2019 NBA Free Agency: Predicting the Next Wave of Shameless Ring-Chasers

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2019

2019 NBA Free Agency: Predicting the Next Wave of Shameless Ring-Chasers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    In most NBA offseasons, clear favorites for the title seem to already exist, but the 2019 offseason may be different since the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors have significant question marks.

    The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers could all talk themselves into being contenders.

    So the ring-chasing route to a title may not be as clear as it has been in years past. There are no Heatles, prime Warriors or Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers for a player in his twilight to jump on and enjoy the ride.

    That doesn't mean there aren't any who will try, though.

    The criteria here is NBA veterans who are past their individual peaks and still don't have a ring. Think David West with the Warriors.

Honorable Mentions

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Jamal Crawford

    Over the last four seasons, Jamal Crawford's true shooting percentage is a well-below-average 52.5. Among the 257 players with at least 4,000 minutes over that span, he ranks 257th in wins over replacement player.

    Still, you can see why a number of teams might want the 39-year-old around for a team culture/leadership type of role.


    Vince Carter

    He may have changed his mind in the last year, but Vince Carter was not interested in so-called ring-chasing in August 2018.

    "It just feels right for me," Carter said, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I probably could have done that anywhere. I still want to play the game. Whatever minutes are there, I want. I enjoy teaching. I'll do that for any team. That's not a question. It's just who I am. I come in from an era where that's not how it was so that's still instilled in me. I don't have any problem with how it's done now. It's just not for me."

    Even at 42, he shot 38.9 percent from three and posted an above-replacement-level box plus/minus for the Atlanta Hawks last season.


    JJ Redick

    Thirteen years in, sharpshooter JJ Redick is on the verge of cracking the top 20 in career threes made. He's already there if you do playoffs and regular season combined.

    Other than climbing those leaderboards, there probably aren't many individual honors left for Redick to collect. And for a player who turns 35 in June, the window for team accomplishments may be shutting too.

    Despite making the playoffs in each of his 13 seasons, Redick doesn't have a title. Perhaps he can chase his ring merely by re-signing with the 76ers. Maybe the "chasing" aspect comes in the form of him taking a bit less and allowing Philadelphia to add a little more depth.


    Brook Lopez

    For Brook Lopez, ring-chasing could mean taking another small-ish deal to stay with the Milwaukee Bucks ($3.4 million last season). There were only 34 players who put up more wins over replacement player in 2018-19, and the average salary for those 34 was $21.5 million.

    Lopez's three-and-D game was a crucial part of the team's success. As pointed out on Reddit and by Salt City Hoops' John Keeffer, he topped Kobe Bryant's career high for threes and Kevin Garnett's career high for blocks.

    While some teams would be able to offer more money, Milwaukee offers championship contention and teammates who trust him. Following a Game 1 win over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lopez told reporters that his teammates had been on him, saying, "'Keep shooting the ball...Keep letting it fly.'"

Robin Lopez

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Reason to Ring-Chase

    Robin Lopez has appeared in 766 regular-season games over 11 NBA seasons. He has just 28 playoff appearances across four postseasons. And after two years on the rebuilding Chicago Bulls, the desire to play some meaningful games may have been ratcheted up.

    Oh, and beating twin brother Brook to a ring would make for some fun bragging rights.


    What He Offers a Contender

    With Lopez, you're not going to get a big who can space the floor. And on a contender, you're probably not getting a starter. But he still works hard, has veteran savvy and brings the kind of 7'0" size that naturally fills the paint.

    On the woeful Chicago Bulls, he had nearly the same net-rating swing as Brook did for Milwaukee: plus-6.6 and in the 87th percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    If a team feels like it's a backup big away from real contention, Lopez should be on the radar. And at age 31, there should be plenty of time for him to bounce back from the below-average box plus/minuses he's posted in each of the last three seasons.

    On a title contender, he'd likely be playing fewer minutes. And those would be almost exclusively against backups.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Reason to Ring-Chase

    Carmelo Anthony has a legacy to rehab.

    It feels like his Houston Rockets days were a lifetime ago, but sure enough, they did happen.

    In 10 games with Houston, the 10-time All-Star and one-time scoring champ averaged 13.4 points with a woeful 51.3 true shooting percentage. Among the 404 players who logged at least as many minutes as Melo in 2018-19, he ranked 394th in box plus/minus.


    What He Offers a Contender

    Yes, it's been a while since Melo actively helped a good basketball team. And Houston was supposed to be the spot where his role was diminished enough to restore some effectiveness.

