The Indiana Pacers were a middle-of-the-road team in the Eastern Conference last season that changed coaches and about a third of its lineup. Larry Bird wanted an on-court product that runs more, plays smaller and scores more often, and acquiring Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young this offseason should help that. Hiring Nate McMillan as Frank Vogel’s replacement, however, is a little more of a head-scratcher.
Either way, the consensus is that Indiana made a bevy of strong moves this offseason and could very easily make some vertical movement in a wide-open Eastern Conference this year.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Indiana Pacers.
FIVE GUYS THINK
I like that the Pacers went out and added impact veterans in Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. I don’t like that they let go of Frank Vogel – a top notch defensive coach – to implement a more up-tempo offense. I don’t disagree with wanting to increase the tempo, but if that was the goal, I don’t understand why they replaced Vogel with Nate McMillan. McMillan runs a methodical, generally slow offense like Vogel. Unless McMillan is completely committed to picking up the pace on offense, this hire simply doesn’t make much sense. Nevertheless, the Pacers added impact players to complement Paul George, who played out of his mind last season. The Pacers should be a top-level team in the wide open Eastern Conference this upcoming season.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Jesse Blancarte
There are half a million puff pieces out there praising the work Indiana’s front office did this summer in overhauling the roster, and there’s a very good reason for that. They really did get markedly better, and they really did walk away from just about every single one of their offseason transactions better than when they started. They already had an elite two-way player on the roster in Paul George, but they actually upgraded in loads of places by adding Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. Myles Turner was one of the league’s top rookies last year, and his improvement should help this team along too. Cleveland is still king in this division and this conference, but Indiana now is in the conversation for second-best. The Eastern Conference Finals are definitely in play for these guys.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Joel Brigham
I really liked the Pacers’ offseason and I honestly believe they could emerge as one of the top-three teams in the Eastern Conference. Paul George was a monster last season and he should be even better this year now that his confidence is back to 100 percent and the supporting cast around him has improved. I had the chance to interview Jeff Teague in early July and Myles Turner in early August, and I think both of those guys are poised for huge seasons. Teague is loving the change of scenery since he’s back home, surrounded by weapons and no longer looking over his shoulder at Dennis Schroder. Turner is coming off of a great finish to his rookie campaign and I think he could emerge as one of the better young big men in the league during this upcoming season (he’s certainly saying all of the right things). The East is wide open after the Cavaliers; I think Toronto, Boston and Indiana can occupy that second tier right below the defending champs if all goes as planned for each of those teams.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Alex Kennedy
Fed up with the Pacers’ plodding and visually unappealing offensive style, team president Larry Bird shifted gears this summer in an attempt to spark an immediate turnaround. Bird relieved Frank Vogel of head coaching duties shortly after the season and then made a series of moves aimed at bringing more offensive firepower to Indiana. The additions of veterans Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young – three proven double-digit scorers – provides more offense next to All-Star Paul George in the lineup and will alleviate some of his burden on a nightly basis. But the Pacers sacrificed defense for more scoring, so the question is whether the club can create a defensive identity? If they can, another trip to the playoffs awaits. If the Pacers can’t, they’ll be more fun to watch, but probably sitting home watching the playoffs come April.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Lang Greene
After the Pacers were able to sign Al Jefferson to what seems to be a great value contract, I was fairly certain that they had cemented themselves as the second-best team in the conference – at least on paper. Paul George is quietly coming off of what could be argued as his finest season yet and the Pacers upgraded their point guard position tremendously by adding Jeff Teague. Myles Turner came in ready to contribute from day one and, without singularly listing each player on their roster, I think the Pacers can go 10 deep. The wildcard in the equation is Nate McMillan. I have a lot of respect for McMillan and the work he did with the Portland Trail Blazers and was told by a source, years ago, that Carmelo Anthony supported him as the successor to Mike D’Antoni in New York. Obviously, that never panned out, but it’s good to see McMillan back as a head coach. I think he will have success with pulling all the potential out of these Pacers and having them ready to play from the beginning. They are a fair mix of veterans and players whose best days are ahead of them, so I think I may be higher on them than most. I think they will have a legitimate shot of pushing for the conference’s second seed.
