Ranking the Top Free-Agent Options During NBA's Transaction Window
Unprecedented NBA times call for an unprecedented NBA transaction window.
As the Association nears its planned Disney-based restart, the number of potential absences is growing by the day. Between the threat of the coronavirus, concerns of diverting attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement and the mental challenges of committing to possibly months of isolation inside the bubble, there has never been more roster uncertainty.
The league has given teams an outlet to increase their depth with a transaction window in which they'll be able to add free agents ahead of the restart. The particulars haven't yet been made public, but the player pool is expected to include those who signed an NBA or G League deal this season or last, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic. International players are excluded.
So what, exactly, is available to NBA teams? Not a lot. Remember, these players have been available all along and were left unclaimed, so it's not like a batch of elite hoopers are on the way. That said, there are some interesting names available, and we'll sort them out here while ranking them based on potential impact.
G League Options
It's tough to tell how much time teams will invest in mining the G League for talent since they might prefer experienced players given the need to acclimate at a rapid pace. Plus, a lot of the league's top performers are already inked to two-way pacts with NBA teams.
That said, some could see diamond-in-the-rough potential with the following players.
Jaylen Adams, PG, Wisconsin Herd
Adams had a two-way pact that eventually became a big-league contract with the Atlanta Hawks last season, and he spent this past training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks. The 24-year-old has averaged 21.5 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 40.7 percent from range this season.
Isaiah Canaan, PG, Stockton Kings
A known name to the NBA community, Canaan was the 34th overall pick of the 2013 draft and has 235 NBA games under his belt. A score-first 6'0" guard, he averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 assists and 3.7 threes across 30 contests this season while hitting 41.5 percent of his three-point looks.
Christ Koumadje, C, Delaware Blue Coats
Undrafted out of Florida State this past summer, Koumadje made a great first impression as a professional baller. The 7'4" big man captured the G League's Defensive Player of the Year honors while averaging 11.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and a league-leading 4.0 blocks.
Josh Magette, PG, Lakeland Magic
The 30-year-old held both a two-way pact and a 10-day contract with the Orlando Magic this season, and he made 18 appearances for Atlanta in 2017-18. He's a passing specialist, but he's great in that department (G League-best 10.6 assists per game), and he had a good year from deep (3.4 threes per game at a 42.8 percent clip).
Jarrod Uthoff, SF/PF, Memphis Hustle
The 6'9" swingman had a cup of coffee with the Memphis Grizzlies this season and the Dallas Mavericks in 2016-17. His G League production has never looked better at 18.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game with a 49.0/36.3/79.0 shooting slash.
For a 6'0" offensive specialist, teams are left wanting more from Burke as a shooter (career 34.3 percent from distance) and distributor (5.5 assists per 36 minutes). He offers some shot-creation, though, and his attacks could perk up a scoring-starved squad.
The ninth overall pick in 2013, he has made 386 appearances and 128 starts since his arrival. The Philadelphia 76ers waived him in February to clear room for their trade deadline additions.
The last time we saw Crawford, he was busy putting 51 points on the Mavericks in Dirk Nowitzki's home finale. That game was obviously an outlier—the lottery-bound 2018-19 Phoenix Suns basically gave Crawford a YOLO pass to run the offense the final week—but getting buckets has never been an issue for the super-substitute. He's kept busy in preparation for an opportunity too.
"I've been training as if I'm playing," Crawford told ESPN in March. "I work out every single day. ... I know I can help, in some regard, in some capacity."
Crawford has never been the most efficient scorer, and it's hard to imagine he'll reverse that at age 40. But he remains slippery off the bounce and fearless at the offensive end. He might be overexposed in a regular rotation role, but if deployed in sporadic bursts, his instant offense could pull clubs out of droughts or help them extend leads.
One of many financial misfires during the 2016 season, Johnson saw his perception warped by a $50 million contract he didn't have the game to back up. The Miami Heat salary-dumped him during the third season of that four-year contract, and the Suns waived him in February.
A willing defender and bouncy athlete, Johnson has had trouble carving an offensive niche. He doesn't have the handles or vision to be a full-time floor general, and his shooting isn't quite consistent enough to add value off the ball. But if he can pump his perimeter percentage back up to where it was in his first four seasons (37.1 percent), he could be a sneaky-good addition in an energizer role.
An all-time gaffe in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals is probably the first thing that comes to mind upon the mention of Smith. What's been forgotten over time, though, is the fact that he started 21 of 22 games and averaged 32.1 minutes during that playoff run.
The 34-year-old has barely graced the hardwood since, exiling himself after only 11 appearances with the 2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers and getting waived the following summer. But he can offer loads of postseason experience, good three-point shooting, decent perimeter defense and a pinch of shot-creation. His lack of consistency could hurt in this high-stakes environment, though.
5. Allen Crabbe
Allen Crabbe is a specialist, but his one-trick skill set is exactly what most teams covet: perimeter sharpshooting.
He might be the best unsigned sniper. There have been 107 players to tally at least 500 triples since he entered the league as the 31st pick of the 2013 draft. Among that group, his 38.7 percent connection rate ranks 22nd-best—one spot ahead of Kevin Durant and four in front of Paul George.
