Eight Overlooked NBA Free Agents
As free agency begins, Moke Hamilton singles out eight lesser discussed free agents who may be difference makers.
July rolls around, the sun is scorching in many places other than just Phoenix and NBA front offices buzz more than Kemba Walker’s Charlotte Hornets.
It is free agency season in the Association, and while the common NBA fan is preparing for a Fourth of July Weekend consisting of charcoal, hamburgers and fireworks, most of the league’s free agents are looking forward toward cashing in some big checks.
The chosen few—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Eric Bledsoe and perhaps even Kyle Lowry—have managed to play themselves into whopping paydays. But often, it is a clever signing of a fifth or sixth man that helps put a team over the top, or at least allow them to swim near the surface with the other elites in the NBA.
As free agency begins, Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few of the lesser discussed free agents that could help to turn a pretender into a contender, or a contender into a champion.
Patty Mills (Point Guard, San Antonio Spurs, Unrestricted)
Last summer, fresh off of a productive playoff outing, the cost-conscious San Antonio Spurs opted to allow Gary Neal to seek greener pastures after the guard put together an all-around impressive playoff run.
Whether or not history will repeat with Patty Mills is a question that many are pondering, especially with recent reports suggesting that the New York Knicks and Mills have eyes for one another. Although the world only just became familiar with Mills over the course of the immediate-past playoffs, he has been a productive guard for the past three years he has spent in San Antonio.
An efficient shooter, Mills has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and play the game at a breakneck pace. He takes care of the ball, as evidenced by his averaging just 1.5 turnovers per 36 minutes last season. During the playoffs, he came up huge for his team in the close-out Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder when Tony Parker was unable to return for the game’s second half and, quite famously, in Game 5 of the decisive NBA Finals against the HEAT.
As J.J. Barea once did before him, Mills has again shown that a change-of-pace guard who has the ability to get hot and score points can pay major dividends in an important playoff series.
The Spurs seem far too wise to not realize that themselves and retain Mills—but they will not do so at all costs. He can be had and will likely end up representing good value for the dollar.
Shaun Livingston (Point Guard, Brooklyn Nets, Unrestricted)
By now, just about everyone is aware of the horrendous knee injury that Shaun Livingston suffered back in 2008. His career nearly ended, but now, after a long and winding journey, he has proven that he can be a productive contributor for a winning team.
During spurts last season, Livingston was forced to start for the aging Nets and did so 54 times. He averaged 26 minutes per game and routinely disrupted opposing offenses. Livingston’s athleticism has somewhat returned and today, he is one of the few players in the league that is capable of defending either guard position and blocking a forward’s shot at the rim.
At 6’8, his wiry and athletic frame is an asset on the offensive end, as well. Livingston, surprisingly, was one of the Nets’ more productive post scorers and, along with rookie Mason Plumlee, played an integral role not only in the Nets’ mid-season turnaround, but also the franchise winning their first playoff series of the Brooklyn era and the team’s first since 2007.
Mario Chalmers (Point Guard, Miami HEAT, Unrestricted)
With his struggles in the 2014 NBA Finals still fresh and the Miami HEAT being rumored to be in search of an upgrade at the point guard position, Mario Chalmers may have played his final game as one of LeBron James’ running mates.
Without question, though, he played a major role in the two championships that the HEAT won in recent years.
As a point guard, Chalmers does not have above-average ball handling skills or court vision, but when coupled with the correct personnel, he can be incredibly effective. He is an above-average on-ball defender, even if not light-footed. He is a better finisher around the basket than he is credited for and is a career 37 percent three-point shooter.
He may not necessarily be a starting point guard on scores of other teams around the league, but as a sixth man, with championship experience and pedigree, a team could do far worse than signing Chalmers. He has seen his fair share of big games and has had his share of big moments over the HEAT’s historic run. Unfortunately for him, his market value may be adversely affected due to his poor playoff performance this past season, but ultimately, if he leaves Miami, a wise contender will have scooped him up with his stock at a low point.
In the long run, though, the 28-year-old Alaskan will bounce back and continue to be a winner.
Shawn Marion (Small Forward, Dallas Mavericks, Unrestricted)
Despite the fact that this production has been steadily declining over the past few years, Shawn Marion is still a productive and versatile front court weapon. If he continues to age as gracefully as his current teammate Vince Carter, Marion can be a productive player for the next three years.
For the past five, though, Marion has been a part of the Dallas family and was a major contributor to the team winning its NBA championship back in 2011. Although his production has steadily declined since then, last season, even at 35 years old, Marion was able to play about 32 minutes per game for the Mavericks, scoring 10.4 points and grabbing 6.5 rebounds per contest. He has become renowned as a rare breed of NBA player who never takes a play off and has consistently managed to impact games over the course of his 15-year career.
Marion has flourished playing system basketball and has embraced the role of being a scrappy go-getter who never complains about minutes, touches or a lack of shot opportunities. In other words, he is one of the key ingredients in a winning basketball program, so it is no surprise that success has followed him over the course of his career.