2nd Place — Central Division
– Moke Hamilton
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Paul George
After missing all but six games in 2014-2015 following a leg injury that has to be one of the top five stomach-turning things any modern NBA fan has ever witnessed watching a basketball game (somewhere in between Shaun Livingston’s blown knee and Joakim Noah’s jumpshot), George came back last season with a vengeance. Not only did he post career-highs in points per game, games played, free throws attempted and three-pointers, but he also spent a good portion of the season in talks for MVP consideration. He didn’t have much of a shot at actually winning it with everything Stephen Curry accomplished, but his versatility, athleticism and all-around devastation placed him squarely back among the league’s elite. Not only is he the best offensive player on this team, he’s also one of the best offensive players in the league.
Top Defensive Player: Paul George
He’s one of the best defensive players in the league too, for that matter. The only time in the last four seasons that George hasn’t made either the All-Defensive First or Second Teams was the year he had the broken leg. Additionally, his nearly two steals per game last season showed he quickly returned to being one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders. He’s got long arms, huge hands and quick feet that help him recover from almost any offensive move. On and off the ball, he’s elite, and he’ll anchor this Indy defense yet again this season.
Top Playmaker: Jeff Teague
It’s been a couple of years since Teague was named an Eastern Conference All-Star, but he has shown in the past that when he is let off the chain he can put the ball in the basket in a handful of truly devastating ways. He’s an upgrade over George Hill in that he’s faster and craftier in carving out his own shot, which could work wonders for the Pacers’ offense. Assuming Nate McMillan lets Teague play his type of game and doesn’t try to slow him down, he could be the second option on offense Indiana hoped they were getting in Monta Ellis last season. Teague keeps defenses honest and is a much better fit at point guard this season than George Hill has been. Hill was no slouch, but Teague should be an upgrade.
Top Clutch Player: Paul George
This is one of those teams with a clear alpha dog, and that means when the game is on the line, George will be the one with the ball is hands. He’s creative enough offensively to make magic happen in crunch time, and he already has had more than his fair share of game winners. Others may touch the ball in a tight game’s waning moments, but it will be shocking if George isn’t the one actually taking the big shots.
The Unheralded Player: C.J. Miles
While Miles isn’t necessarily an irreplaceable guy in terms of his talent, he is a guy who really holds the locker room together and is a ton of fun for the rest of the team to play with. He averaged just shy of 12 PPG last year, which is more or less par for the course over Miles’ last six NBA seasons. He also is capable of starting for the Pacers, having done so in 24 contests last season. He has an occasional big game, but his impact on the locker room is immense. He’ll help make all the new guys feel at home and smooth things over in a locker room that features a lot of new faces.
Top New Addition: Thaddeus Young
While the Pacers added plenty of talented players this summer, none came at a better price than Young, who only cost Indiana the 20th overall selection in what amounted to a pretty weak draft. Caris LeVert could be a perfectly good player for Brooklyn before everything’s all said and done, but Young already has established himself as a hard-nosed, versatile forward with playoff experience. There’s a 100 percent chance that Young will provide more this season than anybody selected at pick No. 20 would have, so while Teague could easily be considered the “best new addition,” in terms of what the Pacers gave up, Young was by far the better value.
– Joel Brigham
WHO WE LIKE
- Myles Turner
In some ways, the Pacers’ success this upcoming season will be determined by how effective Myles Turner can be, which of course is asking a lot of him. Still, in his rookie season Turner proved to have the ability to both protect the rim and shoot from all over the floor. His 3.3 blocks per game led the NBA in the first round of this past spring’s playoffs. As soon as the calendar rolled over to 2016 last season, Turner pushed himself into the starting lineup after averaging 18 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game during a huge six-game stretch in January – including one game where he scored 31 points and pulled in eight rebounds. His skillset is perfect for a team that wants to play smaller and faster, and if he takes a big leap forward this season, so too will the Pacers.
- Al Jefferson
As the only Pacers player other than Turner over 6’10, Jefferson injects some size into the lineup as a projected member of the Indiana bench. He doesn’t in any way fit the profile of a player that works in an uptempo offense, but his low post scoring can still be an asset as an anchor to the reserve unit, and his $10-million-per-year contract makes him a steal even as he approaches the back nine of his career. He’ll be a strong veteran presence in the locker room and a nice safety blanket for the second unit.
- Aaron Brooks
Essentially the “Lite” version of Jeff Teague, Brooks is a budget backup that should help Indiana’s bench unit continue humming along even when the starting point guard is getting a breather. Brooks is quick and loves to push the pace, which fits well with what Larry Bird would like to see happen with this group, but he also can create and score well despite his diminutive nature. He’s a perfect backup for Teague and perennially one of the league’s more underappreciated players.