Similar to Tyler Johnson, Crabbe's career took an unexpected turn over the 2016 offseason. The good news is he collected an enormous four-year, $75 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, which the Portland Trail Blazers matched. The bad news is the pay rate demanded he become more than a marksman, and he could never elevate his ceiling.
As his shooting percentages lagged the past few seasons—sub-37 percent overall this season and last—his contract became one of the worst in basketball, and he was traded twice and waived within eight months. But with finances taken out of the equation, his three-ball could still have value on the open market. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, he totaled 447 threes on 39.9 percent shooting. Only six other shooters matched those marks.
4. Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas' plummet from Brinks truck money to out of work is tragic, especially since he fueled the free-fall with the best of intentions. His gritty showing in the 2017 playoffs was inspirational—playing one day after his sister's tragic death, missing no time after oral surgery—but his body ultimately broke down. He suffered a hip injury during that postseason, and it has permanently changed the course of his career.
An All-NBA second-teamer and fifth-place finisher in MVP voting during the 2016-17 season, he was traded the following summer and has been searching for a hoops home ever since. He has only played 84 games over the past three seasons combined, and he was most recently waived by the Los Angeles Clippers only days after they landed him at the trade deadline.
Given the dramatic change in trajectory and the many stumbles since, it feels like forever since Thomas has been a capable contributor. But he started 37 games for the Wizards this season and posted good numbers across 40 outings in the District: 12.2 points and 3.7 assists in 23.1 minutes per game, career-high 41.3 three-point percentage.
Granted, the 5'9" point guard is a major defensive liability—ESPN's defensive real plus-minus put him 500th overall—and his health questions aren't going away. But for a change-of-pace, quick-strike scorer to lead a second unit? There aren't many unemployed hoopers who pack this kind of offensive punch.
3. Iman Shumpert
The Brooklyn Nets needed a stopgap solution on the perimeter earlier this season and looked in Iman Shumpert's direction. The veteran—brought on board to help cover for the injuries of Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, plus Wilson Chandler's suspension—nearly worked his way into a longer stay, as his impact gave the team something to think about when it needed to trim the roster.
"He's been a sparkplug," then-Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said in December, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. "He's really what we ask for: We ask for a perimeter defender, a guy that can really guard multiple positions. And then he's got a great spirit in the locker room."
The Nets wound up cutting Shumpert, and he hasn't found his way back onto an NBA roster yet. But it might be only a matter of time. While his offense leaves plenty to be desired—he's never had a positive offensive box plus/minus—he thrives at the other end with the defensive versatility every team needs. With switching at a premium, Shumpert can handle three and sometimes four different positions.
Shooting is the biggest variable, and it's why he's both unsigned and not ranked any higher. But it's not like he's hopeless. He was a league-average shooter in 2018-19 (34.8 percent on 273 attempts), and he's been even more accurate in the playoffs (37.6 percent over 79 career postseason contests).
2. Gerald Green
Gerald Green shouldn't be looking for work. With a clean bill of health, he wouldn't be.
The 34-year-old appeared in 73 games for the Houston Rockets last season and was one of only six players to see the floor in all 11 of their postseason tilts. His high-volume three-point shooting and transition attacking made him a good fit in Mike D'Antoni's offense, and there was every reason to believe Green would run back that role this season.
But a broken foot in mid-October changed everything. He never suited up this season and was shipped out in the four-team trade that brought Robert Covington to Space City. Green landed with the Denver Nuggets, and they waived him shortly thereafter.
He could have a lot more to give. He thought he had a chance to return ahead of the playoffs, so this extra time off might remove the health questions entirely. In that case, this is someone who just last season gave 20.2 minutes per night to a playoff team, splashing 2.1 triples per game at a 35.4 percent clip and providing 16.5 points per 36 minutes.
He remains an impressive athlete, competes at the defensive end and uses his energy to help on the glass or race down loose balls. He also offers playoff experience (68 career contests) and understands the process of joining new teams (he's played for eight). He won't take over many (if any) games, which keeps him shy of the No. 1 spot, but assuming he's fully healthy, he might be the easiest to plug-and-play in a postseason rotation.
1. DeMarcus Cousins
If DeMarcus Cousins is healthy—or can get there over the next month or so—he's the best player in this field by a mile. That's a massive question, but the potential payoff makes him the clear-cut choice for No. 1.
It says a lot about his talent that he could hold this distinction with all of the injury obstacles put in front of him in recent years. Between January 2018 and August 2019, he suffered tears of his Achilles, quadriceps and ACL—all in his left leg. Somehow, the 6'10", 270-pounder is not only upright but also could be ready to contribute sooner than later.
"He's healthy," former Kentucky teammate John Wall told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. "I don't know if he could play right now, but I know he's healthy."
In between the Achilles and quad tears, Cousins suited up 30 times for the Golden State Warriors last season. He played just 25.7 minutes per night and still managed to rack up 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals. Stretch those numbers out to per-36-minute averages, and you're talking about 22.8, 11.5, 5.0 and 2.1, respectively.
At full strength, Boogie boasts an unfair combination of size, skill and mobility. At less-than-full strength, he might still be a difference-maker. He wasn't even supposed to suit up in last year's Finals after the quad tear in the opening round, and he still roared back with an 11-point, 10-board, six-dime gem in Game 2.
There is little risk bringing him on board, since every addition is basically an emergency option, and the reward could be enormous.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.