NBA Players Who Should've Changed Teams in Free Agency
We are at that rare point in the NBA calendar when every team feels good about its roster. Whether they are rebuilding, gunning for a title or anything in between, all 30 clubs have reasons to be optimistic for the remainder of the offseason.
However, not every player can say the same about his team. The annual game of NBA musical chairs was larger than ever before this offseason, as almost 40 percent of the player pool tested free agency in some fashion.
With so much upheaval, it makes sense that some players may already regret their decisions, especially those who chose to re-sign. Whether it be a lack of playing time, a bad roster or additional extenuating circumstances, there are numerous reasons, midway through next season, these players might look around and realize they'd be happier elsewhere.
Let's examine some of their situations.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Chicago Bulls
We start off with the deepest of deep cuts. The Chicago Bulls brought Ryan Arcidiacono back on a $9 million contract over three years. It's a reasonable deal, but it makes for a ridiculously crowded point guard battle in Chicago.
Just this offseason, the Bulls signed veteran backup Tomas Satoransky and drafted sparkplug Coby White to presumably be the top two at the position. Kris Dunn is also still on the roster (though all indications are that general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson would prefer to move on from him), and defensive-minded backup Shaquille Harrison also returned on a one-year deal. Even when the Bulls have a solid offseason for the first time in years, they overcomplicate things.
Arcidiacono is not a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, but he could have value to a contender in a Matthew Dellavedova type of way. The former Villanova star made a solid 37.3 percent of his threes last season, ranked third in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, and recorded a better real plus-minus than star young point guards like Lonzo Ball, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Trae Young. A contender like the Philadelphia 76ers or Boston Celtics could make good use of Arcidiacono's limited skill set.
JaVale McGee, Los Angeles Lakers
It was well-covered this summer that the Lakers forwent the opportunity to pursue quality rotation players while waiting on Kawhi Leonard's decision. While Leonard was plotting to join the Clippers instead, the role-player market evaporated. Faced with the prospect of surrounding two Hall of Fame-level players with literal G League talent, the Lakers seemingly panicked and brought back most of their questionable signings from a year ago, including JaVale McGee.
Despite a reputation for making bonehead plays, McGee can look competent for stretches, proving himself a worthy backup for two years on the Golden State Warriors and maintaining a spot in the Lakers' starting lineup throughout most of last year. Now, however, L.A. has a thoroughly unbalanced roster, and that balance tips toward the frontcourt. Four of the Lakers' five best players—LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and DeMarcus Cousins—are best at power forward or center, which will likely push McGee out of the rotation at times.
His contract is just two years for minimal money, so he could easily be moved to a frontcourt-needy team like the Boston Celtics (though it's doubtful the Lakers would help them willingly) or Milwaukee Bucks.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
It's been a strange few years for Nerlens Noel. The 2013 lottery pick essentially forced his way out of Philadelphia to Dallas, took a qualifying offer to bet on himself, was benched and ostracized by Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, signed a minimum deal with Oklahoma City and suffered a serious concussion.
Somehow, Noel's situation got worse this summer. He agreed July 1 to return to Oklahoma City, in all likelihood unaware of the earth-shattering moves that would soon shake up the NBA's balance of power. Just two weeks after the start of free agency, Oklahoma City had exchanged a perennial contender for a fast-tracking rebuild. Not exactly the same as playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
After years of maturity questions, Noel seems to have come to terms with his place in the NBA. He stays out of the way on offense and remains a potentially elite and versatile defender. These kinds of low-maintenance role players can be tremendous on clubs with title aspirations but are sort of useless on middling-to-bad teams like the Thunder. Noel should hope to find himself on a contender like the Los Angeles Clippers or Houston Rockets in the near future.
Jahlil Okafor, New Orleans Pelicans
Like Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor seems to finally understand the modern NBA and how he can fit into it. His performance last year filling in for the disgruntled Anthony Davis was one of the feel-good stories of the season. Okafor averaged 10.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting almost 60 percent from the field from January 1 until the end of the campaign.
The quandary Okafor finds himself in is not of his making, as the Pelicans picked up his team option for the 2019-20 season. However, it's an unfortunate situation considering all the work he's put in over the past few years to become a serviceable NBA player.