- Thaddeus Young
The likely starter at the four, Young is the sort of guy who can score like a swingman but defend a number of positions, including some of the bigger, stronger fours. They’ve wanted a stretchier player at that position for a couple of years now, and Young will fit the bill. He was only one of three players in the NBA to average at least 15 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 steals last year, and those are qualities the Pacers absolutely are going to appreciate in him throughout the 2016-2017 campaign.
- Paul George
In the first round of last year’s playoffs, George led his team in points, rebounds and assists. Things weren’t all that different in the regular season where he led all Pacers players in points, steals, minutes and almost topped the rebound category, as well. He does everything well, and he’s coming off a gold medal where he surely learned a lot about winning at an elite level. He’s a top-ten player in the entire league. How could anybody not love him?
– Joel Brigham
SALARY CAP 101
The Pacers are still under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, with as much as $4.3 million in remaining room. That’s enough to restructure and extend Paul George’s contract, should he be interested when eligible (as of Sep. 25). Indiana has 16 guaranteed players, so someone has to go before the start of the season. The Dallas Mavericks paid the Pacers $3.2 million to take on the $1.2 million contract of Jeremy Evans, who could be the odd-man out. Even if Evans is cut, that doesn’t open up roster space for camp invites Julyan Stone, Alex Poythress or Nick Zeisloft.
Next summer, the Pacers could have roughly $27 million in spending power under a projected $102 million salary cap. That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Myles Turner before the end of October (an easy decision). It also presumes the team decline’s Lavoy Allen’s team option, and that that both Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles opt out of their contracts. Indiana’s spending power in 2017 might shrink by about $4 million, should George restructures his deal this season.
– Eric Pincus
Under Frank Vogel, one of the team’s biggest strengths was defense as they finished last year eighth in the league in opponents points per game, sixth in opponents field goal percentage and third in opponents three-point field goal percentage. While there certainly is a real possibility that Indiana takes a hit with so much turnover both on the court and on the sidelines, players like Paul George and Myles Turner should keep them somewhere toward the front of the Eastern Conference in terms of defensive efficiency.
– Joel Brigham
Consistent scoring has been a problem for the Pacers for years, and while it’s nice to think that the addition of Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young will solve that problem, many thought the same thing about Monta Ellis a year ago. How good Indiana is offensively depends entirely on how quickly McMillan can get his players to push the ball. If he can’t do that, it could be another year in the bottom half of the league in terms of points scored and scoring efficiency.
– Joel Brigham
THE BURNING QUESTION
Was Nate McMillan the right coaching hire for a team that wants to speed up the offense?
When the Pacers decided to let Frank Vogel walk, the search for a new coach was supposed to end with putting someone in charge that would play smaller and push the pace. There were, of course, plenty of options in hiring someone like that, but the team instead stayed in-house and hired Vogel’s lead assistant, Nate McMillian. Oddly, as a head coach McMillan has only ever finished inside the top 20 teams in the league in terms of pace a single time, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for a major change in offensive philosophy this year.
The team downgraded a bit defensively with their personnel changes this offseason, so for the team to be at its best they’re absolutely going to have to play fast and lively. The players Bird has brought in are meant to get out and run, so despite McMillan’s reputation he’s going to have to figure out how to pick up the pace in a very literal sense. He almost certainly swore up and down in his interview with Bird this past summer that he could do it, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true.
– Joel Brigham
Second Half NBA Story lines
With the All-Star break in the rearview, here are the key storylines to keep an eye on for the home stretch of the season.
The long winter has ended.
Ok, not really. But the break after All-Star weekend has finally come to a halt, and the second half of the NBA season is ready to get underway.
Each team has around 25 games remaining on the schedule. February is in its last week, and March and April will truly define how the May schedule aligns. The first leg of this season provided more than enough entertainment, combating the narrative that the regular season is a bit of a bore nowadays.
Because of some unexpected turns through the 50-plus games already played, this final stretch that will bring the regular season to a close should be more than entertaining for the fans that think the NBA season is just a six-month placeholder for the inevitable.
So, as we get ready to bounce back into action Thursday night, let’s focus on what needs to be monitored down the homestretch.
Houston Rockets can make the Finals
When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a narrative swept across the league that everyone not in the Bay area should just wave the white flag. Game over.
After dropping just one game through the entire postseason last year, completely decimating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the assumptions were proved correct.
But things may be different this year.
The Houston Rockets are trying to end the Warriors’ Durant-Era dynasty before it starts. After trading for Chris Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are in a legitimate position to pose a threat to Golden State.
