Landing Spots for Every Top Remaining NBA Free Agent
'Tis the season for fewer NBA breaking-news nuggets, but the summer party isn't over yet.
Plenty of interesting free agents remain on the open market. None of them are world-beaters, but the pool includes a nice mix of impactful talent and big names.
Plucking the best of this summer's leftovers is straightforward. Rankings come directly from our last big board, which sorted players by recent performance, age, health, developmental arc, expected contract value and the ease with which they can fit into new teams.
Best potential fits will straddle the fence. Players need to land where they will be used, and the suggested teams need to have at least one open roster spot or the means to create it.
4. Vince Carter: Washington Wizards
Retirement isn't yet in the cards for Vince Carter. He plans on playing one more season before calling it quits. At least one team should make sure he isn't forced to move up that timeline.
It doesn't sound like the Atlanta Hawks will be that squad. They don't want to take reps away from the kiddies, and Carter is looking for more than a towel-waiving role, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore.
The Wizards would do well to give him that opportunity. Carter is a great locker room presence—just ask John Collins—and they're wallowing in this weird gray area, stuck somewhere between starting over and retooling on the fly.
Bringing in a 42-year-old doesn't jibe with the direction of a team that might entertain Bradley Beal trade offers. The Wizards aren't there yet. General manager Tommy Sheppard is adamant that Beal, who will be eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension July 26, remains part of the big picture.
"Not at all. It's never crossed our mind," Sheppard told The Athletic's Ben Standig of dealing Beal. "Bradley is somebody we're building around."
Beal could end up forcing the Wizards' hand. They will offer him an extension, but it isn't clear whether he'll accept it, according to the Washington Post's Candace Buckner.
Carter won't gripe if the Wizards steer into a midseason teardown. He can be the old head for a young team. Again: Ask the Hawks.
It helps that his minutes needn't be limited to garbage time. Carter can still have an impact. He is very much plug-and-play. Over 55 percent of his attempts last season came as catch-and-fire triples, on which he shot 39.5 percent. Lining him up against quicker wings is a no-no, but the Hawks experimented with him at power forward, and quite frankly, the defensive returns during those stretches could've been much worse.
3. Iman Shumpert: Milwaukee Bucks
Finding the right spot for Iman Shumpert is tough. He's not going to attract the attention of non-playoff teams, and at the age of 29, he needs to land somewhere with enough minutes to give himself a chance to secure long-term offers next summer or the one after.
That's a rough combination. Most contenders don't have rotation room to spare. Both the Clippers and Lakers are solid fits, but Shumpert would threaten to get buried by other wings and swingmen more equipped to defend point guards.
The Bucks might be an exception. They are in need of a reserve wing and just met with JR Smith. Shumpert is a slightly better fit.
Smith is by far the more accomplished shooter. He also will turn 34 in September and is basically an entire season removed from playing NBA basketball. Shumpert would give Milwaukee more optionality on defense. He saw a bunch of time on pure 3s and bigger wings last year, and that's where the Bucks figure to struggle, if they struggle at all, after losing Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell.
Milwaukee has alternatives if it prefers a lights-out shooter. Sterling Brown is strong enough to guard up, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo has the length to cover pretty much anyone.
Still, the Bucks aren't flush with reserve wings. They could use a little more defensive energy behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Wesley Matthews and Khris Middleton. George Hill doesn't count.
Besides, Shumpert is not an incapable shooter. He falls well short of being a two-way wing, and his outside percentages plummeted as last season wore on. But he drilled 37.1 percent of his catch-and-fire treys for the year while banging in 40.0 percent of his wide-open triples. Those are workable splits.
2. Jeremy Lin: Portland Trail Blazers
Almost everyone who logged time at backup point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers last season is gone. Anfernee Simons is the only one who remains.
The Blazers are grooming him for a bigger role. They have no choice. Seth Curry left for the Dallas Mavericks, and they traded Evan Turner to the Hawks.
Simons deserves the opportunity. He's long been the Blazers' hidden gem despite tallying just 141 minutes over 20 appearances as a rookie. He lit up the Sacramento Kings as part of a six-man rotation in the regular-season finale and then carried that detonation over to the summer league.
Expecting him to subsume a lion's share of the second-string point guard minutes would be unfair. Table-setting isn't his game, and the Blazers aren't teeming with adequate buffers. Second units featuring two of Simons, Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood in the backcourt would promise nothing.
Meticulously staggering the minutes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is a given at this point, but it doesn't need to be. Portland didn't separate its two stars in volume last year. Jeremy Lin can help float that same setup next season.
Skepticism is welcomed. Laughing is not. This isn't funny. Lin was good during his time in Atlanta last year. He averaged 19.6 points and 6.5 assists per 36 minutes, converted 46.8 percent of his pull-up two-pointers, finished well around the basket and reached the foul line at a big-time clip. Only 13 non-centers posted a higher free-throw-attempt rate.
