As we move into August, several NBA teams are still finalizing their respective rosters for the upcoming season. While most of the top-level free agents have already signed new contracts, there are still a few notable players on the market.
While LeBron James technically is still a free agent, he has already stated that he will re-sign with the Cavaliers, so he isn’t included on this list. A few of the players listed here are very likely to return to their most recent teams, but are technically available should another team decide to make a strong push to sign them. Other players on this list have proven themselves in the past, but are coming off injuries or poor seasons.
Whatever their circumstances may be, here are some of the most notable free agents that are still available.
J.R. Smith (Unrestricted)
Last season, Smith averaged 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals, while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. At age 30, Smith is still one of the most dangerous three-point shooters in the league and was a valuable contributor to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship run last season. In fact, Smith, for the most part, maintained his season averages during the postseason, but he bumped his three-point shooting up to 43 percent on 7.2 attempts per game.
Coming off a successful season and entering a lucrative free agency period, it wasn’t unreasonable for Smith to be looking for a significant contract from the Cavaliers. This is especially true when players like Timofey Mozgov, Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson are landing huge deals that they likely would not be able to get in a more typical offseason. However, these three players locked in their deals when teams still had a ton of money to spend.
Teams have used the majority of their collective spending power so Smith isn’t able to go to another team to secure a big deal to force the Cavaliers’ hand. At this point it seems to be a holding pattern to determine just how much Cleveland is willing to pay to retain one of its most important contributors.
Donatas Motiejunas (Restricted)
Motiejunas put together his best NBA season in 2014-15, averaging 12 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists, while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range. Motiejunas was establishing himself as an up-and-coming stretch-four with a nice overall skill set.
Unfortunately, along with the rest of the Houston Rockets franchise, Motiejunas had a down season in 2015-16. He was limited to 37 games because of a significant back injury. In fact, the Rockets agreed to trade Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons in a three-team deal that the Pistons nixed after Motiejunas failed his physical.
Now Motiejunas is left in limbo since most teams have already spent the bulk of their money and Motiejunas is a restricted free agent, which means the Rockets will likely match any offer sheet that is relatively reasonable.
Ty Lawson (Unrestricted)
It’s hard to believe that in the 2014-15 NBA season, Lawson averaged 15.2 points, 9.6 assists. 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 34.1 from distance. The once-speedy point guard used to consistently be one of the league’s best passers and playmakers, but has regressed into an on-court disaster.
Lawson’s decline started with his repeated off-court issues involving alcohol. Those incidents led the Denver Nuggets to trade Lawson to the Rockets for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, Lawson was nearly unplayable in Houston, was ultimately bought out by the Rockets and signed on with the Indiana Pacers. Lawson’s play was still underwhelming with the Pacers, who traded George Hill this offseason to acquire point guard Jeff Teague.
The fact that Lawson is still available even in a dried up free agency market speaks volumes to the fact that NBA teams are not convinced he will have a bounce back season this upcoming campaign. However, if a team signs him on a small deal and he somehow finds his old game, he could be a steal.
Josh Smith (Unrestricted)
Last offseason the Los Angeles Clippers signed Smith to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal. Smith reportedly took less money than he could have for a more defined role and a shot at a championship. However, Smith never proved to be an effective fit with the Clippers and ultimately was traded back to the Rockets.
While Smith still has a lot of talent, his inability to streamline his shot selection and play within a more defined role has limited his ability to be a positive-impact player. The NBA values stretch-fours like Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love, but Smith is a career 28.5 percent three-point shooter. Smith can hit the occasional three-pointer, but a lot of his shots often come at the expense of more efficient scoring opportunities.
Smith has also been a top-level weak-side shot blocker over his career, but doesn’t seem to have the quickness or willingness to challenge shots at the rim as often as he used to. At age 30, Smith still has a decent amount of athleticism left, but he isn’t the explosive athlete he once was.
