunas. Nogueira is a part of that. And while dealing Ibaka or Valanciunas will be difficult, it frees up the Raptors to keep Nogueira and VanVleet without lurching past the tax line.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games Saturday. Salary and cap hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.