Because he is fairly durable and not overly-reliant on his athleticism, Marion is very likely to remain a productive player in the NBA for at least a few more years.
Paul Pierce (Small Forward, Brooklyn Nets, Unrestricted)
With the now departed Jason Kidd having taken his talents to Milwaukee, there are even more questions in Brooklyn now than there were this spring when the Nets flamed out against the Miami HEAT in just five games.
Entering this offseason, there was questions surrounding the health of both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez and the potential departures of Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche.
Today, there are questions about the circumstances leading to Jason Kidd’s departure, but the one that has seemingly flown under the radar is whether or not Paul Pierce will return.
Pierce will become a free agent and could make sense for the Los Angeles Clippers, among other teams. Both Pierce and Kevin Garnett were staring at the prospect of heading to Los Angeles with Doc Rivers last summer before then-Commissioner David Stern stepped in and forbade such a maneuver. Now, though, the veteran Pierce will enter the free agent market, and there will be a demand for his services.
Over the course of last season, Pierce capably led the Nets, especially in a few tight moments. He, like Pau Gasol, has seen his best days pass him by, but Pierce is still a capable defender and can still score effectively in spurts. In end of game situations, he is perhaps one of the players that the opposition does not want to give an opportunity, but more than being just a decoy, last season, Pierce proved that he can still play.
A team could do far worse than inking the 36-year-old to a two-year deal, especially since Pierce is in line for a substantial pay-cut from last season’s $15.33 million salary. His days of scoring 25 points per game may be done, but he is far from finished.
Pau Gasol (Power Forward, Los Angeles Lakers, Unrestricted)
With the arrival of Julius Randle, there is at least one more big man to take rotation minutes from Pau Gasol—making his return even more improbable. Gasol had a famous falling out with former coach Mike D’Antoni, but even with D’Antoni’s resigning, Gasol has openly discussed the thought of ending his career elsewhere. Largely under-appreciated in Los Angeles, Gasol has battled myriad health issues over the past three years, where he has missed 72 total games.
Still, even at 33 years old, there are few seven-footers in the league that possess the all-around skill set as Gasol. He still plays with his back to the basket, he still sees the floor tremendously well and he still has impeccable timing. If he can stay healthy, he would make a world of difference for any contender that has a void in the middle.
With the Lakers thinking about life after Kobe Bryant—and after committing $48.5 million to him over the next two years—it is highly doubtful that the Lakers would be willing to commit significant money to the aging Gasol.
Still, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and if Gasol found his way to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Miami HEAT or Houston Rockets, his impact would be felt immediately.
Marcin Gortat (Center, Washington Wizards, Unrestricted)
One of the more underrated centers in the entire league, Marcin Gortat has long been overlooked as a reason for his team’s success. Although he has played with a number of talented teammates including Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and John Wall, Gortat’s ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor has been evident to anyone who has watched him closely over the years.
For a man of his stature, he has exquisite footwork. He reads and reacts to pick-and-rolls exceptionally well for a center and has been integral to the success of the Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and now, the Washington Wizards.
After helping lead the Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 2008 and to their first series win since 2005, it is quite difficult imaging the Wizards allowing Gortat to flee, especially with the deep pockets of owner Ted Leonsis.
What is worth noting, however, is that the Wizards have a few other free agents, as well. The most notable includes Trevor Ariza, who was just as important to the Wizards’ success as Gortat. Though Gortat is not a max player, and though he is aging, big men have historically been well compensated on the free agent market. Gortat will benefit from this, even at 30 years old.
With a winning pedigree, size, a back to the basket game and the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, he will get droves of love in free agency. If he can be stolen away from Washington, they will immediately go from a team on the rise to one that will regress dramatically.
Whether in D.C. or elsewhere, Gortat’s presence will be felt, just like it has his entire career.
Greg Monroe (Center, Detroit Pistons, Restricted)
The lone restricted free agent of this batch, Greg Monroe warrants attention not only because of the growth he has shown over his first four years as an NBA pro, but also because of the very interesting situation in which he currently finds himself.
In Detroit, Andre Drummond and Monroe could form one of the most dominant interior tandems the Eastern Conference has seen in quite some time. However, with about $57 million committed to the combination of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith over the next three seasons and the Pistons coming off of a 29-win campaign that saw them fail to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the Pistons opting to retain Monroe at a hefty tag is no slam dunk. That is especially true with Drummond progressing and seeming like an everyday double-double machine.
Having just celebrated his 24th birthday, Monroe’s best days seem to be ahead of him. Whether or not he spends them in a Pistons uniform remains to be seen. But what can be said for sure is that wherever he spends them, they will be productive.
History has shown that building a team around a dominant big man yields productive results. Monroe will once again prove that theory to be true, either in Detroit or elsewhere.
As the clock strikes midnight, it is the LeBrons and Carmelos of the world who will get the attention and the affection. But don’t be surprised if a lesser thought of acquisition ends up making a huge difference. Just ask the general manager of the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, R.C. Buford. He signed Boris Diaw from the scrap heap back in 2012. Clearly, that paid major dividends.
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