The countdown to July 1 is real. Each year – whether it be the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard or, most recently, Kevin Durant – fans and front offices alike dream about what it would mean to snag the big fish in free agency.
During the first week of July, headlines are dominated by high-profile acquisitions and max-level players.
Sometimes, though, it’s the under-the-radar signee who can make all the difference in the world for a fringe contender. As we approach mid-July, Basketball Insiders takes inventory of the top remaining free agents.
LeBron James (Small Forward)
All indications are that LeBron James will re-sign in Cleveland, but until he does so officially, it merits mention that the reigning Finals MVP is uncommitted for the 2016-17 season. In all likelihood, the re-signing of James is a mere formality, especially as the Cavaliers prepare for their title defense.
Donatas Motiejunas (Power Forward)
The Lithuanian-born Donatas Motiejunas experienced a bit of a breakout during the 2014-15 season before appearing in just 37 games last season. Motiejunas is a restricted free agent and has proven that he can be a meaningful player in the NBA. Whether it’s with the Houston Rockets or a new team, he absolutely belongs in a rotation.
Dion Waiters (Shooting Guard)
Traditionally, restricted free agents are paid handsomely, and Dion Waiters hopes that trend continues. With Kevin Durant having taken his talents to Oakland, the Oklahoma City Thunder would probably rather retain Waiters than let him walk away to a new team such as the Brooklyn Nets (who are reportedly interested). The Nets are still attempting to fill out their roster in order to get to the salary floor, so Waiters may find himself the subject of a bidding war. Until he signs, however, he remains free and he has certainly proven capable of being a productive bench player in this league.
J.R. Smith (Shooting Guard)
As is the case with LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers are hopeful that they will eventually strike a deal to re-sign J.R. Smith. General manager David Griffin recently told ESPN that he’s confident a deal will get done. And after waiting his entire career to be labeled a “winner,” it would stand to reason that Smith would welcome a return to Cleveland. Still, with his career earnings at a shade over $45 million and a lot of money being thrown around this summer, Smith could generate some interest from other teams after emerging as a vital cog in the Cavaliers’ title chase. Re-signing seems likely, but the exit door for Smith still appears to be a tad ajar.
Ty Lawson (Point Guard)
It seems like the days of Ty Lawson and George Karl leading the Denver Nuggets to a 57-25 record were so long ago. Over the course of his first six years in the league, Lawson increased his assist production each year, topping out at 9.7 assists per game during the 2014-15 season. Since being moved along from Denver, however, he has struggled to find consistent minutes and production. At just 28 years old, Lawson likely hasn’t fallen off of any sort of cliff—he just needs to find the right situation.
Lance Stephenson (Shooting Guard)
After leaving head coach Frank Vogel and the Indiana Pacers during the summer of 2014, Lance Stephenson has been struggling to recapture his productivity, having played for a total of three teams over the past two years. Stephenson’s talents will continue to be in high demand, but as of now, he appears to be intent on trying to find the big payday that has eluded him thus far.
Mario Chalmers (Point Guard)
Although LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh deserve most of the credit for the Miami HEAT’s two championships and four Eastern Conference titles, Mario Chalmers was a major part of the team’s early success. Chalmers is a pesky defender and has proven that he isn’t afraid of taking and hitting big shots. At 30 years old, Chalmers is an experienced veteran who still has a lot left to offer a team that finds itself on the cusp of contention.
Josh Smith (Power Forward)
Long an enigma, since leaving the team that drafted him, Josh Smith has had trouble rediscovering the productivity that helped him carve out a career in the league. Since leaving the Atlanta Hawks for the Detroit Pistons following the 2012-13 season, Smith has changed teams three times and hasn’t come close to putting up the numbers Hawks fans became accustomed to seeing. Even still, it’s difficult imagining a more athletic, defensive-minded combo forward coming off of someone’s bench than Smith.
Gerald Green (Small Forward)
Once upon a time, Gerald Green was only known for his insane hops. Since then—and after spending two years out of the league—Green has proven to be a valuable all-around NBA contributor. His productivity has decreased since averaging a career-high 15.8 points per game as a member of the Phoenix Suns during the 2013-14 season. Now 30 years old, Green’s tires do have some wear, but tread shouldn’t be a problem. He has proven to be durable and has averaged only about 20 minutes per game over the course of his career.
Gary Neal (Point Guard)
Gary Neal has long been underrated as an NBA contributor. In a season with the Washington Wizards that was cut short due to injury, he connected on 41 percent of his three-point looks and scored 9.8 points per game in just 20 minutes off of the bench. Neal is 31 years old and brings a wealth of experience with him. Unlike most other “veteran” signings, Neal may end up making some general manager look incredibly smart this coming season (so long as he fully recovers from the hip labrum injury that ended his season early).
Maurice Harkless (Small Forward)
The New York City product finds himself as a restricted free agent and is reportedly considering accepting taking the Portland Trail Blazers up on their one-year qualifying offer of about $4 million. Accepting such an offer would allow Harkless to re-enter the free agency market next summer as an unrestricted free agent when the salary cap is expected to exceed $100 million. Harkless has reportedly drawn interest from the Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and other teams, but it stands to reason that none of those offers were for serious money if he is leaning toward remaining in Portland for at least another year.
Thomas Robinson (Power Forward)
Since being selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson has already played for five different NBA teams. His impressive per-36-minute numbers show that Robinson can be effective given playing time and opportunities. Although the clock is ticking on his NBA career, we still feel that it’s a bit early to write him off as a difference-maker and believe, given the right situation, he can be a productive rotation player for any number of teams in the league.
Others worth noting: Kirk Hinrich (PG), David Lee (PF), Dorell Wright (SF), Aaron Brooks (PG), Raymond Felton (PG), Chris Andersen (C), Ray McCallum (PG), Brandon Bass (PF)
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