Back issues precluded Lin from playing a bit part during the Toronto Raptors' championship push, and he appeared in just 37 games over the previous two years with the Brooklyn Nets. The Blazers cannot count on him to have Curry's availability.
That's fine. They wouldn't be paying him much, and he'd be necessary playmaking insurance.
1. Thabo Sefolosha: Houston Rockets
Defensive worker bees will be more paramount to the Rockets' success than ever. They ranked fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions after last season's trade deadline, but they're going to feel Chris Paul's absence on the less glamorous end.
Thabo Sefolosha wouldn't be a cure-all. He can switch onto some smaller guards, but he's 35. He's not replacing Paul. He is, however, another switchable body.
Using him to spell PJ Tucker would be ideal. Utah posted a 96.1 defensive rating last year across a 937-possession sample with Sefolosha at power forward.
Playing the two together in small-ball arrangements would be equally intriguing. The Rockets coughed up 117 points per 100 possessions last season whenever Tucker played center. Their most-used power forwards in those situations: Carmelo Anthony, Gary Clark, James Ennis, Gerald Green and James Nunnally.
Sefolosha would be a defensive upgrade over them all. And he canned 43.6 percent of his threes last year, including 42.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples and 44.6 percent of his wide-open bombs.
Depending on him for more than 15ish minutes a night is out of the question. The Rockets don't need more than that. Sefolosha would make Tucker-at-center lineups more palatable and effective and arm their frontcourt against cross-matches. That'd be enough.
Other Notable Names
Carmelo Anthony's availability feels less like a byproduct of inefficient shooting during his stint with the Houston Rockets and more about how he views himself. As Tommy Beer wrote for Forbes:
"Remarkably, it was just two years ago that Melo averaged a whopping 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.0 made trifectas. The only other players in the NBA to match or exceed those numbers in 2016-17 were James Harden, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. At this stage of his career, Anthony is obviously no longer a star, but he would certainly still be able to provide an offensive spark off the bench. Would Melo finally embrace that sort of role?"
No team stands out as both a functional and an emotional fit. Anthony needs a team that can play him and has the infrastructure to sell him on bench duty. Yours truly maintains the San Antonio Spurs would be a great, albeit unlikely, landing spot. But they don't have a roster spot or the expendable talent to create one.
We instead default to the Los Angeles Lakers. They have LeBron James, one of Melo's BFFs, and could use another wing. Do they want to burn their final roster spot on a small-ball 4 who doesn't play defense, particularly when Anthony Davis is begging for full-time reps at power forward? That's another issue.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight Howard gets an asterisk because he's not a free agent...yet. The Memphis Grizzlies acquired him with the intention of waiving him, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
If and when Howard hits the open market, he's not going to find a robust line of suitors. Back and glute injuries limited him to just nine appearances with the Washington Wizards, he'll turn 34 in December, and teams in general aren't lusting after aging bigs who don't space the floor.
Throwing him minutes as the second or third center off the bench shouldn't be seen as taboo. He's still a serviceable rim-runner and rebounder at full strength.
Squads with frontcourt minutes to spare and a very together locker room can roll the dice without losing too much sleep. The Portland Trail Blazers already scooped up Hassan Whiteside, but they could use another 5 depending on how much they want to roll out Zach Collins at the 4.
Best Fit: Portland Trail Blazers
Shaun Livingston was considering retirement as of April, per The Athletic's Anthony Slater. After the Golden State Warriors waived him, though, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported he intends to play next season.
A soon-to-be 34-year-old Livingston won't be good for more than 12 to 15 minutes per game. The Los Angeles Clippers have the bandwidth for that in their rotation.
Between Livingston, Patrick Beverley and Rodney McGruder, they won't ever have to worry about Paul George or Kawhi Leonard defending point guards for protracted stretches. Adding another secondary playmaker would help as well since they don't have a more traditional floor general on the roster.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Clippers
Joakim Noah's performance in Memphis saved his career. That is not an overstatement. He impressed with his passing, and his defensive energy meant something. Opponents shot just 55.3 percent against him at the rim, and the Grizzlies allowed 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Leaning on him for full-scale backup minutes would be a risk. He'd be best served as part of a three-headed center rotation.
Forgive the recycled destination, but the Clippers make a ton of sense. Ivica Zubac isn't a high-minutes player, so they'll have a few beats up front to dole out even after accounting for Montrezl Harrell's court time and JaMychal Green's small-ball-5 stints.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Clippers
JR Smith has already met with the Milwaukee Bucks, according to Charania. They're a solid fit for his services if we assume his appeal from beyond the arc isn't hampered by his missing most of last season.
Another sensible destination: the Miami Heat.
Operating against the hard cap complicates everything they do, but the Heat have a few non-guarantees they can still ditch and need another off-ball shooting specialist. Tyler Herro looked like the answer at summer league, but Smith is more established. He's shot 38.3 percent from deep since 2013-14—and that's with last year's 30.8 percent dud baked in.
Best Fit: Miami Heat