After renewing their commitment to Okafor, the Pelicans drafted Texas center Jaxson Hayes and acquired Jazz big man Derrick Favors to be their two main centers, and Zion Williamson will likely warrant minutes at the 5 as well. That puts Okafor at fourth on the priority list. That would have made sense last year, but the 2015 top-three pick showed a lot of new promise in the interim 12 months and deserves a chance at playing time.
Okafor is still far from perfect—he can't shoot or defend and isn't a great rim-runner—but he could easily replicate Enes Kanter's career going forward. One day, he may play for a team open-minded enough to let him do that.
Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets
While you were firing off jokes on Twitter about nepotism, Austin Rivers was becoming a solid NBA combo guard. He's fairly efficient, plays hard on both ends and is willing to be an outspoken team leader. Plenty of players may still agree with Chris Paul's reported sentiment that Rivers doesn't deserve a place in the league, but they need to get over themselves.
However, Rivers is still a gunner at heart and is best with the ball in his hands, which will make a Russell Westbrook-James Harden backcourt, shall we say, unpleasant. What's a ball-dominant guard to do when he's on the same team as the two most ball-dominant guards in NBA history?
Rivers is capable of playing off the ball—he shot 37.0 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last year. But he has decent shot creation skills as well, and being a sparkplug off the bench who can play on- or off-ball is the best way to use Rivers. A team like the Minnesota Timberwolves or Portland Trail Blazers should relentlessly dial Daryl Morey to acquire Rivers.
Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
After years of underperformance in both Toronto and Orlando, Terrence Ross scraped the high ceiling last year that made him a 2012 lottery pick. He finished fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting and averaged a career-best 15.1 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting from three, all while maintaining the ridiculous athleticism that made him the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest champion. For his performance, the Magic rewarded him with a four-year, $54 million contract.
Of course, that is plenty of money and reason enough to stay put. However, Ross will still likely be Evan Fournier's backup in Orlando. While being a $54 million backup might be reasonable in some circumstances, it is not when your team is as mediocre as the Magic.
Based on the salary-cap situation for teams around the league, Ross likely wouldn't have gotten $54 million elsewhere unless the Lakers were willing to take a risk while waiting for Kawhi Leonard. That said, making $35 million or $40 million while playing a starring role alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee or Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas could have arguably been just as appealing.
Wings with Ross' combination of physical tools and athleticism are the NBA's market inefficiency. It's a shame he will spend his prime years with a team that won't be good enough to need him.
Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies
Jonas Valanciunas put in year after year of work in Toronto to try to drag multiple Raptors teams past LeBron James, and every year, they failed at that task. Well, every year until the Raps traded him to Memphis this winter. Now Toronto has won a title, and Valanciunas is not around to bask in the afterglow or receive any retroactive credit.
On the plus side, the Lithuanian agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract to stay with the Grizzlies. Seen one way, this deal makes sense. Maybe he senses that his skill set is getting passed by in the modern NBA and that he wouldn't get star center-level money on the open market. Plus, he can mentor Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke, perhaps the NBA's next great big man tandem.
However, you'd think that seeing his former comrades experience jubilation would spark Valanciunas to consider jumping to a team with title hopes like the L.A. Clippers or the pre-Hassan Whiteside Portland Trail Blazers. That was not to be, and Valanciunas will hope Jackson, Clarke and Ja Morant are ready for contention faster than anybody expects.
Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Marvin Williams picked up his $11.5 million player option from the Charlotte Hornets in June, likely for at least one of two reasons: He wouldn't make that much money elsewhere, or he assumed Kemba Walker would return to Charlotte and that the Hornets would be back in contention for a lower-tier playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately for Williams, that latter presumption was incorrect, as Walker ditched Charlotte for the Boston Celtics and was replaced by...Terry Rozier. Not exactly a one-for-one swap.
Given that he has played for the lowly Hornets for the past five years, Williams is not often discussed, but he has a skill set that most contenders should covet. The former Tar Heel's numbers aren't flashy—10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on 42.2 percent shooting won't scare anybody—but he outranks such notable names as Montrezl Harrell, John Collins, Lauri Markkanen and Kyle Kuzma in real plus-minus and could be a solid deadline addition for any team in need of an athletic, floor-spacing forward who plays smart defense.
Williams has been in the NBA for almost 15 years and has never even made a conference finals. He deserves a chance at high-level basketball before his time is up.