At the moment, the Rockets have the best offense in the NBA. But, not just for this season, for every season. Their efficiency is revolutionary and unprecedented. Their defense is improved, too. Ranking 18th in defensive rating last season, Houston is eighth this season, and proving to be competent enough on that end to get a few stops of their own against the Warriors. In fact, Houston has won two of the three meetings between the two Western Conference powerhouses so far this season.
For all of the damage Houston put on the league pre-All-Star break, and even leaping Golden State in the standings, the oddsmakers are taking notice.
Take a look at how drastically the Rockets’ odds at contending for a title have changed from the summer to present day. According to this odds tracker on Sports Betting Dime, Houston has almost entered the same realm as Golden State in the bettors’ mind.
Postseason basketball is a different beast, and Durant and Steph Curry are as formidable a tandem as any (not to mention their supporting cast), but the growing pile of statistics that says Houston has more than a puncher’s chance is becoming hard to ignore.
These last 25 or so games will be telling as to if the Rockets are truly a team that can go shot-for-shot with the mighty Warriors.
LeBron’s new teammates
The trade deadline in Cleveland was basically a mass upheaval of the roster the Cavaliers had struggled with for the first four months of the season.
Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Channing Frye were all shipped from The Land in hopes to bring LeBron James new players that could help him back to his eighth straight Finals appearance.
So far, so good.
The return that brought George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into wine and gold gave the Cavaliers a much-needed boost heading into the All-Star break. Since the trade, Cleveland has won three straight games, the last two including a blowout victory against the Boston Celtics, and a road win in Oklahoma City.
But, before the roster turnovers, the Cavaliers were one of the league’s worst defensive units. Their lack of consistent effort on a nightly basis was beginning to spread doubt in the basketball minds across the league that the team would be equipped enough to beat the Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the postseason.
Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers will take on another playoff contender in the Washington Wizards. Another strong showing from the new-look Cavs could further the belief that the team is now in a better position to make their way to a fourth straight Finals.
As the regular season comes to its final stages, close eyes will be kept on Hood, Hill, Nance and Clarkson. They’re the key to any real postseason success Cleveland hopes to have. We know LeBron will be there at the end, at this point, and it’s worth watching to see if it teammates can join him.
Tight Playoff Races
For all the talk that surrounds the lack of disparity and entertainment around the league, the playoff races in both conferences appear to be coming down to the wire.
In the West, the 10th-seed Utah Jazz is just two and a half games behind the 5th-seed Oklahoma City Thunder. In between the two clubs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and the L.A. Clippers are all clawing for spots in the postseason.
Over their last 10 games, every team besides the Thunder is at least .500. The Jazz have won 11 straight games, the Clippers are 7-3 and surging, Denver is hoping to return Paul Millsap to their lineup soon, the Trail Blazers have the luxury of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and while the Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins, their three straight wins suggest they’re learning to live without Boogie.
That’s six teams fighting fiercely for four playoff spots. Each is deserving and well-equipped enough to make it to the postseason happen.
The West isn’t the only conference with a wild bunch at the bottom of the playoff standings. The Eastern Conference contenders also find themselves in the midst of a playoff battle post-All-Star break.
Just outside of the playoff picture at the moment, the Detroit Pistons, with new star Blake Griffin, are just four and a half games behind the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee are all also vying for their spot in the playoffs.
At the moment, the Miami HEAT seems to be on the verge of being the odd man out, losing two straight before the break and seven of their last 10 games. As the Pistons begin to find new life with Griffin, they could bump Miami right out of the picture if their slide continues as games pick back up.
With a limited number of games remaining, each of these teams in both conferences cannot afford to fall into a rut. Coming down to the final weeks of the season, watching the playoff carousel develop will be entertaining and worthwhile.
In the blink of an eye, the 2017-18 regular season is almost over. Be sure to keep an eye on these unfolding storylines as the league charges towards playoff basketball.
NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On
At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.
Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.
“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”
Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.
But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.
“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”
Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.
Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.
Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.
“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”
But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.
“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.
But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.
“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”
Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.
Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.
Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.
“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.
“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”
For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.
“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.
From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.
* * * * * *
*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.
Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?
Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.
While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.
March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.
So who could still become available?
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
This seems almost too obvious.
The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.
After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.
Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.
Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.
Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.
Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.
But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.
Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.
Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings
Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.
Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.
As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.
So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.
If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.
Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers
Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.
He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.
Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.
But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?
With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.
Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos
There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.