    Anthony's advanced numbers have been falling sharply for three years now. Heading into his age-35 season, it's tough to see how he pulls them back up while trying to play like he did 10 years ago.

    At this point in his career, he needs to be the Melo we see in the annual "Melo shooting wide-open jumpers in an empty gym" videos. Meaning, it's time to be little more than a catch-and-shoot guy. And those shots should come from three.

    He can still attack the occasional closeout or take a rogue mid-range shot now and then, but he'll be at his best as a reserve spacing the floor from deep.

    "As the Lakers look to build the rest of their team following the blockbuster trade that landed them Anthony Davis, a certain exiled forward may want to throw his hat in the ring," Jared Schwartz wrote for the New York Post.

    Speculation about a potential LeBron/Melo pairing probably isn't going away. And if there's anyone who might be able to convince Anthony to accept this kind of role, it may be LeBron.

Taj Gibson

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Reason to Ring-Chase

    Like JJ Redick, Taj Gibson has been to a conference finals. It's just been a while.

    Gibson was the sixth man (maybe seventh, depending on how you viewed Kyle Korver back then) on a team that featured peak Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng and MVP-season Derrick Rose.

    They were annihilated by LeBron James' Heatles just before the Finals, and Gibson hasn't been past the second round since.


    What He Offers a Contender

    Now, as he heads toward his age-34 season, Gibson may be ready to step into a Warriors-era-David West role. He's not the passer West was, but he can bring a similar defensive intensity to a contender's second unit.

    He's spent seven of his 11 NBA seasons with the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau, and he's never finished a campaign with a below-average defensive box plus/minus.

    He might not get you a ton of the send-it-into-the-stands swats that end up on House of Highlights, but he's fundamentally sound, knows where to be in individual possessions and can hold his own on the perimeter.

    He has some similarities with West on the other end as well. Gibson hit 48.9 percent of his twos taken from beyond 15 feet this past season. West was at 51.7 percent (on significantly higher volume) in his age-33 season.

    While basketball is understandably trending away from post-ups, Gibson may provide an occasional pressure release for second units by scoring inside. The NBA has been tracking points per possession on post-ups for four seasons, and Gibson has never been below the 50th percentile, and he was in the 94th in 2017-18.

Wilson Chandler

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Reason to Ring-Chase

    The difference between regular season and playoff games is even more pronounced for Wilson Chandler than it was for Robin Lopez.

    He's been in the league for 11 seasons and played in 641 games, but he has only 15 postseason games to his name.

    While four of those came in 2019, he got traded from a contender (Philadelphia) to a non-contender (the Los Angeles Clippers) midseason. Having that shot taken away may have increased his desire to go-a-chasin'.


    What He Offers a Contender

    Chandler has had to shift from the 3 to the 4 as the game has trended smaller and more perimeter-oriented, and he did show some encouraging play with the 76ers before he was traded as part of the Tobias Harris deal.

    In Philly, Chandler shot 39 percent from three, and the 76ers' net rating (net points per 100 possessions) was 6.5 points better when he was on the floor. In his limited minutes (226) with the Los Angeles Clippers, he went 13-of-40 (32.5 percent) from downtown.

    On a veteran minimum contract, with the expectation to simply space the floor and occasionally attack a closeout, Chandler could still be effective.

    That's especially true if he's on a contender and spending more time against second units. Over the course of his career, Chandler has started just under 75 percent of his games. That number is even higher over the last two seasons (83.2 percent), believe it or not.

    Against backup defenders, there's a chance some of his efficiency numbers creep up.

DeMarre Carroll

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Reason to Ring-Chase

    DeMarre Carroll started 19 of 20 playoff games for the 2015-16 Toronto Raptors. That team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers.

    In the three seasons since then, Carroll has only been past the first round once. And that was the next year, when Cleveland swept the Raptors.

    Now that he's seen Toronto finally get over the hump without him, and after a decade in the league as a role player, maybe he's ready for fewer minutes on a contender.


    What He Offers a Contender

    Carroll is another player who spent most of his career at the 3 before having to shift "down" to the 4. Over the last two seasons, 75 percent of his minutes have been played there.

    And Carroll, who enters his age-33 season for 2019-20, has experience filling an ancillary role for playoff teams like the Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and 60-win Atlanta Hawks.

    Now, he'll just have to do it in fewer minutes and at a slightly different position.

    With Brooklyn, Carroll averaged 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 27.7 minutes. He shot 35.8 percent from three (right at league average).

    On a title contender, he wouldn't be expected to carry as big a load, and that might help his box plus/minus recover from the dive it just took (0.2 in 2017-18 to minus-1.7 in 2018-19).