Despite Smith’s issues, we have seen flashes of him being productive while playing within a limited role. Smith can still run the floor as well or better than most power forwards, can set decent screens, is a decent rim protector at the power forward position and can finish at the rim effectively. Shooting will always be an issue, but if a team can land Smith on a cheap contract and maximize his abilities while limiting the inefficient parts of his game, he too could be a steal.
Lance Stephenson (Unrestricted)
Stephenson is another player that seemingly fell off a cliff after establishing himself as a borderline All-Star. In a shrewd move, the Clippers traded for Stephenson last year in an attempt to upgrade on the wing. The hope was Stephenson would find his old self from his Indiana days, though that never really came to fruition.
Part of the issue for Stephenson was that he seemed to be on a short leash under Doc Rivers and he never really received consistent playing time. He had moments where he made you think he was finding his old game, and other moments where he made you think he was a hopeless cause.
Stephenson eventually was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, who were decimated by injuries and were willing to give just about anyone big minutes. In 26.6 minutes per game with the Grizzlies, Stephenson averaged 14.2 points 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range. Those are some pretty solid statistics, however, it came on a team that was completely devoid of NBA-level talent because of injuries.
The fact that Stephenson hasn’t found a new home yet suggests that NBA teams aren’t convinced that Stephenson can produce on that same level when surrounded by high-caliber players. That, and Stephenson has earned a reputation for being somewhat of a headache, so teams aren’t going to take a risk on him unless they are convinced he can be an impact player on the court.
Mario Chalmers (Unrestricted)
Chalmers has never established himself as an elite point guard, but he is a veteran who can shoot the ball and isn’t afraid of big moments. Unfortunately, Chalmers ruptured his right Achilles tendon in March and was subsequently waived by the Grizzlies. Before the injury, Chalmers averaged 10.8 points, and 3.8 assists in 55 games with the Grizzlies.
Achilles injuries are severe and there’s always the risk that a player will never be the same even after extensive rehab. There’s never a good time to suffer such an injury, but this was especially bad timing for Chalmers since there was so much free agency money available this offseason. The recovery for such an injury varies, but generally requires at least nine months for a player to return to high-level training and activities.
Hopefully Chalmers can overcome this injury and find a team willing to bank on his ability to make a full recovery.
Jason Thompson (Unrestricted)
Since averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his sophomore season, Thompson has been unable to build up his game and establish himself as a consistent player. At age 29, Thompson still has much of his athleticism, but he simply hasn’t been able to put together a really good season in a long time.
While Thompson may not be the missing piece to any team’s big man rotation, he is a decent insurance player to have in case of injury or other unpredictable circumstances, especially in comparison to the rest of the big men still available.
Shane Larkin (Unrestricted)
Larkin was drafted 18th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft and is still just 23 years old. In three seasons, Larkin has already played for three teams and four different coaches. Perhaps a little stability and a better fitting offensive system can help Larkin establish himself as the promising point guard he seemed to be when he entered the league.
Larkin spoke with our Alex Kennedy earlier this year and said that he is looking for the right opportunity and a long-term home.
“It’s just progression. It’s about work ethic and finding the right situation. That’s really all it’s about. You just have to get to a situation where the team really wants you to progress and excel so you can go far with the team and grow with them. I feel like I can do that. It’s possible – you just have to keep working, keep getting better and just find the right situation.”
At such a young age, it’s hard to know what Larkin’s ceiling may be. But he could represent solid value on a small deal and the upside to outplay that contract as an impact backup point guard.
These are just some of the many free agents still available. Let us know who you think the best remaining free agents are in the comments section below!
NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs
Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.
Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.
The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.
For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.
That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.
The Eastern Conference
Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.
In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.
Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.
Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.
The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.
What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.
That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.
The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.
The Western Conference
Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.
The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.
Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.
The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.
That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.
Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.
The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.
Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.
NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors
If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.
For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.
Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.
A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.
In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.
The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.
At least, that was the case until Saturday night.
* * * * * *
With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.
Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.
Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.
It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.
This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.
With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.
At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.
Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.
In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.
* * * * * *
With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.
At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.
What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.
For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.
Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.
Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.
While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.
Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.
Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…
And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.