NBA Saturday: Best Free Agents Still Available


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!


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About Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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